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The Promotion & Instruction of Youth Football
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5 Principles of Aggressive Defensive Line Play

5 Principles of Aggressive Defensive Line Play

If you follow these 5 principles you will control the line of scrimmage and when you control the line of scrimmage you control the entire game! These are techniques that you need to commit practice time too. Having solid defensive line play will free up your linebackers and create havoc upfront. I will say that being aggressive is great, but your defensive line must playing aggressively with good technique. Here are the five principles of aggressive defensive line play for youth football players.

5 Principles of Aggressive Defensive Line Play

Playing Aggressively While Being Fundamentally Sound

1.Be First with Hands and Steps

Establish contact with the offensive lineman before his second step. It’s important that you work on your defensive lines get-off. They need to fire-out on ball movement and win inside hand placement. The first two steps are critical. Everything we do with our defensive line starts with attacking on ball movement (practice drills). We focus on coaching up a good stance and taking what we call fire-out steps. We are always working on developing that quick reaction time- “attacking on ball movement”.  This applies to defensive lines that shoot gaps and/or slant. Whether you are launching on offensive linemen or you are slanting or shooting through a gap- fast get off is critical. Work on defensive line get-off EVERY single practice, it will be well worth the time invested.

Related Content: 10 Fundamentals of Defensive Line Play 

2.Stop O-Line Movement on Contact

Being first with the hands is critical. However, if you are not able to stop or alter the movement of the offensive linemen than get-off doesn’t really matter. When launching on an offensive linemen, it’s important that your D-linemen get their hands inside, elbows in and locked (extended), thumbs out, and they bring their feet with them. Many times you’ll see kids execute a good shock, but it is more of a reach and their feet don’t stay under them. We do something we call shock and shed. Depending on what techniques or gaps they are responsible for does determine hand placement and what leverage must be maintained.

Related Content: Defensive Line Stances & Techniques 

3. Get Separation

Once your defensive linemen get-off on ball movement and they power step and win hand leverage, jolting the offensive linemen, it is important that they extend their elbows in and don’t get caught “dancing” with the linemen. We want to shock, get separation, find the ball carrier and shed the block. You don’t want your defensive linemen tangled up chest to chest with the offensive linemen. Your defender will not be able to find the ball carrier and that will make it much easier for the offensive linemen to get their hands inside and block you.

4. Get off the Block

We teach what we call shock and shed. Shock entails all techniques from 1-3, shed means once they see where the ball is going and they have secured their gap, they need to shed the block and get to the ball carrier in their proper pursuit path. It makes it much easier for your defensive linemen to shock and shed when they fire off on ball movement, they win inside hand leverage and they bring their feet with them. We don’t want to dance with these offensive linemen, we want to be physical with them, but also be able to get to the ball carrier. Shock and shed while ripping through the blocker!

Related Content: Technique Football Camp | Defensive Line Progression Drills 

5. Keep Gap Integrity

We talked a lot about being physical and shocking and shedding, but it’s critical that your defensive linemen understand their gap responsibility. Your defensive linemen must always control the gap side shoulder of the offensive linemen. Say your defensive tackle is B-gap responsible and is playing a 4 tech (head up on the offensive tackle), he must win inside hand placement and launch through the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.  A lot of this has to do with winning inside hand placement and moving your feet to the gap your defensive linemen is responsible for. When your D-line is slanting, it’s very important that your defensive linemen do not allow them selves to get washed down. If you slant your defensive line a ton I’d recommend teaching the dip & rip technique.


  • Attack on ball movement.
  • Inside hand placement, shock the blocker.
  • Get separation- hands inside, elbow in, arms extended and thumbs out.
  • Get off of the block, get to the ball carrier in proper pursuit path.
  • Be gap responsible!
  • Go make a tackle or get a sack!
  • Be great at these fundamentals- execute your technique, maintain gap control then AGGRESSIVELY pursuit to the ball carrier.