Originally published in the CSF Coaching Magazine
One of the things I preach to my offensive line every year is the importance of communication. Pre-snap calls help us all make sure we are on the same page and performing the correct assignment. We use simple calls that go along with blocking schemes that help us get bodies on bodies.
Your calls depend on the system you employ. We are pretty simple with our run blocking scheme, running mostly zone and gap scheme plays. For our pass protection scheme, we employ slide protection. This is where the majority of our calls occur to make sure we all know which direction we are sliding and how many of us are sliding.
The first thing we teach in the Spring is basic front recognition. Just like starting with stance and first step, we go back to square one with how we communicate. As spring practice nears, I will upload basic fronts just for the OL to study.
Front identification is the first call we make. We like to just say EVEN, ODD, or BEAR. We will classify the STACK front as an ODD, but I do like them to see the difference between that and a traditional 3-4.
Once we are able to correctly ID the front, we can now know what to expect when we execute our assignment. If it is a run play, we may point in the direction of the person who is initially in our assigned blocking area. If the play calls for a double team, the two linemen responsible for this will make and echo each other’s call. Most of the time it is simple like “COMBO-COMBO.” Sometimes my players like to mix it up and will have specific calls for specific people.
For example, I had a guard one year who used specific food calls for when he was comboing with his tackle of the center. If I remember correctly one of the calls was “MAC N CHEESE.”
As I teach the OL how to communicate, I also encourage them to develop their own lingo to help them remember and recognize what to do when it is called. I believe that if they create their own term to use it helps them hear it and execute it when it is said.
I also find that communication can depend on who is on either side of them. When assembling the OL, I will try different combinations of players on the right and left side of the line to see which assortment gives us the best group of five up front. Sometimes it seems like a certain combination makes physical sense, but when put together the two players struggle to communicate with each other and we have to find a new combination. Once I find guys who not only can block next to each other, but also communicate with each other we can move forward into our blocking schemes and adjustments. Hopefully this is determined before the games start to count, but sometimes it is not. Patience and flexibility are key traits to have at this point.
Pass protection is where we communicate up front the most. Since we use a slide protection scheme we have to identify the direction of the slide and the number of linemen sliding with each drop-back and quick game pass play. A simple word for sliding right and left will suffice. RAKE and LEAF or RICKY and LUCY for example.
This diagram is our slide to the left. Against this front, pre-snap we would call LEAF. This tells the OL that from the RG over to the LT, we are protecting the gap to our left, leaving the RT in a man matchup with the DE. We also make sure to make our call loud enough for the running back and quarterback to hear the call. That way the RB knows they are responsible for one of the linebackers on the backside of the slide. They protect inside-out. This also lets the QB know where there could be an unblocked LB in the case of a seven man stunt.
In this diagram we are still sliding left, but now only sliding three to the slide side. We will communicate this as well with a call made after the direction call is made. Any word will do, as long as the backside guard communicates to the center that he is not part of the slide. This is very important because it can put the center in a manned up situation versus the NOSE, especially if he is playing head up in a 0 technique.
In today’s world of AMOEBA fronts and SIM pressures, communication is of the utmost importance. In fact, this is my area to focus on this off-season. Fronts and stunts like the one shown below can cause the OL fits if they don’t know which direction to call the slide. Sometimes they come back to the sideline feeling like they cannot get it right. If this is something the opposing defense will employ regularly, we will have a predetermined call, or commit to 6-man protection when they have 6 on the line of scrimmage. If we do have to go 5 man protection, we can still call the slide either direction, we just need to make sure the QB hears the call so he knows which side he is accountable for.
Our current solution is to identify and communicate our slide to the side with the most defensive linemen. So in this case we would call our slide to the left. We would also communicate a full 5 man slide, leaving the right side linebacker lined up as a 5 technique unblocked by the offensive line. Here we will still use a right or left word, but it will be something to indicate all five. Five letter R and L words like RIVER and LASER work well.
The last form of communication I will address is the communication from player to coach and coach to player. It is critical that the coach and players are able to talk to each other on the sideline in between possessions. An OL coach must verify that what we think we see is what the players are also seeing on the field. We also must have to know we can trust they will tell us what we cannot see from our vantage point. Just like any other skill, communication must be practiced. I talk to my OL all the time about a variety of topics. What seems like casual conversation is started with the intentional purpose of building relationships and helping the players feel more comfortable talking to me. Since it is the offensive line, we talk a lot about food. These food conversations get the guys started and they actually reveal to me a lot about how they think and their thought process when communicating. It doesn’t take long for them to get into this, and then we can talk about football. Now our conversations are full group discussions rather than me telling them. The dynamic changes from me telling them what they will see and do to all of us taking part in the discussion. Players ask and answer questions from me and from each other. These conversations that occur every day in practice, pay dividends on Friday night. It makes teaching on the sideline much easier, especially when I see them having quick conversations in between plays.
Communication is built around trust between the two parties involved. It is important that you invest time in developing relationships with and between your offensive linemen. I believe it is the biggest difference maker to the performance of your players.