WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
You would be very hard pressed to go a season without several instances where the coaches on staff did not discuss personnel grouping. In fact I’ll go ahead and say that it never happens you will always discuss personnel amongst the staff and where to put individual players.
But what is rarely discussed is personnel grouping on the offensive line, and when you think about it, this should be the first one discussed. One of the great things about coaching OL is that they are left alone all practice and brought over during group or scrimmage and they just get it done. Typically you have the best kids on the team attitude and personality wise, and they usually want to play so bad they are willing to do anything it takes. It’s a great spot to coach. However, it is also the most important and putting the right personnel in the right spots is paramount for the success of the unit.
ATTITUDE > ABILITY > SIZE
An offensive lineman’s success is mostly determined by his attitude. You want a guy who “wants” to get it done. Most OL coaches will agree with me, that we want guys with the right attitude and guys who not only can…but will run. 90% of blocking is getting in the right spot, and getting in the right spot is all about attitude. Size can definitely help, but is not necessary, the past 3 seasons here at Palm Bay High we have never had a guard or center over 190 pounds, yet we annually lead the 18 team county in rushing.
WHERE TO START & WHAT TO IDENTIFY
I am a huge advocate of “everybody snaps” every offensive lineman takes snaps with the QB before practice and in scrimmage at some point. When you’re in a real game and god forbid your center goes down…you want a starter in there taking snaps! You do not want a wide eyed greenback snapping the ball. Move your vetted player to center and have the backup come in his spot.
From there identify who is interchangeable, meaning which guys can play multiple spots across the front. Obviously your offensive scheme can help or hurt this, but it’s important to know who can line up and play regardless of position.
Next you need to identify who is most suitable for each position. You do that with practice, quizzes on the fly while they are working through drills. The offensive line needs to think on the fly. I would suggest that every coach film their practices at least scrimmage to help ID which kids need to go in which spots.
Drills done at tempo are a great way to find out who can respond to pressure and being fatigued. Obviously the use of drills can help determine who is better suited for pass pro, gap/zone blocks and pulling for example.
IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT
Tackles for us are best of the unit. We want these two to be our most dominant one on one blockers. To be able to stretch the edge and pin the edge, usually they have to do this alone, especially in gap schemes. They are also on an island in pass protections. The tackles set the edge for the offense and need to be personnelled accordingly. The tackle with the best feet will go to the QBs blind side for pass setting purposes.
Center is where I typically like to put my “smartest” player. The guy you can trust to make sure everyone is right, an extension of you on the field. This guy should be able to ID fronts in at least the aspect of odd or even.
He is the link between the left and right side of the unit and relays communications both directions, and as a bonus if he can reach a shade nose, you will have some good nights on game day.
Of your five starters up front, your guards can be your worst two players. They have help coming to them from either direction. The center or the tackle is usually available for help depending on play call. Play calls can be made to make sure the guards get the needed help for zone schemes, gap schemes and pass protections.
If you pull your guards, drill pulling to a “spot”. They go to the spot where the defender is going to be, whether that’s a kick out block or a pin/wrap. Any defender worth his salt is going to be in that spot, or again, you will have a pretty good night going that direction.
I have heard many coaches make the statement “tight ends are a dying breed” or “tight ends are all but extinct” or something along these lines. These statements could not be further from the truth. Tight Ends and fullbacks are in everybody’s program! It is up to us as coaches to ID them and get them in the right spots. Just because everybody goes to the receivers group or the linebackers group on day one, does not mean we have to leave them there.
If you are truly in a position where you are struggling to find a tight end then here is where you can find them.
My favorite spot to get a tight end is to steal from the defense. Take that defensive end who can’t quite make the lineup and he will block his heart out for you for a chance to start. Another place is to look is in the linebackers unit for the same kind of kid. Lastly use a 6th offensive lineman, this works out to your benefit usually, because as an OL coach most of you will value blocking over pass catching ability. TEs usually come wide open in the play action game, easy lob pass. On passing downs, simply sub him out or keep him in for protection.
Often times the offensive linemen are forgotten until called upon. Usually the hardest working group on the practice field by any measure. The dictators of how a game will go. The attention that is given to skills for personnel grouping should also be given to the offensive line, if not more so. You can view a video that goes along with this article by following this link on my YouTube channel thecoachvogt.
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