NFL's best pass rushers share tricks of the sack trade

ByLindsey Thiry ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 10, 2024

LAS VEGAS -- Heat radiated off the turf on a blistering 106-degree day in Las Vegas, as nearly 60 NFL defensive linemen huddled around a demonstration at the Fertitta Football Complex on the UNLV campus.

Inside the circle,Las Vegas Raidersdefensive end Maxx Crosby, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan and Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Von Miller put together a 45-minute masterclass on rushing the quarterback.

"It's never gonna be perfect," an impassioned Crosby said after demonstrating a move resembling a basketball crossover. "That's rush. That's what makes it so beautiful."

Welcome to the eighth annual Sack Summit, an event founded by Miller and now also led by Crosby and Jordan, where rushing the passer is a work of art that is constantly being perfected.

"The Sack Summit is a place where all the great pass rushers and the young pass rushers in the NFL and through college can come and talk the same language and really share their mindsets," Miller told ESPN. "I've always been a believer iron sharpens iron, and this is a place where we could do that."

Crosby, Jordan and Miller are among the NFL's best at pressuring quarterbacks. With résumés boasting a combined two Super Bowl titles, four All-Pro selections and 19 Pro Bowl appearances, the trio is sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience with players who hope to become the next wave of standouts.

"It's constant, never-ending improvement," Crosby said about the summit. "You got the best rushers in the world, vets, young guys, all type of body shapes, all different type of people, coming together for one reason."

It's an event where, at least for a day, players do not consider themselves opponents but teammates.

"We can compete 364 days out of the year, but the one day that we have this, it's all about cooperation," said Miller, who leads the NFL with 123.5 sacks since 2011. "And it's all to make us all better. I'm making them better and they're making me better. So it's not about our quarterbacks or their quarterbacks. We're all getting better."

Jordan, second behind Miller with 117.5 sacks since he entered the league 13 seasons ago, has learned so much in attending the event for multiple years that this year he paid for each of his fellow Saints defensive linemen to make the trip.

After spending most of his day teaching his techniques and mindset to younger players, Jordan -- when asked why he would be so willing to help opponents -- broke into mischievous laughter.

"I'm here to steal," Jordan said. "I'm here to pull thievery."

The only way to successfully do that, however, is to also share what you know.

"At the end of the day, knowledge is the most important," Jordan said. "It's more like a bartering system. ... Whatever I bring to the table, I want you to take from me, because I'm gonna try and take everything from you. It's literally a trade."

The day-long event begins with breakfast at a swanky hotel, followed by two hours of field drills and more than three hours of film study. The day culminates with a table reservation at a posh nightclub.

"It's just a vibe to be around people that are of the same mindset, trying to do the same, [who] have the same goals," Jordan said.

"My favorite part about the event is the film session, cause we all watch film. We all try to put ourselves in other pass rushers' shoes," Miller said. "But that's the one time where the guy that we're watching is actually telling us what's going on."

While each lineman might rely on a different set of tools to reach the quarterback, there's a common mindset that each player in attendance seems to foster.

"The [Sack] Summit is to bring this idea that pass rush is a craft, and it is beautiful," Jordan said.

There's the rusher who considers himself a spin guy. There are the guys who utilize a long arm as their tool. There are the guys who like to swipe at their opponent to get where they're going. There are the chop guys. The guys who utilize power to set up speed, or perhaps speed to set up power. Then there are the guys who finish with finesse. All with the purpose of getting to the quarterback.

Sometimes, and frequently for those who are most successful, all techniques can be added to the arsenal.

"It's one thing to learn and write something down, but when you actually go out there and apply it and work on it and make it come to life, that's what makes it special," said Crosby, who has 52 sacks over five seasons.

During the on-field demonstration, which also included Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, it became apparent that those who most successfully reach the quarterback -- despite different techniques -- harbor a similar mindset.

"We talk about chess and checkers," Crosby hollered to the group before demonstrating another crossover. "We wanna be playing chess. O-linemen think they're smart, but at the end of the day, all they wanna do is just get comfortable and get to their spot."

What also became clear: These guys could talk about their craft for hours and hours, from everything ranging to the nuance of hand placement to their methods of wearing down an opponent.

"It's so fun to talk about it," Jordan said. "Because I'm like, 'Yo, this is what I do. Here, take it.' ... Oh, I like what you did. I'm taking something."

"You got a bunch of guys coming together, the best pass rushers in the world just talking ball," Crosby said. "If you could take one thing from this camp and apply it to your actual game, it could take you to another level."