Install Defensive Skill Circuits in Place of Warmup

By Wojciech Andrzejczak, Football Coach from Poland (Europe)
Twitter: @CoachVoyt

When coaching football overseas, time is one of the biggest challenges. We have two or three practices per week with players juggling work and family responsibilities. That will force you to think outside the box.

In 2018, we worked with Coach Stan Bedwell and his Air Raid philosophy. The experience inspired us to critically evaluate defensive practice structure and substitute traditional warm-ups with defensive skills circuits focused on forcing turnovers and tackling. 

These critical areas must be worked on daily, mastering them will give your defense a chance to be successful on game day. Other benefits of utilizing circuits include setting a fast pace early, improved focus, communication and chemistry. 

Circuit organization 

We split players into three groups. By mixing position groups, we encourage team work and build trust. Each drill usually lasts between 90 and 120 seconds followed by a quick 15- to 20-second rotation. After the turnover circuit is completed, players should transition into a tackling one. Depending on your numbers, you may want to set up two stations within one drill or add more drills during in each circuit round. As players improve, we may introduce some variations within the drills or add new ones to break the routine.   

Turnover circuit 

Our goal is to improve defensive ball skills and increase their play-making abilities. We emphasize finishing every rep, if the ball is dropped during a tip drill, the player should scoop it and run it back.

The key coaching point for the first player is to keep his eyes on the coach. Upon hearing the signal, he closes the distance and shimmies to block the quarterback. Communicating the interception or fumble signal (i.e. bingo or fire) is critical to successfully executing a momentum-changing return. They must be practiced!                                          

In Seahawks Punch and Form Drill, the coach may alternate footwork techniques to the swoop /shimmy  used by the defenders. The tackler should focus on a tight arm clamp and accelerate through the leg drive after contact. For safety reasons, the ball carrier should extend his hand when holding the shield.

The Patriots 3-in-1 drill offers a high return on investment as it combines interception, tomahawk chop from behind and scoop and score techniques. Players should rotate within the group to perform each of the techniques.

Tackling circuit 

We have been successfully utilizing USA Football’s shoulder tackling and Five Fights systems. Both run-and-gather and 2-man tackle train the defender’s Vision – Decision –Action cycle. They have to react to the runner’s movement and maintain proper leverage. Both focus on tracking and preparation phases of the tackle, which were responsible for 75-85% of our missed tackles in the last two years. Drills should progress, as defenders become proficient, the ball-carrier should make them more competitive, by executing realistic change-of-direction moves. 

Run and gather drill should be done from left to right and right to left. Another wrinkle to this drill is adding a force player, tracking the ball from the outside.

In the 2-Man Tackle drill, defenders should laser focus on the runner’s near hip, while swiftly transitioning  between run, swoop and shimmy footwork.

The modified band–tackle drill adds a tracking component and can be used for thigh and drive/ roll finish. The carrier should hold the bag in the air for a realistic surface and violently pull the power band to force the defender ‘s tight clamp.