COACHES CORNER: Defensive Line Philosophy, Fundamentals & Techniques

Heritage’s defensive line prepares for the ball to be snapped during a September 9 game against South Adams.

In this week’s Coaches Corner, I am going to cover my defensive line philosophy and key fundamentals and techniques you must have as a defensive linemen. 

Philosophy of Defensive Line:

Believe – As a defensive linemen, it is crucial that you know how to believe and, more importantly, choose to believe. You must have a ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality. I am a firm believer that a defensive line philosophy reflects the team’s plan to win and play great defense, first and foremost. It all starts up front! We must be an attacking defensive front! 


• Dominate your gap and your gap only

• Know the tackle situation and your assignment on every single play.

• Must have GREAT effort to the ball (Pursuit) 


• It all starts with your energy and effort to the ball – nothing good ever happens away from the play/ball. 

• 1st man in on the tackle – Must Be Physical. Secure the tackle. 

• 2nd man in on the tackle – Strip The Ball. Create a big play/turnover 

• Pass Rush. Stay in your rush lane. Cause havoc in the backfield. Pressure the QB and create bad passes. Hands up when the ball leaves the QBs hand. 


• You must dominate your gap

• Have great effort to the football – turn and run. No personal negotiations 

• Get to the QB  – Don’t give him time to throw the ball downfield. 

Defensive Line Rules -​ Togetherness, Discipline, Energy, Effort, Toughness. 

• Protect the team! Care more about your teammates than you do yourself. 

• No Whining, No Complaining, and Absolutely NO Excuses. 

• Don’t be late – Early is on time.

• Communicate! 

In order to be a championship defense you must be a great practice player, you cannot expect to show out on game days. It is the absolute best source of player development. Practice habits are your edge against opponents. You must compete every single practice and take none off. “If you are walking, you are wrong.” Tempo is key to having a great practice. High energy and effort. Be attentive during meetings and on the practice field. A positive attitude and great work ethic is contagious. You must be a leader both on and off the field. 

Defensive Line Progression:

Defensive Linemen must know and give the following on each play:

• Fundamentals (Presnap) 

• Stance – Must allow you to execute (Weight on hands). Power, Movement, or Speed Stance? 

• Alignment – Must be exact to insure success. 

• Assignment – Know what to do. 

• Technique (Block Destruction) 

• Get Off – Must have an explosive first step on movement. 

• Target – Hands and eyes must find target point (Breastplate) 

• Cloth – Grab cloth of offensive linemen 

• Separation – Lockout 

• Effort 

• Escape – Disengage blocker and find the ball 

• Pursuit – take proper angle to the ball and make a play 

• Tackle – track the near hip and make a play. Missed tackles cannot happen. 

Eastside and Churubusco’s lines do battle during a September 9 game. (Photo by Brice Vance)

Tackling Progression:

As a defensive linemen, missed tackles are unacceptable. You must use proper tackling technique to ensure you secure the tackle and not miss out on the opportunity to make a big play. The following is a progression that I like to teach as a defensive line coach. 

• Track the near hip

• Close the distance

• Violent shoulder punch 

• Wrap up and squeeze

• Roll to leverage – FINISH!

Pass Rush Progression: 

Defensive linemen must pressure the quarterback using great pass rush fundamentals and techniques. 

• Proper stance – Know the situation. 

• Get off the ball “shoot out of a cannon”

• Have a move in mind

• Stay in your rush lane 

• Keep your feet moving upfield 

• Only rush ½ a man


Everything covered above is what I believe it takes to be a successful defensive linemen. We can see a lot of these components existing in our defensive linemen throughout the area. I believe that with the access to off-season training and great coaches during the season, we will continue to see defensive linemen making big plays and growing stronger, faster, and wiser.  

Wes Painter is a new contributor to Outside the Huddle. He played football at both Snider High School and Indiana State University. Following his playing career, Painter coached defensive line and special teams for the Sycamores before moving back to Fort Wayne. He served as an assistant coach at North Side from 2019-20.

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