Gaining Proper Leverage Within the Drive Block

Dave Christensen

Run blocking is divided into three categories: man-blocking techniques, two-man blocking techniques and pull techniques. Blocks categorized as man blocks are executed by only one lineman, including:

  • Drive block
  • Cut-off block
  • Down block
  • Influence block
  • Level block
  • Fan block
  • Butt block
  • Escape move
  • Arc release
  • Block release
  • Alley block
  • Reach block

The run-blocking demeanor

A key part of every run block is establishing a proper run-blocking demeanor, and this figures heavily into the execution of one-man blocks.

The proper run-blocking demeanor is a combination of the correct body positioning and the blocker’s movement during the “fit” stage of the block, which comes at the moment of contact and allows the blocker to maintain a sufficient blocking surface on the defender.

The fit includes the stage of the block when the offensive lineman maximizes his leverage. A blocker exhibiting the correct blocking demeanor during the fit should demonstrate the following:

  • Hips low.
  • Knees bent.
  • Ankles flexed.
  • Feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower back arched (hyperextended).
  • Toes pointing outward.
  • Shoulders slightly elevated.
  • Elbows tight to the body.
  • Hands open with thumbs up.

Optimal use of the leverage angle or power angle from low to high involves the following body positioning:

  • Feet flat to maximize the opportunity for contact with the ground.
  • Toes turned slightly outward.
  • Knees turned slightly inward.
  • Hands to target. Depending on the type of angle desired, a flipper or both hands should be punched into the chest of the opponent in a low-to-high lifting fashion.
  • Elbows remain tucked inward,while the thumbs point upward.
  • Pad under pad. The shoulders of the blocker should be lower than the shoulders
    of the defender.
  • The chin is kept level, so that the blocker’s head remains level, while his neck is bowed.
  • Head remains behind the plane of the chest with the screws of the headgear facing forward.

The mechanics of the correct blocking demeanor should be practiced year-round. Similar to a proper golf swing, the correct blocking demeanor has multiple components that must fall into place.

Continually drill players in the development of the individual components of the proper blocking demeanor. Using slower paces with an emphasis on controlled movement can help to keep offensive linemen finely tuned on the mechanics of maintaining the proper demeanor.

Drive block

Of all the man blocks, the most basic is the drive block. Mastering the techniques involved in the drive block is essential for an offensive lineman attempting to develop a complete repertoire of essential skills.

As an offensive line coach, it is your objective to develop at least five offensive linemen and two tight ends who can whip their opponents with a drive block. Most of the two-man blocking techniques usually depends on the movement created by a drive blocker.

The drive block consists of three main elements: set to drive, attack step and leverage step.

The set to drive is the departure step of the offensive lineman (i.e., the first step of the blocker). This step is a four-inch jab step that serves as either a directional step or a settle step. The set to drive is a directional step that is used when the offensive lineman is firing off the line to meet the stunting defender. When the defender is not a threat to stunt, the set to drive is a settle step.

Setting to drive entails the lead foot grazing the turf to quickly plant and enhance the power of the offensive lineman’s demeanor. It is important for the offensive lineman to arch the lower back and flex the large muscle groups as setting to drive. Eyes focus on the target or the point of aim as he attacks the neutral zone.

The attack step is the offensive lineman’s second step. When drive blocking a defensive lineman, the attack step is executed just before contact. Ideally, the blocker makes contact with the down defender after the blocker’s third step. However, contact is usually made with the down defender after two-and-a-half steps.

The attack step is also a tracking step. On the attack step, the blocker’s inside foot steps toward the defender’s inside foot, thereby putting the blocker on the track to strike the landmark with a full blocking surface. The attack step propels the blocker through the neutral zone as the blocker gains momentum to hit through the defender.

“Hit through them, not to them” is a good phrase to use when coaching inexperienced offensive linemen. Beginning offensive linemen tend to stop at the moment of contact. As an offensive line coach, note that while blocking is a fundamental part of football, it is not a common everyday acts or one even common to other physical sports.

Teach blockers to overcome this fear of contact by starting against soft dummies that are held with minimum resistance. Refrain from standing on the blocking sled during repetitions, because many young players are not strong enough to explode through the heavier five-man and seven-man sleds. Standing on sleds only teaches the young offensive lineman to “hunker” on contact with the pad, often resulting in the development of major mechanical flaws and a negative psychological outlook on blocking.

The next step (i.e., the third step) after the attack step is the leverage step. Against an outside-shaded defender, such as a 3 technique, the leverage step is made with the outside foot. The leverage step allows the blocker to gain depth and initiate the finish of the block. It is on this step that the blocker gets the lift on the defender as the fit is secured. The blocker should fit snugly with his pads under the defender’s pads. “Pads under pads” is the commonly used phrase used to reinforce the concept of fitting with the defender on the third step. Coach your linemen to attempt to get the third step down before contact is made. The three-step progression must be made with four-inch strides completed in rapid fire succession.

The net result of the rapid three-step departure to gain leverage with pad-under-pad contact should result in the proper run-blocking demeanor. As the blocker completes the third step and engages the defender, he begins to attempt to gain lift on the defender. The blocker begins to apply effort with regard to the “three-inch rule,” which states that if the blocker can achieve a vertical dominance on the defender in a manner to knock him back off the line approximately three inches, the blocker will be successful in his block. In other words, after a blocker engages a defender, it is a matter of whether the blocker can achieve only three inches of movement.

Evidence suggests that the success of a block is determined in the first fraction of a second. Almost without fail, a blocker who achieves three inches of movement and maintains a proper fit with the opponent will dominate the defender.

Lift is achieved primarily from the violent punch and thrust of the hands through the opponent’s chest. Shooting the hands from the knee and ground causes the blocker’s hips to snap forward on contact. As the hips snap forward, the feet must accelerate to chase the hips, thus providing even more momentum to the blocker’s forward thrust. By forcing the defender to elevate his head and pads, the blocker is able to finish the block. Once the defender elevates and the blocker begins to chase his hips by accelerating his feet, the defender becomes off-balance and vulnerable to being pancaked.

By simply running through the defender and not to him, the blocker can shoot the hands, elevate the defender and drive the defender back or to the turf after he topples. Multiple points of control such as this during a game invariably swing the psychological pendulum in favor of the offensive lineman.

Another way for a lineman to finish the block is to maintain contact until the whistle blows. If your lineman forces his opponent to take an extra step to get to the ball-carrier, your lineman has achieved a degree of success. The question to answer is an issue of accountability. Did the blocker inhibit or prevent the defender from getting to the ball carrier? If the answer is yes, the blocker measured up to his level of accountability in executing the drive block.

Dave Christensen is a college football veteran of more than 30 seasons, including his last two stops at Texas A&M and Utah. Previously, Christensen was the head coach at Wyoming from 2009-13 and a longtime offensive assistant at Missouri and Toledo.