Zane Beadles surges forward, hits the defensive tackle low in the chest with both palms and drives him backwards away from the line of scrimmage. A small hole opens in the "A Gap" between Beadles and center J. D. Walton. Moreno bursts through the hole. Long gain. First down. As the offense reforms the huddle, Beadles listens to the crowd cheering in adulation, and chanting, "Mo-ray-no! Mo-ray-no!" Next play -- another run through the A Gap. Sensing that a linebacker is going to blitz through that gap giving Beadles two men to block, the rookie guard explodes forward a fraction of a second before the ball moves. Whistles blow, yellow flags fly. "False start. Number sixty-eight on the offense." As the offense walks backward an additional five yards, Beadles hears the crowd boo. Such is the life of an offensive lineman: rarely acknowledged when he does his job right, often booed when he does not.
In years gone by, the Denver Broncos offensive line reveled in this anonymity by engaging a unity borne of silence. They refused to talk to members of the media until forced to do so by the NFL. What is it that these often overlooked and ignored warriors are called to do? The reality is that the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends could not look as good as they do without the offensive line effectively throwing their blocks. In this first part of two, we will look at the types of blocks the offensive linemen are asked to throw during running plays.
Take a jump with me.
A quick, gentle reminder: The MHR Primer series is designed for those readers who want to take some first steps in moving from being a casual fan to being a student of the game. These articles will not be exploring the intricacies of how the basic blocks are combined into an overall blocking scheme. Rather these are the fundamental pieces that are used to build offensive schemes.
Characteristics to Look for in Offensive linemen
There are some basic characteristics that coaches look for in the offensive linemen. First they want their linemen to be among the most intelligent on the team -- going against the popular image of linemen as dumb bruisers. An offensive lineman has to be intelligent enough to instinctively know his own assignment. He must also intimately know the assignment of every other member of the line. He is required to anticipate the movement of the defense. He has to be able to completely understand the offense that the team is using and the specific play that has been called. Often, a lineman who looks like he is not quick is being slowed by indecision because he doesn't have a full grasp of the offense.
The second characteristic that is looked for in linemen is a combination of size and strength. Offensive linemen need to be the biggest, and the strongest, players on the offense. They are typically the only players other than the quarterback to play every single offensive down. They are required to drive their bodies into defenders of equal size and be able to drive those defenders in a desired direction. They have to be able to wear down and outlast the defenders. It is a common misperception that offensive success occurs early in the game. It more often the case that offensive success occurs late in the game when the offensive lineman have caused the defenders to become fatigued by the constant pounding of their blocks.
The third characteristic required of an offensive lineman is quickness. Quickness has nothing to do with sprint times. Rather it is about being able to move quickly in the first several yards in order to position themselves for an effective block. It is often referred to as "exploding off the ball." The lineman must be able to anticipate the snap and move with great quickness the moment the ball begins to move.
Starting Point - The stance
It really should not come as any surprise that the vital starting point for successful run blocking is found in the stanch the lineman takes prior to the snap. The lineman must position himself in such a way that he can do any of the following things: drive straight ahead, block on an angle to the right or to the left, or move side-to-side along the line of scrimmage. Without being properly set before the snap, the blocker will find it much more difficult to successfully execute his block. There are three basic stances used by offensive linemen: the 3-point stance, the 4-point stance, and the 2-point stance. Each has some specific uses and goals.
The 3-point stance
This is the most commonly used stance. It is used on both running and passing plays. When setting up in this stance, the blocker will usually do the following things:
1)Place his feet no wider than his shoulders with the foot on the same side as the down hand set slightly further back than the opposite foot; the most commonly used spacing is the toes of the back foot lined up with the instep of the other foot.
2)Bend his knees into a squatting position.
3)Keep his back straight.
4)Have his head up with his eyes looking straight ahead.
5)Place one hand on the ground, no wider than his shoulders with the other arm resting on his inner thigh.
The 4-point stance
This stance is generally only seen on running plays. When setting up in this stance, the blocker will usually do the following things:
1)Place his feet no wider than his shoulders, with one foot slightly further back than the other (see note in 3-point stance for placement).
2)Bend his knees into a squatting position.
3)Keep his back straight with his head up.
4)Keep his eyes focused straight ahead.
5)Place both hands on the ground, no wider than his shoulders.
The 2-point stance
This stance is used almost exclusively on passing plays. When setting up in this stance, the blocker will usually do the following things:
1)Place his feet no wider than his shoulders, with one foot set slightly further back than the other.
2)Bend his knees into a squatting position.
3)Keep his back straight, his head up and his eyes looking straight ahead.
4)Rest both forearms on the insides of his thighs.
Once the blocker has correctly set his stance, he is ready to execute whichever block he has been assigned for the upcoming play. He is attempting to do several things with his next few actions. First, he must attempt to "blow the defender off the ball." This means that the blocker must anticipate the snap count in such a way that he begins to move at the same moment as the ball. In run blocking, his primary goal is to drive the defender away from the line of scrimmage and push him in the direction of the defender's end zone. The blocker should be aggressively attacking the defender as they make contact. A second goal for the blocker is to insure that he keeps his body positioned between the defender and the ball carrier. He responsible for maintaining this "relative position" until the referees rule that the play is over.
When coming out of his stance to accomplish these goals, the blocker uses quick, short, choppy steps. He keeps his feet close to the ground and pumps both arms to increase the impact of his forward motion. He tries to keep his shoulders low and squared up in relation to the defender. As with his initial stance, he wants to keep his back straight, his head up and his eyes focused on his target.
Please note: the illustrations included with the block descriptions are designed only to give a general idea of the movement of the blockers. They are not intended to depict all of the nuances that go on in a blocking scheme.
The Drive block
This is, perhaps, the most basic of the run play blocks. It is used when the blocker has a defender lined up directly in front of him. The goal of this block is to force the defender backwards away from the line of scrimmage, and to keep the blocker's body between the defender and the ball carrier. The blocker focuses his eyes on the numbers on the chest of the defender. The blocker springs powerfully forward as the ball begins to move. He uses his legs to push not only forward, but also upward. He tries to strike the defender in the chest with the palms of both hands and drive them upwards and through the defender. The blocker uses his upper body and arms to keep pushing the defender away from the line of scrimmage, while keeping himself between the defender and the ball carrier.
The Cut block
This is a variation of the Drive block in which the blocker attempts to make contact with the defender's legs rather than his chest. The goal is to "cut" the defender's legs out from under him and force him to the ground instead of simply driving him backwards.
The Hook block
This block is used when the defender is lined up slight to the outside of the blocker. This block has two basic goals: stop the defender from getting into the backfield and force the defender to move sideways along the line of scrimmage. The blocker starts by taking a short, quick step with the foot that is on the side the block will be going to. This first step opens up the blocker's stance so he can make a quick step across his body with his other foot. The second step becomes what is called the "power step." The power step is the one the blocker uses to generate the initial force he will use in his block. The blocker will keep his shoulders low and squared up to the defender to avoid allowing the defender to drive him into the backfield. As the blocker takes his power step, he will force his far arm under the defenders and attempt to push through the defender's body. He will use short, choppy steps to get in front of the defender and cut off the defender's penetration. The block must[bold] stay on his feet for this block to be successful. He will continue to press up and through the defender until he hears the referees rule the play over.
The Angle block
This is a block that is used against a defender who is lined up one man to the right or left of the blocker. As with the Hook block, the two-fold goal is to prevent the defender from getting into the backfield and to move the defender sideways along the line of scrimmage. Unlike the Hook block, this block typically allows the blocker to attack the side of a defender who is not concentrating on that particular blocker. Usually this block starts by the blocker moving towards the ball as it is snapped. As the ball begins to move, the blocker takes a short step along the line of scrimmage towards the defender he is going to block. The blocker will get his head in front of the defender, slowing his ability to penetrate the backfield. The blocker keeps his hips and shoulders low and squared up in relation to the side of the defender. As his second step hits the ground, the blocker hits the defender in the side as hard as he can with the palm of his far hand -- this block allows contact with only one hand. The blocker must try to keep his point of contact below the defender's shoulder pads. Keeping his feet in a wide base, the blocker tries to drive the defender sideways along the line of scrimmage until the play is ruled over.
The Running Drive block
This is a variation of the Drive block which is used to attack a defender who is either lined up off the line of scrimmage or lined up more than one man away from the blocker. As with the Drive block, the goal is to force the defender away from the line of scrimmage. Unlike the Drive block -- where contact is initiated very quickly -- the blocker must cover some distance to engage the defender. This brief delay in initiating the block accords the defender more of an opportunity to move out of the way. For this block to be effective, the blocker must move extremely quickly as the ball begins to move. The blocker makes a low charge at the target defender, adjusting his path as he moves to keep himself between the defender and the ball carrier. When he initiates contact with the defender, he wants to do three things: (1)Bend his knees and lower his hips, (2)Uses his legs to push upward against the defender slapping both hands against the middle of the defender's chest, and (3)Attempt to punch up and through the defender.
The Trap block
This is a variation of the Running Drive block. The goal is to force the defender out of the hole in the line and toward the sideline. The blocker is usually a guard or tackle. He leaves his normal position and runs down the line of scrimmage to block a defender who lined up on the opposite side of the center. This block is normally made from the side. The motion leading to the block is referred to as "pulling." Prior to the snap, the blocker must take care to not forecast his movement by leaning in the direction he will be pulling. As the ball begins to move, the blocker pushes off and back with the hand that is on the ground. He swings the other arm around and back in a hard, sharp motion to turn his body in the direction he will be pulling. His first step is a hard push with the foot that is away from the direction of the pull. He must quickly sight his target and adjust his path to take him to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible. He will launch his block from the side of the defender, as with the angle block. He will drive the palm of one hand up and through the defender's side to finish off the block.
The Pulling block versus a Linebacker
This block is very similar to the Trap block. The difference is that in this block, the blocker must move a longer distance along the line of scrimmage and then turn upfield to attack a linebacker. At the snap, the blocker takes a short step and raises his head and shoulders slightly higher than he normally would. After getting turned in the direction he will be pulling, he moves down the line and drops into a low blocking position. He must instantly locate his target and alter his path to intercept the linebacker. After that, he blocks in the same way he would if he were executing a Trap block.
Two Pulling Linemen block
This is a variation of the Pulling block versus a Linebacker. In this variation, both an offensive tackle (OT) and an offensive guard (OG) on the same side pull. Typically, the OG attempts to drive the outside linebacker (OLB) on the side of the pull towards the sideline. Meanwhile, the OT sprints through the hole created by the OG's block on the OLB to attack the nearest inside linebacker (ILB) and drive him away from the hole. The contact in the block follows the same pattern as a normal Pulling block versus a Linebacker.
Double Team block
This is generally considered to be the most powerful block available to the offense. It occurs when two blockers hit a single defender. It is a combination of a Drive block and an Angle block. The blocker directly in front of the defender attacks with a Drive block while the blocker to one side of the defender strikes with an Angle block. The goal is to drive the defender sideways along the line of scrimmage and open up a hole for the ball carrier. A secondary goal of this block is to create a disruption in the defense's rush by forcing other defenders to circle around the defender and the blockers who are double teaming him.
In this block, two blockers begin by attacking a single defender with a double team block, then one of the blockers slides off the block to attack a second defender. It is typically used against a defensive lineman (DL) and a linebacker (LB). The blockers begin by executing a Double Team block on the
DL. Then, based on the movement of the LB, the blocker closest to the LB releases to attack the LB with a Running Drive block.
Short Yardage/Goal Line block
This is a block that is not designed to fool the defense. Both sides know that a run is coming and the blocking will be straight ahead. Typically, the blocker starts in a 4-point stance. His hands are placed on the ground, slightly in front of his shoulders. His feet are planted slightly wider than his hips. The majority of his weight is set forward onto his hands. His hips should be held high with his shoulders lower than his hips. As the ball begins to move, the blocker uses his legs, hips and lower back to explode forward. He keeps his shoulders low. Using short, quick steps, he drives his shoulder pads into the defender's chest. As he drives the defender back, he uses his arms and hands to continue to push the defender away from the line of scrimmage.
Undoubtedly, there is far more that goes into a complete blocking scheme than what I have presented here. The different types are blocks will be mixed and matched during any given play. I'm just hoping that this very simple description of some of the basic pieces that go into the blocking schemes run by Denver and other teams will give you a little something extra to watch for as you watch the next Broncos game. Maybe you'll be able to exclaim, "Wow! I just saw Beadles throw a great angle block on Edwards -- the Chiefs nose tackle -- and open a hole for Moreno!"