How To Become A Good Defensive End?

Brad Smith
Brad Smith

You don’t have to be big to play in the defensive line, although it does help. 

Ultimately it’s more about reading the game, knowing when to attack the quarterback, or whether to sit back and track offensive linemen. 

And that is a key job of the defensive end in American Football.

Depending on which formation you’re playing, the defensive end position will line up at the end of the defensive line at the point of scrimmage. Today, I will go in-depth and teach you how to be a good defensive end.

What Are The Defensive End Responsibilities?

Their primary role is to prevent runners from breaking the defensive line by coming around the flanks of the line of scrimmage. 

But depending on the team and the player, defensive ends can also be used to attack the quarterback. Typically in a 3-4 formation, a defensive end would sit back and guard the channel around the scrimmage. 

These are known as “stand-up” or “waiting” ends, and they play a more contained style of play. 

Defenses that line up in a 4-3 formation sometimes utilize their defensive ends to rush forward and target the quarterback or running backs around the back of the line of scrimmage. 

These players are usually referred to as “crashing ends” and are more flexible in moving around the pitch and punching holes in the attack. They’ll usually have a defensive linebacker covering their outside flank.

What makes a good defensive end? 

Scouts and coaches are always in need of fast, explosive defensive ends. Power and muscle are also necessary but not as important as your technique and ability to read the game. If you’re wondering how to play defensive end, here are the qualities you must acquire.

Explosiveness

Looking to become the best defensive end in your team? 

Start by working on your explosive power. 

Although strength isn’t the most important attribute of a defensive lineman, you need to be able to explode off the line, push past offensive players, and be agile enough to almost dance around them. 

Plus you want to be powerful enough to make big hits on your opposition to put them on the back foot and dislodge the football. 

Start doing high impact strength training, and HIIT cardio sessions. The short burst of sustained high-intensity impact will train your body to explode into opposition players, make gargantuan hits, and push your way past defenders. 

This is a particularly important skill for crashing defensive ends, who will also want to improve their agility to move quickly around their opposition.

Agility

Agility is almost everything in football. 

From running backs to even kickers! 

Yes, that’s right, even kickers need to be able to dodge and step away from defenders!

Gaining that extra yard, or gap from your opposition player can be crucial to gaining the next down, or getting across the whitewash for a touchdown. 

And the same goes for defensive ends, particularly crashing ends, stepping and turning through the offensive line to sack the quarterback or attack the ball carrier. 

To improve your agility, work on your footwork and balance. 

Having a low center of gravity and quick feet can help you turn out opposing players. So set out some cones and some low hurdles in a zig-zag course you’ll sprint through at pace, changing direction as you go, and this will help you to become better at changing direction in an enclosed space. 

The more you work your feet through high intensity turning movements, the easier you’ll find it to evade defenders during the match.

2 time NFL sack leader, is an extremely strong player. He’s huge! But one of the best assets of his game is how fast his feet are. If you’re looking to become a better defensive end, study how Watt navigates his way around the field and around defenders to get through the line to make those big sacks.

Master the tower of power

The tower of power is actually a rugby reference. 

Rugby players, like American footballers, need to have a good body position when tackling and scrimmaging. This is first, to protect you as a player, but also to help you stay strong in contact and make bigger hits. 

When you adopt the 3 point stance at the base of a scrimmage, you need to have the right body position to push your opponent out the way.

Similarly, when tackling the big fellas, you need to hit them low and drive up into them if you’re to have any chance of putting them on their backs. 

Otherwise, you’re just going to bounce back off them like a sack of spuds. 

So, adopt the tower of power position at the start of every scrimmage. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, have one hand supporting yourself on the ground, maintain your balance, and bend at the waist and knees, do not arch your back. 

Stay low to the ground and keep your back as straight as possible. Think as though you’re balancing a hot cup of coffee on your back. Don’t spill it! 

Keep your head up straight and your eyes pointing up through the top of your helmet, this is a trick I learned when playing rugby to help you keep your back straight. 

You’re now balanced in the perfect position to make a big hit on any opponent in your way. All you have to do next is explode off the ground like an Olympic sprinter into your opponent. 

Master this position and you’ll be able to take down even the biggest players running at you at high speed.

Do your homework

The best defensive ends like J.J. Watt or the LA Rams’ Aaron Donald can all read what an offense is going to do before they execute the play. 

Why? 

Because they do their homework. 

They study game after game and play after play and learn every move their next opponent is going to play by the way they line up. 

Plus their experience also counts for a lot in the decisions they make. Reading the play and knowing when to move forward and attack the quarterback or to sit and protect the hole on the fringe of the scrimmage is a vital asset in any good defensive end’s locker. 

So do your homework, watch gameplays and take note of how the best defensive ends operate.

Frequently Asked Questions

how big are defensive ends?

Since defensive ends need a unique combination of strength and agility, they are not the biggest or tallest players on the field. That being said, they are on average 6 foot 4 tall and weigh 283 pounds which is still quite a towering figure to obtain.

Who Is The Smallest Defensive End In The NFL?

Michael Dwumfour is the shortest active NFL Defensive End being 6’1″.

how to get faster feet as a defensive end?

If you want to get faster feet, you’re going to need to focus on drills that are designed to improve your agility and footwork.

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how to line up as a defensive end?

In a standard defensive formation, the defensive end lines up with either the end lineman if he is on the weak side or with the tight end on the strong side.

do defensive ends have to be fast?

Not only do they need to be fast, but they are one of the football positions that require it the most. The reason is that defensive ends are tasked with sacking the Quarterback. If they’re not quick enough to burst out after the snap, it gives that much more time to the opposing team to organize their offense.

Final Words - How To Get Noticed As A Defensive End?

It comes down to combining these skill sets. 

Scouts and team selectors look for players with good technique, are quick and agile, and know what they’re doing on the football field. 

It’s not always about being big and strong, although you do need to have a bit of muscle. But good technique and a good understanding of the game are way more important. 

Everyone always says the quarterback has the best football brain on the pitch. 

And it’s true, without having a sharp and smart quarterback, you can’t score touchdowns.

But it’s equally as important to have a smart defense. Good defenses win you games, and that’s why in order to be a good defensive end, you need to have just as good an understanding of the game as your team’s quarterback.

You’ll then find yourself reading plays better, making more sacks, and dominating offenses more often. 

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Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.