Let's Speak Technique - Defending a Trap or Kick Block

Defensive line is a complicated beast. From a high level view, it looks simply like a bunch of very large men mashing into each other, one group trying to encapsulate a player with a ball, the other trying to open a gap in that other team from which the player with the ball can escape. But as is the case with football, the truth is much more filled with detail and minutia. In this article we’re going to focus specifically on one aspect, that being, how to take on trap and kick blocks with two basic techniques: Wrong Arm technique and Squeeze technique.

Squeeze Technique

Block-Down, Step-Down Rule
In gap-control, one gap defenses, it is important to have rules in order to effectively minimize the size of run lanes, or gaps, so that a defender isn't left playing in too much space. Defenders at every level are taught to squeeze the gap, but that's really only part of it. The Block-Down, Step down rules come into play for what the DL does with his hands and the appropriate landmarks.

On a standard play, a defensive lineman will engage a blocker with his hands, and the blocker will engage the defender with his hands, and both will utilize techniques to control the other and then release in the defender's case. However, it becomes obvious through certain reads that the offensive lineman in front of a defensive lineman has no intention of blocking him, and instead is trying to down-block back inside. The defensive lineman, not knowing this until it happens, is engaging the blocker with his hands. But instead of completely following the blocker inside, he will follow his hands inside and step down hard, squeezing out the gap behind the down-block.

Coach Hoover discusses the origins of this rule, along with a lot more depth about issues and common problems, and how it was used to stop the Wishbone offense, effectively stopping the outside veer and making the triple option a double option. Rather than the "choice" of simply squeezing down, it was now a rule to be done every time.. 

Wrong Arm Technique
The Wrong Arm technique is a relatively modern method of dealing with trap blocks and kick blocks. At its core, it is a technique that causes chaos, mayhem, and disruption at the point of attack, leading to a pileup of bodies and preventing the ball carrier from finding space to run.

As a defensive lineman (or LB or Safety at the first level of the defense), he will utilize his Block-Down, Step-Down rules and follow his hands inside. This takes him right into the pulling guard or kick blocking FB/H-back. The defender at that point should take his outside arm and get his fist into the upfield thigh pad of the blocker, initiate contact with his shoulder into the blocker’s upfield shoulder, and then rip up with his fist through the armpit of the blocker.

What this technique does is a few things. First by getting his outside shoulder into the upfield shoulder of the blocker, the blocker has very little area in which to actually contact, control, and leverage the defender. In contrast, if the defender used his inside shoulder to initiate contact with the upfield shoulder of the blocker, his body would be square to the blocker and he could then be controlled.

By initiating violent contact with his fist in the thigh pad and the shoulder, he immediately stops the blocker’s momentum and knocks him off balance, effectively causing a train wreck rather than allowing the blocker to turn and seal or arc block around you.

Third, by ripping up, the defender works on getting his eyes back up to the play, and also effectively leverages the blocker. By leveraging the blocker and knocking him off balance, the train wreck has been initiated, but the defender can then still make  play on the ball if it is cut into the pile.

Problems with Wrong Arm Technique
In my opinion, you never want to use the Wrong Arm technique if you are the outside leverage defender. By forcing your way inside, you may cause a pileup, but if you are supposed to be the outside leverage, the play can be bounced away from the wreckage and into the open field. At that point, the pileup just acts as wash that the rest of the defense has to fight through.

Another issue is adjustments that many offenses have made to this technique. For one, this isn’t a great technique if the defender is tight to the LOS. At that point it is difficult to get into his upfield shoulder without having to retreat from the ball carrier and working back into the defense, essentially sealing off the defenders that will make the play behind the wreckage. Another thing pulling blockers or kick blockers will do is increase their depth. By initially looking like they are going to try to kick or trap, the blocker can actually slip the defender and then either seal him back inside by quickly flipping and getting square with him, or he can simply slip and arc block to the next defender, as the Wrong Arm defender has effectively taken himself out of the play.

In this video, the Wrong Arm defender doesn't create a pile, allowing other blockers to get into the outside leverage defender (the LB, a WR also cracks another defender to seal the defense all inside).

Coach Hoover also talks about issues dealing with counter plays utilizing this technique, partially because of what was just discussed.

Squeeze Technique
The squeeze technique is a bit older, but can be just as effective and is a little more natural as far as body position and reaction to the offensive play. Again, you want to follow your Block-Down, Step-Down rules. By utilizes the squeeze technique and following the Block-Down, Step-Down rules, you have effectively squeezed out the inside gap. Maintaining his shoulders parallel to the LOS, the defender is also maximizing his precense along the LOS, making for less area for the ball carrier to fit through.

It is again important that the defender gets low and initiates contact with the blocker. If the defender catches contact, he needs to stop the blocker’s momentum and then squeeze him back inside all while being washed outside. It is easier to match that momentum and then fight against it, so initiate contact with the inside shoulder. The defender wants the outside shoulder to hit square into the chest plate of the blocker, that way the defender is minimizing the contact area for the blocker to establish control on the defender. The defender will then utilize his inside arm as a flipper, and extend and through the blocker, thus establishing leverage by getting the blocker to get high and lose momentum. At this point the defender will continue to squeeze by setting his inside leg and anchoring with his outside leg, thus not allowing the blocker to kick him further outside. With his outside arm free and the inside gap squeezed out, the ball carrier can either cut up into the pile of bodies, or bounce outside into the defender’s free arm.

Here's a great example from MSU DE Marcus Rush:

You can see him do well to get low, and fire his inside shoulder violently into the blocker, anchoring his outside foot, and effectively stopping the OL from increasing the gap at all; his outside arm is also free.

He can then peal off this block, as the blocker has no body area to control Rush, and go make the tackle. Here's the video:

Problems with Squeeze Technique
There are two main issues to the squeeze technique. First, it’s hard to constrict the gap once contact is initiated. That’s because you are fighting directly against a blocker rather than simply cause chaos. The squeeze technique is a controlled technique, because the defender utilizing the squeeze technique is still intended to be able to make a play. So if the rest of the defense doesn’t do their job you are still sealed outside, as the offense intended; and if you don’t recognize the play quickly, you can allow for a gap to form before you can squeeze it out. The same can be said with getting up field because the scheme isn’t recognized quickly.

The second issue is that if the pulling or kicking player is able to get into the outside shoulder of the defender, then he is able to fully control the defender and completely get his body between the defender and the ball carrier. At this point, the defender responsible for outside leverage has been effectively sealed inside.

This video shows the effect of the defender getting too far into the backfield and taking himself out of the play. This is more an issue of not following his Block-Down, Squeeze-Down rules, but shows the same end effect.

Using Block-Down, Step-Down to Offensive Advantage
I said in a few areas the different issues with each technique above. Namely, you can set up the DL to seal them inside if you realize they are over aggressive on their step down.

Another very effective play is a wham play, or a frontside trap block, in which the FB or H-back kicks the DT further inside. This forces the DT to have even more eye discipline and play a bit slower, because the trap could come from inside or outside him position. If DL struggle to read the pull quickly, running a pin and pull scheme can also suck the DL inside and effectively seal them there.

Lastly, the read option is an obvious means to take advantage of this and it takes advantage of the DE following what looks like a down block (zone away) inside. But the midline read (reading the DT rather than the DE) puts that on the DT, who is more prone to want fight inside to win across the zone blocking and make a play on the RB. But now his inward motion is taken advantage of. Likewise, a two-back inverted veer or read option play (either a FB or H-Back) can arc block past the DE and out into the 2nd level. If the DE is fighting to get inside, either due to a scrape exchange call or simply because of his Block-Down, Squeeze-Down rules, the gap away from where he's squeezing is widened, and the defender that must account for him squeezing can be sealed by the arc block.

When to Use Each
Here is where you’ll get a lot of different answers. Some will essentially utilize the Wrong Arm technique exclusively. Many will use it as long as there is outside leverage: so on trap plays or when there is a Safety or LB with outside leverage against a kick block. Then some will only use it inside by the DTs because they don’t want DEs having to switch technique from play to play based on playcall, as that makes players play slower. That is the same reason some coaches will only use the squeeze technique, a simple, natural technique that can always be effective, to teach all DL the same technique and not have to switch.

Many teams that utilize the Wrong Arm technique are smaller defenses that rely on chaos and pile ups because they don’t have the size to control blockers. That means undersized 3-4, teams that utilize undersized DEs, or more regularly, 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 defenses that utilizes safeties as box defenders that end up in the EMOL position.

There isn’t a right or wrong method, just different. Coaches all have their preference, but the key is to be consistent and be able to get the defense to react properly, effectively, and violently at the point of attack.


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