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Offensive Line: Life In The Trenches

Doc Bear shares a wealth of knowledge for those interested in learning more about the game of football, especially offensive line play and terminology.

With the exit of Ryan Clady and the corresponding acquisition of Russell Okung at starting left tackle, a lot of people are looking at offensive line play with newly interested eyes. In this article, I plan on sharing with you some of the sites and information that I’ve used or enjoyed — they’re good places to lurk and learn. Some folks are interested in learning enough to have it help them watch film — others might be inquisitive for other reasons.

Regardless, I think that you’ll learn a bit from this piece. I added several good links at the end that you can peruse at your leisure, if you have the interest.

A lot of people are still learning the game of football, and I’ve found that this is why many folks come to Mile High Huddle. We believe that the average fan is a lot smarter than the media believes, and that they often want to learn more about the game than the general media provides. Like you, we’re also constantly learning. 

Personally, I try to share whatever is ‘up’ during a season with you. Over the course of that, I’ve found that whether your thing is offense, the WCO, defense, passing patterns, the run game, the secondary, or the trenches, a good dictionary of football terms is a useful tool to keep around.

I’ve used this one several times. You are going to find that different parts of the country and different schools of thought on the game will use different terms for the same things. One of the factors when installing a new coaching scheme is the issue of terminology. This dictionary makes a point to explain what’s being said when that happens — I like that.

Although often overlooked in favor of the more visible positions, offensive line blocking is a remarkably deep, complex, and technically precise art. Most fans only notice it when it fails. Its basics are the drive block, reach block, scoop block, fold block, down block, cutoff block (which is sometimes called an alley block), and combination blocks (sometimes called tandem blocks).

There are others was well. These are the building blocks of offensive line play, much as only four proteins in various combinations make up the DNA of the human being.

For simple blocking terms, this is a good source and easier than many to understand in terms of the language they use. There is also a good overview of the blocks here. You should expect that approach to the material to be somewhat more technically dense, but it’s presented well enough to help anyone who’s interested.

Of course, there are other techniques. You’re also going to need to get your linemen — most commonly a guard or tackle, but I’ve seen a center doing it — using pulling and trapping techniques. Some of Denver’s best runs featured one or more ofensive linemen pulling to open the lane. You’ll see more of that when the Broncos aren’t using the full stretch zone blocking. 

By the way, if you didn’t get through the above links down to ‘scoop blocks’, it happens when two linemen control a defensive lineman together, then one of the offensive linemen leaves to attack a linebacker or safety on the second level. It’s a variation on the tandem blocking approach. 

With only one year under his belt, I’m impressed with the job that Matt Paradis did last year. You knew he was something special when the Broncos brought in Gino Gradkowski to mentor him, only to find that he was already the leader of the OL. While he’s not big enough to handle some nose guards alone, that’s common.

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY

When it happens, the blocking scheme uses a tandem approach where the guards help him out. Paradis' intellect and increasing skill in technique should make him a fixture in the middle for a long time. 

There’s an opening at guard — Max "The Future" Garcia is living up to the nickname his teammates foisted on him but the exit of Louis Vasquez means that someone will have to step up into his slot.

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Sam Brenner is listed as a center, but he’s 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds. If he shows the footwork for it, Denver may let him compete for the other guard position. Robert Myers, Jr., nicknamed ‘Quadzilla’, joined the Broncos as a free agent Dec. 30, 2015. He had been selected by Baltimore in the fifth round (176th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.

With Okung and Donald Stephenson (who will compete with RT Michael Schofield, who peaked at the end of 2015) at tackle, Denver has upgraded their options at OL. I expect to see at least one or two more OL coming in via the draft, where there are several quality guards.

Denver’s place at picking late in the rounds may limit certain options, but it’s a deep draft for players on both sides of the trenches. Quick feet, good knee bend, strong hands and the ability to control defenders are among the talents that tackles have to master. It’s a lot easier to fill the guard positions than the tackles — tackles have tougher requirements. 

Chris Brown’s Smart Football is constantly interesting, and his farewell to Peyton Manning on this link was excellent. In another piece he talks about Bill Walsh’s view of the interaction of play action with the offensive line.

Brown sees a pulling guard as essential to achieving success in that. For the Broncos, Coach Gary Kubiak will use bootlegs as well as play action. Max Garcia is likely to play the pulling guard role as things currently stand. I expect some changes on the OL this summer — there almost always are.

Here's another source for good articles on offensive line play, from retired center LeCharles Bentley. His posts are usually interesting, and frequently invaluable. Once you get a few terms under your belt, the jargon isn’t hard to pick up.

I know that our minds often rebel when they have to learn some new words, but these aren’t tough to catch onto. There’s also angle blocking to consider, which the Broncos have employed. There’s a basic video on the concept here and a nice clarification of how it works here. I like the series of diagrams, breaking out what will happen in a step-by-step approach.  

I hope this helps give you a better overview of life in the trenches. I wanted you to have the resources to learn about and understand these positions in a way that you might not have in the past. I’ve also had several folks ask me about learning to analyze game film — this should help in that area. 

With Okung taking over at LT and with the full install of Kubiak’s WCO variation, knowing more about each position’s demands should prove helpful. Over time, I hope to cover the defensive linemen’s responses to how the offense moves, as well.


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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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