Run These Drills for Improved Line Play

By Jim Hanifan, FNF Coaches Contributor


Retired NFL coach Jim Hanifan is one of the most respected and successful offensive line coaches in the league’s history. During his tenure in the NFL, his players made a total of 27 pro bowl appearances. Hanifan was head coach for both the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons and an assistant for the Rams, Falcons, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals.

This story will offer:

  • An explanation of The Cone Drill for offensive linemen.
  • Diagrams of the proper technique.
  • The mental benefits for linemen.





HAVE EACH RIGHT OFFENSIVE TACKLE perform this drill. Have him take three steps back and make the movement explosive. First, he must drive off his left foot and step back with the right. Then he must step back with the left foot. Finally, he can take a third step back with his right foot. If he does this correctly, his shoulders will stay square with the line of scrimmage and he won’t step on any of the cones.




OBJECTIVE: Teaches the offensive tackle to keep his shoulders square with the line of scrimmage for the first three steps in pass-pro.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED: Players are in shells only or full pads and seven small traffic cones.

TIME ALLOTMENT: 10 to 15 minutes.

JIM’S NOTES: This is one of the most productive drills you can run for teaching pass-pro footwork to the offensive tackles. It forces them to backpedal straight for three steps without turning their shoulders to the line of scrimmage.

OVERVIEW: THE SINGLE BIGGEST MISTAKE AN OFFENSIVE TACKLE CAN MAKE IN PASS protection is to bend forward at the waist. But the second-biggest mistake is to turn his shoulders as he explodes back off the line of scrimmage. And incredibly, this was actually taught by coaches at one time! They’d tell the tackle, “Keep your butt turned to the quarterback.”


Now set up the same thing for the left offensive tackles. Everything is exactly reversed from the right tackle drill.

• The setup for the left offensive tackles is the exact reverse of that for the right tackles.

• Place the cones as shown here to create two lanes straight back from the player’s feet.

• (Or you can eliminate the outside cones on the left and just use a marked line.)


THE PROBLEM WITH turning is that after he turns even a little, a defensive end can beat him easily with an outside speed move, an inside club, or a swim move. So it’s very important to keep his shoulders square with the line of scrimmage until he’s at 1 ½ to 3 yards back. The Cone Drill forces offensive tackles to keep their shoulders square with the line of scrimmage in pass-pro.


• Utilize the yard marker line and hash marks or paint lines and arrange seven small traffic cones as shown in the figure below. At first glance, this may look complicated but it’s really not. You’re only placing cones that leave a straight lane back for both feet. This will restrict the player from stepping in or out. He’ll have to back up in three straight steps. Be sure he drives hard off his foot for each step.


JUST LIKE THE DRILL WITH THE RIGHT OFFENSIVE TACKLE, the left tackles will explode back with three steps. First, have the player drive off his right foot and step back with the left. Then have him step back with his right foot. Finally, he can take a third step back with his left foot. If he does this correctly, his shoulders will stay square with the line of scrimmage and he won’t knock over any cones.


Whether you’re doing this drill for right or left tackles, they must have the palms of their hands up and ready to strike the defender.

The Mental Part of this Drill:

AN OFFENSIVE TACKLE LEARNS TO explode back for three steps while keeping his shoulders square and his body in a good football hitting position. Now what?

It’s important to note here that within these three steps, the defender will need to commit to the move he’s going to use. He has three choices:

1. Bull Rush

2. Club/Underarm, or Club/Swim

3. Outside Pure Speed Rush

The No. 1 responsibility of any offensive lineman is to be ready to neutralize the bull rush. That’s because it’s this move by the defender that sets up all of his other moves. He’s going to come directly at the offensive lineman’s chest and try to knock him back into the quarterback. Even if he doesn’t get there before the pass is thrown, a collapsing pocket causes the quarterback all kinds of problems.

The offensive lineman must neutralize the forward momentum of the defender. The way he can do that is to make a hard jab step forward to his crotch. When he gets close, the offensive lineman should strike him UP and HARD into his chest. This blow needs to be powerful, starting from his feet, through his body and finally to his arms.