Bull Rush: Learning Moves From All-Time Greats

March 17th, 2010
Former Bucs DE Steve WhiteBy STEVE WHITE
JoeBucsFan.com analyst

[Updated: Steve White has found video of Warren Sapp’s “Ghost Move.” See the end of this post for details]

Steve White spent every season of the Tony Dungy era (1996-2001) playing defensive end for the Bucs. He’s spent countless hours in the film room with the likes of Warren Sapp, Rod Marinelli and more. Joe is humbled to have White, also a published author and blogger, as part of the JoeBucsFan.com team. Recently, White even contributed “Insider” NFL Draft content to ESPN.com.

Below is White’s weekly Bull Rush column that breaks down all things defense with a focus on the defensive line. It’s simply a can’t-miss read for the hardcore Bucs fan. 

With the 2009 season over, White has broken down every Bucs defensive lineman and is now sharing his views on offseason preparation.

Today he looks at how D-linemen can improve their pass-rushing moves through film study.

Offseason Routine

Every player has his own routine during the offseason, and I think as long as it works that’s all that matters. For me, the offseason was always about trying to improve my game. I always wanted to find an advantage one way or another. So for the next few weeks I will devote this column to explaining a few of the things I tried to do each year to build on my successes and cut down on my failures.

Today’s focus is film study, but not just any run of the mill film study.

One way I tried to improve myself was to try to find the best pass rushers that had ever played — or were still playing — pick out their favorite moves and break them down so I could try to emulate them.

Not all pass rushers are built the same, of course. So I couldn’t try to, say, learn how to do Reggie White’s hump move because only a handful of defensive ends who have ever played the game were strong enough to do it the way he did. So it was always important to pick a guy who was at least some what similar in body type to try to mimic.

Here is a list of pass rushers and the moves I tried to steal from them. It’s a useful list because I think any defensive lineman can learn from watching these guys. (And yes, that WAS a hint for any young Bucs defensive linemen that might read this post.)

1. Speed Rush — Derrick Thomas: Obviously there are few defensive ends who could match Thomas’ blazing speed and explosion coming out of his stance. However, the point for me was never about trying to be as fast as Thomas, but instead trying to use the same technique he used before, during, and after the snap.

The one thing you notice about D.T. is that he hardly ever used anything but a rip move on his speed rushes and there is definitely a reason for that. Using a rip move allows you to stay low to the ground, keep your balance and defeat the block without having to skip a beat. Any other move, including primarily an arm-over, slows you down, gets you high and helps the offensive tackle block you.

(rip move = take your inside arm and “rip it” up and through the offensive lineman’s outside arm until your hand is above your helmet.)

Watching D.T. also shows you the benefits of being decisive on a move. You hardly ever saw him get caught on a pass rush where he couldn’t decide whether to keep going around the horn or come back underneath. He made a decision and went with it and most of the time he was right.

2. Long Arm — Chris Doleman: I happen to believe Chris Doleman was and is one of the most underrated pass rushers in NFL history. Perhaps the reason for this is that while he made a ton of plays, he didn’t always do it with a lot of flash. His long arm move is one of the most effective yet underused pass rush moves to this day, and it’s something I fully endorse for young defensive linemen.

The basic premise is this: one arm is longer than two. Meaning, if I can stab you in the middle of your chest with my arm fully extended then it’s going to be hard for you to get both your hands on me. Especially if I do so with speed and leverage. A long arm combines elements of a power rush with elements of a speed rush and it gives you the ability to counter off it in countless different ways.

Doleman could damn near control a guy with that one arm when he did it then come off and sack the quarterback. The most important coaching point about the move is proper initial hand placement. The second most important coaching point is for whomever uses the move to be ready to release off it the moment they feel the offensive lineman sitting down on it (meaning they hunker down with their weight really focused forward in order to keep from being pushed back into the quarterback or his throwing lane.)

This is actually the move that I recommended to Gaines Adams his rookie year when he was struggling at the beginning of the season. For a guy with his kind of speed, I felt like he could really be deadly once he mastered that move. Unfortunately for all of us, we will never get to see his full potential.

3. Spin Move — Bruce Smith: I know people are enamored with Dwight Freeney and his spin move, but for me nobody has ever done it better than Bruce Smith. To be honest, if there was one guy I studied the most it was Smith anyway. He was the most diverse and detail-oriented pass rusher that the game has ever seen.

Whether he was at defensive tackle or defensive end you can see him setting a guy up for a spin move two plays before he even does it. He keeps threatening the speed rush and threatening the speed rush then BAM he hits that spin move and comes scot free on the way to the quarterback.

The move is all about footwork and once you get it down it becomes like second nature. Some guys ASSume that all you have to do is pirouette on your inside leg and bam you have a sack, but it just doesn’t work that way.

When you watch Smith spin, the first thing you notice is the hard step he takes with his outside foot. Not only does it give the impression that he is about to try to take the corner, it also allows him to balance his weight up for the spin.

At the same time, he flashes with his hands at the offensive lineman. Whether that means he fakes a rip move or he fakes a dent move (knocking their outside hand down at the wrist) he shows enough to make the offensive lineman attack so to speak.

That’s really the key to a great spin move because what you want is for the guy to be coming at you while you are spinning off of their forward momentum. If you can’t get a guy coming at forward at you more than likely they will be able to sit back and block the move.

Once he got a guy coming at him, then you see Smith push off with his outside foot. And then as soon as his inside foot lands he pivots inside while whipping around with his outside arm to make sure he “clears” the offensive lineman. By clear I mean his elbow helps their momentum to keep going forward so they can’t turn around and try to block him.

After that it’s pretty much all she wrote, and it’s a foot race to see if you can get from that point to the quarterback before he gets rid of the ball. I have found that it’s an especially effective move versus play action pass because the offensive lineman comes off aggressive anyway to give the appearance of a running play.

I certainly tried to take advantage of this as a defensive end when I had the nose tackle on my side and the B-gap open.

4. The Ghost Move — Warren Sapp: Sapp had a move that we decided to get together and call the ghost move. The reason we called it the ghost move is because it happened so quickly most of the time that if you didn’t have it on film to watch it in slow motion, you would probably miss what he did.

I can promise you that there are plenty of guards that he faced that probably still wake up in cold sweats having flashbacks of trying to block it. It’s not a move that I have actually seen many other guys even attempt, but it was a move I kept trying at and had just a little bit of success with when I went on to play for the Jets.

Now this particular move is more for interior defensive lineman but in the right circumstance a defensive end could use it, too. The important thing in either instance is that the offensive lineman is a “puncher.” Some offensive linemen like to get depth and make you come to them before there is contact. That’s what we call a “soft setter”. Other guys like to try to get you right now on the line and punch you to stop your momentum and we call those guys “quick setters.”

The idea is to get a quick setter to punch his hands at you. Instead of reaching for them you keep your hands close together in front of you and try to chop down on their outside wrist with your inside hand as you take a step with your inside foot almost directly at them. So that they don’t get any width or depth in their set.

Once you get their hand down (or even if you miss) the next part of the move is to use your outside hand to swat their outside forearm/elbow area while you turn your shoulders taking away a surface for them to hit, and you slide-step with your outside foot past the offensive lineman. The finish to the move can be either an arm over or a rip move, but the idea is to release off the move and step over with your inside foot so that your body is now decisively past the offensive lineman and you can sprint to the quarterback (provided no double team is coming).

If you think that description was confusing, you should try to watch Sapp in action doing this move.

I swear he was so fast with his hands that at times even in slow motion you would swear that he never touches the other guy but all of a sudden they are still standing there at the line while he is tearing some quarterback’s head off.

The great thing about watching tape of him doing this in the offseason is you have time to mess around and try it without the pressure to win every rush that you feel during training camp or during the season.

In short, you have the opportunity to make mistakes without anybody bashing you for it, so why not try a move you haven’t mastered? And truly, The Ghost Move is something that 99.9 percent of athletes won’t be able to do just from watching it. You have to rep it over and over just to not make a fool out of yourself when attempting it.

And even the guy who I would say the best ever at it, Sapp, never quit working on it day after day. Of course, that is without a doubt why he continued to have success with it and why he is considered one of the best to ever play the game.

So those are the guys who I really paid the most attention to and studied during my career.

Obviously, there are plenty of other pass rushers guys might want to emulate. But there is one thing that I truly believe: the best defensive line coaches in the NFL are the guys who put you through technique drills until your tongue hangs out and are also supreme motivators. But even the best defensive line coaches generally do not teach you pass rush moves.

From my experience, by and large each guy has to come up and perfect the pass rush moves that they plan to use. And if they can’t do that, then they rarely if ever show much more than flashes of potential here and there.

Watching film of the guys who were the best we have ever seen is the best way in my opinion for guys to really learn how to execute and perfect their moves. When guys become students of the game in that way, it’s usually apparent in the improvement of their play.

My question for the commenters is this. Who are some of your favorite pass rushers and what move did they have that our young guys should try to emulate? I look forward to seeing your answers and addressing any other questions you might have.

Next week’s post will be on how to study film of upcoming opponents in the offseason.

Video of Sapp’s “Ghost Move” found

A number of people asked about Sapp’s Ghost Move and I finally found a shot of it where you can almost see what he’s doing. Even though its in slow motion you probably still won’t catch everything he is doing with his hands but you will notice him beating the guard before the center comes over to double team him (still got a sack though)

Relevant replay starts at about 1:25 of this clip.

43 Responses to “Bull Rush: Learning Moves From All-Time Greats”

  1. Tommy Boy Says:

    What an awesome read. Especially the Ghost Move section. Great insight on what made Sapp so great. I’d love to hear the offensive lineman talk about Sapp and trying to block him. Once in a lifetime player. I’m glad I got to watch him. Thanks Steve for the info.

    My favorite rusher now is Freeney. He is undersized but scares the hell out of opponents. I’d say his spin move is his sickest. He can do it all but he embarasses everyone with the spin. He sets them up and then BOOM, he hits the B button on their ass and they don’t even know what just happened. O-lineman is toast and the QB is in the crosshairs.

  2. Tommy Boy Says:

    Sorry Steve, didn’t watch too much of Bruce Smith so I don’t know just how great he is. Freeney and his spin move is devastating. Besides him, I don’t really have a favorite pass rusher….except for Ronde when he was sent on a blitz. Man Ronde was so fast in his youth.

  3. admin Says:

    Joe here,

    Going to have to go with Mark Gastineau and his get-off. Don’t think anybody finished plays quite like he did. What a motor and speed for a big dude. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NisDP8vr17M

  4. RahDomDaBest Says:

    WOW! That was a GREAT article.

  5. RahDomDaBest Says:

    Steve you should be in the front office making decisions on who gets to coach defenses and then organizing the detailed traing plans for defensive players. You understand that it’s the details in the techniques that make the prospects good players.

    Just signing an athletic guy and throwing him in the mix is def a plan for disaster.

    There needs to be more of your in-depth thinking around the Bucs organization in my opinion. You have been there. You understand the techniques of linemen, but also the importance of that focus for other players.

    Seriously, you would be a better head coach than Raheem.

    I think that’s one reason why Tony Dungy was such a consistent head coach… he was a player… he always talked about teachning the fundamentals… but he was serious about fundamentals… it wasn’t just a feel good comment.

  6. bucfanjeff Says:

    Great article Steve. Any chance there is a video of Sapp and his Ghost move we could see?

  7. tnew Says:

    great read, Loved the Sapp stuff. Love watching the Reggie White hump. Simple and so effective.

  8. Matt Says:

    Great article.

    I’d love to see a video of Sapp’s Ghost move, if you could find one…

  9. Buddhaboy Says:

    Kevin Greene – relentless motor…..Deacon Jones and Lee Roy Selmon- Manbeasts for sure.

  10. Jonny Says:

    The best original article to date on JBF or any Bucs fansites for that matter.

    I have very little knowledge about pass rush moves, but I will try. The two guys I absolutely love to watch are Trent Cole and DeMarcus Ware. I don’t know if you could call it speed rush, but both the guys anticipate the snap and explode right after the snap. Cole was a master of doing this consistently until 08, especially when Eagles were behind. Lot of the times he would not get a sack, but force the passer to make an erroneous throw.

    Btw Steve, what moves do you think are suited for the DEs we have, especially Moore. When I read long arms, the first guy that came to my mind was Moore.

  11. Radio Mushmouth Says:

    My favorite pass rusher of all-time is Steve WHite.

  12. OAR Says:

    Mr. White, Yet Another AWESOME read/article. Much thanks!

  13. Jamie Says:

    Man, Steve, quality article. You’re not just a good pass rusher, you’re a pretty good writer too. Keep it up, we love it.

    A couple things I’d like to know:
    What makes Jared Allen such a great pass rusher? I always hear he’s a high-motor player who doesn’t quit, but does he have pass rush skills or pure athleticism is one area or another that makes him so good?

    The other thing I’d love to see is your take on the pass rushers in this upcoming draft. Is Jason Pierre-Paul the real deal, or a flash in the pan? What about Derrick Harvey from UF?

  14. OAR Says:

    I think a dream D-line would have to be Warren Sapp, Albert Hayneworth, Reggie White, and Bruce Smith. In their primes, of course. Unstoppable?

  15. Al Says:

    I like John Randle alot, he used to get into peoples heads and talk alot but he backed it up.

  16. sgw94 Says:

    Thanks for all the compliments first of all. Im glad yall liked the post.

    As for a clip of the ghost move or the other moves even, its a tricky thing trying to find it online. I searched youtube for quite awhille but you would be hard pressed to find clips of Sapp back when he was playing that will show up in a search. I’ll keep looking though and if I find it I will post it here in comments.

    By the way, none of you cats have said which moves from the all time greats you would like to see our guys use or at least try to use. I know somebody has a recommendation. I’ll try to answer all the other questions one by one.

  17. sgw94 Says:


    I definitely think a long arm would be a great move for Kyle Moore to try to master. Especially in that he will probably used more on the left side where you can’t really do a pure speed rush as much a long arm would allow him to use his speed and at the same time his strength to get to the quarterback. Great recommendation there.

  18. sgw94 Says:


    Several things make Jared Allen a great pass rusher. For one he plays with great leverage and he has long arms. He actually uses bull rushes probably more than any other move but he doesn’t run right down the middle of guys, instead preferring to stay on an edge while pushing the tackles back to the quarterback. He also has a knack for feeling the tackle sitting down and then releasing off the move right at the proper time and accelerating through the quarterback. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he has pretty good pass rushing line mates on his team who also flush quarterbacks to him at times.

    As for JPP I love his potential but at this point thats all it is in my opinion. I really can’t understand how he got to be hyped up as much as he has considering his production this year. He showed flashes of greatness, don’t get me wrong and if he stays motivated and gets with a good coach in the NFL the sky may be the limit, but he never actually had what I would call a dominant game this year. Not only that but in the games the Bulls lost he never made the plays I thought someone who is getting the kind of draft buzz that he is would make to try to change the momentum in the game. See the Cincy game as an example. Either way I think he is a project who won’t realize his full potential in the NFL for a couple of years.

    Im not sure if you meant Derrick Harvey who is already in the NFL or Dunlap who is coming out this year but I liked Harvey as a situational pass rusher coming out. I didn’t necessarily think he should be drafted so high as the jags took him but so be it. Dunlap I think has a very good chance of being a bust. He is athletic as all outdoors but his technique is sorely lacking. I don’t trust guys who rely almost solely on their speed and quickness and never use their hands on pass rush moves. Just my opinion though.

  19. sgw94 Says:


    It would be pretty hard to pick an all time greatest D Line but if I could this would be have the same lineup except no way in hell I pick Haynesworth who is a notorious under achiever, instead I’d get Howie Long to go with Sapp inside and then keep Reggie and Bruce out at the ends. Now THAT would be an unstoppable line.

  20. OAR Says:

    Mr. White(still think of Resvior Dogs when I type that, lol), I must admit your right about Haynesworth underachieveing(maybe I should have put an asterick by him), I just think that big boy can sure move some men around, but do agree, Howie would make that “THE” line!

  21. RastaMon Says:

    you are blessed in life…..1st a NFL career
    now another blessing….your writing…..

  22. BigMacAttack Says:

    Warren Sapp will always be the 1’st pick at DT for me. I liked Kevin Greene and Bruce Smith. I also liked Elvin Bethea, Houston Oilers as a kid.

    That was awesome, Steve. Wow, I don’t think that could have been described any clearer.

    It is a blast being a student in your class.

  23. Tommy Boy Says:

    I’d love to Stylez G. White use the spin move more, especially now that he has slimmed down he should be quicker. In my opinon, he is our best d-lineman we have so I watch him more than the others.

    Think B button Stylez, just like in Madden! 🙂

  24. Cash Says:

    What no Richard Dent love? Dude was a beast.

  25. Cash Says:

    While he was never as good on the field as he was in his own mind Simeon Rice when on his game seemed unblockable. I dont he approached stopping the run with the same enthusiasm he did rushing the passer but he was mad disruptive and had to be accounted for.

  26. Jonny Says:

    I am surprised John Randle has not been mentioned by any of you guys here. He has the most sacks for a DT if I am not wrong and he was an unrestricted free agent, what a story!

  27. Jonny Says:

    I am surprised John Randle has not been mentioned by any of you guys here. He has the most sacks for a DT if I am not wrong and he was an undrafted free agent, what a story!

  28. sgw94 Says:


    What about William Fuller for the Oilers? That dude was a bad man for awhile.

  29. sgw94 Says:


    Thanks, and I agree.

  30. sgw94 Says:


    In all the honestly I can muster, I believe that if White develops a spin move this off season he will without a doubt be a double digit sack guy, barring injury.

    I certainly hope he does.

  31. sgw94 Says:


    Actually Al mentioned Randall up above. I loved Randall’s pass rush ability without a doubt but there aren’t many cats who can duplicate the things he did because they were kind of unorthodox. Definitely a great story though.

  32. admin Says:

    Joe here,

    Threw out Gastineau earlier, but Charles Haley comes to mind, too. It said a lot for the guy to get it done with two teams and then take a couple of years off and then come back. Amazing big, fast athlete at the position and I think he was a middle round pick.

  33. Toddwashsucks Says:

    Steve, I too have enjoyed the article very much, and I also feel John Randle was an incredible player for years. I was wondering if you can elaborate on how Randle rushed the passer and what made him unorthodox in his approach? Thanks and keep up the great articles.

  34. Troxell8t8 Says:

    I believe recently the closest player to Derrick Thomas was a young Jevon Kearse. He could get to the corner at will in his first couple of years. Also, how can anyone forget Simeon Rice’s sprinter’s stance. Sim was just so long and lanky and could use his hands very well. Besides he was definitely a colorful personality, Planet Sim is probably a very fun place to visit.

  35. sgw94 Says:


    Actually I never thought much of Jevon Kearse. He was a one trick pony who never made a serious attempt to come up with even one single legitimate counter move to his speed. On the flip side you have a guy like Simeon who had an abundance of pass rush moves which he worked on every single day as hard as anybody I have ever been around but he probably will never get the props he deserves because of his perceived attitude.

    The guy who I actually think has been most like Derrick Thomas is John Abraham. Just explosive as hell out of his stance and decisive with his speed moves.

  36. Jeff Carlson Says:

    Charles Haley is the only player that got a QB a nickname while not even touching the quarterback. I was on the sideline for the Rams in the 1990 NFC Championship game when the 49ers Haley was coming around the left end and Jim (Chris) Everett went down in the pocket by Haley’s shadow passing by. Calling Jim Everett “Chris” put Jim Rome on the national map.

  37. Troxell8t8 Says:


    What attributes made Strahan great? Most of the DEs that have been mentioned rushed from the RDE spot, but Strahan was a LDE. It seemed like he really understand how to use leverage to his advantage. I’m sure I’m oversimplifying his greatness as a pass rusher.

  38. sgw94 Says:


    Strahan had a great combination of core strength along with superb hand placement. It wasn’t just that he bull rushed with the force of an elephant, but also he wasn’t just running into you willy nilly. He was grabbing you by your forearms and over powering you in such a way that you couldn’t defend yourself. Sometimes watching his power rush is like watching other guys’ finesse moves. Definitely a specialized kind of rusher though, not many could emulate

  39. Randy Says:

    Steve, i sure am glad you love writing so much. It is so easy to follow and understand what you,re saying. For me, Leroy Selmon was my favorite and of course Sapp!

  40. Radio Mushmouth Says:

    Strahan was a master of using leverage.

  41. Radio Mushmouth Says:

    and I agree with Randy . Where the hell is the love for Leeroy around here??

  42. BigMacAttack Says:

    What about Charles Edward “Mean Joe” Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White & Ernie Holmes – “Steel Curtain” ?

  43. RahDomDaBest Says:

    Steve, have you ever thought about going into scouting?