Developing a Solid Offensive Line
The offensive line is the most neglected and poorly coached position in youth football. Most coaches focus on their stud running back or quarterback and overlook the importance of the offensive line. There is no offense that does not require blocking and your "perfect" offense will not work without it. Since offensive line play is poorly taught and coached at the youth level, it is a great area to gain an advantage on your opponents.
The two major flaws I see with the offensive line are:
- No blocking scheme: many coaches simply teach "block the man in front of you" or have a confusing blocking scheme the kids do not understand.
- Poor fundamentals/techniques: I see many teams where the kids are not taught how to block. Blocking technique is basically a bunch of cliches- "low man wins", "you gotta fire out", "get your man", etc.
By using a simple blocking scheme and teaching some basic techniques, you can develop a solid offensive line.
Simple Blocking Scheme
It is important that any offense you use has a blocking scheme your kids can understand and execute. Who to block is probably more important than how to block. I use a simple rule based gap blocking scheme that has worked very well in any offense. The two basic rules I use are:
- Inside Gap- On- Linebacker (GOLB)
- Man On- Man Away (MOMA)
The first thing kids need to understand what is their inside and outside gap. I usually tell them the inside gap is toward the Center and outside gap is away from the Center. The blocking progression for GOLB is Inside Gap first, On second, and LB third. For MOMA the progression in Man On first and Man Away (outside gap) second.
To drill this I will give the lineman his block rule (GOLB or MOMA) and have him go through the blocking professions. Once they have this down, I will lineup in different positions and have the lineman go through the progressions. Lastly, I will repeat the drill will two people lined up in different positions and have the lineman tell me who they should block. Depending on the age and experience or the kids, this can take several weeks to master.
This is only a simple example of two blocking rules, you can add additional rules for your specific offense (trap, pull, combo, pass, etc.). I have used this scheme in different offenses and can run about 90% of the plays using only these two rules.
Basic Blocking Techniques
The first technique the lineman needs to learn is proper stance. I teach the stance in three parts:
- Stand with feet shoulder width and toes pointing forward
- Squat down like you are sitting on a toliet with your forearms resting on your thighs
- Rock forward slightly and reach out placing your fingers on the ground (form a tent)
The major flaws I see are the toes pointing outward (clown feet) and not enough weight on the toes (there should be some air between the heal and the ground). Those are just the basics of the stance, there are some additional finer points which are not covered in this article.
Alignment is also very important and must be stressed constantly. Splits can vary from 6 inches for younger kids to 1-2 yards for older kids. Typically I keep the G/C splits tight to help the C and prevent A gap penetration. I also like to widen the T/TE split as much as possible to open the off-tackle hole. Splits can also vary depending on the athleticism of your lineman and the type of offense you are running. Whatever the splits are the important thing is that they are consistent.
I also teach the lineman to lineup as far back as possible from the center. I use the back heel of the center as the initial landmark and adjust from there if necessary. This gives the lineman a bit of a buffer against quicker defensive lineman. The final part of alignment is to make sure all the lineman are square to the line of scrimmage so the line does not bow or get crooked.
The First Two Steps
The first two steps are the most important for a successful block. I call the first two steps the position step and the power step. I tell lineman you block with your feet and stress the importance of the first two steps.
The position step is a short 6 inch step in the direction of the block. For a block to the right, the lineman would step with the right foot and for a block to the left step with the left foot. It is important that the step is short. When the step gets too big, lineman tend to stand up and they lose all their leverage.
To drill this, I will have the lineman in a two point stance (elbows resting on thighs) and simply take a position step right or left. Make sure they are taking a short step in the direction of the block with the correct foot. Also, make sure they are maintaing good knee/hip bend and loading their hands for the punch. One common problem I see is kids take a false step or a slight step back with their opposite foot.
The power step is a "punch" to the chest area using the hips to explode into the defensive lineman. I will first use a punch drill to teach the hands and hips explosion. The drill starts with a player on his knees sitting back on his calves with the hands at the hips. At the command, the player will thrust his hips forward while delivering a punch to a shield. The timing of the hips and hands takes reps and stress the power comes from the hips.
There are a couple of things that need to be stressed with the punch. First, it is not delivered with a closed fist, use the palm of hand. Second, the elbows need to stay in and not fly out. To teach this tell the lineman to keep the thumbs up which will keep the elbows in. Third, the placement of the hands should be on the outside of the shoulder pads. Finally, make sure the lineman does not reach or grab the defender. The hands must remain within the frame of the lineman or they will get called for holding. This can be a problem early in the season when the techniques are not polished. I always get a lot of holding calls early in the season but that goes down to nearly zero by the end of the season.
Once they understand the concept of the punch, have the lineman start in a two point stance and drill the first two steps punching a shield. Practice both left and right down blocks. When they start getting that down, start working out of a three point stance. I probably spend 60-70% of the o-line time working on just the first two steps.
Finishing the Block
The final technique is finishing the block. After the first two steps, the lineman should be in good blocking position- feet shoulder width, good knee/hip bend, and hands on the outside of the shoulder pads. To drill the finish I use a drill called fit and drive. Start by have a coach straddling a half round and holding a shield. Next, have the lineman "fit" into the proper blocking position. On the command, the lineman will "drive" using short choppy steps while maintaining good blocking position.
Putting it All Together
Once they understand the individual components, start putting tall the pieces together. To drill this, start by have a coach straddling a half round and holding a shield. The lineman starts in a three point stance and on the command he will execute the entire block (stance to finish). Angle the shield 45 degrees to simulate a down block left and right making sure they step with the proper foot. Another variation is to have the lineman start the drill in a chute to make sure they are not coming out too high.
The most important thing is to break down the blocking techniques into the individial components and teach in progession. Work on correcting one flaw at a time, do not tell them the ten things they did wrong and expect any improvement. The drills I described break the blocking into the individual components to help with this.
It takes time to develop good offensive lineman, probably more than any other position, but the payoff is huge. I always tell my team is the team with the best offensive line wins the championship. As a line coach you do not get the best athletes but I find the lineman are the easiest kids to coach. This article touches on just the basics but it is a good starting point for any offensive line coach.