How do you recruit for Offensive Line?

Submitted by StephenRKass on May 2nd, 2011 at 2:55 PM

In analysis of Scout & Rival ratings and correspondance to NFL draft picks, the biggest disparity (between high school and pros) is at the offensive line. It seems that there are guys that max out around their junior year of high school, and other guys that are just getting going, and haven't grown into their body yet. I was talking with the commissioner of the local youth football league, and he mentioned that there is a huge disparity between those who are good players in junior high and those who excel at higher levels. Basically, kids that are pretty strong and coordinated younger have a huge advantage, and once late bloomers catch up, the advantage is obliterated.

Which brings me to my question:  can someone out there explain how you recruit for the o-line? Do you look at family history (for growth?) What is the relationship between size, strength, skill, speed, and coordination? Are there a higher number of 5 star offensive line recruits who were graded too high, and who flame out?

While the casual fan (of which I am one) focuses on the skill players who handle the ball a lot, I have thought for the last ten years that the guys in the trenches matter a lot more. This is partially borne out by where the NFL drafts offensive linemen (and also defensive linemen.)

It strikes me that you can uncover more "diamonds in the rough" on the line, guys that still need to develop, and if you have the ability to see and assess this well, it can give a huge advantage to your team.

One example I will be watching is Gary Yerden, a preferred walk-on coming from Parchment, Michigan, the kid who deadlifted 630 pounds. Doing a google search, I found the following:

I know a little background as my son plays youth football for Parchment.  All I've heard is he didn't play football growing up due to religious beliefs of his parents.    He finally was allowed to play his Junior year.  He had some issues with the coach and quit after 2 games.  That coach was fired a couple games later for challenging his players to fight him after a game.  Really.    Then he played his Senior season on a 4-5 team.  He was All Conference.  

He plays in a conference  not known for producing D1 athletes in football.   I don't think he ever went to football camps or combines.   Just completely under the radar.    He's a thick, massive kid with ungodly lower body and back strength.  Hopefully the coaches can harness that explosive power and we'll have a hidden gem on our hands.  

The more we can pick up guys like that, the better. As an aside, I found it fascinating that Mattison, the defensive coordinator, led the charge in recruiting, contacting his weightlifting coach within 30 minutes of getting a text. Mattison is a go getter.



May 2nd, 2011 at 3:01 PM ^

Technique is HUGE! I was a 6-0 200 all-confrence left tackle. If I didn't have good technique i would've been eatin alive going up against Zach Sterup, the Nebraska commit a few years ago.


May 2nd, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

People have said ol is the hardest to recruit and coaches can get a better feel after they have seen them in person. In most cases prospects are not even done growing by the time they get their offer. I think it is important for coaches to evaluate not only skill but potential growth and body type.
<br>I have heard people say that they even sometimes look at the parents to be able to tell how much more a kid can grow.
<br>I have full confidence in Hoke and especially Funk after the glowing reviews from the clinic.


May 2nd, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

Sounds like you've answered your own question:

I was talking with the commissioner of the local youth football league, and he mentioned that there is a huge disparity between those who are good players in junior high and those who excel at higher levels. Basically, kids that are pretty strong and coordinated younger have a huge advantage, and once late bloomers catch up, the advantage is obliterated.

Clearly the best strategy is to offer junior high kids who are terrible. I may not understand basic logical, but I think I'm on to something.


May 2nd, 2011 at 3:16 PM ^

It's tricky.  You basically want a kid with the frame to put on enough weight, the footwork/agility to play the position at the college level, and a bit of a mean streak.  


May 2nd, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

OL is the position group which requires the most amount of scouting from the staff. This is due to the reasons you pointed out above. Some kids blossom early, and some late. The coaches need to scout the kids and project them to the college level.


I think what matters when evaluating OL is:

1. Size, does he have the measurables?

2. Footwork/technique


4.Attitude and Work Ethic


If the player is 6'7" and 260 pounds it is pretty easy to see the kid gain 40 pounds in a college weight lifting environment. At this height and weight he should be dominating high school opponents who are typically much smaller. If he is not, that is the first red flag.

You then look at footwork and technique. If he is lacking technique and footwork, which most HS players are, then you can project how he will perform with proper coaching and technique.

Strength can always be improved upon in a college weight training program. Obviously, you do not want to take a kid who is that size but can only bench 150.

Attitude and work ethic are important as well. Does the kid finish blocks and play with a chip on his shoulder? Does he work hard at practice and in the weight room? For many players who are big, it is going to be a constant battle to keep their weight under control. It is essential that they have the work ethic to keep their weight in the desirable range.

You are also going to want to see how he does at camps and combines against other top players from his class. These events are helpful in that it can put guys who do not see elite talent in their regular season, in one on one situations with the best DL in the class.


May 2nd, 2011 at 4:58 PM ^

there's too much focus on size. size is just the prerequisite for the position; it doesn't give you any indication of how good the player will be. it's all about technique and how he fairs against the competition, especially other college recruits (which is why it's hard to get good info on players from small-time teams).


May 2nd, 2011 at 3:43 PM ^

Wisconsin clearly does an excellent job at this. Over the last 5 years they have only had 2 4* recruits. When you consider the type of game they play and how effective they are at it this is extremely impressive. With all that has came out about this today I went and looked at all the OL recruits Wisconsin has signed over the last 7 years and noticed a few things.

1) Almost every one of their recruits has excellent footwork and the reason they are not rated so high is due to their measurables. This tells me that although obviously strength is important, it is possibly over rated by recruiting sites.

2) Like what has been mentioned above, most of these recruits have put on atleast 35 pounds  between being rated by recruiting sites and hitting the field in college. This shows that weather it be that they grow, hit the weight room way more often, or just get bigger as they get older, it is hard for sites to predict who will grow the most and who is done.

3) Smarts. This was the most interesting thing I found. Although I have always said that a players work ethic and "understanding of how to play the game correctly" are more important at every position than Rivals and Scouts give them credit for, I believe it is even more important on the O Line. In many highschool programs it quite simple, you block the guy across from you and blitz packages are quite simple but in college and then again at pro level you olineman need to be some of the smartest guys on the field. Any mistake made by an offensive lineman generally leads to a sack at this level 

For this reason I believe although camps are a great way to evaluate OL instead of game film, I also believe it is a position like we hear all about for QB's entering the NFL draft where the interview process may be extremely important.


May 2nd, 2011 at 7:47 PM ^

Having spent enough time in Wisconsin I can say that you are correct.  However, you forgot one very important thing that they look for, they want guys who are just straight up nasty at the point of attack.  I've seen them practice before and they get after it like no one I have ever seen before.  You could be at the other side of the practice facility and hear those boys pads popping.  This is the sort of thing that Hoke wants to get back too.  Your last point is also very true, they recruit almost all of those lower rated guys at their summer camp, if they want an offer they know they have to go to that camp. 

It's interesting that you mention their star ratings because the one five star that they have, Josh Oglesby has had a hard time getting playing time and keeping it.  He is a physical freak, but having seen him play in high school and practice in college the one thing that he does not really have when paired next to his peers is that real deep down nasty streak.  Hopefully, he can turn it around, because he is a great kid, but I don't see it happening. 

Pea-Tear Gryphon

May 2nd, 2011 at 4:32 PM ^

Tressel: Looks for kids who plow and eat tons of pizza. Also, must have an "entrepreneurial" business acumen

Dantonio: Rough and nasty attitude with street-fighter mentality. Bonus points if the recruit has been in an actual street fight. Prison tats are a nice touch

Joe Pa: Footwork is key, as all potential recruits must master the Charleston. Must be able to control bowels in pressure situations

Hope: Active players that play until the whistle (or just a second or four after). Must be personable when introduced to opposing coaches.

Ferentz: Weightroom studs only. No bitching to the press about killer workouts (nearly literally sometimes).

[NAME REDACTED]: Another big fan of footwork, especially barefoot waterskiiers. Likes laid back kids that don't sweat the small stuff, dude.


May 2nd, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

There are a few basic things you can look for (in no particular order)





Generally you want kids who are athletic. Guys who play basketball, rugby, or lacrosse have a better chance of naturally developing the footwork they need to be successful than someone who is just big. As far as frame, kids with a big frame get a better look. You can always add size, but you cannot build a bigger frame. Like they said above, smarts are a big part of it. If you're playing o-line you have to know what everyone else is doing, and what they're going to do if the defense does crazy blitzing. Finally, you do want to look at technique. I also know some colleges don't like kids from the wing-t offense, or from spread offenses based on what they (the college) do. It's a lot easier to get kids who already have a knowledge base of how to block in an offense rather than changing everything they've ever done. 


May 2nd, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

Professional scouts/coaches have a hard time projecting offensive linemen, so I'm not sure that any of us have a clue.

However, one thing that we look at as coaches is whether a kid has an older brother or not.  It seems that younger brothers are often better than older brothers.  Younger siblings often seem to have a nastier attitude, maybe because they've been picked on growing up.

We currently have a kid whose older brother is headed to play D-II.  The older sibling is a 6'5", 240 lb. tight end/defensive end.  The father is currently about 6'6" and 300 lbs. and played D-II basketball.  The younger son is a sophomore and 6'3", 245 lbs.  We knew when we saw him as a freshman that he would probably have a nastier attitude than his older brother, and we were right.  We assumed that he would grow to be about his dad/brother's height, and he seems to be on his way.  He's filling out to be thicker than his older brother, and we'll see how far he can take that size.

But size can only get you so far.  Personally, I like to look at athleticism when I watch these kids playing high school ball.  Footwork, balance, and foot speed are the most important things.  If you have a 6'5" kid with decent weight who plays tight end and blocks well on the edge, then he can probably project to offensive tackle or guard.  Get him in a college strength program and eating a s***load of calories, and he can put on the weight.  That's not the problem.  You can take an athletic kid and put weight on him.  It's pretty hard to take a big oaf and turn him into an athlete.

That's why I was such a big fan of Taylor Lewan and Jake Fisher.  They were both 6'7" and pretty thin, but they had great attitudes about blocking and they could move their feet really well.  The jury's still out on how they'll develop in college and potentially into the pros, but I like taking kids like that and bulking them up.  That's what I like to see.


May 2nd, 2011 at 8:53 PM ^

Going to agree with Magnus on this one. More often than not a kid that is already 330 in high school is carrying a ton of bad weight and it's hard to get it off of them. The most important part of being a lineman is just being able to get to your block. If you can't do this size and strength are negated. That being said in this class this is why I think Diamond will be a better player at the next level than Banner. Just my opinion but I say take the athlete over the giant any day.

When did it become mandatory to be 6'8 to play left tackle? Defense keeps getting faster yet we still put a value on giants who don't move well. You can be a 6'4 tackle if you can master two concepts at tackle. Speed rush, run the defender up field, he crosses your face, drive block.