Building an Offensive Line: Teaching safe and effective down blocks

By Keith Grabowski | Posted 5/23/2016

Blocking a defensive lineman to the inside gap is a key block in several offensive run schemes.

While it seems simple enough, the offensive lineman needs to have a good understanding of what type of defender he is seeing and how to adjust to each type of defender. In addition, correct technique keeps linemen’s heads out of the block and allows for safer play.

Traditionally, the down block is taught as a way to stop a defender from penetrating into the offensive lineman’s inside gap. A brief survey of videos teaching this technique on YouTube shows about half teach the head-across-the-front technique.

Stop that now if that’s what you are teaching.

Telling a player to put his head across the defender’s body puts a player’s head and neck in a vulnerable position. The goal of offensive line technique should always be to remove the head as a point of contact or as part of a blocking surface.

SEE ALSO: Read all of Keith Grabowski’s Building an Offensive Line blog series

SEE ALSO: The keys to developing quick feet in offensive linemen

Along with safety, the old way of head across the front as a teaching point causes the lineman to lunge and become off-balance.

Like anything, when the head leads, the body goes with it. The old technique is highly ineffective against a defender who is taught to read and play back over the block.

It’s critical for us, as coaches, to teach the safer and better technique for blocking the inside gap.

Purpose and objective

The down block is used against a defender in the inside gap. The purpose is to stop penetration, displace the defender and add space to the running lane. Usually, the ball is coming right behind the down block, so we want to be sure to not be lunging and having an offensive lineman’s legs stretched out in the hole.

To create the technique, set the offensive lineman’s landmark at the V of the defender’s neck. Make contact with the punch, keeping the head and hips behind. The first step is at 45 degrees with the inside foot at the defender. It needs to be quick. We call it a brace step as we want it to be strong as well as directing force into the defender as the second step and punch land at the V.

Penetrating versus reading defensive linemen

Film study and in-game feedback should let the lineman know whether he is facing a penetrator or a reader.

In general:

  • Against a penetrating defensive lineman, use a high inside leg and strong inside hand to stop penetration.
  • Against a reading defensive lineman, take the first step as usual but work a high backside leg because the defender will try to play over the top.

The block is simple, but the technique and adjustments against different defenders are critical.

As with any play in football, it is paramount that we are coaching safe technique as a priority.

Keith Grabowski has been a football coach for 26 years, currently serving as an offensive assistant and technology coordinator at Oberlin College in Ohio. He previously was a head coach at the high school level for eight years and the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Baldwin Wallace University. Grabowski serves as an advisor for several sports technology companies. He is a columnist for American Football Monthly and writes his own blog at He’s the author of “101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays” and five other books available on and operates Coaches Edge Technologies. Follow him on Twitter @CoachKGrabowski.