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Practice drills for building a tenacious football defense

This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Football - Fifth Edition by ASEP and Joe Galat.

Defensive Drills


Defense involves more natural instincts than the skills needed for offense. In most cases, defensive players who react rather than think are best. Following are drills based on the four pillars of defense—force, contain, pursuit, and coverage—what defensive players need to know in order to be successful.

  • Front-On Tackling

Players are divided into two groups and are positioned as shown in the diagram: one group of ballcarriers and one group of tacklers. On the coach’s command, the first ballcarrier in line and the first tackle in line start toward each other at half speed. At 5 yards, the tackle explodes off the left foot and makes contact with the left shoulder pad to make the tackle. The tackle must remember to keep the eyes up and not tackle with the helmet. Players switch lines after each player has had a turn.

  • Pass Rush

Players divide into two groups of five defensive line players and five offensive line players positioned directly across from each other as shown in the diagram. Another player acts as the quarterback and is positioned as shown in the diagram. The coach indicates a pass rush technique and indicates which defensive line player and offensive line player go first. The coach signals the snap count to the offensive player and calls out a cadence to start the drill. On the coach’s command, the defensive player rushes the quarterback until the whistle is blown. The defensive linemen and offensive linemen start at half speed until they have mastered the pass rush techniques. Players rush one at a time to avoid injury, and the coach should work on one technique at a time. Players switch positions after the rush is completed, and the drill is repeated.

  • Short-Yardage and Goal-Line Technique

Line up five defensive linemen against five offensive linemen on the goal line with a ballcarrier 7 yards deep in the backfield. The defensive linemen are trying to beat the offensive linemen across the line of scrimmage and prevent the ballcarrier from scoring a touchdown. The defensive linemen win the drill if they prevent the offense from scoring a touchdown. The offensive linemen win if the ballcarrier crosses the goal line.


Defenders must focus on keeping their shoulders low and elbows bent, creating a tail-up stance for a scoop charge. Using the lineman technique, they fire out low, under the pads, and lift upward.


To take this drill to the next level, introduce a middle linebacker, who exchanges gap assignments with the down linemen. This will help your defensive players with gap assignments. Although the offense knows the starting count and will have a jump start, they do not know where defensive gap responsibilities are.

  • Contain Drill

This drill uses six offensive players as follows: a center, guard, tackle, tight end, running back, and quarterback. (If you have enough players, include a backside guard.) This offensive alignment is referred to as a half line. The defense consists of a defensive tackle, a defensive end, and one or two linebackers depending on the front you are practicing. Players will rotate from quarterback to running back to blocker to a defensive position. The coach will set up the alignment. Any defender assigned to contain must first deliver a blow to the blocker he is lined up over (usually the tight end), keeping his outside arm and shoulder free. Emphasize to players that they should not let anyone outside of them. Most big plays occur when a quarterback or a ballcarrier breaks contain and gets outside. Initiated by the coach, various plays can evolve from here. The running back may attempt to kick the defender out or execute a hook block on the defender. On a running back kick-out block, the defender must squeeze down the running lane of the ballcarrier. If the defender is hooked, he must deliver a blow with his inside shoulder or forearm, keeping the play away from his outside and forcing it to his inside. Once your players have run this drill a few times, feel free to incorporate the following variations:

  • Ask the quarterback to fake to the running back and then attempt to get outside of the defender.
  • Ask the fullback to hook-block the defender as the quarterback attempts to sprint outside of the defender.

Learn more about Coaching Youth Football - Fifth Edition.

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Coaching Youth Football-5th Edition

Coaching Youth Football-5th Edition

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Coaching Youth Football-5th Edition

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