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Run Blocking along the Offensive Line, Part 1

This will be the first of the more complicated posts on OL blocking, because I'm going to have to explain steps and movements without good pictures to show them. We'll be using videos whenever possible to describe the blocking movements, but bear in mind they are usually of plays and rarely focus on the line.

The first thing to understand for all blocking is the step terms explained in the figure below. Foot placement is immensely important to OL play, and most problems can be corrected just with footwork.


All of the blocks we'll be describing require the fundamentals described in the last post to be followed: feet at shoulder width, ankles and knees bent, sunken hips, elbows in and hands open. He needs to have his arms extended upon contact as well as he can. Don't block with your tits. In every type of block the lineman is given an aiming point to initiate the contact with the defender. The most obvious one is in the Base Drive block, which is when the lineman fires right off the line of scrimmage directly and throws his hands right between the numbers of the defensive player.

The Base Drive block consists of 3 main steps. The first is the drive step, shown above, which is a quick 4-6 inch step directly ahead and his eyes need to lock on the aim point. The immediate second step is an attack step, where he needs to move his inside foot towards the defenders inside foot. Its also a 4-5in. step. If he can do this, he should be able to react to any stunting or movement by the defender, but it does not have a set place or length-of-step. It just doesn't need to be a large stride ahead. After the attack step is made he'll make contact with the defender, so he needs to set himself up to apply maximum force through his hips and upwards through the defender's chest. This means his hips still need to be low and his pads as low as possible with his head up.

The next key is important: he must not stop moving his feet once he makes contact. You lose the real explosive power of the big muscles in your legs if you don't move your feet. Boat anchors are not powerful, nor do they create running lanes.

The third quick step that follows is a leverage step, where he sets himself to apply the proper leverage, or gain it, on the defender. If he can complete the 3rd step before contact, great, but thats usually not the way it works in games. If he applies his hands to the aiming point, he needs to get his grip on the defender's pads and get the run fit secured. Now he'll be able to lift and move the defender.

If the defender is an outside shade, like a 3-technique on the Guard or 5/6-technique on the Tackle, then the leverage step is made with the OL's outside foot. He'll be able to fire through his hips, which will drag his feet ahead of his CoG and lift the defender's pads.

The goal though is small. He needs to be able to move him 3 inches at a minimum. If you can drive the defender 3 inches the block will usually be successful. All of that occurs in the first second of the block. If he can't drive the guy then work needs to be done in the weight room, on footwork, and hand placement.

Base blocks by covered linemen on DL are also termed ON, with base blocks to a LB by an uncovered lineman are called OVER in blocking scheme names. This will come up later.

Backside Cut-off/Scramble Blocks

This is a backside blocking term, meaning the ball is going to the opposite side as this block. The objective here is not to move the defender upfield, but to seal off his penetration to the playside, so it is usually the block used by a backside Tackle on a 4i/5-technique, possibly a 3-tech, or a Guard on a penetrating backside LB. Inside stunts or penetration are usually how backside defenders get into the play from this side. This is intended to combat those. In this block, the OL is basically turning 90 degrees, getting on all 4s, and having the defender run into his side. The defender will usually walk right into it.

To do it, the lineman must step off with his outside foot first and use his inside foot to get the proper leverage to the inside. He must not step so far inside the DL so that he can just run around his outside shoulder, and if done right, the outside foot will split the feet of the defender and his inside/playside half will be free. He needs to keep that playside half free of defenders.

Now he needs to get low and attempt put his backside fist into the defender's inside knee (no open palm, you dont want to actually grab his knee). The OL will fall to all 4s now and needs to raise his butt up in the air. The defender will either back up and stop his movement upfield or fall with the OL. The OL will be low or on all 4s and needs to make contact with that arm or try to deflect by throwing his rib cage at the defender's legs. The OL may end up hooking the leg of the defender, after which he scrambles to his feet and tracks a LB to the playside alley.

I've heard it called a Crab block or a Bear Crawl as well.

How is this different from a Cut block? Well the objective is not to take the defender to the ground here; we only need to neutralize him and stay in his way long enough to make him not matter. He need not nail the guy in the legs either, brushing the arm across the legs will bring his eyes down onto the OL and off the ballcarrier. He'll instinctively react to protect himself from a cut block.

The OL continues onwards upfield to hit someone else as soon as he can.

FF to the 1:14 mark to see it, its about the best video i could find embeddable.

Down Angle blocks

We've mentioned this one many times here, and its just an angled block towards the Center (down the line). Down angle blocks vary depending on the type of defense or defensive lineman you face. Its essential to stay very low to execute this one well, especially if a defender is lined up farther away (e.g., an OT blocks down on a 3-technique DT).

The old 2-gap 3-4 defense involves Read techniques, explained here. In short, DL in that style of defense are meant to read the blocking scheme and react, which keeps the OL off the linebackers. A 1-gap 3-4 or 4-3 uses penetrating linemen whose goal is to get into the backfield without much regard for the linebackers behind them. The offensive lineman needs to know what the opposition is trying to do and adjust to that for a down block.

Reading DL are usually stronger and move laterally without losing their assigned gap until they can see where the ball is going. He'll usually dip one shoulder and rip upwards and across his blocker to pursue the ball. Because the blocker sees this, and knows the DL isn't trying to get into the backfield, he can take a sharp angle to the defender and the aim point lowers onto his hip.

Usually the Reading DL will be reacting to a pull read he makes on an adjacent O-lineman. For example, the NG or 1-Tech will see the Guard on one side pull out, and then he'll try to work laterally to the play. He may even read pull on the OL directly across from him.

The OL will need to come in lower on a Reader because of that lateral movement. The DL will, if he's well coached, start moving laterally immediately. He'll get across the face and into the backfield if the OL comes in too high. It will start with the drive step with the foot nearest the defender, pointed towards his hip. The OL's playside shoulder needs to fire into the hip area on the defender's playside half, and his inside hand comes up into the chest of the defender to secure the fit. Then he makes small driving steps to move him with his arms as extended as possible.

Notice in this video that the first step is with the inside foot towards the defender and he puts the outside shoulder into the hips:

Penetrating DL may force the block to come in a little higher and you want to let his momentum carry him upfield. The intent is to let him think he's going to the ball, but the ball usually goes opposite from the down block. The OL will come up and try to drive his inside shoulder through the nearest shoulder of the defender, and his inside hand should land in the numbers. His outside hand fits under the near armpit with the thumb up. He'll be able to grab pads and start driving because if this reverse-chop is done with force, the defender will raise his pads.

In this video, the Center executes a down-angle block against a penetrator. When the center does it, its called Blocking Back.

Down blocks are very difficult for a Center because of the snap, so you do need a pretty athletic guy to do it well at that position.

Last year, when Coach Caldwell took over for Brad Scott, he mentioned the primary problem of Clemson's OL was in their bad angles. This piece on down blocking is a good opportunity to explain what he meant.

Taking a flat angle means more of a lateral movement by the OL than a downfield movement. Telling an OT to down-block a 2-technique would require a flat angle (so much that you wouldnt do it). A sharp angle would be much more depth than lateral movement, e.g. a Tackle on a 4i-technique. He can still screw this up though by not hitting the aiming point because of the angle taken with the first steps.


Down Block with a sharp angle, the OT didn't make his first steps far enough inside

Down blocks with too sharp an angle let the penetrator drive through the hole into the backfield without redirecting him away from the ball. If the OL didn't make the first step with the goal of splitting the defender's feet, and ended up with his feet too far outside, or couldnt get his hands to the chest and armpit, the DL will drive right past his head into the backfield.


Down Block with too flat an angle

Against a Reader, too flat an angle inside could be from stepping too far and overextending the base, so the DL would uppercut under the lineman's outstretched arms and get outside fairly quickly.

The Reach Block

The reach is a block that caused Andre Branch to drop out of the first round of the NFL draft because he did not handle it well all year. It also allowed West Virginia to run outside on us during the Orange Bowl. Its a type of block that plagued our defense all season in 2011, but one that our offense did a fairly good job with. It is also called a Hook block, Shield, outside cut off, or J-block. Its the prominent block in the outside zone play.

The reach is a playside block, so the ball will follow the blocker to the outside. Its easiest to see with an OT vs a DE, but you could also see it with a TE on OLB or OG vs a 3-tech DT. The intent is to get outside of the defender lined across from you, then seal him off long enough so the ballcarrier can go around.

The first step is a set-to-reach, a 45-degree step made with the outside foot. He will try to put it between the feet of the defender with the idea of getting it outside that defender, so wider is better so long as he doesn't overextend himself. The 2nd step is towards the defender's far leg. The inside arms will try to rip underneath and across the chest of the defender with the aiming point at the outside number-to-outside shoulder. The outside hand tries to lock on that outside number and the inside hand tries to lock on the sternum. He then tries to ride the outer half of the defender and put his body between the defender and the ballcarrier going around outside.

Another way to teach it, particularly if the DE is lined up wider (6 or a ghost technique), is to lose ground to gain ground. This technique changes the first step, and the OT makes a Drop step first, as in a kick-out. The second step is a crossover step, and the 3rd squares up again on the defender outside. His aim point is the same. As long as he doesn't make contact before that 3rd step this is fine. Contact after a crossover is going to be bad.

What I don't like to see is when the OL tries to do this by ramming his inside shoulder into the defender's chest. You block with your hands extended and then drive him to the inside by rolling the power through the hips. Its better to move those feet outside the defender as best you can and then drive backwards or let him move parallel without penetrating. If he takes a sharp angle, it lets the defender into the backfield the play is usually toast. If he goes too flat, the DE would cut underneath into the B-gap.

In the next article we'll work on the Trap/Pull that is very important to our running game.