Let's Speak Technique: Larry Johnson DL Drills

Larry Johnson Sr. has long been considered not only one of the best recruiters in the B1G and the nation, but one of the premier DL coaches as well. He came up at Penn St beginning in 1996, starting as a DE and Special Teams coach, before slightly changing his role to the coach of the entire DL from 2000-2013. While PSU continues to have a successful DL, they weren't able to retain Johnson on their staff with the hiring of Franklin, and Larry Johnson switched his allegiance to the Buckeyes in 2014. Sometimes the rich get richer. Ohio State had undeniable talent along the DL going into 2014, but their performance to begin the year was below their talent level. But there may not have been a single group in the B1G that improved over the course of the year and into the post-season as much as Johnson's defensive line. In this post, we're going to look at several DL drill that Larry Johnson incorporated at PSU, and how that makes his defensive lines so successful.

We always want to start with the very basics, and that is correcting and perfecting the starting "Stance" technique. I think it's important that players can play with either hand in the dirt, so you work on both. Coaches will teach several stance positions, depending on down and distance and position. The change comes in how much weight you put on the hand (between 1/3 and 1/2) and the position of the feet relative to the base and one another. The more interior, the more you want your feet under you and less staggered; this is a power stance which allows you to remain balanced and strong. The further to the edge, and the more emphasis on rushing the passer, the more weight you can put forward and the more you can stagger your feet into sort of a sprinter's stance.

The down hand will be the hand opposite the forward foot; you want it to reach forward to be about equal with the eyes to about 6 inches in front and directly underneath your shoulder. Straight back with the butt in the air, a good knee bend to generate power. Keep the off hand relaxed and in a position to work off the snap by immediately being able to snap up and punch the blocker.

You can then switch to the "Start". Again, it's a building process. We start with a "6 point stance" (both feet, both knees, and both hands down). At the snap of the ball you are able to fire forward and out. You then move into the "1 Leg Balance Start". The first three steps are the most important steps of any linemen. By starting balanced, you can get out of your stance well and focus on getting that first step in the ground while working forward. "1 Step Mat Explosion" continues that trend of the focus on that initial step while remaining low. You then start training the eyes and the feet. Feet need to remain quick so that you can react, eyes need to find the target. So you work on "Redirect" drills. These redirect drills can go many directions: run right, run left, draw, scramble, pass, screen, etc.

This first video then goes into the bag drills. These drills work to improve foot quickness, but also put a focus on getting feet back on the ground so that you can maintain power throughout a play. Feet need to be quick because you need to generate movement. To do this, you need to continue to work forward and generate power, but if your feet are off the ground you lack a base and you lack power.

Part II continues with the bag drills. These drills help players play in space, and also the understand the speed and quickness to stunt, slant, and do other DL moves. It moves into "Chute Bag Drills" which focus on the ability to bend at the hips while still doing these footwork drills. If you can stay low and move your feet well, you can put yourself in a good position as a lineman. All these drills are focused on making these guys better athletes; they will assist the technique. So now we've started ina  position to succeed and we've worked on our feet to put ourselves in position to succeed once the play begins.

Part III starts with tackling drills. Tackling drills need to be conducted for every position. For DL, many of these tackles come in tight spaces, so that should be the focus of the build up. Find the target get your helmet in position, and follow through with your tackling technique. Finally, you begin moving outside of straight line with QB scramble tackle techniques.

Now we can move onto more focus on technique, now that we can start in the correct position and move well enough to put us in position to utilize our technique. It starts with explosion drills, which start on your knees and focus on exploding up and out, punching with both hands through a pad, generating power through your thighs and into a player. You gradually move up in your stance, starting from a position where you essentially "dive", to a two step punch and leverage, to starting in your three point stance and completing your explosive technique. These are some of the most important drills for any DL to run, and should be run consistently and often.

Once we can explode into a blocker and control him, we can shift the focus on escaping the blocker. The easiest way to do so under control is the jerk move and the rip move. We continue the focus on "lockout" drills, which is to focus on the initial explosion and extension to lock out the blocker so that you can control him. These drills are all about how to use your hands. How to punch, how to get off blocks, how to maintain blocks and control blocks. All these things allow the defender to maintain his ground or gain ground, control blockers and then shed blockers, and then make plays. 

And then you begin putting it all together from a play-like situation. Lockout and drive, lockout and rip, etc. Then you can work on handling cut blocks and how to slant and do other line stunts. But it all builds from the fundamentals. Once all the players have the basics, you can focus more on position-specific techniques (DE drills and DT drills). This means winning against specific blocks (reach block, ram block, double teams, traps, etc.; how to identify specific keys,

Lastly, we look at pass rush drills, which focus on violent hands, playing in space, dipping the inside shoulder, etc.

Here's more bag drills for those interested.