Defensive Line Coach Larry Coyer teaches his players specific techniques to get past the blockers
(Editor's Note: During the 2007 season, the Buccaneers ran a series of articles called "Fundamentally Speaking" in their game-day publication, *Buccaneers Review. Those articles sought to explain some of the basic building blocks of successful football. As the team prepares for the beginning of the 2008 free agency period, during which any available sack-men will surely be at a premium, we take a look back at Defensive Line Coach Larry Coyer's discussion of the fundamentals of rushing the passer.*
Though the goal is simple – to get past the blockers and get to the quarterback in the brief time before the ball is released – the technique and strategy that goes into achieving that goal is surprisingly detailed. Coyer's men are taught a three-step process to overcome the obstacles in their path and get to the quarterback. While a good pass-rusher must possess such innate skills as speed, quickness and instincts, those skills can be honed through intense work and endless repetitions on the practice field. Here is a closer look at how the Bucs' pass-rushers got the quarterback, in Coyer's own words.
"The first thing a defensive lineman must learn is that it is not his job to rush the blocker; it is his job to rush the quarterback. The pass-rusher's focus should be on getting to the guy with the football, and the blocker should just be an obstacle in the way. When a lineman struggles is when he focuses on the blocker. The key is to maintain a feel for where the quarterback is while working around the obstacles in his path, and only a few guys have this ability. They really have to have that feel. It's a natural skill, but it's a skill that can be improved with reps. It doesn't happen overnight. I like to compare it to wrestling – you should be able to wrestle blindfolded just by the feel. Good pass-rushers have to be the same way; they almost have to be able to do it with their eyes closed.
Beyond that, there are three keys that rushing the passer are all about: the get-off, the act of getting hands away from you, and the tilt-and-finish.
The first key, of course, is getting off the ball. You need to be able to accelerate into the blocking scheme. All great pass-rushers have that. You can call it the first step, you can call it quickness, you can call it whatever you want. The rusher needs to be able to get right into the offensive blocker because that reduces the blocker's time to react to the rush. To some extent, getting off the ball can be taught, but for most guys it is natural. Great pass-rushers just have that natural ability to have a fast twitch when the ball is snapped. We work at the get-off hard, but you have to have a certain gift to begin with. Gaines Adams has that quickness. Greg Peterson, Chris Hovan, Kevin Carter…actually all of our guys have tremendous get-off, of course, and that's one reason why they are in the NFL.
The next step – and I think this is the most important thing to a pass rush – is to get the offensive blockers' hands away from you. There are a couple of techniques that we use to make sure the offensive linemen don't get their hands on us. We can club them. That's when the rusher uses his arm as a club and just physically knocks the blocker's arms off him. We can wipe them off. That's when the pass-rusher pushes the blockers' hands aside and attempts to slide them away from his body. Then there is the grab-and-jerk, which is exactly what it sounds like. The rusher grabs the blocker's arms and tugs them in an attempt to throw the blocker out of the way. Whichever method you use, the bottom line is the hands have to get off your body. If the blocker gets his hands on your body, you are done. The blocker is going to control you, he is going to steer you and he is going to move you wherever he wants. We work very hard at this, drilling it constantly in practice. Most good pass-rushers also do things on their own in the off-season to work on hand quickness, such as martial arts or boxing.
The final part of the rush is the tilt-and-finish. That's when you get around the corner and your hips and your toes are pointed at the quarterback. The question is, once you get leverage on the blocker, how fast can you close from that point to the quarterback? The great sack-men get there in a heartbeat. That's what Michael Strahan has. All the guys that are great pass-rushers can go from Point A to Point B, but it's not just raw speed. There is a lot of technique involved. You have to get your hips down, almost like you are leaning against a wall. Your hips are down, your toe is pointing at the quarterback and your body has to follow. It's almost like propelling yourself. Within that framework, you use the hand that was free when you cleared the blocker as a propeller. You try to use the blocker's momentum against him. And you have to finish strong when you get to the quarterback – that's the bottom line. Whether it's a pocket passer or a mobile quarterback, you need to finish strong.
Another thing that helps a pass-rusher get to the quarterback is being able to recognize blocking schemes. Good rushers know when the offense is bringing help to him, if they are bringing a chipping back or maybe sliding the protection their way. When the offense does that, the great rushers know how to counter that and get around it. Still, once the ball is snapped, it all comes down to our three keys: get off at the snap, keep the hands off you and tilt-and-finish.
- Get-Off – The act of firing out of your stance and into the opposition at the moment of the snap. * Club – Removing a blocker's hands from your body by swiping down on his arms. * Getting Leverage – When in contact with a blocker, the act of getting your body in a position that allows you to move the opposing player. * Tilt-and-finish – The act of lining up your toes and hips and propelling yourself at the quarterback after clearing the blocker. * Pocket Passer – A quarterback who rarely scrambles and usually throws from inside the pocket. * Chipping Back – A running back who helps out in blocking a defender by giving him a glancing blow before leaving the backfield. * Sliding the Protection – A maneuver by the offense in which extra blockers are moved to one side of the line to help stop a pass-rusher from a certain area.