Every other unit on the team has a statistic kept to gauge their game output. Defensive players have tackles, tackles for loss, quarterback sacks, interceptions, fumbles caused and recovered, and passes defended. Receivers have passes caught; running backs have rushing; and quarterbacks have passing. The offensive linemen disappear when the stat crew releases the official stats.
Talk to any coach who knows his salt, past or present, and you will quickly find out that control of the line of scrimmage by the offensive line is where most games are decided. If a team has five All-Americans starting in their offensive line and a running back that runs a 5.0, 40-yard dash, that team can be dominant by running between the tackles for five yards a try. Put the two top current running backs in a backfield with five weak offensive linemen, and you will be punting after three plays, assuming the backs don't walk off the field in protest.
Vanderbilt has one of its finest groups of offensive linemen in the last 30 years. The projected starting five from left to right of Chris Williams, Josh Eames, Hamilton Holliday, Merritt Kirchoffer, and Brian Stamper and the projected second group of Eric Hensley, Ryan Custer, Bradley Vierling, Mac Pyle, and Elliot Hood gives Vandy a deep unit for the first time this century. Joey Bailey, Drew Gardner, Ryan Vance, Drew Brenk, and Reilly Lauer give Vanderbilt 15 offensive linemen on hand.
Recently, I talked with the current first teamers plus the versatile Pyle to get their thoughts about blocking. Then, I asked offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell for a few comments. Here are their responses. Today, in part one, I ask the players about their favorite and least favorite types of blocks.
Question: When you are in the huddle and you hear the play called by the quarterback, you have a few seconds to think about the type of block you are going to be required to make. When you think about these blocks, which one gets you pumped up most because you love to throw it?
Chris Williams: I love the aggressive reach block where the guards have our back and we get to fly off the ball; it's no holds barred. It's great just taking off on the snap of the ball and making a zone block like that.
Brian Stamper: I agree with Chris. If the guard has our back we can just come off as fast as we can and trick the Defensive end into thinking we are trying to reach him. When he starts to float out, we just put him on his back. It's a pretty fun thing to do.
Mac Pyle: We do a combo block whenever we run a certain play (He named the play, but I am withholding the type play so as not to give out useful information to the lurkers from up North). Depending on what side of the line and what position I'm playing, I block with a tackle or a tight end. I've been playing a lot of right tackle, so I've been able to work with the tight ends. It gives us a chance for two guys to come together and blow a defensive lineman off the ball and it makes me excited. Once we get that guy driven up the field a couple of yards, you come off on a linebacker and get a chance to hit somebody that's a lot more athletic than you. That's really the one block I love to do.
Josh Eames: I like pass blocking a lot, and I think I'm not bad at it at all. I like running bootlegs some times where I can run out on the edge and take out a linebacker or end. Those two are my favorites.
Hamilton Holliday: I love the straight on block where you come off and maybe have a little zone step—the one's where you come off and just mash the defender. You go as hard as you can and your number one job is to beat the man in front of you. That's my favorite block.
Merritt Kirchoffer: My favorite type of block is pulling and ramming the hole on the back side. I get pumped up and just want to smash the linebacker and make a hole as big as I can for the running back to run through. That gets me pumped up more than anything.
Question: Which block gives you the most trouble?
Williams: The backside scoop block. You have a good defender like Theo Horrocks and he's pushing up field really hard. It's a pretty tough block trying to get low and hard and to get your hat underneath that guy to make that block.
Stamper: (chuckling) Chris and I think alike. There are two types of scoops. We have a power scoop where we have help from the guard, who stops the defensive tackle from running all the way down. That gives us a chance to get under him. Then, there's the full scoop where the guard leaves us and the defensive tackle gets on his hip; he (the defensive tackle) is just basically running away from us. He's already inside of us, so that's a difficult block to make. It's more a kind of a finesse block; you've got to be graceful and get up underneath them and cannot come off aggressively and put them on the ground. We like the more hard-nosed blocks.
Pyle: Working at right tackle lately, I've had to pass set a lot. That's a whole lot different from playing guard. I get the kick slot and I get the set, but it's still new to me. I get up there and there's a really fast guy on the other side, and I'm scared to death he's going to juke me and go inside or just run on around me. Until I feel more comfortable with it, that's the block that scares me the most.
Eames: Reach blocks are hard when you have to reach across the nose or on a "3" technique (for a guard, that would be a reach block toward the guard-tackle gap, where the defender in that area would be driven to the outside or backward and outside). It's a full throw (the body) type play, and it's pretty tough.
Holliday: The hardest job for me is a back-side fill in on the "3" technique. Defensive tackles have gotten really good the past couple of years in reading that and getting across the line of scrimmage, so that's the toughest block for me.
Kirchoffer: For me the toughest block is a double team, a combo, or a reverse combination and then coming off on the linebacker at the right time. Timing is the hardest part of these blocks.
In part two, I ask the linemen to compare their abilities to block for the run and for the pass, and then I ask them about a lack of football stats. Finally, in part three, Coach Caldwell gives his opinions on these questions and more.