Offensive linemen are the unsung heroes of every football team. With minimal on-camera time and no fantasy stats, football games are most often won and lost in the trenches.
Steven Ciocci, a four-year starter on the offensive line at Wagner University and the current offensive line coach at Pace University, recently shared his thoughts on the most important techniques for young offensive linemen to practice and the proper way to perform each one.
“I always emphasize getting off on snap count,” Ciocci said. “You need to learn your QB’s cadence, learn how he speaks and the rhythm of his snap count. Train your body to respond to his snap count. The last thing you want is a bunch of false start penalties or late first steps because you can’t figure out the snap count.”
Steps to blocking
- Stance. “I can’t overstate the importance of a proper stance,” Ciocci said. “It will affect footwork on that critical first step and the ability to make initial contact with the defender. If you don’t start in proper position, your pad level and your feet will be off, and you won’t be able to generate any explosiveness.”
- Feet. Feet should be shoulder width apart. It’s important to keep both feet firmly on the ground to maintain balance and not lean forward on the toes.
- Base. Keeping the feet and shoulders aligned gives linemen a solid base. Linemen on the right side should keep their right foot slightly further back than the left foot. Vice versa on the other side of the line. There should be a toe-to-instep stagger.
- Hands and elbows. Moving up to the hands, the hand corresponding to which side of the line a player is on – right hand for right side, left hand for left side – should be down at the waist and ready to explode up while the opposite hand should be in front of the rib cage. Both hand positions will naturally tighten the elbows.
- Upper body. The shoulders should be pulled back with the chest puffed out, and the back should be flat enough to rest a bottle of water on top of it.
- Head. The result of these upper body positions is that the player is able to keep his head and eyesup and focused on the defender in front of him.
- Get off. Get off is the first step a lineman takes right after the snap to put himself in position to make a block, usually a small six-inch step while cocking his arms back and maintaining a flat back. “With the get off, I always tell my guys to reach for your holstered pistols like a cowboy,” Ciocci said. “If your ends get out of position during this step, that’s how you end up getting called for a lot of holding penalties.”
- Strike. The second step, or strike, is another six-inch step, this time with the opposite foot in which the offensive lineman launches his arms forward to initiate contact with the defender, preferably around his pectoral area.
- Stick. After the offensive lineman strikes the defender with his hands, he will need to keep a wide base and forcefully sink his hips to maintain lavage and create a power angle in the lower body. The offensive lineman will have inside and underneath position, staying compact and closing the space inside the defender’s frame.
- Finish. The final blocking step is the finish in which the lineman keeps his wide base, accelerates his feet and continues the leg drive to capitalize on stick and stick. The lineman must continue to work body and hand position to stay connected to the defender and maintain control. Finally, the offensive player must work his hips and hands to steer the defender away from point of attack and the ball-carrier’s path.
“No matter how good your first two steps are, if you don’t follow through and finish the block, good defensive linemen will disengage from you and be able to get past you,” Ciocci said.
Types of blocks
- Drive block. A drive blockis the most common form of block in football, performed in a one-on-one matchup between an offensive lineman and a defender. Ideally, the offensive lineman will initiate contact in the pectoral region or shoulder of the defender that is closer to the ball.
- Doubleteam block. There is also the double team block, in which two linemen engage the same defender. Here it is important to stay hip to hip with the other blocker to make sure the defender cannot slip between any gaps and get to the ball carrier or quarterback.
Fundamentals may be more important for offensive linemen than any other position on the field. Knowledge and consistent practice of these techniques can yield great results, even against superior athletes.
“Especially for the younger players out there, it’s not about how much you can lift or how fast you can run,” Ciocci said. “You can neutralize a better athlete because technique and fundamentals for linemen is the ultimate equalizer.”