Teaching a Physically Dominant Down Block

By Keith Grabowski | Posted 4/11/2019

The down block is a technique used in many offensive systems and schemes. It is a block taught at the youngest levels and utilized through the NFL. The objective of the block is to drive the defender to the opposite side of the play and to prevent penetration into the backfield or a cross face over the top.

As the game continues to evolve and we become acutely aware of player safety and methods to create a better, safer game, we must evaluate our teaching of the down block. A brief survey of videos teaching this technique on YouTube shows about half teach the “head-across-the-front” technique. Most coaches have eliminated “head-across-the-front” as a coaching point, and it is time to eliminate that technique from blocking as well.

USA Football’s Contact System includes videos on teaching the down block as well as drills for installing the techniques.

Eliminate the terms that are not useful for an effective block

“Head across the front,” “hat placement,” or “earhole the defender” are old techniques and coaching points, and we avoid this term because we aren’t using our helmet to engage.

These terms and techniques are not necessary coaching points for an effective down block.

In fact, the method puts the blocker at a disadvantage against a moving or reading defender. The technique using those methods requires head contact and leaves the hips behind. If the hips are behind, there is a loss of control, and the blocker is susceptible to being pulled or shed. Additionally, it leaves the blockers feet in the running lane.

The technique taught in the Contact System removes the head as a tool for contact, creates force of the hands driven by the hips and handles the different reactions a defender may give against a down block.

Here is an overview of the coaching points for the down block.

Overview

• To cut off penetration and prevent cross face, the blocker must position their body perfectly.

• Execute footwork that accomplishes aligning the hips to the target.

• The Bridge works by closing the hips and engaging with the hands to prevent penetration and cross face while widening running lane.

Footwork

• Unlike traditional aiming points, where head is the focal point for contact, we want to align the hips with the target at the most optimal point.

• The optimal target to align the hips is inside the neckline (V of neck).

• Taking a brace step will enable us to align our hips to the target.

Catch Hand

• Catch hand is the hand nearest to the defender.

• Its job is to catch the opposite breast plate, which will assist in stopping penetration.

• Catch hand and brace foot work together.

• Arm is long and hand grabs breast plate.

Close Hips

• Hip closure is the key to success and it happens immediately.

• Remember low hips, not necessarily low pad level, win. Pressure is applied from the hips, not the head or upper body.

• Closing the hips immediately will avoid any holding call.

Off hand

• We will add the play-side hand or far hand once the defender intends to penetrate the gap.

• If we reach or add the play-side hand too soon, the defender can swat the hand and cross face.

• Hand can go to the defender’s hip to apply force.

• Keep the elbow inside frame and continue to close hips.

• Wall off the defender using the hips.

Climb

• Once the hands are fit and the hips have closed the distance, we will finish by climbing.

• By climbing we mean to suck the hips up to the defender, finally bringing feet-to-feet.

• This elevates a defender’s center of gravity, making it impossible to push back or disengage.

This technique handles the basic situation. The Contact System includes all the details and instruction to teach the block as well as to troubleshoot common defensive reactions to the down block including the spin back and cross face.

The example below illustrates the coaching points of the down block and shows that head contact is unnecessary for executing an effective down block.

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