Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

Our series continues, breaking down each position by the skills necessary to be successful in the National Football League. Today, we take a look at the offensive line.

The offensive line has one main purpose: keep defenders off of the quarterback and running back so that they can do their jobs. If an offensive line can do that effectively the it severely tilts the game into their favor.

To do this, all offensive linemen need to be able to anchor. This is something that is critical to the success of a blocker. Anchoring is when a blocker can put his foot in the ground (drop the anchor) and not get pushed back any further into the ball carrier or the lap of the quarterback. Anchoring is about technique, leverage, and full body strength.

Beyond anchoring, every offensive line position has a little different responsibility and should be handled slightly different. Let’s dig a little deeper into what I look for when evaluating offensive linemen.

Note: I’m not discussing the zone blocking scheme here. I’ll save that topic for another day. These are the important skills that I look for when evaluating all offensive linemen.

Left Tackle:

The left tackle is typically going to have to defend the opposing team’s best pass rusher. He should be able to defend against a speed rusher as well as a more powerful bull rusher. He’ll have to defend against a litany of techniques and must hold up well against them all. The ideal LT is larger in size but able to maintain athleticism and be able to get off the line to get anchored to take on a bull rush, then still have quick-twitch reactive athleticism to adjust to a swim, scrape, or speed rush. His mentality must be that he’ll do anything to keep the DE from getting past him. Being able to think quickly and react is such an asset because he can often use a DE’s movement and momentum against him. Essentially, a LT is like a CB on an island – he must mirror his opponent in good man coverage with a toughness to keep fighting no matter how long the play goes on. A long reach with good upper body strength is important to keep a defender from getting into his body and creating leverage. Good length and quickness will allow a LT to spread the play wide and keep from collapsing the pocket. A short memory comes in handy too. A good LT will communicate to his QB or center what he is seeing on his side of the line so they can make the necessary adjustments.

Right Tackle:

A right tackle is typically more involved in the run game so he will do many of the things that the LT does, but with more focus on run blocking and power. He will use good hand technique to keep his hands inside and great leg strength to drive an opposing DE back off the line. Good core and arm strength will allow him to turn his defender either inside or outside to seal the alley or the edge to allow the RB a free run to the 2nd level. A RT will still be reactive but with a little more aggression than a LT. He’ll need to see what his opponent is doing (must keep his head up) and then make his block without lunging or leaving a strong base. A RT’s athleticism is most important on screen passes, but again, he’s more focused on being tough, strong, and engaging than on the 2-3 snaps a game where he must run in open space. In terms of size, it doesn’t hurt if the RT is the largest guy on the offensive line.

It should be mentioned that every team should have a strong swing tackle as a backup to the starters. He will be able to handle all of the duties of both LT and RT so that when he’s called upon there isn’t a drop off in production.

Guard:

First and foremost a guard should be tough and physical. He’s typically banging around all game with the biggest players on the field in NTs and DTs. Guards should be able to get off the line explosively, make a double team block, and then move to the second level of the defense and take on a rushing LB. Athleticism is a typically viewed as a secondary trait as the guard should be powerful and able to anchor against the heaviest players on the field first. Athleticism is useful for when a guard is asked to pull, so it really depends on the scheme and how each player fits into it. This is a position that will play in small spaces and therefore should have the functional strength to turn defenders out of gaps to allow runners to hit the appropriate hole. Guards should be heavy and not afraid to be a banger against anyone in front of them. I want my guards to be quick off the line with enough athleticism to keep defenders from getting single-gap penetration. The best guards will display consistent technique and a good base that gives them good leverage against all types of oncoming defenders.

Center:

The best centers are some of your most football intelligent guys on the field. If the QB doesn’t make the blocking calls and adjustments for the OL, then it will almost always fall on the center. He must be strong from the ground up to be physical in the run game and reactive in pass blocking. It’s easy to overlook a simple motion such as a snap in the shotgun but the ability to do it accurately and consistently shouldn’t be discounted. Especially because he usually has to do it and then immediately take on a NT/DT in his kitchen. Centers aren’t necessarily the largest OL on the field, but they will need to be very good at anchoring and not giving ground against a charging NT. Intelligence at the C position is the most important of any offensive linemen. A center can be evaluated on how he moves defenders out of holes, double teams a DT, and then moves to the next level if called for. With defenses relying on more complicated blitz schemes a center should be able to move side to side with his head up and on a swivel to take on a coming DE from a stunt or a LB from a Fire-X blitz. A center should be balanced in every facet of the game with a propensity towards intelligence and being able to anchor with good athleticism. A very good/intelligent center can be a neophyte QB’s best friend by being able to make protection calls and allowing the QB to focus on fewer things in the pre-snap phase.

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