John T. Reed’s Football Think Tank

Interesting ideas on offensive and defensive line and ball-stripping technique

In January of 2006, Contra Costa Times columnist Neil Hayes published an article about my book Football Clock Management. He was the second reporter to ask Niners head coach Mike Nolan how he prepared for a game, the second one Mike Nolan told about reviewing my book before each game, and the second one to write an article about it.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller of Lafayette, CA read the article and called me on the theory that I seemed to be a guy who thought “outside the box” about football. Miller, who has a 30-year martial arts background, told me he had come up with some offensive and defensive line and ball-stripping techniques that he thought could greatly improve those areas. Actually, Miller thinks his techniques will work for any blocking, shedding, or tackling situation, not just line and stripping. I would say they appear most useful for line and stripping.

He came over to my house and did a demonstration for my son Dan and me. Dan is 24 and a former Ivy League tailback. Dan also coached with me from 2003 through 2005. Dan and I were impressed.

Worth trying
I am not sure that Miller’s techniques work in football. But I think they are worth investigating and trying.

In part, Miller’s techniques seem to embody the jiujitsu principle of using an opponent’s movement and inertia against him. They also seem to involve what police call “come along” techniques for controlling persons who are resisting arrest. And they seem to involve pressure points reminiscent of Spock’s “Vulcan neck pinch” of Star Trek fame.

Miller is not the first martial arts guy to tell football coaches that his techniques would improve play. However, the others seem to focus on swatting opponent hands away to prevent holding. Miller has the opposite approach. He seems to want you to try to get your hands on him and then uses that against you.

Virtually all of Miller’s offensive techniques involve the opponent’s elbow area. Miller has you moving the opponent’s elbows out, up, in, or down. The direction is generally to take his elbows the way the defender wants them to go, but much farther than he intended. In some cases, what Miller does to the elbow seems to weaken it momentarily. In others, you can see the opponent wince with instant pain and abandon his original plan in favor of the sudden, new higher priority of stopping the elbow or shoulder joint pain. Some of the movements seem to quickly put the defender off balance.

Miller repeatedly emphasized that the techniques required no strength. That would be welcome to coaches who urge players to get stronger in the weight room but who are having no success at persuading them. Indeed, in his video, Miller seems to be moving big guys around with ease.

I have a couple of concerns.

Too smooth
I am a bit skeptical of martial arts. I was trained briefly in hand-to-hand combat at West Point and in Army Ranger School. I am sure the martial arts people have tried many times to sell their ideas to the military. Apparently without success. What we were taught would generally fall into what laymen would call dirty fighting. In war, there are no rules other than kill the other guy before he kills you.

Maybe I missed them, but I do not recall reading many news stories about martial arts students prevailing in outside-the-dojo or in non-Hollywood-studio fights with real criminals. Nor do I see martial arts guys winning Ultimate Fighting or other free style competitions. It seems stylized to me. Like old-time movie sword fight choreography. Certainly the movies about martial arts are choreography. Miller agrees in general and says that is why he chose the particular martial art that he did. He feels his martial art is more real world because of its emphasis on spontaneity and practical success.

I also have the impression that martial arts folks are very good at putting on demonstrations— breaking bricks and all that. The real test is a competitive real-world situation—like a football game.

Holding rules
I am also concerned about whether some of Miller’s offensive line techniques may violate the holding rules. Indeed, Miller himself commented on that a number of times himself during his video.

The fastest route to an answer to that question would be to have an experienced football official view Miller’s videos or an in-person demonstration with the official as the target of the techniques. As far as I know, that has not yet occurred. Ultimately, if some team’s players are trained in and master Miller’s techniques, calls or non-calls in their games will provide the final verdict on that. I think I can predict with certainty that opposing defensive linemen will complain to their coaches and to the officials that they are being held and deliberately injured. My oldest son read this and says he does not think college or pro players would complain about Miller-technique-induced pain. Retaliate? Maybe.

Miller, he said that his moves were so quick that their duration would save his students from being called for holding. There is a good chance he is right. He also teaches variations of most of them that are less likely to be considered holds.

I told Miller that I thought the techniques looked like they would work initially in a game, but that I was sure the opposing players would try to adjust during the game. A football game has about one offensive play per minute per team. In other words there are about 48 offensive plays for each team in a high school game and about 60 offensive plays for each team in a college and pro football game. That gives the opponent of the Miller-trained guy dozens of opportunities to avoid having done to him what was done to him during the first few plays. I suspect the opposing players would have some success at defeating the techniques as the game progressed. I could be wrong. Miller’s methods are worth testing in game situations.

Ball stripping
I don’t think there is any doubt that Miller’s ball-stripping technique is legal. Basically, he pulls the hand on the point of the football along the ball carrier’s body toward the ball carrier’s back and pulls the elbow up and forward—a sort of half-nelson move. It looked extremely effective on the tape and in his demonstrations. My son who played tailback in college thinks it would not work very often against an experienced ball carrier who has had opponents trying to strip the ball from him for years.

You can get Miller’s videos from him at 925-899-6760. His email is

To contribute an idea or comment to this Football Think Tank web site, either email to or fax to 925-820-1259 or snail mail at 342 Bryan Drive, Alamo, CA 94507.

Best wishes,

John T. Reed

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John T. Reed, a.k.a. John Reed, John T Reed, Jack Reed, 342 Bryan Drive, Alamo, CA 94507, Voice: 925-820-7262, Fax: 925-820-1259, Email: