David “Deacon” Jones passed away at age 74 on Tuesday.  Deacon Jones was arguably one the best pass-rushers of all time and revolutionized the way defensive lineman played the game.  He is credited with the first to institute the swim move and the head-slap.  Although the latter is now a penalty, the initial techniques for both are still seen on Sundays.  Jones is even responsible for coining the term “sack”.  Jones recorded most of his before it became an official statistic in pro football.  It’s still unsure if Jones would be the all-time leader in the category. As a member of the daunting “Fearsome Foursome” with the Rams, he was drafted in the 14th round in 1961 played in 8 pro bowls in his 14-year career.  Jones, who was inducted in the Pro football Hall of Fame in 1980, was also one of the most influential figures off the field as well.


My first season playing defensive line was in 1981 and ever since then, I have always had a passion for what the mental and physical attributes were in order to be successful at that position.  More importantly, how those physical attributes carry over to football skill.  Luckily, out of the 14 seasons I have coached college football, all put 3 were coaching defensive lineman.  So, in honor of what Deacon Jones meant to the game of football, here are the top physical skills a successful defensive lineman must have and how to enhance them in the weight room.



This is a football specific term for a player’s ability to explosively attack the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball.  For a defensive lineman qualities like reaction time and explosive power are essential.  Reaction time is not as trainable of a skill, although one way to improve an athletes “first step” is to increase the ability to recruit more motor units more efficiently.  Because most defensive linemen are in a static stance at the snap of the ball, strength qualities such as overcoming inertia are indicative of great “get-off”.  Rapid extension of the hip, knee, and ankle (depending on stance and technique) are essential.  In order to avoid the Olympic Lifting vs. Don’t Olympic Lift debate; listed below are several different examples depending on your philosophy an training background.

 Top Training Exercises for Get-Off

Method:  Dynamic Effort

Weighted Seated Box Jumps, Power Snatch from Floor, Power Clean from Floor, High Pull from Hang, Dynamic Box Squat with bands or chains, Speed Pulls with Bands or Chains.


On average, defensive lineman generally weigh less than their offensive counter-parts.  Playing with your pad-level lower than our opponent will help maintain the line-of-scrimmage and take on various blocking combinations more effectively.  Playing low also disseminates the surface areas offensive linemen have to push and hold defensive lineman.  This technique is highly dependent on lower body strength.  More strength = better technique.

Top Training Exercises for Leverage: 

Method:  Maximum Effort

Back Squat, Box Squat, Front Squat, Conventional Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift

Rotational Power

Two instances on the field that employs rotational power through the hips and torso involve defeating a block and accelerating laterally and pass rush.  Without going in to detail with specific techniques, a defensive lineman’s ability to turn their shoulders is crucial.  By forcefully punching one hand between two offensive linemen vs. a double team or scoop block, the defensive lineman will better maintain gap responsibility.  Also, great pass-rush moves almost always involve a violent club or hand-strike.  Turning the shoulders enables more force and greater movement.

 Top Training Exercises for Rotational Power: 

Method:  Dynamic Effort

Core Blaster Barbell Rotations, Medicine Ball Rotational Throws, Rows



The game of Football is a Collision - Combat hybrid sport.  No position on the field represents that more than defensive line.  The ability to create separation between you and the offensive lineman blocking you is an undeniably important skill.  This task needs to happen relatively quickly during the course of a play.  It requires tremendous upper body strength while maintaining proper leverage.

Top Training Exercises for Separation: 

Method:  Maximum Effort

Bench Press with Bands or Chains, Fat Bar Bench Press, Military Press, Push Press, Incline Press, Log Press, Fat Bar Military Press


Aside from a few, most defensive lineman get paid in the NFL for sacking the quarterback and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.  Being able to accelerate through the ball carrier after defeating a block is what sometimes separates the good from great defensive lineman.  Similar to Coming off the ball at the snap, finishing the last few yards of a run to make contact requires linear speed and acceleration.  Speed training is essential for defensive lineman.

Top Training Exercises for Finish

Method:  Dynamic Effort

Sprints, Box Jumps, Power Snatch from Hang, Power Clean from Hang, High Pull from Hang, Dynamic Box Squat with bands or chains, Speed Pulls with Bands or Chains.


When a defensive lineman is described as having a “motor”, it means they are a high-effort player, on every play.  They will run sideline to sideline consistently.   This attribute always comes to light when the play is run away from the player and it takes a great deal of effort to trail from behind.  This is as much of a mental attribute as physical.  There are only two things that a player has absolute control over on the football field:  Attitude and Effort.  Although these two characteristics are usually choices that great players commit to on every play, there are some training tools that can help with making sure attitude and effort are never a question.  Energy System Specific Conditioning for football is key.

Top Training Exercises for Motor: 

Method:  Repeated Effort

Prowler, Sled Drags, Hill Sprints, Yoke Walks, Farmer’s Walks


Football is a physically demanding sport, which requires players to continually collide with other football players over and over again.  Defensive linemen may have the most physical demands placed on them out of any position.  Staying on the field is a key concept and there are definite steps that need to be taken to ensure consistency throughout a season and longevity throughout a career.  Here are some exercise that will help any defensive lineman.

Top Training Exercises for Health: 

Method:  Repeated Effort


Possible Injury or Joint       Exercises:
Concussion or Stinger Neck Training, Shrugs
Shoulder Rows, External Rotation, Rear Delt Raises
Hamstring Pull Glute-Ham Raise, Reverse Hyper