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Ask the Coach: Blocking Techniques to Practice

By Coach Tom Bass Tue, 03/10/2009 - 12:39pm

Coach Tom Bass brings more than 30 years of coaching experience to USA Football. Along with answering youth coaching questions, he also receives emails from young players. You can email the coach at

Diego sent the following question:

I play wing on my high school varsity team. On a few plays I need to climb up field and block linebackers. Most of the time I get on them but a few times they tend to juke me out, or just plain run away from me, and it feels like I'm chasing a chicken. Also, they usually have advantage of position on me when I do get to them, and I can only block them for a few seconds. Are there any drills or techniques I can practice with a teammate on these types of blocks?

Hi Diego,

It is good to realize that the backer is not trying to play into you but is trying to get to the ball carrier. When you are asked to block a backer, try to picture in your mind where the ball carrier will be running with the ball. With this picture in mind, you can take a path that puts you in position to always be in between the backer and ball carrier if the backer moves directly to the ball carrier.

Many times, this may mean not moving directly at the backer but instead moving at a path where you anticipate the linebacker to move to once the play begins.  Try to establish your position to ensure that the backer cannot move in the direction of the ball carrier.

You can work out a drill with a teammate where he is the backer, you both agree on the offensive play being run, he makes his movement to stop the play and you can begin to anticipate and see where you need to position yourself to stop him from reaching his goal. 

When you are going to make your block, try to widen your feet, take shorter steps, bend at your knees and be prepared to adjust your position if the backer tries to juke you by taking an open step with the foot on the side of his final movement and then exploding off the other foot.

Anticipation of the backer's movement, cutting off his path to the ball carrier and setting strong to block are all important elements of getting and maintaining a block on an agile backer.

Coach Tom Bass

Mark sent the following question:

I'm an eighth grader at Gresham Middle School.  I am trying out for the high school freshman team as a free safety. I am 6 feet tall and only weigh 130 pounds and can only bench press 130 as my max. I have to get stronger, get my weight up to 140 and get faster by June 1. Do you think I can reach these goals, and how can I reach them?

Hi Mark,

You can only do what you can do at this stage of your football career. You have a number of years ahead of you, so right now be diligent to an established supervised weekly lifting program three days a week and a running program on the other three days. Stay with your program, work hard and try to relax about the June 1 date. 

You may want to ask one of your coaches if they have a suggested running program that you can follow that will provide you with sprint work and some distance conditioning running. Also, they may be able to help you with your running form.

Three months is quite a bit of time and depending on where you are today, you really should expect to make some gains in that time. Increasing your strength comes from a good lifting program done over time. Increasing your speed comes from a good running program done over time. 

Do the best you can to prepare for the next three months on your strength and conditioning, and on June 1, start to focus on learning how to properly play the game.

Coach Tom Bass

Tinevimbo sent the following question:

I am a nose guard, and I was wondering how to split double teams. Also, what are some effective moves besides swim, grab and rip?

Hi Tinevimbo,

When you are faced with a double team block, your first consideration should be to maintain your position on the line and not be driven back or to the side.

We taught our defensive linemen to react to the double team block by dropping their outside knee to the ground. As they did this maneuver, they were then in position to turn their body sideways so that their chest faced the inside blocker and their back was exposed to the outside blocker.

We then coached them to go to the ground and create a pile at that spot with their body and the two blockers pushing against one another. This forced the ball carrier to change his path and freed up our backers to be in a good position to make the tackle.

Pass rush moves should be based on the body structure of the defensive player rushing the QB. If you are powerful, you should focus on developing a good bull rush where you push the blocker back into the lap of the passer. With this style of pass rush, you are going straight over the blocker to reach the quarterback and taking one side or the other.

When you have done this rush successfully, you should anticipate the blocker trying to set his feet and fire out at you as you charge forward. Using the same start, you can vary your bull rush with a good "bull and pull" rush, using his momentum when the blocker starts to lunge out at you.

When you feel him coming forward as you bull rush, reach out with both hands and grab the front of his jersey. Now using both hands, pull him to one side of your body, step past him with the foot on that side, release your grip and accelerate to the QB.

If you are shorter than most of the OL that you face, you can focus on developing a good under-arm rip and run technique. If you were as tall or taller you would focus on an arm-over technique.

The key to being a good pass rusher is to get off on the ball, to stay low and make ground across the line with your very first step and to have in mind prior to the snap which pass rush technique you are going to use so that you are in control and you force the blocker to react to you.

It is better to have only two pass rush moves and to do them well than it is to try and have a number of moves and not be sure how or why you are trying to use them in a game. Remember that if you are stopped, you should always look to deflect any pass released in your direction.

Coach Tom Bass

Jayson sent the following question:

I'm a junior about to start spring football practice in order to play my senior year. I'm 6 feet, 165 pounds, bench 150 and I run a 4.95 40. I'm very nervous about my first-ever football practice, which is on May ,1 and I would like to know what I can expect as far as intensity or where the coaches think I should be in terms of size, athleticism and skill. I've been running a lot and lifting weights, but do you have any suggestions in terms of diet?

Hi Jayson,

Because this is spring practice, there will not be the intensity in practice that is associated with the regular season. The coaches will want to focus on teaching you as much as they can concerning technique and how to play the position. It is important for you to listen to what the coaches are telling you and the other players. Try to learn as much from mistakes others make as well as the ones that you experience. 

This time should be a great learning experience for you. You will soon get the feel of how the practices are conducted, understand what is desired in each drill and develop a basic knowledge of the offense, defense and special teams.

If the coaches conduct tests of any kind, do the best you can, and then use the results as your base line so that you can chart your improvement as you go through your football career.

Try to relax, enjoy the experience and do not put too much pressure on yourself.  It will take a few practices for you to begin to feel comfortable and understand all that is taking place. Allow for this to happen and have fun out there and make sure you get a lot to drink, stay hydrated before, during and after practice, eat balanced meals, avoid eating a big meal just prior to practice and get plenty of rest.

Coach Tom Bass

Ramon sent the following question:

How do I improve my explosion off the ball and tackles?

Hi Ramon,

Explosion on the football field comes from the use of the big muscle groups in your legs. If you are blocking or tackling, you need to have initial movement forward and then as you prepare to make contact, you need to step forcibly with your foot on the side of the shoulder you are using to hit with and to explode up and through the opposing player.

Your hips should be over your feet, your back should be straight, your head up, your knees bent and your shoulder pads just slightly ahead of your feet and hips.

Many players make the mistake of bending too far forward at their waist, dropping their head and then lose any chance of using the muscles in their legs to give them the desired "pop" on contact.

Aim for a point a yard past the player you are making contact with and try to explode to that point and avoid leaning into either a block or tackle.

Coach Tom Bass

Coach Tom Bass, the technical writer and advisor for USA Football, is a 30-year NFL coach who has also authored several books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" - the first "how to" book ever authorized and published by the NFL.