Coaching the offensive line is special. It is a special unit within a team that the rest of the offense relies on in order to do their job. The offensive line must work together and trust each other to do their job on each individual play of every practice and every game. It is a mentally challenging position to coach and why I love coaching them.
One of the biggest challenges year to year is finding the five players who will fill the line. To begin, we are not sent the best athletes on the team. We are sent kids who don’t really have the skills to play anywhere else. On top of that, most of them all believe they should play another position. I have never coached a lineman who wouldn’t immediately change positions if given the opportunity. Most believe they can play on the defensive line or at tight end, and then there are those who think they are linebackers or fullbacks. When I talk to them about playing on the line I sound like Liam Neeson in Taken. “If you’re looking to play another position I can tell you it’s not going to happen because you don’t have the athleticism. What you do have is a particular set of skills and body type that translate to the offensive line. Skills that I will help develop for you to be a reliable, contributing, and extremely important member on this team. Skills that can help this team be successful each week. If you embrace being a lineman right now then we can start working towards becoming a great team.”
So what are the skills I look for when putting together my line? I would love to have my pick of strong, big bodied players with great feet, but I coach high school football and I don’t have that luxury. I must find them from the 20 to 30 kids sent my way each year.
Let’s start with center. Coaches always talk about the O-Line having the most intelligent players. If there is a position on the line I need this to be true, its center. My center needs to be able to identify the defensive front, where the strength of the defense is, and begin communicating this to the rest of the line. On top of that, they have to be able to snap and step quickly to their blocking assignment. I would love to have the total package and someone that can keep the nose guard at the line, but what I look for first is relentless effort. I need a center who will work to stay in front of his assignment and do everything he can to keep him from making a play. We use the phrase “get run over slowly” to describe what happens to the center at times. Our best centers have been guys who could execute these skills: communication, snapping, quick steps, and relentless effort.
Guards are my guys who can move, but work better with someone next to them. I have had athletic guards who could pull well and overtake the next down lineman on outside zone, and I have also had guards who were larger people movers once they engaged, they smothered their man. Either body type requires the guard to have active feet and the vision to look for work. Many times our guards are uncovered are called upon to help the center or the tackle, or to look for a linebacker threatening their gap. Therefore they must be able to seek out their assignment because they are not always immediately engaged at the snap. Guards have to be football players, meaning they have to know when to do what they are coached to do, but also be able to improvise at times and do what it takes to get a block.
My tackles have the ability to work in space. Many times they are put in a one on one situation and they must be able to handle this solo assignment. They must set be able to set the edge, and keep faster, more athletic defensive ends from getting into the backfield. Tackles must have vision to see who is lined up over them and also off the line outside and away from them. They must have a sense of multiple threats on a single play and be able to communicate to the guard who he will pick up so the guard knows where to look for work. Tackles are the soloists of the choir. They are the ones who stand out to people and their performance, good or bad, is the most noticeable of all offensive linemen.
Together, each individual must use their skills to execute their assignment on a given play. If four do their job and one fails, disaster is imminent. Playing on the offensive line takes all five working together and individually in sync all of the time. They must rely on each other as much as the rest of the team does in order to be successful. They are the Five Musketeers…All for One and One for All. It is a challenge and a privilege to work with them every day.