DAN NEIL: IF YOU CAN'T BLOCK, YOU CAN'T SCORE AND CAN'T WIN

This season, here on HornsDigest.com former Texas All-American offensive lineman DAN NEIL, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) who opened holes for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down film of Texas games and telling you what he sees. Catch Dan on “Upon Further Review” on the Longhorn Network on Mondays at 6 pm CT.

 

My articles the past few weeks have been more about the mental state of this team. 

I think that was the most important aspect of the team at that time.  Coach Charlie Strong’s challenge was to get this team to believe and play like champions.  I feel Strong has turned this team around and gotten them to play like a team that believes they can win.

The problem is their mental state is fragile.  If things go their way early, they believe. If things do not go their way early, they doubt.

This is why the Longhorns are 9-1 when scoring first under Strong and 0-11 when their opponent scores first.

I was listening to the local radio the other day and realized that I have not done a good job for the readers of HornsDigest.  The hosts had some guy talking about the offensive line play of UT. 

Apparently this guy grades the offensive line and was talking about his grades. 

He mentioned how Taylor Doyle and Sed Flowers were playing well and Patrick Vahe might be the best one out there. Let me first say it was NOT on Chip Brown’s radio show that I heard this.  

I decided at that moment I needed to set things straight about this offensive line.  

And after what we saw in Ames, I HAVE to let everyone know what is going on with this offensive line.

Let’s first put the line into perspective. This group was abysmal last year, and how they ever won 6 games I will never know.

They were so bad that two true freshman were starting the first day they stepped on campus.

Connor Williams is by far the best lineman on this team, and Patrick Vahe might be the second best. 

The other three were starters from that line last year and weren’t going to become Pro Bowlers like Jonathan Ogden all of a sudden.

You can’t be a 5.3 40 guy and just try hard and run a 4.2 40!  You either have it or you don’t.  You can hone your skill set and become great if you have the skill set.

You can’t turn a donkey into a thoroughbred no matter how hard you work.  When you have donkeys, the coach’s job is to get them to go compete with the thoroughbreds and try to convince them they have a chance. 

I feel O-line coach Joe Wickline reallt got these guys to compete against Oklahoma and Kansas State. Saturday's game at Iowa State was definitely a mixed bag. There was poor attention to detail by the line on some plays, while on others, they had the quarterback  perfectly protected in the pocket, only to have the QB leave the pocket and get sacked. 

You have to realize that when I watch football, I see things that I think are obvious.  If you were to sit in a room with me and some former teammates, we could break down a player in about 5 words.

We don’t have to explain it much more than that. It might be something as simple as “guy is too slow and has no leverage."

That means the player can’t get to linebackers, can’t react to twists and blitzes in pass protection and can’t get underneath his opponent to take that opponent where he does not want to go. 

When I have broken down the offensive line play for you all, I have been using the 5-word approach. I need to give you a more detailed breakdown.  So, here we go:

 

Let me say, I’ve been pleased with the effort out of most of the guys most of the time.  I look for two things:

#1 … Effort 

#2 … Knowing what to do

I should see those two things on every play out of every player.  It’s not perfect up front, but for the most part, I see those two things. 

So then the question becomes, ‘What’s going on up front?’  Let me see if I can describe what I see:

Junior RT Kent Perkins

The most improved player from last year and maybe the best lineman behind Williams. His run blocking has been very good and is his strength.  He drives his feet well and tries to finish defenders. 

Sometimes he gets his head out of position.

When you watch an offensive lineman run block, you should almost always know where the ball is designed to go by where the offensive lineman’s head is. 

His head should be between the defender and the ball carrier.  Make the defender go through your head to get to his gap.  If his head is behind the ball carrier, he can easily get off you and fill his gap. 

These are the little things that make all of the difference.

Perkins is limited with his feet.  Your tackles need to glide on the football field.

Watch Connor Williams pass set and then watch Perkins.  You’ll see what I mean.  Better yet, watch Jonathan Ogden someday.

 

Freshman RG Patrick Vahe

Looks confused out there.  If I need someone to pull and knock the crap out of the end man on the line of scrimmage, he is my guy. You don’t have to think to do this.  You just lower your head, drive your feet and enjoy your head ringing for a couple of plays.

When he climbs to block a linebacker, he will block the wrong guy.  If the guy in front of him twists, he doesn’t seem to know where or whom he should be looking to block.

Whenever you are blocking, you need to know some basic concepts of defense. The first is every defender has a gap. If the defender that is lined up in that gap runs away somebody else is coming to fill that gap.

When there is not anyone for Vahe to block, he stands straight up and kind of looks around.

What I want to see is him go attack someone when there is no one for him to block.  If you don’t know what to do go find someone in the opposite colored jersey and hit him.

 

Senior LG Sed Flowers

Flowers does not finish plays. I see him standing around the pile more than the referees. An offensive lineman should never be standing around the ball carrier being tackled. 

If I do not get to the man I should be blocking, go find someone else!  There are 11 defenders on the field, and I’m sure one of them is not being blocked. 

When he combos with C Taylor Doyle and then climbs to the LB, Flowers never delivers a blow to the linebacker he’s trying to reach.

You should give your center enough of a hand or shoulder to allow the center to get his head in position.  After you help your buddy, you go knock the crap out of the linebackers. 

What I see is Flowers just try to get his hands on the linebackers and turn to one side. When you block someone, never decide for the ball carrier where the ball carrier needs to run. 

You hit the linebacker square and drive your feet.  You do not hit the linebacker and then turn your ass in the hole.

 

Freshman LT Connor Williams

Not much negative to say here.  About the only negative thing I see is he can get beat trying to reach an end.  This is a difficult block to make. 

Williams needs to get his head outside the end and not let the end penetrate.  The best example of this is when the running back will go outside Williams’ block on the DE, and the DE gets off the block and makes the play. 

The problem with getting his head outside is an “inside pinch” by the end.  As the tackle reaches for the end, if the end were to pinch, it looks like a matador in a bull fight with the DE serving as the matador and the OT charging into nothing but air.

To protect yourself from this pinch, the tackle needs to take an angle that puts his head on the outside shoulder of the end and then grab the end with his inside hand.

The inside hand is what will stop an inside pinch. Grabbing that jersey will allow you to recover and seal off the end and let the ball carrier go outside.  This is what the ball carrier should be reading when the ball is being handed off.  If the DE is outside, the tackle goes inside.  End pinch, and the tackle seal goes outside.

Williams is a great cut blocker.

 

Senior C Taylor Doyle

Doyle struggles against “zero technique” nose tackles who line up helmet-to-helmet with Doyle. His first step every time is to spread his legs to gather himself.   

You need to be in a stance that your first step is going to direction you want to go.  Your second step is your “contact step,” and this is where you gather yourself to be balanced and ready for contact and in a position to drive your feet after contact. 

Doyle is making contact with his feet spread, and he can’t gather himself to get his feet going and drive. The defender gets an edge and penetrates and this knocks the running back off his run path on inside runs.

Part of the problem with this is his guards do not give him enough help before they climb to the linebacker. Your center should have help on every play.

Love his effort.  He works his ass off on every play.

If you can’t block, you can’t score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win! 

I agree with Coach Strong.  I want to see the team I saw against Oklahoma.  I hope we do because we might only beat Kansas if that team does not show up again.  If it does, we’ll do what I've been saying this team will do all season - beat Baylor!

 


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