Understanding SOP: Standard Operating Procedure
Being a defensive lineman isn’t an easy job, but somebody has to do it. In order to be technically and fundamentally sound, they need to understand the game on both a physical and mental level. So, on the first day of preseason camp, all defensive lineman should learn SOP -- or, the standard operating procedure -- to put them on the track towards success. It’s a six-step program that can be applied during every game and practice, but, surprisingly enough, takes most defensive linemen three years to master. By adding these CoachUp-procured abilities to your personal training, you’ll become a better defensive lineman in no time.
Although defensive lineman typically have the least amount of preparation pre-snap, it doesn’t exempt them from being as mentally sharp as possible. More often than not, knowledge can go toe-to-toe with the physical side of the game. Being strong doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do with it! Studying film can give you the necessary edge on game day, so don’t forget about it. A good defensive lineman will know blocking schemes just by looking at the footwork, blocking angles, contact off the ball, and the pass sets of their opposition. Additionally, make sure you know the quarterback’s exit strategy. Which way does he like to scramble? Where does he step-up in the pocket to avoid pressure? These might seem like easy questions, but you’ll never know them without watching film.
Soon enough, you’ll begin to see play indicators or hints that could give away their strategy three steps before it even happens. By taking guesswork out of the equation, you’ll build confidence by knowing assignments and effectively executing the game plan.
In order to be the best lineman possible, it starts with utilizing a proper stance. Once a proper stance is set in stone, a player can move onto fundamentals, and then put it altogether with the technique and execution. However, without proper stance, none of this is possible. Any good defensive lineman won’t skimp on lining up the right way as it’s the first necessary step towards dominating your blocker.
Typically, the most popular stance in football is the three-point stance. The name refers to the amount of appendages that are touching the ground before the snap. It is possible to lineup in a two or four-point stance, but those are generally less common situations. Since the three-point stance is the most often used technique, it will be the one highlighted below.
For a defensive lineman, their hands are a crucial piece in creating a proper stance -- and that doesn’t just apply to what they do after the snap. What this means is that all defensive lineman on the right side of the ball will place their left, inside hand down. Appropriately, all defensive lineman on the left side of the ball will place their right, inside hand down. Basically, the hand on the ground will always be the one closest to the ball. The other hand needs to be out in front of the knees and ready to fire. Remember to not rest that hand on your thigh, it makes you less prepared for the snap. An idle hand means it must travel to the spot it’s needed instead of already being there!
Simply put, your feet will reflect the position of the hands. If your right hand is on the ground, then it is the right foot that will be back, and vice versa. Keep your feet no wider than shoulder width apart! Try placing your back foot so that its toes lineup with the heel of the front foot. If that’s not comfortable enough, try slightly closer -- but find out what works best for you!
The knees should be bent enough where your rear end is comfortably pointed in the air and causing forward lean. Body pressure applied to the fingers of hand on the ground should make the defensive lineman fall forward if his hand is kicked out from under him. That way, he's ready to transfer all that pressure and energy forwards immediately after the snap.
Focused + Ready
With the proper stance and eyes focused, the defensive line should be ready to fire out of the blocks as soon as the center moves the ball in any way. Following the snap, your first step should be to move your down hand towards the chest of the offensive lineman. More often than not, this will prevent false steps, crossing your foot, or stepping too far. A proper first step is imperative towards keeping balance and attacking the line of scrimmage in one motion.
After that, you can begin looking at specific run block techniques to diversify your abilities. Here are a few of them to get you started:
The Slant Step
- Aim at the crotch of the lineman you’re slanting towards.
- Step with your inside foot first and rip hard with the outside arm.
- Remember to dip the shoulder to become a smaller target.
- Key the lineman that you’re slanting to and square your shoulders as soon as possible.
The Loop Step
- Aim at the point in the middle of the gap that you are looping to. *
- This time, the first step is with the foot closest in the direction you’re looping.
- That step must be flat and slightly up field while ripping hard with the outside arm and shooting your hands at the opposing lineman.
- Again, make sure your shoulders always stay square.
(Related: Read about forcing fumbles efficiently here.)
Being a defensive lineman is one of the most difficult positions in football as it relies on the athlete being mentally sharp and technically sound on each play. One misstep or poorly executed play could be the difference between the game-ending tackle and the running back breaking off a twenty-yard gain. Thankfully, there are plenty of off-field steps an aspiring defensive lineman can take towards being fully prepared for any situation or play call. Utilizing these skills to the best of your ability is the first and most important step for those trying to master the position.
However, if you still find yourself struggling with these ideals and practices, consider hiring one of CoachUp's private trainers to help you out. Our team is full of experienced and well-versed coaches that want to take your game to another level. Once you get these fundamentals down, the sky is the limit for you -- so what are you waiting for?