Chalk Talk: Playing in the Trenches (Part 1)

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KDawg

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Chalk Talk: Playing in the Trenches (Part 1)

The offensive line is the most important part of a football team, but time and time again it’s ignored for the flashier positions on the field. The wide receiver who catches a screen and outruns some defenders to score six, the running back who explodes through the hole and gains ten yards, the quarterback who sits in the pocket and let’s a perfect fade ball go. It’s all more glamorous, and in the end, those guys are the ones who get their name in the paper.

I’ve seen it time and time again as a high school football coach. Most kids don’t want to play line, they feel they have to play it because they’re overweight or not as athletic. After all, the linemen don’t get their name in the paper… But if you want to play football, and you’re a big, “unathletic”, “dumb” kid, you’re supposed to play on the offensive line.

Well, let’s shed some light on the subject, shall we? The typical offensive lineman isn’t going to run a 4.4 forty, hell, some would be lucky to run a 5.2 forty. And they’re certainly not going to have a 40” vertical. Those are the flashy aspects of football. But go into the weight room during a session. Sure, there are some abnormally freaky specimens that play linebacker or running back that could lift a small elephant with ease, but take a look at these “unathletic” linemen throwing weight around like no one’s business. Go ahead. Wide receivers are the Porsche of the NFL, they’re fast and look pretty… But linemen are the truck. The hard working, off-roading, load toting mammoth vehicle that, quite simply put, just likes to man handle things.

Don’t get it twisted, I’m not mocking the non-linemen. Those guys are skilled and fun to watch, but do you know what I watch during a football game? The line. The line reveals all. Is it a run? The line will fire out at the defense. Is it a pass? They’ll take pass sets. See a pull? Most of the time it takes you to the ball, save for when there’s an influence pull [note: An influence pull is a pull in the opposite direction of the play, used to keep defenses honest]. The line reveals nearly every secret.

Does anyone want to tell me that offensive linemen aren’t smart? Every play they have to identify the Mike linebacker to adjust their blocking schemes. Then they have to decide what kind of scheme they want to run and they do that by anticipation and play call. Got a four front, but you’re anticipating outside blitz on a sprint action pass? Perhaps you check to a slide protection, perhaps you change to a six-man protection, or seven-man protection. Here’s comes a stunt [Note: a stunt is the defensive linemen, switching roles, to put it simply]. There’s so much that goes into blocking on any given play, which you really can’t even talk about it in one posting. It’s incredible to watch an offensive line in action.

But then you hear the term “skill position” in reference to everyone that isn’t a lineman. Really? Linemen aren’t a skill position, too? Okay, well then, you tell someone who’s stance requires them to sit on their haunches, stagger their feet (guards usually put their outside foot on the instep of the inside foot, tackles put their outside foot on the heel of their inside foot), sit down in a chair, get a squatter’s arch in the back, put your hand in the dirt, identify the defense and your current assignment and fire off the ball that it’s easy. All the while, you have to listen to audibles and changes. These “unathletic”, “unskilled”, and “dumb” linemen have to be able to take their set up step and attack step, sometimes after running down field to their target and explode through a defender in a matter of seconds. Because if they aren’t quick footed, they won’t get to the often speedier linebacker. If they attack their target at the wrong angle, they will put their running back or quarterback in danger. Everything has to be on point for a lineman. Everything. Their footwork, their foot speed, their punch into the target. If they forget their blocking scheme (of which there are many) and block the wrong guy, or the wrong way, they totally screw up the play.

But it’s simple to figure out a blocking assignment, right? Just block the guy in front of you. Wrong. There are various types of blocking schemes… There are deuce blocks, trey blocks, pulls, folds, trades, scrapes, rakes, kick steps, power steps, slide steps, gap steps, kick outs, down blocks, wham blocks, ted blocks, g blocks, bend blocks, inside zone, outside zone, reach blocks, hook blocks, hinge blocks, seal blocks, 3 step, 5-step, 7-step and play action blocks. And each of these blocks requires different footwork, different nuances, different attack points, different head positioning, different hand positioning, different posture, different leverage. I’m sure someone of lesser intelligence could just line right up and play, aren’t you?

And once you identify all of that, you still have to be able to react, keep your feet moving while staying in a fundamental base, reposition your body and attack the defense or fend off the defense, who, by the way, isn’t exactly standing there and saying “hey, block me! Block me!!!”. All within a matter of seconds.

So, it bothers me as a line coach to hear people say that they don’t want to play line, or they’re only playing line because they wanted to play football and it’s the only position they can play. Oh yeah? Says who? If you want to be a lineman, you have to earn it. You have to be tough. You have to be smart, you have to be damned athletic. You have to be a man. There is no room on a football field for a softie, but the line is the last place you’d look for one.

No, linemen generally won’t be in the newspaper. After all, they didn’t score that touchdown, or kick that field goal, or throw that touchdown pass. But I’ll tell you what, the next time you play a pick up football game, or whatever you do, in an 11 on 11 setting, go ahead and see if you can get the offensive line to sit out for a play. Let’s see how well the “skill” guys do without them on the field. Furthermore, take the “skill” guys off the field and see how the line does.

Football is the ultimate team sport, led by trench battles and pain and capped off by amazing catches, powerful runs and fantastic throws. Every player on that field is skilled, whether they receive glory for it or not.

My linemen know my creedo, and it’s pretty simple, straight forward and honest. I say it every single day:

Anticipate…

Devastate…

DOMINATE!


-I posted this at the other place, too. But, I wanted to get it up here as well. I don't "have" a favorite site. I support both of them and want discussion in both places. :)
 

KDawg

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(And yes, I will be doing other parts decribing certain blocks and such)
 

Goaldeje

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James Madison

My head hurts. Where's the part about Beadle?

:)

Are you planning on doing some explanation of zone blocking systems and power blocking and so on? Perhaps how pass blocking and run blocking work together in a play action pass? I would find all of that interesting.
 

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