X&O Labs

Coaching Research Report #110517

The 3-Technique

Maximizing Production:

Block Destruction vs. Run Blocking Schemes

Mickey Mays, Researcher, X&O Labs








By Mickey Mays


X&O Labs




X&O Labs concludes its research on individual defensive line play with this report on the play of the 3-technique defensive tackle.  We've provided research on the 7-technique defensive end and the nose guard, so we feel it's only fitting to wrap up with perhaps the most vital position among the front four. 


The 3-technique's B-gap alignment puts him in position to make more plays than any other defensive lineman.  The absence of bootleg and reverse responsibilities allows him to play faster than a defensive end versus the run, and his outside alignment over the guard often puts him in one-on-one pass rush situations.  One of the biggest challenges a 3-technique faces is the number of blocks and schemes he must learn to recognize and defeat.  Ronnie Eaves, defensive coordinator at North Hall High School (Gainesville, GA) agrees: "Without a doubt, he has to be football smart.  And a first year player cannot play the 3-teachnique.  There are just too many things going on around him." 


Our intent with this report is to show you all the run-block possibilities a 3-technique will see during the course of the game, and more importantly how to defeat them.


If you're wondering how vital a solid 3-technnique is to defending the run game, consider the following statistics we pulled from a recent survey: 64.7 percent of coaches surveyed put their strongest and most athletic defensive lineman at the 3-technique position. 


In order to develop the pro-typical 3-technique, 74.8 percent feel the ideal size for the position is between 6 feet to 6'2 and weight between 201-225 pounds.  That kind of size is needed to defend the strong side blocking combinations in the run game such as double team blocks and drive blocks.  These blocking scenarios are the ones we will discuss in the report.


For starters, a 3-technique's B-gap alignment puts him in position to make more plays than any other defensive lineman.  When compiling the notes for this report, we assumed that a common discussion among coaches would be whether to align him in the B-gap and jet him up the field on the snap or to align him in a true outside shade with emphasis on keeping the offensive guard off the linebackers.  Although, only 11% of coaches teach B-gap penetration pre-snap, we found it does have merit when protecting against reach schemes, which was one of the more common concerns among those surveyed.    


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According to Omaha Nighthawks (UFL) coach Pete Kuharchek, the main factor in this decision is the ability of the individual player. "If I had a really athletic and talented 3-technique I would align his inside foot on the outside foot of the guard and just tell him to penetrate the B-gap," said Kuharchek.  "His athletic ability will keep him from getting reached by the guard or cut off by the offensive tackle, and he can be a disruptive force in the backfield and a playmaker. His wider alignment and gap charge give him a better chance to destroy the angles vs. a double team.  The lesser the athlete, the heavier he has to play on the guard - a better alignment to protect linebackers." 


For the purpose of this report, we will address the following nine blocking schemes a 3-technique will encounter in the run game.  Each will be explained in detail:


Primary Blocks and Schemes:

  1. Reach Block: Guard gets hat to outside shoulder (single block)
  2. Fan or Turnout: Guard attempting to widen 3-technique outside and down the L.O.S.
  3. Double-Team: Drive block by guard + down block by offensive tackle
  4. Power Scoop: Drive block by guard + cutoff block by offensive tackle
  5. Loose Scoop: 45 and up by guard + cutoff block by offensive tackle
  6. O-Scheme: Inside pull by guard + back block by center.
  7. G-Scheme: Outside pull by guard + down block by offensive tackle
  8. T-Fold: Turnout by guard + inside pull by offensive tackle
  9. Veer Release: Tight inside release by guard + release by offensive tackle 

According to our research, the chance of a player becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities must be a factor in personnel decisions.  A fundamental goal should be teaching him how to defeat all blocks and schemes while taking the thought process out of the equation.  The only way to get this done is turning recognition into reflex through key drill repetition.


Eaves does this by continually drilling what he calls his "Read Progression Drills" so that a 3-technique doesn't have to think, just react to what he sees.  These drills should be done daily. 


The first of these drills is a one-on-one drill against and offensive guard.   "We align the defender outside shade with feet close to parallel," says Eaves.  The offensive blocker takes the following run block progressions, and reacts accordingly:


  1. Drive block: the defensive lineman attacks the blocker, shooting his hands inside.  The emphasis is on hand placement, pad level and hip explosion.  
  2. Veer release: the defender attacks him with two hands.  He must get hands on the release and flatten him.  
  3. Reach block: Eaves stresses getting vertical and knocking the reach block into the backfield.  It's an efficient way to develop initial recognition and footwork, as well as hand placement and blow delivery.

The second drill is a two-on-one drill.  He adds an offensive tackle to the drill and works vs. two blocking schemes: (1) double team (2) loose scoop (reactions will be explained below). 


Finally, Eaves adds his three-on-one drill. He adds a center and works pull schemes: a G-scheme, an O-scheme and a T-Fold (which will also be referred to later in the report.) 


Eaves notes that when they first begin working a 3-on-1 drill, some defensive linemen will sit back in their stance and catch blocks because they will try to read all three linemen.  "His total concentration must be on the offensive guard," said Eaves.  "If a beginner is working the 3-on-1 drill, have him backdoor (or come behind) the G-scheme and O-scheme, otherwise, he will not develop a 3-technique's most important concept, attacking the offensive guard.  The initial goal vs. these two blocks is recognizing the lineman blocking him when his guard pulls inside or outside.


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These key drills can be worked without pads ten to fifteen minutes a day after the weight room in the winter or during summer workouts.  These daily repetitions add up to hundreds of reps for each lineman.  By using defensive linemen on the offensive side of the ball, each player develops a complete understanding of how and what the offensive linemen are trying to do with each block.  Eaves points out that stress must be placed on keying and concentrating only on the offensive guard.  The 3-technique will reach a point in which blocks, schemes, and recognition will become second nature with the guard's first step.


Case 1:  Coaching Stance, Alignment, Key and First Step

This section of our report is filled with some interesting statistics and percentages while containing a few surprises.


Stance and First Step:

We cannot have a legitimate discussion about stance unless we also add the 3-technique's first step into the discussion.  Over 75% of the defensive line coaches surveyed teach an inside hand down, inside foot back staggered stance, and an almost equal number of these coach either a 6-inch power step with the inside foot (38%) or a first step that is long enough to at least replace the down hand (37%).  


From what we've found, a staggered stance's main advantage is to get the 3-technique moving forward in the attack mode.  A six-inch power step essentially brings the lineman's feet back to parallel, which is why the low number of coaches teaching a parallel stance (14%) is surprising.  "We used to coach a staggered stance with a 6-inch power step," said Eaves, "but we were false stepping, and the step was usually longer than 6-inches.  It put us in some bad positions, so we started squaring up our stance.  Squaring up has helped us to keep our feet in the ground and play better technique." 


Horizontal Alignment:

The numbers for horizontal alignment were just as definitive.  It was nearly a 60 percent difference in swing between those that favor an inside foot to crotch alignment rather than an inside foot to outside foot or wider alignment.  A 3-technique with an exceptionally quick first step can gain an advantage with a wide alignment, but may struggle with the veer release by the guard that he would face on gap schemes. A good change up is to tag "jet" or "speed" to the huddle call, so he can widen his alignment and jet up the field through the B-gap, only in passing situations.



The majority of coaches teach the V of the guard's neck at 45 percent, with a ball key second at almost 21 percent.  Other choices such as helmet screws, guard's outside hip, and the guard's outside foot rounded out the final options.


Case 2: Defeating the Drive and Reach Block

Drive Block Definition: Guard's hat aiming between defenders numbers (Diagram 1). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Drive Block Philosophy:

While a 3-technique will seldom get a true one-on-one drive block from the offensive guard, attacking and whipping a drive block is fundamental to playing defensive line.  A guard's drive block is the initial key vs. both a double team and a power scoop.


Drive Block Destruction:

According to the coaches we spoke with, there is no better year round drill for teaching how to defeat a drive block than working vs. a stationary sled.  Aligning in a parallel stance may be the best way to begin.  This helps the defensive linemen understand that he does not need to take a forward step in order to generate hip speed into a block.  Power is generated from the ground up, using the ground as a backboard to push off and explode the hips forward.   First contact should be made with the heel of the hands with the thumbs up and rolling the elbows under, with the most powerful striking angle at 35-degrees.  One key point is to make sure the defender brings his hat with his hands, the bottom of the numbers as the target, with the chin just above the hands.  This will help keep the chest and hips down.  The hips should fully release (just as they do in a 6-point explosion drill), as both arms lock out, fully extended.  Maintain a shoulder width base with feet, rip off the pad and shuffle laterally to the next sled pad and repeat.  This simulates block escape while improving lateral movement.


Reach Block Definition: Guard's hat to 3-technique's outside shoulder (Diagram 2). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Reach Block Philosophy: The large majority of offenses now full zone to a 3-technique to protect the guard vs. a spike stunt, which means an A-gap stunt by the 3-technique. It has become common for the center to flat reach all the way to the B-gap before climbing to the second level. 


Reach Block Destruction: Attack and whip the guard.  Establish vertical leverage by knocking him back.  Press and separate, work hips into the B-gap and find the ball through the inside or outside hip of the guard. If the guard converts the reach to a turnout (reach/wheel), pound the outside foot and slide the inside foot; press back hard into the block with the inside hip and hand, square the guard's shoulders.  If the ball crosses into the B-gap, jerk and rip off the block and make the tackle.  If the ball cuts downhill inside, use the guard's momentum to throw him outside with the inside arm and hip, cross his face and tackle the ball carrier.


Case 3: O-Scheme, G-Scheme, and T-Fold

These three blocks can be worked together in a 3-on-1 drill because the guard (visual key) is either pulling inside or outside and the offensive tackle is pulling inside the turnout block by the guard.  Because nearly all teams pull their guards, reps for the G-scheme and O-scheme must be included in key drills.


O-Scheme: Inside pull by guard + back block by center (Diagram 3). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Philosophy: A sure thing for the 3-technique vs. an inside pull by his guard is that the center is blocking back on him. The commonly debated topic with defeating an O-scheme is whether to teach a 3-technique to cross the center's back block or stay back side for the cutback.  We feel that the coaching staff must make that decision based on the responsibilities of the other defensive players within a given scheme, and the 3-techniques ability to move laterally.  Given three choices, the majority of coaches (45 percent) teach their 3-tech to backdoor the center and play the cutback, while 33 percent give him a two-way go after attacking the center.  Only 20 percent teach him to cross the back block first.  We've found that since coaches are teaching their centers to take a flatter step to prevent penetration, it's becoming more difficult to beat anything back door. 


O-Scheme Block Destruction: The first objective for a 3-technique vs. an O-scheme is making the center fear getting beat back door and forcing a flat back block. In fact, most offensive coaches will teach their center to get their head across the 3-technique for the fear of getting penetration in the backfield.  If the 3-tech can continue to beat the back block and get in the hip pocket of the pulling guard, he should not try to cross the center's face.  Once the center adjusts his angle, beating the back block becomes difficult because the center should also be getting help from a shuffle and hinge by the offensive tackle aligned outside the 3-technique.  The O-scheme adds a blocker at the point of attack for the offense.  Crossing the back block adds a defender for the defense at the point of attack who cannot be accounted.


We've found that two techniques can be taught in crossing the center's back block:

(1) Attack the center and press with the inside hand to square his shoulders.  Jerk down and rip or swim across his face.

(2) Throw a violent hook with the inside hand to the opposite shoulder of the center and shuffle across his face. The opposite side shade nose guard can give his 3-tech some protection by flattening the center before getting vertical.

*** Fit off the offside guard's down block on the nose. Do not run.  Stay square and shuffle inside/out on the ball carrier.  


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G-Scheme Definition: Outside pull by guard + down block by offensive tackle (Diagram 4). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


G-Scheme Philosophy: Similar to an O-scheme, of the three choices given in our survey, 43 percent of coaches teach their 3-technique to back door the down block vs. an outside pull by the offensive guard.  Almost 37 percent of defenses attack the tackle's down block and play off of it, and only 20 percent teach their 3-tech to cross it now.  Regardless of the defensive technique, the first priority of a defensive coach is giving the linebackers a clean downhill fit vs. the G-scheme.  The worst scenario is for the 3-tech to get knocked off the ball by the offensive tackle, but getting hung up on the tackle and muddying up the linebacker's fit is not any better.


If the 3-tech penetrates and gets pinned, the linebackers still have clean downhill fits and a gap has been cancelled.  If the 3-tech crosses the down block immediately, the linebackers can fit downhill off him inside or out. 


G-Scheme Block Destruction:

(1) Back door: Attack and whip the guard.  G-scheme recognition should be immediate.  Dip and rip the outside arm with pad under the tackle's down block and reach for the pulling guard with the inside hand. This will help get the shoulders turned outside.  Complete the U-turn and get in the guard's hip pocket.  He will take you to the football.  


(2) Attack and whip the guard.   Lateral step with the outside foot and throw a hook to the outside shoulder pad with the outside hand. Shuffle outside and clear the inside pad


T-Fold Definition: Turnout by guard + inside pull by offensive tackle (Diagram 5). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


T-Fold Philosophy: Because of the increase in spread offenses on the high school and collegiate levels, you may want to add the T-Fold run scheme to your list of primary blocking schemes for a 3-technique.  The defensive problem in facing a T-Fold is the added run gap inside the offensive guard.  A 3-technique must be trained to cross the guard's turnout block; otherwise, the A-gap linebacker must two-gap the folding offensive tackle.  The majority of coaches surveyed, 53 percent, do teach their 3-tech to cross the guard on recognition.


T-Fold Block Destruction: Attack and whip the guard.  Recognize T-Fold, press and lockout the inside arm, square up the guard and rip or swim across his face into the new B-gap. The defensive end will shuffle down and play the new C-gap.


Case 4: Loose Scoop and Veer Release

The loose scoop and veer release can be drilled together for the 3-technique because the initial block recognition is similar, but there are two major differences:  a loose scoop is a back side block and a veer release is a play side block.  By the guard's angle, the 3-technique must be able to tell if the guard's aiming point is his linebacker or the back side linebacker.  Versus a loose scoop, the offensive tackle is attempting to cut off the 3-technique, but vs. a veer release the offensive tackle is up on a linebacker. 


Loose Scoop Definition: 45 and up by guard + cutoff block by offensive tackle (Diagram 6). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Loose Scoop Philosophy: Theoffensive guard's job is to escape the 3-technique with a clean release.  He is back side to the point of attack, and his aiming point is the opposite linebacker to cut off the linebacker aligned to his side.  The point of attack is offside C-gap or wider.


Loose Scoop Block Destruction: Attack and whip the guard.  Recognize loose scoop, punch through the outside hip, shuffle laterally and jam the back side cut block with the outside hand. Some coaches teach the athletic 3-tech to rip and run.  By staying square allows him to protect his legs vs. a cut block by the back side tackle.


Veer Release Definition: Tight inside release by guard + release by offensive tackle (Diagram 7). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Veer Release Philosophy: The release angle of a veer block is much tighter than a loose scoop because the guard's target is now the front side linebacker instead of the back side linebacker.  Plus, the point of attack is the A-gap to his side.  The most frequently run offensive plays off this scheme are the mid-line option and quick trap.  "If the 3-technique plays on the tip of the guard, he has to have great lateral quickness to play the trap," said Kuharchek. 


Veer Release Block Destruction: Attack and whip the guard; deliver the blow.  No one is blocking you so be prepared to be optioned.  Targets are eyes to outside armpit, inside hand to inside number and outside hand underneath outside shoulder pad.  Shuffle down twice and work to keep the inside toe pointed up the field and shoulders square. Find the ball through the outside hip of the guard.  Flatten the guard down the L.O.S. and keep him off the A-gap linebacker.  Against mid-line option, tackle the A-gap dive back.


Versus a quick trap, the initial technique is the same. Recognize trap, reverse shoulder and spill the ball to the B-gap with the outside shoulder; trap the trapper.  The A-gap linebacker will scrape to the B-gap.


Case 5: Readers' Response on Most Difficult Blocks: Double Team and Influence Trap


Double-Team Definition: Drive block by guard + down block by tackle (Diagram 8). Can't see the diagram? Click here.


Double-Team Philosophy: The worst case scenario for a defense vs. a power/counter offense is the 3-technique getting knocked off the ball vs. a double team because he ends up in the laps of the linebackers.  Problem is two-fold: they cannot see where to fit, and the back can make his cut up in the line of scrimmage. 


Double-Team Block Destruction: There are two ways for a 3-technique to play the double team block and, and neither is easy:

(1)   Attack and whip the drive block with two hands.  Knock him back and the down block's angle is destroyed.  Hip into the down block, release the inside hand, flip the shoulders, and drop the outside knee.  This will take away the blocking surface for the drive block (58 percent of coaches teach this technique).

Coaching point: if either blocker chips up to a linebacker, it must be the drive block.  The 3-technique must not allow the drive block to take him over and let the down block chip up to the second level.  Versus a soft down block, flip the hips and shoulders and penetrate the B-gap.

(2)   Penetrate up field and get the hat in the B-gap, keep shoulders square with pressure on the down block (17 percent of coaches teach this technique).


With either technique, if there is any vertical push by the double team, the defensive tackle must sink it and make a pile which 24 percent of coaches teach their players to do regardless.   There is a power advantage by jetting the B-gap and staying square because the defender can continue to drive his legs and hips vertically.  Also, if he sinks the double team, he is taking both blockers straight down to the ground with both arms.


Influence Trap: Offenses attempt to influence trap the 3-technique one of two ways (Diagram 9):

(1)   A quick outside pull by the 3-technique's key with the back side guard trapping.

(2)   A pass set and outside pull by the 3-technique's key with back side guard trapping. Some wing-T teams may even trap with the back side tackle.  We've found that the best way to coach a 3-technique vs. influence trap is to take it off him and put it on the rest of the defensive front. Can't see the diagram? Click here. 


My Own Personal Experience Coaching the 3-Tech:

One of the smartest defensive linemen I have coached was named Bill Duff, who played at The University of Tennessee and a couple of N.F.L. teams.  We were working on influence trap, and I told him, "If the guard pulls outside and the offensive tackle doesn't down block on you, it is influence trap.  Put on the brakes, retrace and try to spill it."  


Duff looked at me funny and said, "Mick, I don't think I can do that."  That was good enough for me. Tell him it is not his play, and "we don't expect you to spill the trap block."  Otherwise, he will start thinking, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a defensive lineman. That being said, after he recognizes no down block vs. an outside pull by his guard, tell him to attack the trapping guard one yard on the defensive side of the L.O.S. and squeeze the running lane down as much as possible. 


Spiking the 3-technique into the A-gap and reading the center will put him in position to spill the influence trap. Three things should occur on the snap when the 3-technique is executing a spike stunt: (1) a big lateral inside step gaining 6-inches vertically, keeping the inside toe pointed up field (2) cock the rip with the outside arm and (3) lay the head on the outside shoulder.  This will slow the guard's reaction time and also allow the 3-technique to throw his hat in the A-gap on his second step.  The inside hand will naturally pull to the 3-tech's inside hip. The visual key is now the center, and the center's block will decide the second step.  If the center blocks the nose guard, stack the second step in front of the first step, throw the rip and hat in the A-gap and the third step will follow.  If the center steps to the spike, stick the second foot in the ground and get two hands on center.    


Concluding Report:

Because of the multiple blocks and schemes a 3-technique must defeat, he must not only develop speed, quickness and power, but also uncommon awareness and concentration.  Learning and understanding blocking schemes can be accomplished through meeting time and film study.  Speed, quickness, and power can be developed in the weight room.  The only way to transform recognition into reaction and finally reflex is through the in-season and off-season repetition of each block and scheme.


Have a question or comment?  Email Mickey Mays at mickey@xandolabs.com. 



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