By John Levra
One-gap control is an important concept in coaching defensive line play. In both seven- and eight-player-front schemes, an attack philosophy is conducive to one-gap control.
A lineman in this scheme is afforded the freedom of vertical penetration, possessing and utilizing hair-trigger reactions and being assigned, as desired, the task of attacking the line of scrimmage.
This freedom makes defensive linemen forceful threats to push a point and force a break in the continuity of the offensive line. “Pushing a point” is a phrase used to describe the action of a defensive lineman when he creates a bubble in the offensive line by charging straight ahead on the snap.
If the defender regularly breaks through the resistance and breaks the continuity of the offensive line, the offense typically responds by downgrading its priorities from knocking people off the ball and achieving movement to assuming a more passive stance.
This passive stance is a byproduct of the mental state of offensive linemen, who become acutely aware of defensive penetration. In a passive stance, an offensive lineman is focusing on damage control. Collectively, the offensive line simply hopes to maintain the offensive integrity at the line of scrimmage.
Once a passive stance is established within the offensive line, the trenches belong to the defense.
One-gap control a popular style of play at high school, college and NFL levels. It can be taught to any player of any talent level and experience.
Its advantages include:
- Allowing defensive linemen to use a dominant shoulder in techniques.
- Enabling defensive linemen to attack on the snap and read on the run.
- Permitting defensive lineman to threaten the offensive line with a vertical push.
- Providing an opportunity for defensive lineman to get a jump into pass rush move much more quickly upon pass recognition.
Once the defenders have the advantage, it’s time to press on. Let’s look at how to defeat three common blocks used against one-gap control and keep pressure in the offensive backfield.
On a reach block, the ball is moving toward the off side and away from the defender.
On the snap, the defender drives off of the ball with a big step and gets his hat in the crack. He then reads the screws of the primary blocker and looks to see if the blocker turns his head so that the defender can see his earhole.
In making such a read, a defender aligned in a 1 technique or 2 technique ricochets off the primary blocker on whom he is aligned and squeezes inside down the line of scrimmage. A 3 technique, on the other hand, ricochets off the blocker to his outside. The 3 technique can then squeeze down the line of scrimmage.
By flattening out to defeat the reach block, the defender stays on his feet to effectively pursues the ball-carrier.
Reach block from cheated splits
From cheated splits, a reach block is employed against both a 1 technique and a 2 technique. When the defender notices a cheated split – typically undersplit or foot-to-foot split – the defender should tighten his alignment. A 1 technique defender tightens to a gap alignment while a 2 technique assumes a 1-technique gap alignment.
The defender should explode upfield on the snap of the ball but not with his customary big first step. Since the cheated split eliminates the possibility of a crack for the defensive player to get his hat into, he should shorten his initial step. His primary objective should be to grab the inside offensive lineman as the blocker attempts to reach inside. The defender should ricochet off of the reach blocker to the outside and flatten out to pursue inside. He should stay on his feet as he fights down the line of scrimmage in an attempt to make the hit on the ball-carrier.
A reach block from cheated splits is not applicable against a 3 technique, because a 3 technique will widen his alignment versus cheated splits, moving outside to a 1 technique alignment on the next offensive lineman. Even if a 3 technique doesn’t widen his alignment, cheated side splits would not affect his reactions against a reach-block scheme.
On a scoop block, the ball is moving toward the on side (toward the defender). Similar to a reach block from cheated splits, a scoop block is not applicable against a 3 technique defender.
A 1 technique and 2 technique should play a scoop block in the same manner. On the snap, the defender should attack the line of scrimmage with a big first step and get his head in the crack. He then should ricochet to the outside off the scoop blocker and wheel back door. Next, he should flatten out his path to pursue the ball-carrier outside.
It is important to note that a scoop is rarely employed against either a defensive tackle or a defensive end unless it is used in combination with a rub technique by the primary blocker. In reality, a scoop block is most typically seen by a defensive guard.
A 3 technique is not scoop blocked, because his outside shade alignment makes it impossible – and unsound – for an inside blocker to be assigned to block him. As such, only a 1 technique or a 2 technique will encounter a scoop block by an inside blocker.
John Levra coached football for 44 years, including as the defense line coach for the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, British Columbia Lions and Chicago Bears. He also was the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos and the running backs coach for the New Orleans Saints. Before that, he was the head coach at Stephen F. Austin and the offensive coordinator at Kansas and Pittsburg State. He also coached seven years at Kansas high schools.