How to Play Defensive End

What Makes a Great Defensive End?

Everson Griffen rushing Jay Cutler

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The defensive end in football is one of the most critical positions in the defensive scheme. When he does his job well, it makes the job easier for several other guys on the defensive unit. The job of a defensive end actually is pretty much what it sounds like: Hold down the end on the line of scrimmage and don't let anyone or anything get outside. 

There are two defensive ends in a typical scheme, one on each side of the formation. Some teams utilize "weak" and "strong" defensive ends that will switch sides based on the strength of the formation. Here are some more specific tips on how to play the position. 

Defensive End Alignment

In a typical defensive front, the defensive end will line up against either the tight end on the strong side or against the end lineman on the line of scrimmage on the weak side of the formation. Depending on what defense is being run, he may shade to one side or the other, or just head up.

Defensive End Stance

The defensive end will normally start in a three-point stance with his "technique hand" down because he's one of the defensive linemen. His technique hand is the one closest to the opponent he's lined up on. If he's outside shade, his technique hand is his inside hand. His hips must be higher than his eyes, and his eyes should be looking up through the top of his face mask at the guy he's lined up on.

At the Snap

The defensive end has to get off the ball quickly and attack the outside shoulder of his opponent when the ball is snapped. When he does this, he'll get a feel for whether the lineman is coming out to block hard or he's settling in for a pass block. If the lineman's butt starts to sink and he's settling in with his hands inside, it's a pass play. The defensive end will turn his hips towards the target—the quarterback—and use whatever moves he has in his arsenal to get a sack or otherwise disrupt the throw.

If the lineman drives out and tries to move the defensive end, it's most likely a running play. In this case, the defensive end will fight pressure with pressure. If the offensive lineman is trying to get to his outside shoulder, he must fight that pressure and stay outside. He's on his way to a successful play if he keeps his outside arm and leg free at all times and squeezes down the gap he's playing.

Characteristics of a Great Defensive End

A great defensive end has strong legs and quick feet. He's generally tall, allowing him to get to the quarterback or at least to disrupt the throwing lane. He has to be able to get separation from the blocker or blockers who are trying to manhandle him. He should be able to quickly read whether a pass or run play is coming—sometimes even before the snap—and adjust his rush accordingly. Nothing and no one gets outside of him, and if an opponent tries to run inside him, the gap is usually occupied with the rear end of the lineman he's working on.