Dec. 3, 2001
By Trent Packer
It’s a widely accepted belief in football that games are often won and lost along the line of scrimmage. In the “trenches,” as they are sometimes called, offensive and defensive lineman wage a physical battle that can determine the ultimate outcome of a game. If the offensive line gets the upper hand by protecting its quarterback and opening holes for its running game, it will, in all likelihood, result in a strong offensive performance. On the other hand, if the defensive line can plug running lanes and disrupt a quarterback, then yards and points will be hard to come by.
Virginia defensive line coach Mike London is charged with ensuring that the latter takes place — namely that the Cavalier defense keeps opposing quarterbacks on the run and stuffs the opposition’s running game. As line coach, London is charged with preparing the defensive linemen to wreak havoc on opposing offenses by distracting their quarterbacks with an active pass rush. It is a role he successfully played for four seasons at Boston College before joining the Virginia coaching staff on January 12, 2001.”There are some things you can do from a pass rush standpoint to try and disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm by applying different pressures,” London says. “Anything you can do to disrupt the quarterback’s timing is a credit to the defense. If you can hurry the quarterback and force him into an unnatural throwing position, the result usually leads to an incompleted pass.”
As he mentioned above, London’s primary concern for his defensive linemen is making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. That goal involves hitting the quarterback as much as possible, forcing him to think about getting hit on every play and thereby causing him to make mistakes.
“The first and foremost thing is that we want to get to the quarterback,” London says. “We want to hit him. If you can do that, a lot of things will be affected. If you keep hitting a guy, you can mess up his confidence or his timing. Whether it’s a pressure, sack or hurry, the first objective is to hit the quarterback.”
London and the defensive staff devise different formations that give their linemen a better chance to affect the quarterback’s timing and confidence. Oftentimes this involves changing looks at the line of scrimmage or taking different angles of pursuit to the quarterback. It can also mean getting players other than defensive linemen involved in the effort to get to the opposing team’s signal caller.
“You can line up in one position, then switch to another,” London says. “You can angle to a different position. You try to do things to stay a step ahead of the quarterback. The more you create some sense of doubt in the quarterback’s mind, the more opportunities you will have to capitalize on his mistakes.
“You will see different guys coming from all areas of the field and contributing to the pass rush.”
Despite all the instructions given in practice and all the time devoted to teaching proper techniques, an impeccable scheme and proper technique alone cannot guarantee success in the pass rush. Instead, London maintains, you need a healthy combination of the aforementioned qualities, as well as an intense desire to get to the quarterback. While the coaching staff tries to muster this kind of feeling in practice, players cannot succeed without their own internal resolve. They must have the tenacity to keep going after the quarterback on every play, with the hope that their efforts will eventually pay off with a potentially game-changing play.
“You can take all of the talent and good technique and just throw them out the window if you don’t have sheer determination and desire,” London says. “You try to create that kind of atmosphere in practice so that it fosters a feeling of always trying to get to the quarterback.
“You want all the guys believing it is on them to get to the quarterback to make a play. What we try to do is develop the desire to get to the quarterback.”