Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Flexbone- Coaching the Offensive Line

The offensive line in any offense is the most important part, and the Flexbone is of no exception.  Properly training the offensive line in the techniques needed to block defenses is paramount to any coach interested in running the Flexbone offense. 
       The flexbone offensive line is made up of five players with varying uniqueness to their positions.  The center, by far, should be the best offensive lineman of the five.  The reason for this is that the center may be called upon to block a noseguard by themselves, which is a tough task, especially with having to snap the football.  The guards are the larger, more physically imposing, and stronger of all the linemen.  The guards need to be able to move players aligned directly over them, but still be athletic enough to pull and trap or lead up on plays such as the Rocket Toss.  The offensive tackles would most likely be tight ends or H-backs in other offensive styles.  The tackles need to be athletic enough to block on the second and third levels off the offense, however they must also be decent enough of a lineman to block a defensive end or help out on a double or triple team block with the offensive guards.

The major difference in the offensive line, in say a pro-style offense versus the Flexbone is the stance.  When looking at typical offenses the offensive linemen (OL) are allowed to have their buttocks’ lower and their chests more upright as they want to read and react to a defender’s movement.  The Flexbone is not a reactive offense, yet it is a proactive offense that attacks the defense before the defense knows what has hit it.  The stance of the OL in the Flexbone is one where the buttocks is higher than the head and is more of a traditional sprinter’s stance. 
       To start, the OL should have their feet no wider than shoulder width apart.  By utilizing this framework the OL can move laterally as quickly as they can forward.  The OL wants to have at least a 60 percent to 40 percent weight ratio of weight on their down hand versus weight on their feet.  If this is a problem, the OL is recommended to utilize a four point stance (both hands on the ground instead of one).  This weight ratio, ideally, should be in the 70 percent on the down hand, and 30 percent on the balls of the OL’s feet.  The weight ratio described is one that sets the Flexbone OL apart from many other offenses, because of so much weight forward.  The idea behind this technique is again, that of a sprinter.  The OL, in the Flexbone, want to knock a hole in the defense, not react to the defense’s movement and get in their way.  The OL’s back should be flat with the buttocks rising slightly above the level of their helmet (as shown in Figure 10-1).  The down hand should be out in front of the facemask with the appropriate weight placement.  A good test is to take and slap the OL’s hand and see if he rocks forward.  If the player falls forward at a steady rate then there is plenty of weight on the down hand.  If the player does not fall forward, then the player needs to put more weight on the down hand.  If the player falls rapidly forward, then the weight needs to be adjusted back from the down hand and transferred to the balls of the feet.

Figure 10-1 (Basic stance)

In all of football there is no greater component to success than footwork.  More football players are defeated in their first step than in any other progression of their footwork.  The offensive line is no different, in that the first initial step is as critical as it is to any other position on the field. 
       The first step, or initial step, for the offensive linemen is a six-inch power step.  This step, should be in the direction of the play, and should be a step that gains ground into the defense.  The chest should not elevate on the first step, yet should stay centered over the lineman's center of gravity, or be slightly forward.  The hands should come from their normal position and move to that in a ready-to-punch motion (figure 10-2).  The head and eyes should be focused on the aiming point, depending on the type and direction of the block.  This first step, if too long in stride, will cause the offensive lineman to become off balance, and they will thereby lose power in their striking ability, or ability to adjust to the defender's movement.  If the initial step is too short, then the lineman cannot get to his aiming point before the defender has reacted, making the block that much more difficult to control.  This initial step is the most crucial part of the blocking process and must be conditioned through countless repetitions.

Figure 10-2 (Hand placement)

       The steps an offensive lineman will take will vary depending on the type of block that is being made.  For instance, a lineman on the front side of a play, executing a base block, will take a more forward and direct step attacking their landmark.  On the backside of an offensive play, if the lineman is scoop blocking, then the initial step will be much flatter, as the angle of attack by the offensive lineman is much greater when they are attempting to cut off any backside pursuit.  No matter the type of block, the initial step, cannot be too large or too small, or the block will surely fail, leading to the demise of the integrity of the play.

Types of Blocks in the Flexbone Offense
  The types of blocks in the flexbone offense vary depending on whether or not the offensive lineman is on the play side or the backside of the play.  Technique may vary, but the goal is the same for any of these types of blocks, stop the defender from gaining an advantage over the offense by stopping his initial charge and then moving him in a direction that gains the offense yardage by reestablishing the line of scrimmage.
Play Side Blocks
       Play side blocks are of the following types:
Scoop or Zone
Double/Triple Team

A base block is simply as the term implies, basic. What this means is that the offensive lineman will be attacking a defender, with either inside or outside leverage, depending on the direction of the play, and will be attempting to lock on to the defender and stay engaged in the block for the duration of the play.  The base rule for a player having to execute a base block is to check outside, on, over, inside when looking for who to block.  Once the assignment is calculated by the lineman, then they will step with the play side foot and engage the near shoulder of the defender.  This defender, may or may not be on the line of scrimmage, so it is unwise to tell players who to block, but better yet give them a hard and fast rule on where to block instead.  Base blocking is a very simple block to imitate in practice by the use of such drills as King of the Boards (figure 10-3), or the chase linebacker drill  (figure 10-4).  These drills, though basic in nature, will solidify the principle of base blocking.

Figure 10-3 (King of the boards drill)

Figure 10-4 (Linebacker chase drill)

       Veer blocking is a block that will called upon by the flexbone offensive lineman quite often, because of the direct nature of an option offense and the need to not block certain defenders.  When executing a veer block, the offensive lineman will do very similar to the technique employed by defensive linemen when they utilize the rip technique.  The offensive lineman, will step with the foot opposite of the direction play and then take an elongated second step, turning the shoulders and dipping the outside arm to the ground in an attempt to get skinny and not make contact with a defender on the line of scrimmage.  The lineman will then use the rip technique to drive their arm up through any contact that may be made by a defender aligned over them or to the outside and attempt to get the shoulders back square and replace the defender (figure 10-5).  It is of the utmost importance that the veer blocking lineman, not allow themselves to be moved or washed down the line of scrimmage when executing this technique.  This washing technique is utilized by defenders in hopes of having a linebacker or secondary player run free by utilizing a two-for-one mentality.  When the defense can play two-for-one the impact of the triple option is greatly reduced, if not negated.

Figure 10-5 (Veer block, replacing the defender)

       Loop blocking is similar to veer blocking, in that the offensive lineman will try to elude the defender aligned over them, however instead of stepping away from the direction of the play, the offensive lineman will step in the direction of the play.  The steps for the loop block are exactly the same as the veer block, except that the lineman will step with the play side foot, use the rip technique and then attempt to get the shoulders back square as they go to block a second, or third level defender (figure 10-6). 

Figure 10-6 (Loop block)

       Scoop blocking is very similar to the traditional inside zone block.  The lineman will step with the play side foot and attack their aiming point in an attempt to engage the defender and maintain the block for the duration of the play.  The lineman has a simple rule, they will block anything that crosses their path in an area that goes from their nose, to the nose of the next offensive player in the direction they are blocking (figure 10-7).  If the defender, stunts away from the offensive lineman's path, the lineman does not block this defender, yet merely gets a hand on them to allow the next offensive lineman to overtake the defender.  Scoop blocking is more common on the back side of plays, than the front side, however certain plays in the offense do require that the front side players also scoop block.

Figure 10-7 (Scoop block reads)

       The double team block is one that occurs quite often, and sometimes goes hand-in-hand with veer blocking.  Each offensive lineman will step in the direction of the defender to be blocked.  The idea here is that both offensive lineman will weld their hips together as they attack their respective aiming points, which is usually the near shoulder or near number.  As these lineman come together, they are to get hip-to-hip and work to drive this defender off of the ball and into the next level, blocking any second level defender with the defender they double teamed.  Some coaches teach this block where one player is to come off at some point and block the second level defender.  The preferred method, is to block this second level defender with the initial push of the double teamed defender.  The only time an offensive lineman will leave a double team is once the block has moved to the second level and the offensive lineman can clearly disengage the first level defender.  This is a key component to double teaming a defender, as many times when a lineman leaves the first level defender, the double team block breaks down, and the first level defender has a chance to make the play for a minimal gain.  By securing the first level defender, and altering the second level defender's path to the ball, whether blocked or not, the play now has a greater chance of gaining positive yardage, than if the double team was not allowed to fully develop.
       The triple team, is also very similar to the double team in that movement of the first level defender is paramount, however there are now three components to the block instead of two.  In a triple team block, as illustrated in figure 10-8, there is a point blocker, and two supporting blockers.  The point blocker is the blocker who has the first level defender aligned over them once the ball is snapped.  This blocker will execute a normal base block, attacking their normal aiming point as if there were no help on the play.  The support blockers will take a step with the foot closest to the defender they are to triple team, and just like with the double team, the three offensive lineman will attempt to weld their hips together.  By getting the hips together, there is little chance the defender can split the block and get any penetration.  As with the double team, the triple team block should look to block second level defenders with the body of the first level defender.  The unique point about the triple team block, is that a blocker can come off quicker to block a second level defender than if the block were a double team.  This is due to the nature of the block having an extra blocker involved and allows for the point blocker to better gain control of the defender, quicker than they would had the block been a double team.

Figure 10-8 (Triple team block)

       The fan block is a type of block that is only used on certain plays, but is best defined as a block that requires a blocker to block a defender that is one full man in the direction of the play.  The midline play is one play where this type of block is required in the flexbone offense.  On the fan block, the offensive lineman will step with the play side foot and attack the near shoulder of the defender in an attempt to wall off this defender.  The idea here is that it is okay if the defender gets up field penetration, just do not let this defender fall back in on the play (figure 10-9).

Figure 10-9 (Fan block)

       Pulling involves having a lineman remove themselves from their current position and lead a play, usually to the outside.  An example of this can be found in Chapter Seven under the play Rocket Toss.  In this play, the play side guard will pull out and around the formation to help cutoff backside pursuit.  When pulling, a lineman will open with the play side foot, pointing down the line of scrimmage, and use the back foot to push and gain ground.  The chest remains over the thigh on the first step, much as the blocker would do when executing the normal initial step.  The play side arm of the blocker should rip open quickly as the blocker throws this arm towards the play side hip, in an attempt to get the shoulders to open up and now be perpendicular to the line of scrimmage (as shown in figure 10-10).  Once the blocker has opened up and is running down the line of scrimmage, they must read where the first opening is, and look to turn up in this opening.  When they turn up, the blocker should read the defense looking inside to outside for the first opposite colored jersey to show.  When this defender shows, the blocker should attempt to step on his toes as he blocks the defender in space.  The offensive lineman does not need to make a vicious, or overpowering block here, they simply need to put their body between the defender and the ball carrier.

Figure 10-10 (Pull technique)

Backside Blocks
        Backside blocks in the flexbone offense are of the following types:
The trap block can be executed by a tackle or guard depending on how the coach wants to block this type of play.  Trap blocking involves the offensive lineman opening in the direction of the play, by turning their first step either perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, or slightly into the line of scrimmage.  The blocker then pushes off of the back foot and heads into the line of scrimmage looking to block an unblocked first level defender coming across the line of scrimmage.  The blocker should attempt to get their head on the up field shoulder of the defender as well as having their up field hand on the back or hip of the defender to prevent this defender from falling back in on the play. 
With defenders being taught the wrong-arm or spill technique, trap blocking has become increasingly more difficult.  This is where the log block comes into play.  The log block is simply where a trap blocking offensive lineman, will work for outside, instead of inside leverage on the trap defender.  What this does, is basically take the defender and use their momentum against them, and attempts to wash them down inside opening up a run lane outside of the defender’s position.  The blocker should execute the log block exactly like the trap scheme, however upon contact, the blocker should work the head and hands into an outside position on the defender, as shown in figure 10-11.  Once outside leverage has been made, the blocker will now move their feet in an attempt to wash the defender down inside and create an opening in the defense.

Figure 10-11 (Log block)

Pass Blocking
Although not a staple of the flexbone offense, the flexbone offensive lineman is not unlike any other offensive lineman in that they need to be able to protect the passer and be proficient in the various pass protection schemes within the offense.  There are three basic protections in the flexbone offense as discussed in Chapter Eight, and these are as follows:

Big on Big
Turn back

The technique utilized by the offensive lineman varies between the protections, so in this section the technique for each type of protection will be broken down.
       Good pass protection involves that a lineman does not get their head too far forward, and this must be stressed in individual pass protection drills.  The lineman, should utilize their normal stance, however they may shift a bit of their weight back on their heels if in Big on Big (BOB) protection. 
       For slide protection, the lineman is only focused on knocking the defender back off the ball in an attempt to stun the defender's rush, and to give the appearance to second and third level defenders of a running play.  The offensive lineman can maintain a normal stance, and on the snap, fire off the ball in a manner consistent with that of a run block.  The lineman should step in the direction of their respective gap with the corresponding foot, as shown in Figure 10-12.  The lineman will deliver a controlled blow to the defender and drive the defender backwards for two steps.  Any more than two steps, and the lineman could be called for an ineligible receiver downfield.  A lineman that is uncovered should also fire out the standard two steps, again to give the defense the perception of a run play.  The ball should be away by the time the defender has a chance to react to the pass, so the lineman needs little in the way of pass protection technique after the initial blow has been delivered, however it is wise to teach the players that once the second step is met, then regular pass protection techniques can take over. 

Figure 10-12 (Slide protection)

       In big on big or BOB protection, the lineman will use a slightly more passive approach to protecting the quarterback.  The lineman should put be in a more balanced stance than their normal stance, with less weight out on the down hand.  On the snap, the lineman should push off with the down hand, and pop their head and shoulders back in a rapid, single motion.  The lineman, should attempt to bull the head and neck back as far as possible so that they may still see their defender, yet keep the head out of the block.  The hands should also come up in this first step and be in a cocked, coiled, ready to strike position.  The back should be straight, and there should be no forward body lean (see figure 10-13).  Forward body lean is what gets an offensive lineman beat when protecting the quarterback.  The lineman should look as though they are sitting in a chair once they have popped out of their stance.

Figure 10-13 (Proper pass protection technique)

 The footwork for BOB protection is very simple.  The lineman should drop their outside foot, keeping the shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.   Another area lineman get beat is by turning their shoulders, allowing an easy inside move for a defender.  As the defender approaches, the lineman should strike a controlled blow to the near peck of the defender in an attempt to stymie the rush.  Once this blow is delivered the lineman must now read the rush of the defender. 
       If the defender is on a hard charge, the offensive lineman, should sink the buttocks, lock the hands on the chest pad of the defender and actually sit down in order to slow the rush.  The offensive lineman does not want to be pushed back into the quarterback, so he must slow this bull rush technique in a manner that slows the defender, yet keeps the head and shoulders out of the block.  Once this initial charge has been stopped the lineman should now be ready for the defender to make a counter move such as a rip, swim, push-pull, or spin.
       If the defender comes off the ball hard, and makes a rip move (figure 10-14), the offensive lineman should leave the near hand on the defender's near pectoral muscle, while sliding the off hand down to the defender's hip area.  Once the hands are in place, the offensive lineman should push back in the direction the defender came from with the near hand, while pushing in the opposite direction with the off-hand.  This hand placement and push technique should create quite a discomforting twisting motion of the upper body of the defender.  Once the hands are in place, the offensive lineman can now turn his shoulders in an attempt to run the defender by the quarterback.

Figure 10-14 (Rip move)

       The swim move is defeated in a similar manner to that of the rip move, in that it is done with proper hand placement.  When the offensive lineman recognizes the move, they should again, leave the near hand in its original position on the near peck of the defender.  The off-hand should now come off and attempt to grasp the forearm area of the defender.  The feet should keep shuffling in order to keep leverage on the defender, and the off-hand should continue to push the defender in an attempt to get the defender off balance. 
       The push-pull move is one of the deadliest moves a pass rushing defender can utilize because of the quickness in which the move happens.  The push-pull is a very deceptive move in that the move appears to mimic a bull rush, but once the defender has made contact and gotten a hold of the lineman the snatch the lineman in one direction or the other in an attempt to clear the blocker on their way to the quarterback.  The key to stopping the push-pull is that the offensive lineman not allow the defender to get their hands in proper position to grab the offensive lineman.  The defender is taught to get the hands inside and extend and then snatch the offensive lineman.  The push-pull move cannot be initiated if the hands of the defender never reach their mark, or the hands are removed before the defender can execute the snatch portion of the move.  The technique utilized by the offensive lineman is quite simple, if the defender does get their hands into the chest of the offensive lineman, they may use either a downward chopping motion, or an uppercut motion to free themselves from the grips of the pass rusher.  This move is down by releasing the defender and then either slapping the hands downward, or ripping the hands upward through the forearms of the defender.  Once free, the offensive lineman should reset and be ready to deliver another blow to the rusher.  A key defeat point of the push-pull move is that the blocker gets their head and shoulder too far forward and into the defender, allowing the defender to use the blocker's weight and lack of momentum against them.   For this reason, it is imperative that the pass blocker keep their head and shoulder back at all times.
       The spin move is another move utilized by pass rushing defenders, however this move is not all that hard to defeat.  The spin move is usually fairly easy to spot due to the lack of contact that a defender will make prior to executing the spin.  Once the offensive lineman feels the spin move being executed, they should push off the defender and slide the foot nearest the defender back quickly to regain leverage on the defender.  As the defender has their back turned to the blocker, the blocker can execute short choppy pops to the back and kidney area of the rusher.  The key here, is dropping and resetting on the spinner.  If the blocker does not get enough depth, then the spin will roll right off of their near arm and shoulder and the defender will now be past the blocker and on their way to a sure sack.
       When utilizing turn back protection, the technique is no different than BOB, only the initial steps are different.  The offensive lineman should take a step, similar to that of when they execute a scoop block on their first step.  Once the play side foot is in the ground, the blocker will now pivot off that play side foot, and drop the backside foot, so that now the shoulders are perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.  Once this initial footwork is complete, the blocker can execute the normal pass protection as described prior.  The key to winning with turn back protection is that the lineman must understand they cannot lose a defender to their up field shoulder.  The rule here is always make the pass defender go around the blocker and through the backfield to get to the quarterback.  The quarterback will be sprinting away from this rush, and the defender's efforts are negated (see figure 10-15).

Figure 10-15 (Turn back protection, correct and incorrect)

       In all pass protection schemes as with any scheme for that matter, footwork is essential.  When involved in pass protection the offensive lineman cannot allow their feet to ever be less than shoulder width apart.  Nor should the offensive lineman ever stop their feet when blocking a pass rushing defender.  The feet should be kept moving, and all weight should be on the heels so that the blocker's weight cannot be used against them, as when a defender executes a pass rush move, such as the push-pull. 

       This is not meant to be an end-all-be-all guide to how to block in the flexbone offense, yet more of  a starter's guide.  With the advent of vertical set pass protection and other styles of blocking techniques the sky is the limit when it comes to teaching the techniques of blocking in the flexbone offense.  The key here is proper technique that can be taught clearly to the players, and executed without fail by the players.  The offensive line is by far the most important unit on the field in any offense, and the flexbone is no different.  The head coach or offensive coordinator that does not see that the offensive line is coached properly, will surely fail at whatever offense they so choose to run.