By: Chris Hall
The least talked about group of players on a football team may be the most important of all. The offensive line is basically three categories and five positions: two tackles, two guards, and a center. All are played by the largest men on the field and they’re usually the most unathletic looking as well. Thank goodness looks can be deceiving.
Playing on the o-line takes prowess, and varied skills depending on which position you play. This is a position-by-position breakdown of what a team needs in offensive linemen. I’ve also included prototypical examples from Texas Longhorns history. Sometimes seeing the genuine article is all you need to make things clear.
They’re typically tall, very tall, because long arms are good for pass protection. A long reach allows tackles to punch and knock off the timing of a defensive end’s moves. They also help tackles maintain distance and not allow the end to get into their body. Imagine you’re Rocky trying to punch Ivan Drago — Drago’s reach puts him at a tremendous advantage.
Besides that, tackles need great feet. They’re always blocking better athletes than them. A typical defensive end is 50 pounds lighter, two times faster, and approximately as strong as the tackle he’s playing. With good technique and nimble feet, the tackle must keep his body between the end and the quarterback.
Left Tackle – the best pass blocker with the largest bank account — arguably the most important position on the offensive line. Left tackles protect the blindside of right-handed quarterbacks. That’s why NFL teams are willing to shell out big bucks and No. 1 picks for them. Safeguarding the greatest asset of a team (the QB) makes left tackles incredibly valuable. // Prototype: Jonathan Scott
Right Tackle – the better run blocker or more commonly the “franchise-tackle-to-be.” The right tackle is not the left tackle, but often he’s waiting his turn to become one. Most teams put their best tackle on the left and their “up-and-coming” tackle on the right. When the left tackle graduates, the right tackle makes his transition over. That being said, some run-heavy teams put their best blockers on the right side of the line. (But that also depends on the OC and what side of the formation he favors). // Prototype: Jerry Sisemore
These are the road-graders. They’re what comes to mind when people think of offensive linemen. Guards should be big, strong, nasty, and ready to punish any who get in their way. Sometimes they’re ugly (most offensive linemen are), but even if they’re not that’s the persona they need on the field. They don’t care about wearing wristbands. They don’t care about getting glory. They live in the trenches and make their money by fighting defensive tackles every play.
Left Guard + Right Guard – big boys who move, work well with others, and are completely interchangeable. Guards need to be able to do it all: they pull, double team, pass off stunts, run down LBs, stymie DTs, and blindside DEs all in a day’s work. They make the interior of the o-line solid. But to do that they have to play solid. They need to create movement when run blocking, refuse to collapse when pass blocking, and instinctively mesh with the tackles and center. All react together as things unfold.
Guards need to be emphatically strong. The best are typically physical specimens (ex. Larry Allen and Leonard Davis). Linemen get away with less strength at tackle and center. Tackles play on the edge with smaller guys, centers have help 90% of the time. But guards don’t have that luxury; they play man-to-man against the biggest and strongest the other team has to offer. // Prototypes: Dan Neil (LG) and Justin Blaylock (RG)
Centers are a crucial part of the offense; this cannot be overstated. They’re important because they snap the ball, yes, but they’re responsible for much more. Centers start the play for the entire offense even before the play begins.
When the play is called and the huddle breaks (unless there’s no huddle to be broken), the center runs to the line and begins to analyze things immediately. Down and distance he already knows, he should have reminded everyone as well. Defensive formation is what he looks for next; he’ll call it out and identify the “Mike”. The “Mike” may or may not be the middle linebacker, but it’s who the offense will be working off of. Whoever the center “IDs” tells the rest of the players who they’re responsible for individually. The play not only begins with the center, the offense operates according to what he sees.
That being said, he then must block effectively with one hand between his legs. That’s how he starts out at least, and is why he gets help from the guards on most if not all of his plays. I hope all that sounds difficult, because it is. That’s the point I’m trying to convey.
Center – the smallest and usually smartest, the quarterback of the offensive line. Centers need quickness, vision, and a high football IQ (the quarterbacks and tight ends will be the only ones who know the offense better). Being directly over the ball sometimes puts the center in bad position. That’s why he must work seamlessly with his guards and use the snap count to his advantage. Quickness and a little O-line savvy can overcome a lot of things. // Prototype: Lyle Sendlein
As the Texas O-line goes, so the offense will go this season. Johnathan Gray can never break 1,000 yards if he doesn’t have any holes to run through. The Longhorns would love to see its line mature by the time they reach South Bend, Indiana. At what point do they gel and take the offense to the next level?