Knowing Defensive X's and O's From the Center

Every quarterback is responsible for knowing how to read defenses in order to be most effective in exposing the scheme. What most people don't know is that the same hold true for the center on the offensive line.

The center is the quarterback or the middle linebacker of the offensive line. His responsibilities include much more than simply blocking a defensive lineman and making sure the exchange of the football from his hand to the hands of the quarterback goes smoothly.

"Well, first off it is a group effort," said Sorensen while chuckling. "You don't want to put too much pressure on me now. No, people tell me that everything does start with me in the middle making the correct calls and getting the targeting correct with our offense. Also, getting a good push up the middle for Harvey [Unga], Manase [Tonga] and Fui [Vakapuna] or whoever is running the ball. My job is to get everything going."

You don't want to put too much pressure on the big guy, but it really does start with him. Sorensen has the responsibility of not only making the right blocks while snapping the ball, but he also has to be somewhat of a coach on the field for the offensive line. That means Sorensen has to not only know his own offense from front to back, but he also has to understand the X's and O's of the many defensive schemes.

"Well, when you have two great tackles in Ray Feinga and Travis Bright playing right next to me, it makes it a little easier," said Sorensen. "We want to know what the defense is doing before they do it, and there are little things you can do to know that besides just knowing what the scheme is.

"You can look at their hands to see if they have a lot of weight on their hands to get an idea of what they may be doing. You can look at their feet to see what direction they may be going before they go there.

"Also, a lot of it is our offense helps us as offensive linemen. Whether it's the backs going one way [out of the backfield], we'll know that the defense will be going that way, which can take some pressure off of us. But what it really comes down to is our offensive coaches are really talented and are great coaches. They understand defensive schemes and tendencies within a defense and they help us to know what those things are. They're great teachers and will have us ready by the end of spring. I have to know what the defense is doing by how they're lining up and making adjustments within a formation.

"To be honest with you, the hard part about spring ball is we'll know everything that is coming from our defense because we've seen it 15 times. We'll get to the point to where we'll know all the defensive calls, and so we try our best to be as fair as we can so we don't beat them too badly. For our opponents, it's kind of the same thing. We'll have a good understanding of what they do and they always give little hints here and there that our coaches help us recognize. Then when we see them in the game we alert each other. Knowing what is coming and then having the communication to make the adjustments is the key."

Although Sorensen makes the calls, he doesn't see everything. So, he relies on the extra pair of eyes from his fellow offensive linemen to make sure they have the right call all the time.

"If Dallas [Reynolds] sees something he'll yell out, ‘Tom, alert over here!'" said Sorensen. "And then I'll look over there and say, ‘Easy, easy' and switch up the calls."

Currently, BYU's big and experienced offensive line is getting a lot of attention from NFL scouts. Last year, many NFL scouts were on campus and in attendance to see BYU's big men in action.

"Coach Weber is telling us right now that we have four or five guys that are getting looks from the NFL," Sorensen said. "That's a comforting thought from a kid like me who played as a freshman [at Vanderbilt] but haven't played in quite a while since our bowl game last year. Looking back over last year, I'm kind of grateful that I was able to kind of get my feet wet a little bit. Heading into this season, I feel like I have a little bit of ownership of the team."

Sorensen was able to rotate in at times for senior center Sete Aulai last season. One such time came during the Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA. BYU's youngest offensive lineman not only got some valuable playing time, but he was also able to observe and learn from Aulai as well.

"I think what I learned from Sete, and obviously he was a great athlete, was his commitment to excellence not only in the classroom as far as watching film but also preparing himself for the field," Sorensen said. "Being able to break down film and translate that onto the field and put it into play is an art in and of itself. Being able to learn is a skill that Coach Weber is trying to teach us. It's something that Sete was able to do really well and that's what I've tried to take from him and learn how to apply it to the football field."

Coach Weber has been trying to teach his charges how to affectively understand and break down your opponent through the art of watching film. It's a skill not easily learned.

"It's called ‘learning how to learn,'" said Sorensen. "Obviously football is an adrenaline-filled game where emotion can sometimes take over. One aspect of learning how to learn is to set aside that emotional part of the game to be able to allow the understanding to take center stage and not forget it. To learn how to learn is to understand what is going on and be able to apply it onto the field."

Aside from becoming a student within the film room, Sorensen has been working to develop his leadership role and other important perceptual aspects so his teammates will have full confidence in all aspects of his game.

"It's important for the rest of the guys to be confident in me," said Sorensen. "If I make a call on the line and they're all second-guessing it, even if it's the right call, we'll be weaker as an offensive line. I have to have the full confidence of my teammates in order for us to be at full potential."

So as the newest member of the starting offensive line, and the member with the most responsibility, how does Sorensen develop that?

"For the most part it's just building that relationship of trust," said Sorensen. "I have to be the guy who is the first one in the weight room and the last guy to leave the weight room. Offensive linemen are kind of jovial. They're laid back kind of people, but they also notice who is here and who is doing what. They appreciate those that work hard because they don't get all the glory, but make it possible for the glory to happen. I'm hoping that by my efforts they'll see that and [I'll] hopefully gain some confidence from them."

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