The much anticipated look at how to scout an offensive lineman starts here.
Scouting 101: How to Scout an Offensive Lineman
Part 1 of 2
When scouting an offensive lineman, we are looking at many things at once. We must look at size, strength, hand speed, footwork, agility, hand placement, vision, reflexes and toughness. These are all things that must not only be scouted, but evaluated and compared to other players at the position. These traits all combine to make an offensive lineman a good or bad pass blocker and run blocker, which is what we are essentially looking for.
It is hard to sum up what makes a good offensive lineman, since the label consists of three positions. We will look at each position individually, and as a whole, when breaking down the many traits that make up an offensive lineman.
Strength: A good offensive lineman has to be strong enough to drive his man off the line of scrimmage and control his area in pass protection. Strength can be measured quite simply by watching a player. Does he drive his man off the ball? Does he routinely get pushed backwards by the defender?
Scouting Points: Watch the lineman’s technique here. Does he dip and drive the defender, or is he trying to just shadow block him? We want a lineman that has a mean streak and likes contact. The ideal lineman will drop his butt and hips, bend his elbows into a “V” formation and drive his man with his hands inside the chest plate of the shoulder pads. Try not to look too much into a player’s bench press numbers. Some players are just naturally stronger and better lifters. There are too many outside factors to consider as well, like arm length and form.
Tackle: Offensive tackles are usually long and lean, and because of this not as impressive when benching. The offensive tackle must have strong arms and hands, but his power still comes from his base. A tackle must be light on his feet though, so we do not want a heavy player here. Give up a little strength with a tackle if he has quick feet and hands. Tackles are not asked to simply drive block as much as interior linemen, so if you can find a tackle that excels in pass blocking but needs work in the run game, you can work with him.
Guard: The ideal guard will be naturally strong, especially through the midsection. Guards are asked to open the majority of the running lanes in the NFL, so they must be able to simply move the pile. Guards are generally thicker in their base, with shorter arms and more brute strength. A great example of this is Larry Allen. While he is still quite tall, he is very solid throughout his base and has extraordinary overall strength. Guards are not asked to do much in pass protection when compared to tackles. They also benefit from having the help of the center on most downs. Center: Centers are the weakest of the group, but strength is still key to their performance. With more 3-4 defenses taking over in the NFL, centers must be strong enough to handle their man one-on-one if needed. A good center is going to have very strong lower body lifts and be able to use that strength to gain leverage. A center is at a blocking disadvantage because his first responsibility is the snap of the football.
Hand Speed: Having quick and strong hands is essential to being a good blocker. One of the first drills we teach young linemen on the high school level is to snap their hands up from a three point stance. Having quick hands is a necessity for a skilled pass blocker. You must be able to mirror and shadow the defender, with the ability to quickly punch and slide the rusher. Having quick hands in the run game allows you to get on the defender before he is able to get “into” the lineman’s body and drive him off the ball.
Scouting Points: This attribute is pretty easy to scout, but there is quite a bit of comparison involved. A great thing to be able to do is obtain a sideline view of the offensive and defensive lines. You can then study the snap of the ball, on both rushing and passing downs, and see which lineman is getting his hands up and into the defender first. The lineman should make one, solid movement at the snap of the ball; with either his lead foot coming forward or going back, depending on the ball, and his hands coming up with his shoulders getting squared. All Positions: Every position is the same here, all linemen must have quick hands in order to hold up against skilled pass rushers and run stoppers. Being able to beat the defender of the ball is key, and much like in a fight, whomever lands the first punch generally wins.
Footwork/Agility: You routinely hear in scouting circles that offensive linemen must have the feet of a dancer to excel on the edge in the NFL. While interior offensive lineman can be protected by each other, an offensive tackle is generally on an island in pass protection and must have the agility and coordination to counter a faster pass rusher.
Scouting Points: We get to see this on almost every third-down in a game. The offensive lineman takes a quick out step and punches, while the defensive end rushes with a hard outside move. How does the lineman adjust to this? Does his inside foot (right foot for a LT, etc) stay planted, or is he nimble enough to move and slide? Can he hinge step (opening up towards the outside to wall off the pass rushing lane)?
Tackle: A well rounded offensive tackle must be able to hinge-step, slide step and double step to be an adequate pass rusher in the NFL. Part of being able to scout this is knowing the terminology. A hinge step is where the lineman (left tackle here) steps away from center and out, and then swings away from the line of scrimmage. This is called a hinge-step because the player mimics a door opening by turning himself away from the LOS. A slide step is just that, the player takes a hard step left, or right, and then slides with their inside foot to block off a rushing lane. A double step can be called many things, but we always kept this simple. The player will take one six-inch step (right/left) and then follow that with another six-inch step by the same foot. This can be done with one foot and then the back foot following.
Guard: All guards in the NFL must be able to pull, trap and fold block before entering the league. The best of the best at these blocks is an agile guard that can get to the perimeter and is quick and mobile enough to make a play on the end or linebacker he is blocking. To do this, the guard must have a quick outside step. Some OL coaches teach a cross-over step when pulling (left foot crosses behind right, then pull), while others teach a slide step. I prefer the cross-over step, as it puts the OL’s shoulders square to the target.
Center: You will not see a center pull, trap or fold block many times in a game. In fact you’ll never see one pull, but centers must be agile enough to get upfield. In some blocking schemes the center will key on a middle linebacker every play if he is uncovered on the line of scrimmage.