Since writing an article the other day about the battle over left tackle at Alabama, I've been getting a lot of emails about the position. The most asked question is why is such a big deal being made over left tackle?
Quite simply, though the center is considered the "rock" of the line and usually calls the blocking schemes and provides the stop for the shortest distance to the QB, the left tackle usually has the hardest job to do game in and game out.
Defenses put their best pass rusher lined up on the offensive left side.
It's usually the "blind side" of the QB's vision and many times he never sees them coming. This allows not only for sacks, but fumbles and tipped balls. It's so easy to slap a ball out of a QB's hands when he's drawn back to throw.
So why not put the best rusher against the right tackle if he's not as suited to stop him?
Because they QB can see him coming and can either roll away or step up the pocket to avoid him. By coming from the blind side, if the pass rusher beats the left tackle, it's usually disastrous for the QB who usually sees it too late to avoid a bad outcome.
Since the best pass rusher is also usually not just a strong guy, but the fastest pass rusher to boot, the left tackle has to have that quick initial surge to keep from being either blown by or circled.
So just being a big strong heavy roadblock is nowhere close to being enough of a resume to stopping a tall fast pass rusher. He has to be fast himself, usually faster than most right tackles are.
Nick Saban likes left tackles with long arms to extend their range from being blown by or circled.
"A quick guy with long arms can sometimes give a little push to a pass rusher as he's trying to streak by that a guy with shorter arms might miss." explained Saban recently. "That extra second or two can be all the difference between a completed pass or a sack."
And not that left tackles have higher SAT scores or anything, but there is more for them to know and usually many more wrinkles thrown at them. Many times an All American or even Pro Bowl right tackle has been switched to other side for multitudes of reasons and very rarely have the results been everything one would have hoped for.
"I like to expose my guys in practice to playing different positions." said Joe Pendry, Alabama offensive line coach. "Whether they'll play that position in a game or not is not as important as them learning the responsibilities and hazards of each man."
Coaches like Pendry know that if everyone understands not only his own job, but that of buddies it will help out everyone when schemes are thrown at them that over match one side or when defenses throw blitzes at them.
"Last year we were a solid unit that knew not only what was going on, but the capabilities of each of our team mates on the line." said returning left guard Mike Johnson, who was forced to move to left tackle for the Sugar Bowl. When our first team (line) was in, we knew we only had to our job and not worry about what was going on beside us. Now we have to build that same trust with this new line."
And that trust goes beyond his fellow line mates. The QB has to trust that his blind side is being protected. Taking your eyes off the field for even a second to check the left side rush could throw off your timing.
Rushers need to trust that a hole will appear where the play has been called and a fullback needs to trust the line can handle their usual men so he's free to concentrate on picking up a blitzer on a pass play.
Pass plays usually work or fail because of the job done by the left tackle. That's a lot to put on one's shoulders and that's why not every linemen is cut out to be a left tackle.