Defense: Pursuing the Ball for Takeaways and Scores (Part I)
By Will Pluff, Defensive Coordinator/secondary Coach
Scoring on defense not only changes the momentum of a game but can also impact the outcome. Winning the turnover battle is a key component to victory and defensive coordinators all over the country constantly work to create ways to teach takeaways. The challenge we all face is how and when we get repetitions of the skills to gain possession of the ball and more importantly score once the defense has the ball.
At Utica College we schedule weekly drills to emphasize pursuit and gaining possession of the ball. Along with these we schedule time during practices to run what we call “Pursue for Takeaways.” This is a drill with many moving parts that works both run and pass pursuit involving skills to not only gain takeaways but score once you have the ball.
Some of the reasons we find these drills valuable are:
* It works many skills in a short period of time.
* High tempo drill that can involve all defensive players.
* Working pursuit to both run and pass plays.
* Can involve many staff members.
* Opportunity to quickly coach defensive players some offensive skills.
We install this drill to our coaches during pre-camp meetings in August and for our players during camp. With “Pursue for Takeaways” involving a large number of players, coaches, and skills there are some recommendations I would make prior to running the drill.
* Install the drill run/pass with your coaches.
o Each coach should be assigned a responsibility in setting up the drill and a job during the drill.
o If you do not have enough coaches, assign a positional group to rotate a player through these jobs.
* Have each of your positional coaches install the drill in their positional meetings for operational purposes.
* Defensive Coordinator then installs the drill in the defensive meeting to talk through the expectations and coaching points players will hear during the drill (Diagram 1).
“Pursue for Takeaways: Run”
D- Defensive player going through Drill
COACH- we have substituted student assistants as well as players in the past when we have not had as many staff members.
POP UP- Is the weighted stand up bag. If these are not available we use a square stand up.
CONES- Not always necessary in run and pass drills.
S- Player holding a shield who will go through the drill to give an offensive pursuit look,.
Drill Set Up:
* Set up drill on goal line to emphasize scoring after the takeaway.
* Two coaches are each with a pop up/stand up bag and ball set up between the 10 and 20 yard lines inside the numbers.
* One less cone than defenders going through the drill are set up vertically going from the 20 yard line down the sideline every 2-3 yards.
* 2 Coaches are on each side of the end zone. Each coach will be lined up where the numbers would be if they were extended into the end zone.
* Coach who runs the drill will be in the end zone facing out.
* 5 defenders (as many or few as you would like to work) on the goal line are facing into the end zone.
* 4 “offensive” players are holding shields (always have one less shield player than defenders in the drill).
* The rest of the players not involved should be in the back of the end zone.
* 2 pop up or square stand ups.
* 2 footballs.
* Shields equal to double the defenders going through the drill minus two, so you have a second wave ready to go which decreases reset time.
* With 5 defenders facing into the end zone, the coach running the drill gives command to buzz feet and complete three up downs. After getting up from the third the coach points to one of the pop up bags.
* All 5 defenders turn and sprint to pop up
* First defender to pop up tackles the bag. As bag is tackled coach tosses ball on ground.
* Next closest defender scoops the ball heading to the numbers to return the ball to the end zone.
* As pop up is tackled, the players with shields sprint and pursue the ball carrier simulating offensive pursuit of the turnover.
* Defenders without ball turn and block shields.
* Ball is returned to coach in end zone. All defensive players going through the drill finish on the coach in the end zone with a break.
Drill Coaching Points:
* See if you can film the drill and go over it in defensive or team or positional meetings to hit these points slower than on the field.
* In defensive pursuit a player should never follow the same colored jersey (the cones are set up as a visual – with younger groups we have used the cones as aiming points).
* If you are the last defender in line running toward the bag, peel off and look for a block once you are outside the hash.
* Tackler needs to run feet through tackle when in pursuit downfield – over exaggerate over the top chop.
* Tackler gets back up and works to get a block.
* Shields must leave when bag is tackled.
* Scoop and score player needs to pick up the ball on the first try. If he does not, make him fall on it and blow the whistle to kill the drill. This helps to emphasize that they have one chance to gain possession and score.
* Ball carrier should return the ball on the numbers. This is a rule everyone on defense needs to follow. If everyone knows the ball carrier is on the numbers, they can make sure their blocks get people off the numbers.
* Ball carrier getting to the numbers gives him room to make one cut and score.
* Blockers must block the up field shoulder of the shield (offensive player). This allows you to block physically. If you miss, make sure you miss and he has to run around you away from the end zone.
* Defensive players block using their hands.
* Do not let the person you are blocking on the numbers.
* Ball carrier keeps ball high and tight.
* Finish drill through the end zone.