What’s The Most Important Thing You Teach (Part 3)

19 Oct

You see it all the time: offensive linemen watching the play instead of finishing their blocks.  The result is generally unfavorable for the offense.

As an O-line coach, I cringe at the sight, especially if the o-linemen in question are kids I coach.  I don’t expect to see it with my kids because I spend so much time teaching them to finish their blocks.  For me, after 3-point stance and form tackling, it is the third most important thing I teach and the first most
important thing I want my linemen to learn.

In my approach to teaching O-line play, there are three phases to a drive block:

— the initial contact
— the stalemate
— and the finish

I know of other line coaches who break it down even further but for my purposes and at the level I’m coaching, three phases makes it understandable to my kids.

I’ll speed rush past any explanation of the initial contact phase to get directly to the stalemate which, in my mind, is essentially the beginning of the finish.  What I tell my kids’ is that the stalemate is more than a brief struggle to gain leverage.  It is actually an opportunity to defeat a defender because they are taught to escape any block and get to the ballcarrier.

To separate and escape, defenders will relax to change gears and direction.  It is at that instant that the O-lineman should accelerate to gain leverage and it is in that instant that the third phase — to finish the block — begins.

To dominate in this phase, the O-lineman must be taught two things: to keep his feet moving forward.  That is to say, to gain ground with each short step.  And the second thing is to block through to the whistle or what many coaches refer to as the “echo” of the whistle.  Movement, it must emphasized, comes from leg drive.

To teach this phase of a block, I use drills that start with a snap count, incorporate the first two phases, and finish with a whistle.  As best I can, I try to mimic game-time situations.

To this end, I’m lucky in that our association has a 5-man sled.  We drive it around the field on a daily basis to condition our OL and to teach them to finish their blocks.

I have calculated that the average running play lasts about 5 seconds.  So I count 1000-1, 1000-2, etc. until I get to 5 then I blow the whistle.  For those 5 seconds I expect 100% effort.  If I don’t get it, I get 5 perfect push-ups which are used to condition the kids as well as reinforce my expectations.

5 push-ups hurt no one but they do help kids remember to strive for perfection even though we, as coaches, know it is unattainable.  We want to get as close as humanly possible and you’d be surprised how strong kids get doing nothing more than 5 push-ups.

I also use linemen chutes and stand-up dummies to teach kids to finish their blocks.  In these drills I am looking for and teaching technique as well as encouraging them to drive the dummies through to the whistle.  As with our work on the 5-man sled, they are expected to give 100% effort for 5 seconds or they give me 5 perfect push-ups.

We practice three nights per week, for two hours each night, and during my group time with the O-line we spend about 10 minutes on the sled or blocking out of the chutes.  Basically we’re doing the same things but just in different drills and on different nights.  The emphasis, however, is always on finishing the block.

While an offensive lineman’s initial explosion will engage a defender, it’s his ability to finish the block that creates a crease through which a running back will gain yardage.  If you don’t teach that then the chances are your O-linemen will be the ones watching the play rather than blocking it.

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