Talking Defensive Tackle

Playing great defense, even in the day and age of the spread offense, still starts up the middle and there isn't a position more important than defensive tackle. On Monday, Burnt Orange Beat caught up with one of the state's top high school defensive tackle coaches to get his thoughts on the position.

Last week, Burnt Orange Beat sat down with Friendswood head coach Steve Van Meter to talk the quarterback position. On Monday, BOB traveled to Pearland to talk the defensive tackle position with up and coming coach Lance Botkin.

Botkin played his high school football at Pasadena Dobie before playing for Southern Arkansas at the collegiate level. He has coached at Pasadena Sam Rayburn and Pearland on the high school level as well as spending the summer coaching for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Oilers defensive assistant has also coached the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game, the East-West Shrine Game as well as scouting for the Blue Bombers.

Q: What are you looking for in a defensive tackle keeping in mind there are different technique fits?

A: Just looking at the position, you want the bigger, stronger guy that can move. I look for quickness and good lateral movement. That's what I look for first. I don't care how fast they can run a forty, but how quick are they for ten yards and do they have a motor. Is that motor going to run all the time and can they find a way to the football? I can teach kids how to get into a good stance, how to use the hands well and get off the ball. If you have a guy that has that internal instinct and can always find the ball, we can teach the rest of the technique stuff.

Q: What do you teach in terms of the position?

A: First is stance. A right-handed and left-handed stance. If they have to switch sides, I make sure they understand left hand and right hand stance. Even if they move out to defensive end at least they will have the basics of the stance.

When you have to step up the field, you have to be able to step through your body. If you are too long with the step, you don't have the ability to step properly. If the step is too short, you are going to pop up. It all starts with the stance.

The second thing is hands. When you step, your hands are moving just like your feet. They are simultaneous. We teach that from day one. Before we talk about scheme, we are teaching that aspect.

Q: What is the toughest aspect for high school kids to pick up?

A: The toughest thing to understand is that they have to break old habits. They may get taught bad habits or learn bad habits along the way until we get them. It's like teaching a kid to run. If you look back at it, everyone wants to teach a kid to run as fast as they can, but who taught that kid when he was five years old? He teaches himself, so unless he's taught properly, he'll develop bad habits.

I try to break our guys of the habit of looking for the ball. I tell guys to not look for the ball, the ball will find you with proper technique. Do your job, and in order to do your job, play low, come off the ball and take proper steps. Let's say it's a bigger kid that dominated little league and junior high because of their size alone, when they get in trouble as older players, they want to revert back to when they were younger players.

Q: What are you looking for in a zero/one tech player? A three tech player as well?

A: I like to pigeon hole kids these days. This day and time, with the kids I have at the high school level not being able to go recruit certain players as they do at higher levels, you can't have a guy on the varsity 5A level that can play the zero, one, two and three techniques. I try to get a guy that can play the B gap real well and find a guy that can play zero tech, shade tech and one tech. I want to have the versatility against any team we play. One week a team might run in the A gap, but the next week the B and C gap.

My perfect three tech is a bigger guy with good feet that can get under guys' pads and take on a double team. Everybody wants to run in the B and C gaps right now. They start outside and cut it back into the alley, as I call it, between the B and C gaps. I look for a guy that can get front side and not get beat on the zone block. We really work on getting front side and sling backing to the backside.

Q: What are you guys seeing in the opposing run game these days?

A: The inside and outside zone. I call it zone blocking and train blocking. Both can be vicious against bigger, slower defensive tackles because they can be overtaken by one gap and two gaps and really have to work to get underneath or back over the top.

That is one block we really work on a bunch. Train blocking is the whole offensive line kicking their hips, turning and pulling down the line…that's outside zone. Stretch play if you will. Inside zone we see is chip blocking, combos and things like that. I make sure that when kids are stepping they are reacting to what they see. If you are reading, you will be wrong a lot.

Q: Is reaching kids tougher than when you were playing in high school and college?

A: It's not that much different than when I was coached. It's a respect factor. Kids have to respect you. It's expectations. You set the expectations at a certain level and they strive, but they also have to see that you care. That's the big difference between now and back then. There is no teaching. It's all showing kids. If you don't show by your actions, kids will see right through the BS. Showing that you care for them and you understand them is key. Once you get to that point, they will run through the wall for you.

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