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MHR Football University - DL gaps and techniques

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Welcome to another installment of Football University.  Today I hope to clear up some of the language used by commentators when they refer to the defensive line.  The terms they use (like "B Gap", "3 technique lineman", "1 vs 2 gap type DTs" etc) can sound confusing and impressive, but there's no reason for them to throw out terms just to impress the listener.

You deserve to understand the terms, and I'm going to help de-mystify the fancy talk.  With the defensive tackle positions being a priority this year, I'm sure we're going to hear some of these terms thrown around a lot.  At the end of our look at these terms I'll give you a good link to our friends at Football Outsiders if you really want a more indepth look at not only the terms, but how linemen are coached to play their positions (it is an excellent article).

Let's get started.  Click on "read more" for the full story.  See you after the jump!

First, a "gap" is an area between the offensive linemen where a defensive player is heading to (a LB or a d-lineman).  This is how the gaps are lettered:

Speedy DEs like Doom and Moss like to take the D gaps to get around the offensive line.  Rarely a DE will be set out really wide for the E gap, but this gap is more likely used by a CB on a CB blitz.  Fast DEs also like the C gap on whichever side the TE is NOT on (known as the weakside).

Some DEs are more bull rushing types with less agililty but more power.  These guys shoot the B or C gaps more often.

Now, where a player lines up is called a "technique".  I know that we often here a player refered to as a "two technique" or "three technique" tackle, and it sounds like a sort of strategy.  Not true.  The word "technique" in this context means "where the lineman lines up".

Here are the "techniques":

Note that a number correspnds to the shoulder of an offensive lineman.  A 3 technique guy is going to line up between a guard and tackle, but nearer to the guard's shoulder.  A 4 technique player has been assigned to be between a guard and a tackle too, but is instead just to the inside of the tackle's shoulder.

It sounds like too much detail, but it is critical.  The way a player turns his man or shoots the gap is heavily dependent on exactly where the player is lined up.  It isn't eneough to just line up between a guard and a tackle.  You have to now exactly where between them you are lining up.

Also note that a zero technique is a "Nose Tackle" (the center tackle on the defensive line when there are only three defensive linemen, as in a 3-4 formation).  More often than not, a 1 technique player is also going to be a nose tackle.

Moreover, most technique line-ups come with a typical responsibility.

0 and 1 technique NTs typicaly try to demand double teams.  2 and 3 technique DTs are ussualy assigned to pass rush.  4 technique DTs generaly block out the OTs so that a LB or box safety can blitz.  DEs line up anywhere from 4 to 6.

Some teams use 8 or 9 according to an article I read (I'll give you the link in a moment), but that's pretty rare and I've never really seen it done.

So when designing a play, you assign the defensive linemen to a technique (position to line up), then give them a gap to hit (the letter).  A LB's place to line up is done the same way as a defensive lineman, except you add a "zero" after the technique number.  Thus, a "60" technique is a linebacker on the inside shoulder of a TE.

Not every DT shoots a gap.  There are two approaches to using a DT, called "one gap" and "two gap".  A one gap DT is assigned a gap and plugs it up by going into it and disrupting the play (either by getting the QB or taking the gap away from a RB).  A two gap DT has to be smart.  He is responsible for two gaps, and is freed up to decide which gap to hit based on how the play unfolds.  He is slower to commit than a 1 gap, but has more flexibility to determine what needs to be done.

As the article I'm going to link to points out, the zoneblock scheme used by Denver eats up 1 gap approaches.  2 gap causes us more problems.  And while no team uses just one of the "1 or 2 gap" approaches, schemes dictate that teams will have a preference.

The link to read if you want to learn more is:

If you have any questions about the defensive line or the more in depth article linked, I'm here for you.  In fact, as always, I'm here for any questions relating to on field coaching and techniques dealing with Xs and Os such as systems and strategy.

Other MHR experts are here for you too.  Several frequent MHR contributors include experts on the draft, combine, salary, salary cap, and even law.  No question is too simple or dumb.  If our group doesn't have the answer, we'll work to find it for you.  We're all glad you're here!

In the next installment I'll be covering a question that was submitted in the comments of a recent MHR Football University article.  The question dealt with issues like:

  • Why does a CB play bump and run versus off coverage,
  • What types of CBs play diffenerent types of coverages (like zone, off, regular, or bump),
  • How is the decision made to determine the coverages of a CB?
Fire away with any questions, comments, and answers.  Take care!