The Making of a Root Hog

The Pittsburgh Steelers could've used Craig Wolfley's techniques Sunday against the Colts.

The reality of goal line blocking schemes is that they are only as good as the hosses up front doing the heavy lifting. Because of the short distance to "pay dirt," naturally the defensive curmudgeons hunkering down on the opposite side of the ball are quite eager to put the kibosh to any shenanigans the offensive linemen may be plotting. Included in their defensive repertoire is the "root-hog," or more simply put, shooting the gaps by the inside defensive tackles. Generally the defensive tackles can pinch (go inside), play it straight, or run a "tackles out" where the tackles line up inside shoulder of the guards and play to the outside shoulder. All of these are done with the chin of the defensive player 12-16 inches off the ground and firing off like Howitzers with a bad disposition. In other words they are coming, and they are coming low and hard.

In such a situation as this, trying to re-establish the line of scrimmage on the defenders' side of the ball on a straight-ahead running play would be near impossible. Getting movement, and trying to drive the defensive tackle back when there's less than a yard to go for a touchdown is very difficult because the gap shooters are so low and virtually digging their nails into the turf while clawing away at forward movement. They look like surfers who try to turtle under the big waves out in Hawaii only to resurface on the other side of the mondo wave. And even if you could drive the man back, it would take too long to be effective because of him playing that low and the resultant stalemate that inevitably goes with phone booth fighting.

Normal run blocking schemes and techniques don't apply to this situation. The rising blow as taught by all line coaches can't be applied here. You can't get under something that is low enough to be a bedspread, and yet stubbornly refuses to back up like a rented mule. There's no way to lift the man without incurring the wrath of the head zebra and his golden hankie, so what's left for a self-respecting hog to do? (Without taking a bow as the public address system blares your number all over the stadium, that is). Remember, your team is going to run the ball right at you and the guy over you is burrowing down like a tick on a hound.

It's time for the wily vet to reach into his bag of tricks and pull out an oldie, but a goodie. As a matter of fact, former Steelers guard Sam Davis first demonstrated this for me in training camp my rookie year. First off, let's start off with a bit of anatomy. The head is connected to the body. Pretty simple stuff, eh? Okay, the body follows the head. Therefore, it also follows that when you wrench the head, the body will follow the wrenched head, correct? Voila! Enter the cross-face technique. It's the perfect antidote to the root-hogs.

Ok, here's how it plays out. The offensive lineman fires off the line of scrimmage knowing his opponent will hug the turf. A double fisted uppercut under the hat of the defensive lineman starts the engagement process. With the defender now on his hands and knees underneath the upper body of the O lineman it's time to apply the cross-face. The O lineman uses his forearms to twist the head of the defensive guy. This will turn the body of the defender enough so that the hog can now start to "tenderize" the ribs of the ground hugger with pumping knees. With the marination of the ribs complete, the last bit of business is to continue to roll the carcass of the defender out of the hole enough to create a split in the line. It sort of resembles the time you had to push your car to the gas station using double under hooks with your arms after running out of gas. Not a lot of split is needed, but enough to give the running back a good place to slam it home. And it starts with turning your opponents head.

The best part about it is that you can do all this without listening to your wife say "I told you we were low on gas."

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