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© April, 2013

by Neil Hickoff
Retired High School Coach

A defensive end can improve his play against this offense by following a few simple rules.

It baffles me why coaches have failed to teach their DEs to defend against the running options from the shotgun formation. What ever happened to the assigned area to defend, in this case the DE? I have observed time after time DEs aligned on the outside shoulder of the OT versus the spread shotgun offense slanting inside and then closing down inside the OT.

The DEs I see today are completely puzzled defending the shotgun option game. Coaches should go back to how the T-option was defended years ago. This is what I call the soft technique employed by the DE versus the T-option. The soft technique was not very successful defeating the T option game, but I believe the soft technique by the DE would be far more successful versus the shotgun option between the QB and RB.

In Diagram 1 the soft technique is illustrated which was once popular to defend against the T-formation option. Diagram 2 illustrates the recommended soft technique.

Diagram 1.

Diagram 2.

DEs Alignment and Responsibility:

1.     Read the OTís block and do not get blocked in.

2.     Sit and read the offensive action in the backfield.

3.     Donít open the gate by shooting upfield.

4.     React to what you see and defend your area.

Step by Step Technique by the DE vs. the Shotgun Option

1.  The DE versus a four man front should align just outside of the OT with his nose on the OTís outside shoulder.

2.  If the OT fires out and attempts to block the DE, have him deliver a powerful forearm shiver maintaining his outside leverage. Do not get blocked in at all cost even if you must move further outside.

3. Read the block of the OT. The DE should recognize pass if the OT gives ground and attempts a block. If he does, defeat the block and rush the passer.

4.  If the OT releases inside or outside, take one or two short steps forward and look for a trap block coming from the inside. If they are attempting to trap the DE, have him take the blocker on and close down the hole. Keep shoulders parallel to the LOS and use that forearm shiver. Do not have him open the gate by flying upfield unless pass is read.

5. When the OT releases inside or outside and there is no trapper, look for the option fake or possibly a screen.

6.  When the DE is unblocked and the QB and RB are merging, have him sit down, wait until the fake is complete and than react. Donít have him go down behind the line and chase the RB until heís sure who has the ball. Why chase the RB before you know who has the ball? The DEs main concern is the red area in Diagram 3.

Diagram 3.

7.  If the QB has given the ball to the RB attacking the other side of the center and he finds a hole to run through, the DE will probably not catch him. He may be able to pile on if he doesnít find a hole and is already stopped. If he is extremely fast, he might make the tackle if your opponent is zone blocking or when the OT blocks down and lets the DE cut the corner (Diagram 4).

Diargram 4.

8. It happens all the time when the DE is unblocked on running plays going away and he still makes the tackle. However, the DE must remember on the option from the shotgun the QB is reading his response and if he commits to chasing the RB, the QB will pull the ball out and go around your end.

9.  If the hand off goes to the RB and to your side of center, have the DE stay parallel to the LOS and have him be prepared to take on a trap blocker and shut the hole down. There is a good chance the opponent will try to run inside the DE without blocking him. Do not have him  go upfield and open the gate until he reads who has the ball (Diagram 5).

Diagram 5.

10.  I realize DEs are left free to go full blast to sack the RB or the QB. The slight pause by the faking QB and RB gives the DE a chance for a slight pause to read the play. On third and long the DE could go full blast.

11.  The DE rushing the QB on a passing play should be taught to break down as he approaches the hit. If he doesnít, he can easily be side stepped by the RB unless he has a blind side hit. 
12.  Inside LBs should also be taught to sit and read the QB and RBís fake and then react. Do not drop for pass coverage until the QB drops behind the remaining backs. I see many LBís rushing forward without even looking where the ball is going and often they will guess wrong.

Best of luck in shutting down the shotgun option running game.

About the Author: Retired high school coach Neil Hickoff was head coach at four different high schools in Pennsylvania, having a combined record of 152-77-8. He has been inducted into four different Pennsylvania Halls of Fame.

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