By David Sedmak
Edina High School (MN)
Editor's Note: Coach Sedmak is presently entering his second year as Offensive Coordinator at Edina High School, a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. Prior to Edina, he was the head coach at Mason High School, and at Shaker Heights High School in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio for 13 seasons (99-40 record). Coach Sedmak has had offensive linemen earn scholarships and go onto play at Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Louisville, University of Toledo, Miami University (OH), University at Buffalo and Northeastern University, among others. Three of those went onto make NFL rosters.
As a high school football coach for over thirty years at five different public high schools in three metropolitan areas (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minneapolis), I’ve always found building a competent offensive line can be very challenging. Although more kids play high school football than any other single sport, they don’t grow up in the back yard blocking people. The fun of football to a youngster is the throwing, catching, or running with the ball. If a kid is really aggressive, he may enjoy tackling, but he’s not running around saying "I want to play offensive guard."
Additionally, if one has never actually played offensive line, he has no idea what it is like to play there. It is physically difficult, in that the lineman is himself moving and attempting to use his strength to move someone- his size or larger- on many consecutive plays. It is mentally difficult, because the lineman must know whom to block, how to block him, and on a variety of different plays with the defense rarely in the same spot two plays in a row. Most difficult is the emotional challenge – never being allowed to fulfill those desires that were most fun as a youth (playing with the ball itself) and receiving much criticism if the offense doesn’t move the ball, and receiving little recognition when the offense does move the ball well.
Quite frankly, an offensive line may face all/some of the following obstacles in one season:
- Potential lack of players with the size to be competent varsity linemen;
- Potential lack of players with the desire to be competent varsity linemen;
- Potential lack of effort by the linemen to do the work year round to increase strength, size, and quickness/agility;
- Potential myriad of other activities that can interfere with the lineman’s ability to improve physically, even if that athlete is motivated to improve;
- Potential coaches’ lack of understanding of the mind of an offensive lineman, especially if that coach never played offensive line.
- Potential coaches’ inability to properly instruct, develop, and motivate the offensive linemen.
However, success for a football team cannot exist without a good offensive line. Fortunately there are solutions to each of the obstacles- all of which I’ve listed below.
1) Potential Lack of players with the size to be competent varsity linemen:A lack of "big enough" linemen can be rectified by utilizing gap blocking schemes and by pulling and trapping. Emphasizing the quickness of the first step and building size in the weight room are obvious benefits, as well as allowing the linemen to "play fast" by limiting the analysis of blocking assignments each play. I follow the mantra -keep it simple because "cloudy minds equal slow feet."
2) Potential lack of players with the desire to be competent offensive linemen:Most kids who love football will play any position the coach requires. However, if players don’t "buy in" to playing offensive line (due to reasons such as selfishness, lack of confidence, etc) they won’t do what it takes to be competent or better. If a program has a tradition of success, or the coach has a great deal of charisma, this problem can be negated relatively easily. However, if the program is not a powerhouse, or if the coach is not naturally charismatic, a good sales job by the coach is required. The coach must determine what is prompting the lack of desire and get to the heart of the issue.
Some ideas that have worked for many over the years include:
- Creating unity within the offensive line with nicknames, slogans, group dinners and other activities;
- Providing the offensive line treatment above what the rest of the team receives such as being first in line for team meals, special seating on the sidelines and at other functions, t-shirts, etc.
- Convincing the QB and RB’s to treat the offensive line well. I once had a RB who would buy pizza for the offensive line every game he ran for 200+ yards. If the rest of the team shows respect for the offensive line, kids may more inclined to enjoy being part of it and work harder to be more proficient.
3) Potential lack of effort for linemen to commit to year-round speed and conditioning work:This is an issue with players at any position. Some kids will do whatever they’re encouraged to do by the coaches. Others will need a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Rewards for off-season progress have been used for years: Names on the wall, tee shirts for meeting certain goals can work for some kids. In the past, I have used a point system which was based largely on their off-season effort and commitment which will determine the initial August depth. Lifting "teams" competing against one another has gained popularity with coaches lately, but this is tough at the high school level because many players play winter and/or spring sports (as they should, in my opinion). Peer pressure by teammates can certainly helps convince a player to train.
4) Potential myriad of other activities that can interfere with the lineman’s ability to improve physically, even if that athlete is motivated to improve.Again, in my opinion, high school kids should get involved in many activities, whether it be multiple sports or participation in non-athletic activities. However, this can inhibit the improvement of a player, especially an offensive lineman who needs strength and quickness enhancement. The solution to this is to train the athlete to use his time well, learning to budget time and prioritize. Also, create opportunities for the athlete to lift at non-traditional hours, such as in the morning before school, during a Physical Education class or after dinner in the evening. Another good idea is to teach the athletes the old BFS dot drill, have them set up the dots at home, and do the drill daily (it only takes around a minute a day for the drill).
5) Potential coaches’ lack of understanding of the mind of an offensive lineman, especially if that coach never played offensive line.Certainly there are successful offensive line coaches at all levels of football who never played offensive line. In my experience, most of the best offensive line coaches played the position. Because the position requires more sacrifice of individual glory than any other position, yet is the target of more scrutiny, the mind of the offensive lineman can be quite different than any position. The head coach, offensive coordinator, or offensive line coach must never take the guys up front for granted. They need special attention, recognition, and encouragement. My recommendation is try to find the best possible offensive line coach who also played offensive line. The head coach and offensive coordinator must give the OL coach some input as to how the big guys will be treated and coached.
The "pass happy" spread offense has an effect on this. Offensive linemen generally prefer run blocking, as it is one of the truly "fun" aspects of offensive line play – aggressively dominating the defender. Pass protection, although essential, is not "fun" for most linemen. There is no "best" type of offense, otherwise every team in the country would be using it! However, if a team is going to pass the ball 70-80% of the time, keep in mind the need to deal with the mind of the big guy who won’t ever throw it, catch it, run it, and rarely be able to bulldoze anyone yet get berated when the QB is laying on his back after a sack.
6) Potential coaches’ inability to properly instruct, develop and motivate the offensive linemen.Motivation has been addressed already. If the offensive line coach has not played or coached the offensive line in the past, there are many resources available to learn. There many DVD’s, books, articles, and websites that are great resources for learning technique and schemes, as well as how to coach in general, and getting the most out of the players.
Offensive line is a position that requires intensity and consistency in addition to the physical attributes of strength, speed, agility, and quickness. A concept to develop intensity and consistency that has worked well over the years is to begin an individual period of practice with a progression of footwork and technique, but most importantly, these drills are done with an expected intensity and consistency each rep. If any rep is unacceptable, it is repeated, and if the effort of this period is poor, penalty running is issued the potential of starting over the entire period exists.
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Watch Coach Sedmak's 5 O-Line Drill Videos!
Join X&O Labs' exclusive membership website - Insiders - get instant access to Coach Sedmak's clinic report including explanations and video of "The Big Six" Drills. These are the same drills he worked daily to groom many future Division 1 and NFL offensive lineman. These drill videos include:
The Power step drill
Come off the Ball drill
Two steps and punch drill
Four steps and punch drill
Fit and Drive Drill
You'll even get Coach Sedmak's Point System template that he uses to evaluate his offensive linemen. Plus much, much more...
Insiders Members: Click here to login and start watching Coach Sedmak's drill videos.
Report Continued From Above...
Although creating a competent high school offensive line can be a challenge, using creativity and researching resources for ideas can overcome the challenge. Making the linemen feel important, unifying the group and motivating them well will allow any team to have a successful group of blockers up front.