In Defensive End Fundamentals I briefly described the keys and reads of the defensive end. While schemes can change from week to week the defensive end will always have two keys. The first key is a visual read of the near back. The defensive end will align in a two point stance so that he can be effective in reading this key for a run to, run away, or pass read. He may also see the depth of the backs track to read inside/outside run. The second key is a physical read of the offensive lineman. The defensive end will feel the block and combine it with his visual read to determine his reaction.
If the defensive end gets a "run to" visual read he knows he will likely be getting a physical read of a no block, reach block, or turnout block. If aligned inside the TE he may also be exposed to a double team or down block. Since a down block is not that different than a turnout block the defensive end is really only going to see four different things happen to him when his read tells him the ball is being run his way. This simplifies the learning curve and avoids the confusion of different schemes. Let's take a look at the reaction to each of these blocks.
The No Block
The No Block read will differ week to week based on the opponent, however, it is almost always the result of an option or lead play. This draws upon the common "block down step down" mantra of defensive line coaches because the defensive end must immediately squeeze flat down the line of scrimmage when the man he is aligned over does not block him. This can change slightly based upon option responsibilities, but since the base responsibility of the defensive end is to take the dive we always make it first instinct to squeeze the gap. If the play is not an option, then the End must still squeeze to prepare for the kickout block. This block can come from just about any lineman or a lead back. He should attack the kickout with his inside shoulder and his inside foot forward. This makes it easier for him to react outside when the ball carrier bounces. The worst thing the end can do vs any no block read is to come high upfield instead of squeezing. This also happens to be the most common mistake among young ends. By squeezing upfield instead of flat down the line a crease is created and the hole remains for the offense to run the football. If the end reacts immediately flat down the line of scrimmage the gap disappears and the back is forced to bounce outside.
The Reach Block
The next block an end will see is the reach block which should combine with a flater ball carrier release on the visual key to show outside run. Since the end is aligned outside anyways it should be difficult for the OT to reach him. As the tackle steps out to reach block, the end must react to contain the ball carrier. He needs to remember that he has his buddies coming from the inside and his job is to set a wall for the ball carrier to cut upfield. Appropriate pursuit angles are crucial for this skill. If the tackle is able to make the reach the end must work to rip back through the block and pursue flat down the line of scrimmage. The worst thing he can do at this point is attempt to go behind the blocker and chase the ball from behind. He needs to work flat to maintain his pursuit angle and help string out the run play so help can arrive.
The Turnout Block
Against any type of turn out block, or base block, the end must work his hands into the OL to squeeze him back into the hole. The key is to not get any farther upfield as it will create a run lane. He also cannot be driven backwards for the same reason. A common mistake against this block is to once again float upfield and into the backfield. It must be stressed during individual drills to immediately begin the squeeze of the OL into the gap. Once the ballcarrier arrives it is ok for the end to rip low and across the face of the blocker to make the tackle as it is difficult at this point for the back to bounce outside and force the defense into a contain problem.
The Down Block/Double Team
If the end gets aligned vs. a TE he may also see the down/seal block or a double team. The down/seal block is any block coming from the outside trying to drive the defender down the line of scrimmage. The down block will come from a lineman, while a seal block comes from a back or receiver. The end must hold his ground and not lose horizontal or vertical positioning. If he is getting moved it is vital that he goes down or our linebackers will not be able to adjust. If the end is able to separate from the block he may rip through to make the play. The end can mentally prepare for any seal block based on alignment of the back or motion of a receiver. If there is a wing or a wide receiver in slow motion towards the end he should begin thinking about the possibility of a seal. We treat a double team much like a down block, but add the "Snake and Split" technique. The End may dip his inside shoulder and rip his inside arm to split the double team.
By simplifying the number of reactions for your players you will allow them to play faster and with more confidence. If you have any ideas for how to minimize and simplify these reads any further leave a comment and share with the rest of us. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
As described in Defensive End Fundamentals, the defensive end will always have two keys. The first key is a visual read of the near back while the second key is a physical read of the offensive lineman. The combination of these two reads will tell the end where the ball is going and how he should react. Specifically, the near back will tell the defensive end whether the play is a run to him, run away from him, or pass.If the near back steps away from the defensive end then the end is highly likely to see either a backside scoop/no block or a turnout block.
Backside Scoop/No Block
If the end reads run away while not getting blocked his reaction is to immediately get upfield to intersect the quarterback's boot path. This reaction slows down the playaction game while letting both the coordinator and quarterback that they will see pressure if they try to boot, waggle, or naked away from the action. To intersect the quarterback we teach the end contain principles of taking an ability based angle to get out ahead of the quarterback and keep him inside.
Clearly an answer to this reaction is to run counter. With the end getting upfield he does become a target for pulling linemen and counter runs. This is why we gameplan against heavy counter teams. You'll recall during our discussion of the run to read that when our end is not blocked he will immediately squeeze down the line. When teams run counter effectively or are using counter to combat our quarterback intersection we will adjust to this reaction vs. the no block or backside scoop. The end will squeeze with his body and his eyes. If he does not see counter working back then he can always bust back out to the intersect point.
If the end gets a run away read from the back combined with a turnout block by the offensive line he must initially react to the turnout block by working the lineman inside and down the line. The end cannot afford to lose ground vertically or horizontally or he will widen the gap for any type of counter play coming back to him. While fighting pressure the end must also continue to diagnose the reaction of the quarterback and blocking style of the lineman to determine if the play is actually a playaction pass. In this case, he will get into his pass reaction.