Former NFL DL coach Thurmond Moore details the five drills he uses to teach hand placement.
Coach Thurmond Moore has spent his career honing the ability and technique of top defensive lineman at all levels - prep, college and in the NFL. Moore has extensive experience on the defensive side of the ball, including coaching at a dozen collegiate football programs, several NFL teams and NFL Europe. Moore has made collegiate stops at Tulsa, Colorado State, North Texas, Syracuse and UCLA. In the NFL, he has worked with the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and served as the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator from 2001-03. He most recently was the defensive line coach of the New York Sentinels of the United Football League. He currently trains over two dozen NFL defensive linemen and has developed his own Tackling Academy, which could be found here: http://www.tacklingacademy.org
MK: Coach, you spent an entire hour during your sessions going over drills are catered specifically to hand placement. Has that become a lost art in defensive line play or something that is continually under-coached?
TM: That is the biggest change in the game in the last 15 years. With the changing of the rules in which offensive lineman can use their hands, if you can’t put your hands in the right spot as a defensive lineman or if you can’t learn how to deflect his hands then you’re not going to be a very good defensive player. As a defensive coach, you need to teach hand placement. You better get your hands inside and your elbows locked before his power step gets in the ground or now he has power. Big bodies are great, but it’s all about hands now. Hardest thing I ever found when coaching at the highest levels is hand development. If players start doing this when they are 8,9 or 10 years old then they will have developed a pretty good skill.
MK: How do you teach it to younger player who haven’t mastered that technique yet?
TM: If a defensive player is running in there and an offensive lineman is able to grab his hands or his jersey right away, then it’s a problem. Those linemen are all looking at one area- they have a strike zone and if you’re not able to keep his hands off there, then he’s going to block you. The strike zone is between the top of the numbers and the bottom of the numbers. I know that coaches are doing this in-season, but many are not doing it before camp. This is a progression that you must start in the off-season. I believe some coaches don’t understand it. You have to have a passion and understanding of hand placement now. If you’re not emphasizing it or doing the little things to correct it, you’re not going to get it from your players.
MK: How do you instill the proper hand placement in veteran players at bigger levels who haven’t been taught this fundamental yet?
TM: I break pass rush down into three phases: your start, attacking the strike zone and your move. That’s the big part. A move to me is a club, swipe. If a guy has shorter hands, you may have him make two swipes. If he’s stronger, you may want him to use a club. You have to get him to see everything, then as he develops see what he does best and hone in on that. That’s where teaching and coaching comes along. You got to have a rush and a counter move. That short, quick progression is key. If you don’t have that down, then the ball is off and you’re too late at that point.
MK: One of the drills you work in the video to teach hand placement is the five-dot drill. Briefly tell us the purpose of that drill.
TM: I want them to be able to place their hands laterally or vertically, particularly under duress. So I make them shoot their hands in different letter or number patterns in a period of 15 seconds. I make them shoot their hands when they’re fatigued and make them try to put their hands where they want to during a stressful situation.
MK: One of the better reactive drills I’ve seen you do is the gun and knife drill. Can you explain the purpose behind that progression?
TM: It’s a reactive drill where you are using a power step and grabbing the wrists of the offensive lineman during a pass rush progression. It teaches players where to grab those lineman and more importantly how to escape blocks or what I call “throw out the trash.” It’s a four-part progression that starts with the hands and finishes with the escape and getting to the quarterback.
MK: One of the more interesting drills I’ve seen you do is the hand ladder drill. How did you come up with this concept?
TM: Honestly, I was so frustrated with players not using their hands. Instead of using ladders for footwork and agility, I use them for hands. We also do them up a hill for emphasis. It works the shoulders and quick hands. It has helped us tremendously. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. We do it two days a week in season- on heavy days. It’s a shoulder workout.
MK: Thanks, Coach. I appreciate your time,
TM: Appreciate being involved. You guys are doing a tremendous job with the advancement of coaches.
Click on the link below to access over 15 minutes of Coach Moore’s newest drill catalog for defensive linemen. This video is courtesy of Football University and School of the Legends Productions.
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Why hands are more important than speed in DL play.
Coach Moore’s three phases of the proper pass rush.
Why pass rush is more about deflecting hands than making moves.
Importance of the 5-Dot drill and why you should spend five minutes of daily practice time doing it.
How vary your hand placement techniques based on the size of opposing offensive linemen.