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It All Starts Up Front: Understanding Offensive Line Basics Part I

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It All Starts Up Front: Understanding Offensive Line Basics Part I
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

I can see a lot of you reading the headline and thinking, “The offensive line? Why should I spend time learning about them? How boring.”

This attitude is evidenced by how little it is a subject on discussion boards.

It’s a group of guys we don’t notice, unless the QB gets sacked, and then only if it’s an egregious mistake. Otherwise, we're quite content to say it must have been the QBs fault.

Conversely, when the QB makes an amazing play, we say how great he is. We never talk about all the blocks that were made that gave him the time to complete that pass.

When running plays go south, we blame the running back, and when the back runs for a big gain, we applaud him.

So why should we understand the offensive line? Well, it’s the building block for any good offense. If the foundation of a house is bad, the house collapses. If the offensive line is bad, the whole offense collapses.

I don’t care if your name is Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Adrian Peterson. If you don’t have solid line, then you don’t have an offense.


What characteristics do good offensive linemen possess?

1. They must possess a tremendous amount of self-esteem. This isn’t a glamour position. No one talks about you unless you’ve done something wrong. An offensive lineman must believe he is great, that he can block anyone he may face. Otherwise, he will be so worried about being defeated that he can’t focus on the play at hand, or the next, or the one after that.

2. Another common trait amongst offensive lineman is a high intelligence factor. An offensive lineman not only needs to know their assignment, they must know the assignments of the players lined up around them, as well as being able to anticipate the movement of the defense before the ball is ever snapped.

3. Offensive lineman must have an understanding of the play, where the ball will likely be thrown, what hole the runner is heading through, the snap count, and what their blocking assignment is, so that they can position themselves between the defensive player and their teammate with the ball.

This is called their “relative position”. They may move but they must always be between the defensive player and the player with the ball. Proper execution of this assignment means that they have maintained “relative position” throughout the play.

The difference between great offensive lineman and inconsistent ones is that the great ones maintain this relative position on every down.

4. Mental toughness is one of the most important characteristics an offensive lineman can have. No matter what his measurables are, if he can't stay mentally tough on each play, then he will start to get beat. Not every down is going to go as planned. If mistakes are made, he must recover quickly and not “lose sight of the forest for the trees.”

5. Offensive linemen typically, though not always, need to be the biggest and strongest players on the team. Tackles tend to be taller than guards, but as a group they tend to weigh at least 300 lbs. and stand at least 6'2" tall.

6. Though height and weight are important, quickness supersedes the former two. Offensive linemen don’t have to run 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, but they do need to be extremely quick in the first five or ten yards. A slow lineman will not be able to get into proper position on a defensive lineman, or linebacker so he can protect the QB, or ball carrier.

7. Offensive lineman must be explosive off the line of scrimmage. Quickness, size, and strength all combine together to create this explosiveness.

 

A Little Bit About Stances

There are three stances that an offensive lineman can be in: 1. the four point stance, 2. the three point stance, and 3. the two point stance.

1. The four point stance has both feet and both hands on the ground. This stance is used more for run blocking. You will see teams that are more run-focused have their lineman in this stance a lot.

2. The three point stance has the offensive lineman with two feet, and one hand on the ground. This stance is probably the most common one seen.

3. The two point stance has the offensive lineman with two feet on the ground, and both hands up off the ground, about waste level. This stance is used by predominately passing teams.

 

Like I have said in other articles, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Often, you will see the Colts use a combination of two point, three point, and four point stances. It’s more about what the play dictates, and the scheme that the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator are using.

 

The Leader of the Offensive Line: The Center

The center, in some ways, is the most important player on the offensive line.

An All-Pro center like Jeff Saturday must not only know the play, the snap count, and which player he has to block, but he's also called upon to look over the defense and call out blocking assignments to the other guys on the line. Oh, and then he needs to make sure he gets the ball to the QB mistake free. A botched snap by the center could mean a loss of yards or, even worse, a turnover.

 

This is the end of Part I. In Part II we will get into run blocking, and the different types of blocks used. In Part III we will get into pass blocking, and why the Colts offensive line struggles at times

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