Offensive Line, Positions and Basics

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04: Tajh Boyd #10 of the Clemson Tigers lines the offense up in the shotgun against the West Virginia Mountaineers defense during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

We've had so many years of bad OL play that neither coaching nor recruiting could be the sole answer in any given year as to the cause of the problems. Since most fans are really in the dark about how OL is really played, as most of you just think its about hitting harder than the DL hits, we thought it was time to really go into the techniques and schemes used up front. Big games always come down to the trenches and its much more complicated than you think. Blocking schemes used by the best option teams like Nebraska in the 70s-90s are just as complex, if not moreso, as a high-flying Spurrier or Petrino pass attack.

To start we think its best to really explain the differences in the positions played and some alignment terminology before we start with the real differences between zone and gap scheme blocking. Since Chad Morris has said that we will switch out some of our zone schemes for gap schemes this season, presumably because gap is easier to teach and rep effectively, this should be important for understanding how our OL is playing next season.

Position demands change in each particular offense. Most pro-style systems will look for a blend of pass block and run block skills, but the linemen, paricularly the interior, end up larger and heavier. These teams run straight ahead most of the time. Option offenses will need mobile linemen who can pull really well and spread teams will go with the smaller guys who will usually be great pass blockers. Our offense is more of a blend of the latter two, since its developed from the WIng-T with a lot of downfield action put in.

Center - He makes the line calls and must be the guy who identifies the defensive alignments and communicates calls to the other OL on adjustments that must be made to execute the play. If anyone is the "cerebral" member of the OL, it needs to be him. He must understand the defensive alignments and spend the time in the film room each week. He must know the offensive game plan inside and out.

Usually OC is where you put the smallest and weakest blocker of the 5. Against Odd fronts, he will be matched with the NG, but he almost never has him 1 on 1. The Guard to one side will be helping with the double-team. Versus Even/G fronts, he won't be lined up across from anyone. His relative lack of mass or height is not a requirement, but usually the shorter guy will be more mobile with a lower center of gravity. That helps in the tighter spaces he's always fighting in.

Guard - On some heavy passing teams, the Guards might not be much different from the Tackles. On teams that like to have a power downhill attack, they'll be big bulldozers, but OGs need to have some traits to be effective as a general rule. He must be able to pull and trap, and get around to wrap a linebacker or go inside-out on one. He should be able to do it in both directions, but rarely do you see that. Most teams, Clemson especially over the last 3-4 years, have one Guard who is better at pulling and trapping, and he's the one that always does it.

In that sense, either an offense has to change to suit the Guards, or the Guards must be brought in to fit the offense. Again, its usually the former, so Clemson basically abandoned the Power O/G play and the Trap in the second half of 2011.

The G does not need to be an exceptional pass blocker in space, he just needs to be able to keep his feet moving and not be knocked backwards in the glut of blitzing rushers. In some sense he's the better run blocker, and the Tackle is the pass rush specialist.

Ideally he'll be in the 6'2-6'5 range and 310-330lbs+ for a downhill pro-style attack, while a passing, option or heavily trapping team will actually like them a little lighter. To be a good trapper/puller he'll need to be very mobile in tight spaces and extreme height or weight will be a problem in that case.

Tackle - Tackles are taller, with the widest base, quickest feet, and longest arms of the OL. You want that so he can get his hands out away from his body to generate maximum force and leverage on the pass rusher he faces every down, if he can get his hands on the other guy first, he can grab him and get the best fit. Since he's on the outside of the line, that wide base is also of paramount importance. Hes often the only guy out there to slow down multiple rushers. Foot quickness is also very important against the best pass rushers on the weakside (LT usually). Even if he has everything else physically, a slow footed linemen will always have a problem against premier pass rushers.

Between the two tackle spots, the better pass protector and athlete is nearly always the LT because he's on the weakside or backside of the QB. The RT will be more like a Guard with better pass protection skill. For Lefty QBs this is reversed.

Theres one more component that is important that is often unmentioned: confidence. That is, his ability to deal with frustration. Like a Cornerback, he's going to get his ass kicked sometimes. He'll need to be able to deal with the stunts and twists between the OLB and DE who change their rush lane on him, and when he gets his QB sacked he has to be able to shake it off.

If you can find them, a 6'6-6'8 300-320lb OT is ideal. His weight isn't as important as his fitness level. A fat OT will get gassed very quickly on the outside. Option teams often tend to use guys who are nothing more than guards.

In recruiting, I think its wiser to take HS tackles and move them inside to OG in college. That is the best way to recruit athletes at all 5 spots. Most of the time the HS coaches will put the better athlete out at DE and OT anyway. If one happens to be tall and more mobile, he'll get moved to RT.

Fundamentals

There are a lot of fundamentals to cover for specific things like footwork on a type of block, and we'll cover as many as I can remember in future posts, but we'll start with some very basic things.

In previous posts, we've looked at the numbering system that offenses use, but I've not heard of Chad Morris using a specific hole-numbering system on run plays. He uses a positional numbering system that we covered last summer. In zone-based run schemes the hole numbering is not important because the RB is meant to attack an area and read the blockers to make his cut. In ours, the RB is meant to hit the line as close to the A-gap as possible.

Stance

For a 3-point stance, the stance must be perfectly balanced. In other words, he can pick up his hand and not sway forwards or backwards or to one side. He'll need to be able to move in 8 possible directions.

The feet should be flat on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder width, and not with the heel raised. Toes pointed forward and just a little outwards, knees a little inwards with the weight placed to the inside of the foot. That type of foot placement is nearly universal in sports. Only the Center should be allowed to raise his heel.

Feet should be fairly close to parallel and not staggered. Ankles flexed, knees bent, with the tip of the knee in front of the toes.

The down hand should be in front of his shoulders, with weight slightly forward on the tips, but remember he needs to be able to pull up that hand without losing balance. The off-hand should REST on his knee or thigh with the thumb upwards. You want him to be able to raise that hand right into the armpit of the defender. Elbows should be tight to the body, because DL use rip moves to separate his arms from his body, which robs blocking power. Theres no wasted movement here.

Shoulders should be square to the LOS and parallel to the ground in a 3-point stance.

Splits

Splits are probably the last thing people notice, but they are very important. Georgia Tech's offense uses line splits to a GREAT advantage that most fans don't even notice at all. They did so to us last season. The Air Raid system uses very wide splits to create more seams in the defensive alignment in just the same way.

Remember, defenses align based on how the offense lines up. A 3-technique DT is on the outside shoulder of the OG no matter how far away the OG is away from the ball. The 30 LB lines up behind him no matter what. So, if you want to widen the defenders up to create holes or tighten them up to help with double-team blocks, the line splits are one way to do it.

Usually a less-experienced OL will be tightened up closer to each other, as would a poorer OL overall. You want to give the lineman a split just wide enough to allow him to execute an angle block properly. Rarely do many teams change them based on the playcall, but triple option teams do it often. Its possible to shorten them by gameplan, either against heavily blitzing defenses or very good defensive lines.

Usually the split is set at 2 feet width from lineman to lineman, and the outside lineman controls the size of the split to his inside.

The depth of the alignment is also an indicator of the scheme's preferences. No lineman's body can cross the ball into the neutral zone, but the size of the neutral zone can be varied. A downhill I-formation attack would want the linemen closer to the ball and a tigher neutral zone. Linemen in such gap schemes don't need to read the movements of the DL, they just hit their gap and try to get a run fit as quickly as possible. Zone schemes will back the OL up some, so the two blockers who work in tandem on every play can properly read the movements.

Thats the basics outside of pass-blocking sets. In the next post we'll continue describing specific blocks in gap schemes before we get to the zone scheme.

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