On Leaner Lineman

Submitted by blueloosh on April 10th, 2009 at 6:47 PM

This may be more than anyone cares to read on the subject, but I thought the Board post from earlier this afternoon re: Rodriguez wanting less fat on the lineman raised an interesting topic worthy of a serious response.

First, I think the poster was correct that Rodriguez wants lineman that do not carry much body fat. I recall last year in his first spring he said (paraphrasing) "by summer even the O-linemen will want to take their shirts off, which is unusual."

Second, I think the poster was also correct that his desire to have O-lineman without much "extra" body mass is atypical. Not, mind you, that other coaches want fat, fat, and more fat, or don't care about being in shape. But fat is still generally forgiven, and mass (in good, neutral, or bad forms) is still generally praised on the offensive line. When I played offensive line (~10 yrs ago) coaches at both the HS and college level definitely felt the more weight the better. Recall that the number of 300 lbers used to be a status symbol, and that good lines would be ogled for their average weight. (This is still largely true) Why does our coach depart from this?

I think Rodriguez wants leaner linemen because
a) they will be better conditioned, and have a lesser drop-off in form and concentration as games progress, and
b) they will be quicker, helping them to reach-block and sprint out to second and third-level defenders in the stretch zone blocking schemes his offense employs

There is always some concern that if you are too light you will be susceptible to the bull rush. Molk toes this line; sometimes teams can back him up a bit.

But from my perspective, offensive lineman don't usually get beat because they get pushed around--they get beat because they get run around. In other words, the typical lineman is a lumbering guy who can make a DB go splat if he can ever make square contact, and he can easily hold ground against a straight up bull rush; but the second level guy can usually dance around him, and occasionally a quick D-lineman will speed rush around him or a blitzer will shoot his gap before he can slide. I think Rodriguez' ideal lineman is a bit quicker for having less weight, and the idea is that his increased quickness will allow him to make contact at the second level more often and protect more lateral space at the line of scrimmage.

And I think Rodriguez has a great view on this. Let a leaner guy put his helmet (more often) on the linebacker or safety. Let him keep up with a speed rusher a little better.

The vulnerability--that an interior D-lineman will drive his man into the offensive backfield--is not as pronounced in Rodriguez' offense. His quarterbacks do not take a 5 or 7 step drop and can see a collapsing pocket happen more quickly. They frequently are delivering the ball quickly, and swinging it outside the tackle-to-tackle box. In short, the ball moves quickly, and often sideways, and this makes a well-formed pocket less critical. And on those quick lateral passes our smallish center is not merely excused for not holding the pocket--he's trying to sprint over to the sideline to find a linebacker flowing toward the play so he can put a facemask on his pads and sweep him out to the sideline. When we have 3 or 4 quick lineman getting over to that area of the field on those quick screens it will be a nightmare for defenses. I think RR has dreams of Barnum making it over from the opposite-side Guard position to blow up DBs on that play. (or maybe only I have them?) Losing weight and building lean muscle mass is definitely a key part of getting to the point where our lineman have the speed to "get in the way" of tacklers up field, across the field, etc.

If you want one clear example of what athletic, downfield blocking from O-lineman can do, watch McGuffie's screen pass TD v. Notre Dame. That's how it should work. In theory, of course, if you can suck in 4-5 pass rushers and deliver the ball properly, your screen gives you 9 blockers (11 - ball carrier and QB) against 6-7 tacklers. Why does 9 v. 6-7 not always deliver a TD? Because the big guys have a hard time getting to, and locking up, a target several yards down the field. It is tough. But when we are sending 9 athletic guys down the field on plays like that, well...it will be fun to watch. So; I for one hope we continue to slice fat from the line and recruit backfield burners.

On a final note, people have said that Rodriguez' kind of lineman is not an "NFL" type but I think in truth the NFL is moving more toward Omamehs than Borens. Certainly at Tackle. (This is especially true at left tackle, but notice that even if he plays RT scouts want to see Andre Smith cut his fat.) I think he is actually (rightly) selling both current and potential UM lineman on the notion that every year the NFL will want its lineman quicker and leaner. A big stomach is not a good thing, and I think is no longer even a neutral thing. I think our approach is forward-thinking and right on the money.

Seantrel, I hope you're reading--we'll have you burying guys 30 yards down the field, with a body you can take to the swimming pool.



April 10th, 2009 at 6:56 PM ^

In addition, Rodriguez wants leaner linemen because:
c) they can run back to line of scrimmage and get ready to run the next play; up-tempo keeps the defense on its heels


April 10th, 2009 at 8:38 PM ^

I agree to most of your points. I do have questions when we have a first and short from inside the five. Can these lighter guys get under the pads of the DLs to "ram" the ball in when we have to? Especially late in the season in junk weather in Madison. It will be fun to watch.


April 10th, 2009 at 9:18 PM ^

Leaner does not mean weaker. You think Barwis is going to accept that a guy in shape should not be able to have stronger legs than a fat guy. RR doesn't want 5 TE's playing Oline he wants Joe Thomas, Jake Long and the kid from Baylor this year. Big, strong, nasty, lean, quick, physical lineman are what RR needs. Just what the NFL wants. Look at the 1st rd of the NFL draft the past couple of years and find me some "fat" guys. That thinking is 80's thinking.


April 10th, 2009 at 10:21 PM ^

he wants his OL to be in shape and be able to move around the field. whatever size you need to be is the size he wants you at. if you haven't noticed our returning OL now look like OL again because they've put back the weight they lost but it was put back in muscle. for example last year steve schilling looked like a LB for most of the season because he had lost so much weight. now he's got his weight back up but he's a LOT stronger and quicker.


April 14th, 2009 at 5:57 PM ^

...as Michigan fans we have become conditioned to the QB sneak on 3rd and 1 or 4th and inches where the big uglies just fall forward.

I agree completely about the '80s thinking point. I'm not saying it is bad that they are going away, just that the virtually guaranteed half-yard play might be a thing of the past. It just requires an adjustment to your thinking.


April 10th, 2009 at 11:13 PM ^

Seems to me part of it also comes down to looks. Due to having less of their weight as fat and instead as muscle the linemen will look smaller even if they weigh as much as they did B.B. (Before Barwis) but will be stronger/faster.


April 11th, 2009 at 10:16 AM ^

that they cannot play football or push it in the endzone...

see Jumbo Elliott and Jake Long for leaner models...

Though I do see the traitor having a good year for the suckeyes.

Meeechigan Dan

April 11th, 2009 at 12:24 PM ^

Well written, too. I often humbled by the depth of experience of posters on mgoblog and reminded that when I pontificate on matters football there are a whole host of people who've played the game at a high level.


April 11th, 2009 at 2:06 PM ^

A+ write up.

This certainly is a departure from the O-lines that Bo-Mo-Carr wanted.

Is it also possible that leaner, more athletic lineman will have less injuries?

Thanks, I'll hang up and listen.


April 11th, 2009 at 8:39 PM ^

While not quite the same level, this is what Mike Shannahan always wanted when with the Broncos (Don't know the name of the O-line coach there offhand). Those lineman are always 20-30 pounds lighter than most of the other lineman in the League, and usually average a shade UNDER 300. Yet year after year, they are one of the best rushing teams. They also run a zone-block scheme similar to RR's, and so if it worked in the NFL, where D-linemen are even bigger and faster than in college, with the right coaching and attitude, leaner lineman can be very successful. (Note--Bronco lineman are notorious for chop blocking, cheap shots, and being very mean on the field; so that might play a factor).


April 12th, 2009 at 2:21 PM ^

I think the key is really what you said about the quick distribution on the part of the qb in this system. i do think that the bullrush will be a huge problem with a number of our Olineman

However RR focus seems to really be on having our Oline get into the secondary and lay down blocks. Molk was being used very effectively in pull-blocks towards the end of the season.

My concern is that we likely will have a freshman taking the snaps. althou tate seems like a very sharp kid, i have heard things about he, and denard, holding onto the ball a little too long. this will be an issue because it will be hard for smaller lineman to hold open the pocket against bigger dlineman. hopefully this can be mitigated by focusing on short quick routes (a lot of screens and slants).


April 14th, 2009 at 3:11 PM ^

The thing about the spread offense is that opponent penetration of the LOS and fast pursuit by the opposing D can work for you. If the D penetrates into the backfield, it's not the end of the play, because by the time they do, the ball and the play have likely been pushed out to the edge of the field, or the ballcarrier is already up field. There is some block sustaining front, but the mantra for the UM OL is "get the hell downfield and take the next guys head clean off".

I could be wrong, but from observation of the most successful spread teams like WVU, Florida, Utah, etc. the defensive tactic of "getting to the spread option quarterback" usually ends badly.