Defensive Line Techniques for Football

Football player wearing helmet

Defensive line play in football is not just about the speed or strength of the athlete. The best defensive linemen work on their technique and their moves to defeat opposing blockers. In many cases, defensive linemen are going up against offensive linemen who are as big or bigger than they are, so proper angles, leverage and techniques are needed to win the battle.

Swim Technique

This technique is often employed by defensive linemen who are trying to get into the backfield to sack the quarterback or shut down a running play. When this technique is used, the defensive lineman will take one step forward and then reach past the lineman who is attempting to block him and put his hand on the back of that blocker's back or hip. The defensive lineman will then use a swimming motion with that arm to push the blocker and get him off balance. That allows the defensive lineman to get into the backfield and make a tackle or big play.

Shoulder Dip

This move is regularly featured by the most athletic and fastest defensive ends. The defensive end lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle with his outside hand on the ground. On the snap of the ball, the defensive end runs as fast as he can past the offensive tackle and runs directly at the quarterback. The key to making this move successful for the defensive end is for him to dip his inside shoulder as he runs past the offensive tackle, making himself a smaller target for the offensive lineman who is trying to block him. The lower the defensive end can get, the better chance he has of winning this battle and sacking the quarterback.

Spin Move

This is often a move that can confound most blockers. It takes great speed and strength, and the defensive lineman who can pull this off can usually cause havoc for opposing offenses. On a well-executed spin move, the defensive lineman will charge straight into the blocker with his first step, knocking him backward for an instant. At that point the defensive end spins 360 degrees and runs past the outside shoulder of the blocker and into the backfield where he can sack the quarterback or tackle the running back. Former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith excelled at this move and eventually earned Hall of Fame honors. "Bruce was such a dominant athlete that when he performed the spin move, very few players could slow him down," said former Buffalo Bills coach and fellow Hall of Famer Marv Levy. "It's almost impossible for blockers to handle the speed of that move."

Forklift Move

This is a move that can devastate an offensive game plan. It is regularly used by defensive tackles to destroy the quarterback's pocket or obliterate the running game. On this move, the defensive tackle takes one step forward and then uses both arms to grab his opponent around the stomach or belt area and lift him straight up and throw him into the backfield. This action will destroy a running play or force the quarterback out of the pocket. A defensive lineman must catch the opposing blocker by surprise to perform this move effectively. It usually works best when the defensive lineman has been using speed moves to win the battle and then surprises the offensive lineman with this power move.