Analyzing Defensive Linemen--An Extension of MHR University

Analyzing the play of defensive-line players can be among the more difficult tasks to attempt when watching football.  The action in the trenches is quick and furious, and often is over as quickly as it starts.  Players are in such close proximity to one another that sometimes it is hard to tell where one player stops and the other begins, and often, the play in the trenches gets buried beneath the pileup at the line of scrimmage.

But there are a handful of traits that can be caught by an eye that is quick enough, and with time, this selective viewing of the prospect can become so natural that often you can watch the play of the defensive line from snap to whistle and have a good 'feeling' about which players were effective on that play, and where the weak links are.

MHR Scouting Services has joined with MHR University to bring you a basic list of defensive-lineman qualities that you can watch for when evaluating the play of any defensive player lined up over the line of scrimmage opposite the offensive line.

RUNNING GAME

Style

Is the player a one- or two-gap player?  If he is a one-gap player you will want to look at his burst off the snap, and his strength at defeating blocks and double teams.

Burst Off the Snap

Watch the snap.  A player with good instincts often has terrific anticipation of the snap.  Does the player gamble on the snap count?  It is better if a player consistently is quick off the snap, rather than stunningly fast sometimes while offsides on others.  To judge the degree of quickness, compare to the speed at which other linemen get off the line, and to the position of the QB under center.

Defeating Blocks

Generally, this is a measure of upper-body strength and leverage.  The rule of trench warfare is "low man wins," so watch the player's pad levels relevant to the O-Line.  For players who consistently get good leverage, look next for the strength to redirect the blocker.  Players who do not consistently get good leverage negate otherwise-good strength, so prioritize leverage, especially in taller, lankier players.

The exception to this is any prospect who relies more on speed and quickness.  Here you need to judge how quickly they can get into the block.  Are they reacting or engaging?  You will hear the term "re-establish the line of scrimmage," which tends to mean that the players quickness "pushes" the point of attack back into the offense.

Play against the run--Direct

For plays where the defensive lineman is in close proximity to the intended direction of the play, I term it a "direct attack".  When the play is directed at the linemen, does he get off his blocks?  Does he move back or hold ground?  Does he disrupt the play?  Is he in position to make tackles in a short area?

Shedding Blocks against the Run--Direct

How quickly does the player defeat and release from a block?  This is often a very quick measure, and difficult to quantify at first.  Watch for players with good leverage to be redirecting (shedding) the blocker during the extension phase of his initial push.  Running plays which take longer to develop may afford an opportunity for the linemen to re-engage, but generally, a well-shed block occurs during the initial push.  A sure sign of a brilliantly shed block is a defensive lineman with two free hands for the tackle.

Tackling--Direct

Once a player has shed his block, how well does he wrap up the ball carrier?  Watch for the ability of a lineman to engulf the player, that is, to get an arm around him, and possibly even both arms, and the strength to hold up larger backs.  Watch out for linemen who drag their arms on the tackle, ending up behind the ball carrier and trying to pull him down.  This is advantage running back, and a sign of poor block-shedding or avoidance.

Play against the run--Away

Look for the player to maintain his assigned-gap pressure, yet be able to locate the play.  A player with good instincts will pressure his gap while funneling his attack towards the play.  Does the player show recognition in his initial burst?  Or does he find the play only after engaged by the blocker?

Shedding Blocks against the Run--Away

As the point of attack shifts away from a  lineman, watch his shoulders to see that they stay square to the line of scrimmage.  This indicates control of his gap and control of his blocker, which will enable him to shed on the move, generally with a strength move.  Watch also for how well the lineman picks up his feet and avoids trash (downed blockers) while pursuing along the line.

Tackling--Away

Does the player have the speed to close from behind?  Watch for a player with good burst to be able to close quickly when the ball carrier is pulling away from his area.  Longer, lankier players with the ability to uncoil their bodies explosively can be very good at this.

Lateral Speed and Quickness

When pursuing along the line of scrimmage, how quickly does the player move without getting out of parallel with the line?  Is he faster than his blockers?  Again, a player that can keep his legs clean from trash can take advantage of this asset, but the quickest lateral lineman is useless if he can't keep his feet.

One-on-One Ability

Here is where you hear the term "anchoring" come up.  Does the player "sit down" on the block? That is to say, do they get low and into a position to use their legs to drive?  Can they effectively neutralize their blocker?

Double-Team Ability

Overall quickness in engaging and forcing the double team.  Once engaged, how well and how long do they fight?  The double team needs to be pushed to its limit until the whistle to prevent one of the blockers from reassigning.  Watch for consistent leg movement and good leverage.  For players that split double teams, watch carefully to make sure they aren't being let through on a reassignment.

Play Against the Trap

A player's ability to recognize and react to trap blocks.  Watch for pulling offensive lineman and evaluate at what point the defensive player adjusts to being blocked out of the play.  Good recognition will hold up the rushing defensive lineman on his first step.  Watch for players with the ability to get back into the play.

PASSING GAME

Pass-Rush Technique and Style

Is this player a power or finesse-type of player?  Does he rely on lower-body pass rush moves (Bull rush, avoidance, spin move), or is he more of a technician (club, rip or swim move)?  The more tools that a player has in his repertoire, the more unblockable he becomes.

First step of pass rush

A measure of the player's explosion off the snap.  A lineman in pass-rush mode should drive powerfully with his lower body, even if his plan is to stunt, avoid, go around, or technically dominate his opponent.  The quick first step is necessary for altering the decision-making cycle of the blocker, and for setting up any type of attack.  More explosive is always better.  the most explosive players are ideally suited to setting up powerful bull rushes, outside speed pressure, and spin moves.

Use of Hands

Ability to keep a blocker's hands out of his body.  Look for active hands that can bat away hand punches and stiff arms.  Also the player can use a club move, basically a fully extended arm used to "push" the blocker aside, or a rip move, where the player "uppercuts" the shoulder of the blocker, hooking his arm up under the blocker and winning the leverage battle permanently.  He can also do a swim move, a long freestyle-swimming lunge, where the lineman's arm "swims" over the top of the blocker and knocks away the blocker's arm, allowing the lineman to pass nearly unimpeded.  Players with longer arms tend to be able to master the technical hand moves better than others.

Ability to Shed

In pass rushing this is primarily a measure of upper body strength.  Once a lineman is engaged in a block, look for the ability to quickly separate from the blocker.

Closing Speed and Burst

When down to the last few steps to the QB, how quickly does the player close?  Again, lankier players usually can close faster.

Ability to Pressure

How well does the player consistently get his hands up in the throwing lanes or drive the pocket back?  This disrupts the timing of most offensive schemes and rattles the passer as much as sacking the QB can.

Change of Direction

A function of balance and body control, does the player adjust well to trash?  When a pocket breaks down, does the player keep his knees high and able to get over downed blockers?  For lineman, keeping their feet while changing direction is critically important.  Beat trash or be trash.

Finishing Ability

Length of fight the pass rusher consistently contributes.  Does the player go to the last second?  Does he have enough speed at the end of a play to pursue the QB until he is down or forced to make an error?  Not nearly enough players grade out highly in this category, so a good grade here is a major boon for a prospect.

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