Ah OL. I miss playing this from high school. By far the most underrated position in all of football. Just love coming and put a hurt on a defensive player. Trap was my favorite to run (I played left guard). Good times.
FF101: Day 4
FF101: Day 4 – Offensive Linemen
Offensive linemen are the men that do the most and get the least credit. Not many kids grow up dreaming of some day being a starting left guard, and it’s sad that that’s the case. Offensive line is the most underrated position in all of football, both in terms of the recognition they get and in terms of enjoyment due to a stellar combination of physical and intellectual responsibilities. There is the obvious when it comes to offensive linemen: they stand several inches away from another hulk of muscle and run into them like two rams.
(Sorry for the advertisement beforehand, but the narration of this is oddly appropriate for offensive linemen as well).
However, the intellectual part of the game cannot be lost with offensive linemen. Defensive fronts constantly change, blitzers show and back off from all possible angles, and as an offensive lineman you now have to prevent the defense from doing what it’s trying to do while successfully allowing your team to do what it is attempting to do. It truly is one of the most overlooked positions in football, but its purpose and necessity for the success of a team cannot be ignored.
When I first started coaching I went to an offensive linemen class put on by the former offensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills during their great super bowl runs of the early 1990s. Afterward I was able to strike up conversation with the man and he actually walked me through many more intricacies of the offensive line one on one. I later got to actually coach with him. I owe much of my knowledge of the offensive line to this man as I had never played it before. I also owe him my Alan Ameche Story (shameless plug here), which is one of my favorites, that I told randomly a while back.
Anyway, long story short, he was teaching me how to properly get in the 3-point-stance. The best way to coach is to be able to do it yourself. So we are going over it again and again and I finally get the stance right after a while and he asks me “Are you comfortable.” In response, I, being new to coaching and this being a man that knows his stuff, shyly reply “Yes.” He slaps me across the back of the head and yells “You’re a gosh damn liar!” I was in shock and a little nervous. Honestly, I did not know what to say or do. Finally he continued, “But everyone is, they all say yeah. But if we were so comfortable standing like that then we would walk around like that and have conversations standing like that. It’s not comfortable. It’s extremely uncomfortable! It’s your ass wanting so badly to get out of that stance that makes it so great!” And so I give you the 3-point-stance.
3-Point Stance: The 3-point-stance is the most common pre-snap stance of offensive linemen, though it may not be for much longer as more pass heavy teams begin to favor a 2-point-stance. Regardless, we will first cover the 3-point-stance. (Important note: This is a very different 3-point-stance than for fullbacks, defensive linemen, etc.)
Legs: Flexed at the knees, somewhat like doing a squat.
Feet: Feet need to be about shoulder width apart, maybe a little more if he’s a bigger fellow. It is important to note that he should not stand too duck footed (toes pointed out). It will feel much more natural to stand with his toes pointed out with his feet spread apart as they are, but it will lead to a lack of balance and power. His toes should be pointed essentially forward. Therefore, it is common to tell people just learning the stance to kick out their heels, and that should help. Other than that, if an offensive lineman is a position other than center, his feet should be slightly staggered with his outside foot being planted somewhere between the instep and heel. He should not go beyond the heel as this will lead to being off balance. The weight should be placed firmly on the soles of his feet. His forward foot should be flat (you don’t get much power playing from your toes) and the heel of his back foot should only be about a quarter of an inch (about 2/3 of a cm for you metric people out there) off the ground.
Feet and footwork are of the utmost importance for offensive linemen, it is important that that is not overlooked when teaching.
Hands: The first hand I’ll talk about is the down hand. Typically the down hand is the hand away from the ball (this usually leads to better balance for being able to both pass and run block). To start, it should be dropped essentially straight down from the shoulder just inside your knee. There should not be much weight on this hand. The down hand is simply used as a guide. A common emphasis when coaching is that the offensive lineman should be able to swipe the grass in front of him without falling forward, backwards, or to the side regardless of the direction the hand is swiped. The offensive lineman should be able to pick it up and set it back down without any shifting of balance. The weight should be on the soles of his feet. In the old-days (at least my dad tells me) the knuckles of the offensive linemen used to give away run or pass because of the amount of weight put on the hand. This tip off should not exist.
As for the off hand, anywhere from the wrist to elbow should be rested calmly on the inside of the thigh. Weight should not be applied to this hand as it is necessary to use this hand to quickly attack defensive linemen.
Other: Back should be straight to slightly arched back, head should be up. Make sure the butt isn’t too high as this will lead to poor balance. It is also important that offensive linemen do not tip off the play with their eyes, head direction, feet direction, or lean.
(I don't know who that guy is, but he has good form)
2-Point-Stance: Very common in today’s pass oriented offenses. What is lost from leverage is made up for by being able to quickly go to a pass blocking stance. The knees and feet do not change much from the 3-point-stance. The big difference is the back is more upright and the head a little higher. Hands or wrists should be rested on inside of thighs.
As most of us are aware, there are two different types of blocking schemes: Base and zone blocking. The distinction will be made below, along with some other blocking types.
In a zone blocking scheme the offensive linemen block a space rather than an actual man. This can have extremely good results, as defensive linemen stunts and what not are somewhat negated. This can also have negative connotations when you’re Texas, you don’t have a good power run game, and Nick Saban puts his DTs heads up on the guards with the linebackers stacked. It can also hurt when you’re playing USC in the Rose Bowl without developing a successful counter play to slow the defensive flow to the ball. Anyway, the two types of blocking in this scheme depend on if the offensive lineman is covered (a defensive man is lined up directly over top of the offensive lineman) or uncovered (no defensive linemen directly in front of him). When a offensive lineman is covered (or the defensive player is shaded away from the play side) the lineman blocks directly to the second level (LB level). When the offensive lineman is uncovered (and there is a defensive player in the gap toward the play side) then the offensive lineman reach blocks.
Reach: (Also a base block) When an offensive lineman attempts to reach the outside shoulder of a defensive player, and thus blocks him back inside.
In base blocking the offensive line reads the defensive front and communicates appropriate blocking schemes to successfully run the called play. Important note: If there is a split down the middle of the diagram and two blocking types on this diagram on each side, this means that these two blocking styles do not work on the same play).
Double/Combo: The difference is that a double takes the man that is blocked and drives him into the LB, whereas the combo is initially a double, but then one blocker releases to the LB. The man that releases is determined by the direction the LB takes. If the LB runs inside, the inside player (guard in this case) releases to the LB, and vice versa.
Down: When an offensive lineman heads directly to the second level and blocks the linebacker inside.
Drive: A drive block is when any blocker takes the defensive player over top of him and drives him the either out of the hole or simply backwards, away from the play (This can be seen in the diagram for Trap/Cover).
Trap/Cover: A trap play sucks the defensive tackle into the back field by sending the two offensive linemen nearest him toward the LB. This typically baits the DT into thinking they messed up, when suddenly a trap blocker (typically the opposite side guard) pulls tight to the line of scrimmage (as tight as he can) and kicks the DT out of the hole. For this to work however, the defensive man over top of the trapping guard must be covered so that he doesn’t also explode into the backfield. Thus, the center typically covers for the trapping guard. A cover block typically also happens for any pulling plays.
Step/Cross: These two blocking combinations are very similar. Both involve the outside blocker to, in essence, cover block for the (in a way) pulling inside blocker. On the step, the pulling blocker pulls up toward the linebacker, blocking him back inside. On the cross, it is identical to a trap, however, the player being trapped is now the end with the outside man (typically a TE or Tackle) covering for the puller.
Fold: Rather than trap the DT, sometimes it is preferred for the guard to be a lead blocker for the TB. This usually happens in single back type plays. What happens is the C cover blocks for the G, pushing his man as far out of the hole as possible. The guard then slides right off the centers butt and shoots up toward the second level, essentially becoming a lead blocker (and get your mind out of the gutter, I know it sounds dirty, but come on, this is football!).
Pull and Reach/Lead: Pull is when the guard “Pulls”, or swoops around the offensive line and blocks someone on the outside. A pull and reach is when the play side guard pulls around and does a reach block on the end. A pull and lead is when either guard pulls (in this case the far guard) and blocks the first off colored jersey (defensive player) he sees (typically on the inside).
Pull and Kick: Much like a trap block, this happens when the guard pulls and kicks out the end, creating a seem right off his butt (ha ha, dirty joke here).
So now you have learned the stance of an offensive lineman and the basic blocks. In the future, on the next cycle, we will look at what to specifically call some of these combo and double blocks. We will also look at chop blocking and more what you are looking for in the people that play each offensive line spot. Hopefully even further in the future we can start to look at specific blocking schemes against particular fronts.
Up next we will be looking at the receivers, which includes wide outs, slots, and tight ends. Hope you are enjoying the courses and I’ll see you next time.
Again very interesting. I think it would be helpful, when you have time, to revisit this in terms of successful/unsuccessful Michigan O-Lines of the past. For example, 2008 was famous for its poor offensive line play, as was Molk-less 2009. I think it'd be interesting to see examples of what can and did go wrong vs. the way it is supposed to work.
Also something you will address in the future probably: how different blocking schemes work with different offensive plays. In base blocking you mentioned that the block scheme is determined by the play called and the defensive formation. It'd be cool to see exactly how a good o-line adjusts in different circumstances.
Great series you have started here. It would be terrific to follow up with illustrative clips from Brian's 'Upon Further Review' posts. Regardless of the direction you take your series, they are appreciated!
However, as I stated in the beginning, it is vital to create a base so that miscommunication can be minimized. That is the point of these diaries, to catch people up so that eventually that can at least understand what is being discussed when I intend on breaking down film.
As for what I plan on breaking down: In season I plan on looking at things Michigan has done well, both offensively and defensively, and hopefully also look ahead to what opponents have done well or not done well and how to plan on attacking it (dependent on if I can find video and/or at least watch the other team before hand).
This really all depends on how much time I have. I'm already starting to feel a bit of a time crunch so I'm trying to just pop these out occasionally, but hopefully my plan works out in the end.
Great as always. Very clear.
You show zone blocking against a stationary D, so that it looks like a man scheme. Showing it against a blitz or stunt/twist would perhaps better highlight its strength.
After reading this everyone should have a huge amount of respect for offensive lineman. Even this basic stuff seems complicated.
look for the white knuckles, its very telling on a lineman's 3 point stance
Great post! I really appreciate you taking the time to do all of these. I never played HS football and really didn't start paying attention to the game until I went to Michigan for grad school.
I'm looking forward to the next!