Defensive line techniques for defeating one-on-one blocks

By Mike Kuchar | Posted 5/29/2015

Defensive coordinators believe in one of two schools of thought when it comes to defensive line play – single-gap technique or two-gap technique. Through the years, I’ve chosen to subscribe to a single-gap responsibility for two main reasons.

  • It allows defensive linemen to be proactive by focusing on getting of the ball instead of being reactive by reading blocks.
  • It allows defensive linemen to clear the picture by working “half the man” in front of them. On our team, we read the “outside V of the neck” of the offensive lineman.

Stance and get-off

In a single gap control defense, a premium is placed on getting off the ball. This starts with the stance. We teach our players to get in the following stance:

  • Feet underneath the armpits a little less than shoulder-width apart.
  • Ballside foot back, ball side hand down. This promotes versatility by getting player to play on both sides of the ball.
  • Weight on the balls of the feet. We tell our players it’s where the shoelaces start on their sneakers.
  • Toe to instep stagger, which can be extended to toe-to-heel in pass rush downs.

While we train our players to use the “V of the neck” as a visual key, they should use periphery vision to see the ball move. We spend the initial part of individual practices working on the following stance/get-off drills:

  • Bag agility progression. One foot in each, two feet in each, shuffle weaves, up and backs, shuffle through, hops. We finish with a reactive movement like a scoop and score situation.
  • Get-offs. Straight get-offs, get-offs with redirection, get-offs with stunts (use a towel for dipping shoulder emphasis), get-offs with hands.

Here is a video of these drills being performed:

Hand placement

Because we we key the outside “V” of the neck of the offensive lineman in front of each defensive lineman, we rarely align on the inside shoulder of offensive linemen and we don’t talk much about visual and pressure keys. Our “stab-and-grab” hand placement technique is as follows:

  • Inside hand stabs the heart of the offensive lineman in front of us.
  • Outside hand grabs the outside shoulder pad of the offensive lineman in front of us.
  • The emphasis is on keeping thumbs up and elbows in.

We use the following progression to teach hand placement with our defensive linemen:

  • Both players on knees. Players work to establish hand placement and then regain hand placement after starting in a negative position.
  • Defender on knees, offensive player on feet. Here the defender works to “strain” by shooting the hands at the proper aiming points. It reinforces keeping low pad leverage but keeping hands above eyes.
  • Strain. Here the defender is asked to lift the offensive player by exploding from his hips. It teaches proper hand placement with the proper separation. Defensive players should land on their stomachs.

Here is a video of the hand placement progression we use:

Engaging and defeating blocks

When we talk about defending one-on-one run blocks, we talk about the triple threat position that offensive lineman can create. They can do one of three things presnap: base block, down block or reach block. How we destruct those blocks are detailed below:

An important note: Since we are a gap control defense, we talk about escaping the block with a rip or punch only when the ball commits. Doing so too early may result in losing gap integrity.

  • Base/drive block. Work to keep a body on a body but keep leverage in the gap. We want to fight pressure with pressure with an inside hand. 
  • Down block. We emphasize getting our hands on the lineman by pushing him down the line of scrimmage. We emphasize the possibility of a trap block coming from the play side or back side of a play.
  • Reach block. Because we step with the ballside foot first, we work to get our second step down in a hurry and fight the reach block. We need to push with our outside hand and pull with the inside hand to flatten out blocker.

The best way to teach this technique is to partner players up, have the coach stand behind the defensive lineman and give the offensive lineman a signal to execute either a base, down or reach block. This way, defensive lineman are taught to react with their eyes and not guess.

Here is a video of the one-on-one block progression we use:

By simplifying defensive line technique into the proper footwork and hand placement, coaches can teach lineman to react to various schemes.

Next time, I will focus on how we instruct our defensive linemen to defend against two-on-one blocks such as double teams and scoops as well as defending against specific run schemes. 

Mike Kuchar is co-founder and senior research manager at, a private research company specializing in coaching concepts and trends. Reach him at  or follow him on Twitter @mikekkuchar.