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Football 101: Burst off the snap important for all defensive linemen

When Cary-Grove senior Michael Gomez was moved from the offensive line to the defensive line last season, he had to learn a whole new mindset.

Published: Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 7:00 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 3:54 p.m. CST
(Sarah Nader-
Cary-Grove's Michael Gomez (center) runs a drill during practice at Cary-Grove High School Thursday, July 17, 2014.

This is another installment of our Football 101 series heading into the start of the fall high school football practice. Find all the stories, as they appear, along with our Football 101 video series with coaches from Huntley, Marian Central and Johnsburg here.

When Cary-Grove senior Michael Gomez was moved from the offensive line to the defensive line last season, he had to learn a whole new mindset.

“It’s harder, especially if you are playing on offense, because you have to get concepts for everything,” Gomez said. “It’s definitely a lot similar, so I’m starting to get it.”

So what exactly does being on the defensive line entail?

“As far as being a defensive lineman, you have to have some toughness and you have to be disciplined,” C-G defensive line coach Dean Schlueter said. “We want to make sure we’re playing with a relentless attitude on every play.”

There are generally four spots on the defensive line. There are two defensive ends on the end of the line and two defensive tackles in the middle that make up a 4-3 defense (four linemen and three linebackers). There are schools that do run different schemes, such as C-G, which uses two defensive ends and a nose tackle.

Each of these positions has different responsibilities that involve covering the gaps, or the territory of the line a lineman has to cover. When the play takes shape, a lineman begins by lining up in a three-point or a four-point stance. The play call will dictate the spacing, or techniques, between linemen.

“You definitely want to be low because there are kids you are going up against who are 300 pounds on the offensive line,” Gomez said. “You definitely want to have a good bench press so you can extend off of the O-line.”

One of the most important things for a lineman, multiple people said, is to have a burst off the snap. A lineman’s first steps and speed are crucial to how the play develops.

“What we work really, really hard on is takeoffs,” Huntley coach John Hart said. “On your takeoffs, you don’t want to go on the sound of the quarterback, but if you can do it on the first moment, then you can figure it out on the first movement of the offensive lineman.

“We want to explode on a shoulder and get on a different level on the offensive lineman,” he said. “If we can get them on the heels, then it’s re-creating the line of scrimmage.”

Schlueter agreed.

“Our first two steps can gain us an advantage in the area we’ve got to protect," he said. "You have to get a great burst off to make sure you can beat or control the other lineman.”

In the Fox Valley Conference, no one was better last season at getting off the snap then Huntley defensive end Brandon Dranka. Dranka, who is now a defensive end with North Dakota University, had 11 sacks last season along with 51 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Dranka, 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, said his physical attributes helped him succeed while rushing the quarterback.

“What helped me the most was speed off the ball,” Dranka said. “Using my hands was also really important to helping me succeed. It helped me shed blocks and extend.”

Like most positions, the ideal defensive lineman would be made up of the perfect combination of size and strength. Hart said, however, that the most successful linemen in high school previously played other positions.

“We’ve had so much success with – and I’ve had about two dozen NCAA Division I athletes or so – the guys who played running back or linebacker and just got bigger,” Hart said. “They still run really, really well, but they still have that size.”

Not only is the size of a player important, but work ethic is crucial to shaping the performance of a lineman. For example, Hart recalled how Dranka in his junior year wasn’t a player who stood out from second- and third-stringers.

Dranka, he said, maximized his potential by spending an extra 20 minutes after practices, asking which direction, in one instance, to read on how to handle a quarterback when he’s running the option.

“He’s one of those guys who could push himself to be as good as he can be (in high school),” Hart said. “If you’ve got talent, you can become a really great defensive lineman.”

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