As part of our ongoing football education, we realized that we had a particularly gaping hole in our understanding of how the game is played position-wise: the offensive line. So rather than sit in the back of the class with a cheat sheet hoping to scrape by with a C, we went to someone who knows what they're talking about: Jim Richards, former Cal lineman and Dallas Cowboys lineman, a guy who gets reeeeeeeeaaaaaallllllly excited when anyone shows some curiosity regarding the hairy ballerinas who keep model-pretty qbs unruptured and throwing on Saturdays. Jim did a splendid job on part one, so be sure to leave a comment goading him into part two.
Me and my big mouth Well, Ive gone and done it now. After commenting on a story about offensive lineman, Orson looked me up and asked me to write about offensive line techniques. Since I played o-line in college, and a couple of years in the pros (NFL and CFL), I figured I might have a little insight to offer, so what they hell. That, along with the prostitutes and the cool pair of tie-dyed jorts Orson promised me sealed the deal! (I thought jorts were mythical, like Sasquatch or the Lochness Monster, but I have been assured that they do in fact exist in places very east and south from where I live in beautiful, warm and not humid California).
I thought about it a bit and decided to cover o-line techniques in three parts: Part 1 consists of the basics like stance, alignment and footwork. Part 2 will cover run blocking techniques and blocking diagrams. Part 3 will cover pass blocking techniques and footwork.
Part 1: The Basics
Whats it take to be an offensive lineman? Well, thats a good question. Without a doubt, it takes intelligence, footwork, and above all, a willingness to do your job and get abso-fucking-lutely no credit for it. It takes attention to the minutest detail, and the ability to think on the fly. O-liners are usually the biggest, ugliest, fattest guys on the team who, because of their considerable size and girth, dont pull ANY trim. They are generally the closest-knit group on the team; five guys working in unison to plow the opposition into the ground requires a lot of uncontested beer drinking and frat house destruction. Whos gonna say ANYthing to a 65 320 drunk dude with no neck and legs like tree trunks??? Not frat boys!!!
Not even frat aliens would mess with o-lineman, brah.
The 3-point Stance:
The basic starting position for an offensive lineman is the 3-point stance. The 3-point stance is all about balance and weight distribution. The lineman needs to be able to move equally well left and right, forward and backward without changing their stance and tipping off the play. Defenses are able to key the stance to determine whether its a run to the right or left, or if its a pass play, by the amount of weight distributed to the fingertips. The whiter the fingernails, the higher the butt in the air bringing more weight forward, usually tips off a run play. The less weight on the fingertips, and a little more chest exposure, along with the butt a little lower, usually tips off a pass play. To execute the standard 3-point stance, perform the following steps:
1. Stand with your feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width.
2. For a right-handed stance, the right big toe should be even with the left instep.
3. For a left-handed stance, the left big toe should be even with the right instep.
4. From this position, squat until both of your elbows rest above their respective knee, with the weight evenly distributed across your lower body and feet. The two large muscles in your lower body; the buttocks and quadriceps, bear most of the weight, coiling the o-liner so that hes ready to explode off the ball.
5. Reach down and slightly away from your body with your right hand and place your fingertips on the ground. Your hand should be no more than six inches in front of your right shoulder. You should also be able to pick up your hand from the ground without falling forward or backward. You feet should be flat on the ground. If your heels are raised, you have too much weight forward. Go back to the beginning and try again!
6. Rest you left forearm just above the left knee.
7. Your back should be flat, with your head up, and eyes looking through the top of the facemask at the defender(s) in front of you.
8. From this stance you are ready to explode in any direction on the snap of the ball.
The 2-point Stance:
The 2-point stance is used primarily in passing situations to gain an advantage on the pass rusher. It saves the o-liner the time required to get out of his three point stance and set up in a good pass protection position to block the oncoming rusher. Instead, as the theory goes, by being in a 2-point stance, the o-liner is effectively already in his pass protection stance, waiting for the pass rush. The first four steps in the 2-point stance are the same as for the 3-point stance, with a couple of exceptions:
1. Often you may see a right or left tackle with an exaggerated stagger of the outside foot. This enables the tackle to get to a position of advantage to cut off the angle of an outside pass rusher quicker, and without having to take an extra step or two with their outside foot.
2. The weight distribution will be on the heels of the feet, instead of evenly distributed across the sole of the foot.
3. Instead of resting your elbows above your knee (step 4), many times youll see the lineman with their hands on their knees, exposing their chests. Again, they are trying to gain a time advantage by already being out of their stance and waiting for the pass rush.
Alignment is usually overlooked by the casual football fan, but its very important, and is governed by rules. When I say alignment, I am referring to the position of each lineman, relative to the center. By rule (Rule 2-27-4-a-3), each offensive linemans helmet must cross the waist of the center. Many times you will see an illegal procedure penalty called for only six players on the line of scrimmage when a tackle is lined up in the backfield. Its because his helmet wasnt breaking the plane of the centers waist.
I am also talking about line splits. Line splits vary depending on the type of offense being run, and the strategies being deployed against specific defenses. For example, Texas Tech (the horror!) plays very large line splits (about a yard between linemen). These wide splits create natural running lanes and gaps in the defense, while also limiting or eliminating the number of line stunts that can be run by the defensive line. It would take far too long to cover the ground necessary for a defensive tackle to run a stunt around the offensive tackle on his way to the quarterback.
Split 'em wide.
Ah, footwork the biggest predictor of success as an offensive lineman. Now you wont see too many of these guys wearing pink tutus, but to an aficionado like me, good o-line footwork is like beautiful ballet. And, if you thought the steps detailed for the 3-point stance were tedious, wait until we look at footwork.
Good footwork is important for the following reasons:
1. It puts the o-liner in a position of advantage.
2. It allows the o-liner to make contact with the d-line on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage.
3. It enables the o-liner to stay on balance while making contact with the d-liner.
4. It allows the o-liner to maintain contact and drive the defender.
5. It enables the o-liner to make contact with a defender in space, beyond the LOS (usually a linebacker of defensive back).
The crucial element of footwork for the o-liner is to maintain a wide base. If you remember Step 1 in the 3-point stance section, it says to stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. At no time should an o-liners feet ever get closer than that, nor should they get farther apart than that. Any closer and the o-liner can lose his lateral balance when the d-liner attempts to shed his block and throw him laterally. Any wider and the o-liner is off balance vertically and can be shed forwards or backwards.
The first two steps
The first two steps a lineman takes will determine the success or failure of a block. To guarantee a successful block, the first two steps for a run block must be quick, short, and gain ground up the field. The first step is made by the play-side foot, in the direction of the play, and is usually 12-18 inches in length. When you consider that most 65 lineman wear a size 15 shoe and larger, then essentially they are just taking a step the size of their shoe in the direction of the play. If the first step is too long with the play-side foot, and the lineman engages with the defender, then he is vulnerable to being knocked backwards or laterally. If the first step is too short, then the defender can usually get across the face of the blocker and into the running lane and blow up the play.
The second step with the back-side foot must be the same length and direction as the first step, and it has to happen the moment the first step is on the ground. For obvious reasons, the blocker never wants to have both feet in the air, or they can be knocked back ass over teakettle. Often, you will see the blocker initiate a great first step and get position on the defender, but they leave the second step in concrete and get beaten by the defender to the play-side. Or, the blocker may take his second step too quickly and overrun the defender. In this case, the defender simply comes under the blocker and blows up the play.
Hitting a moving target
The thing to keep in mind during all of this is that the defender isnt just standing there waiting to be run over. Hes moving laterally and forward in the direction of the play,
covering his gap responsibility. As a blocker comes off the ball, he must do so at the proper angle to cut off the defender from fighting across his face and working up the field. Its pretty easy to determine the angle when the defender is lined up directly in front of you, or shading one or the other shoulder. The difficulty happens when the blocker is uncovered and has to take an angle to the linebacker or any other defender lined up off the ball. This is a good news, bad news conundrum; the good news is linebackers are usually smaller than defensive linemen, but the bad news is they are usually a hell of a lot faster. As a result, the angle to the linebacker may be 45º or flatter!
Got it? Good, now strap a hundred pound weight to your back, hold a 3-point stance for 20 seconds, sprint 5 yards maintaining a wide base while pushing a refrigerator on shag carpet, and repeat 75 times in a 3-hour span to really get a feel for what its like to be an offensive lineman Good luck!
There are much more specific run and pass blocking footwork techniques that I will discuss later. Next week Ill get into more detail about run blocking, along with the technique required to execute a variety of blocks. Until then, study hard as there will be a test, and you dont want to fail this one!!!