J.D. Moore wasn’t always the linebacker-seeking, muscle-bound junior fullback you see today.
Moved from tight end a couple of years ago, Moore needed seasoning as a fullback before developing into LSU’s starter last year. Specifically, he needed to learn how to combat and prevent a defender from shedding his block.
Former LSU linebacker Lamar Louis was there to help.
“He’s just a hammer,” Moore said of Louis. “He was so big, and I was just learning the position, and I remember numerous times running in there and thinking I was about to lay my best block, and he’d shed.”
Moore is now better equipped to handle block-shedding defenders, but LSU’s linebackers are still shoving aside offensive players on Saturdays, avoiding would-be blockers to make plays that have Dave Aranda’s unit one of the nation’s best.
The shedding of a block is an overshadowed art in football, a key component to LSU’s success defensively and something on which middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, at the center of the unit, thrives. Beckwith showed his expertise on the subject during a career-high 15-tackle win against Southern Miss last week, shedding eight blocks in the first half alone.
He’s got another shot to flash those skills when No. 25 LSU (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern) hosts Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday. It’s a clash between two teams with opposing strengths. For the Rebels, it’s offense. They’re 20th in scoring. For the Tigers, it’s defense. They’re fourth in scoring defense.
One of the reasons: shedding blocks.
How a player goes about shedding a block is different on each level of defense — line, linebackers, secondary — but the goal is the same: avoid the block at all cost. On the defensive line, that’s normally done with a “shrug” move, said Greg Gilmore, LSU’s starting nose tackle. This involves grabbing or pressing your hand or hands on an offensive player and pushing them aside.
“Two ways to shed blocks: two-handed release and a one-handed release,” Gilmore said. "It’s all about leverage. They’re pushing on you. You create counter-momentum."
It sounds easy, sure, but Gilmore, at 305 pounds, is trying to shed blocks from guys like 330-pound guard Josh Boutte. On the perimeter, a guy like cornerback Donte Jackson, 5-11, 170 pounds, is attempting to shed blocks from receivers who are 5 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. Linebackers are dodging or shedding blocks from 250-pound fullbacks or 310-pound offensive guards.
Jackson uses a different tactic than Gilmore, just like Beckwith uses a different method than Jackson.
“I’m not a huge guy, so I’m going to be smaller than most guys that block me, but I’m as aggressive as most guys that try to block me,” Jackson said. “Most of the time, I use my quickness and aggressiveness. It’s never failed me.”
Beckwith was not available for interviews this week, but his block-shedding tactics speak for themselves. In fact, he uses a combination of methods depending on the given play.
Against Southern Miss on one play, he used his strength and power, pressing his hands against an offensive lineman’s chest and shoving him aside to stuff a running back. On the very next play, Beckwith relied on his quick feet to slide past an offensive lineman, avoiding contact all together to disrupt a screen pass.
Moore calls block shedding a “controlled explosion.” It’s the ultimate victory in football for a defender, winning a man-vs.-man, one-on-one battle in the open field. The secret to prevent your block from being shed: hand and helmet placement, Moore said.
“It’s whoever has better pad level and better hands,” he said. “If he’s lower with inside hands, he’s won. Sometimes, I’ll get one hand, he’ll get one hand and it’s sort of a stalemate. That’s the sort of battle with football — hands and hat placement.”
Blocking offensively and shedding defensively are aspects players focus on during spring practice and preseason camp, the most grueling and physical practices of the year. They refine them during the season, Moore said.
“In-season, I’ll do it some when we go one-on-ones, but I’m not trying to knock out our linebackers,” he said.
Moore has made his fair share of touchdown-springing blocks and so has Boutte, the Tigers starting right guard. They've been on the other end, too, with their blocks avoided or shed. Boutte describes that feeling as "horrible," but there's nothing like finishing off a defender.
“You just drive him until he loses his feet and dump him,” he said. “That’s the best feeling ever.”
Strength vs. strength
Two of the best units in the nation meet Saturday night at Tiger Stadium: LSU’s defense vs. Ole Miss’ offense.
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