An introduction to Offensive Linemen and what they do.

By:  & 

When it comes to the Offensive Line, there are two basic components to their game. Run Blocking and Pass Protection, but there is far more to it than running plays and passing plays. In modern times, those that excel at both, tend to end up in Canton, those that specialize in one over the other, tend to bounce around from team to team when coaches get fired and a new scheme is brought in.


At first glance this image is busy. I’ll admit it, it is, which is why a key was included, and will be explained in greater depth below.  Most sections below will  have a graphic that is more specific accompanying it.


Historically Centers are the smallest of the 3  offensive line positions, but that isn’t always the case anymore. Some are just as big as a guard/tackle, but they are generally the QB of the OL. Again, they are the ones making calls in accordance with the QB and getting the other OL on the same page. Matt Paradis was very good at run blocking. For a power line he’s kind of small for a Center, which may be why he had problems with his hips. In a ZBS he shouldn’t have had to do that much, but the other OL weren’t getting it done. Anyway, in this scheme, he shouldn’t have to do as much road grating, so he should be ok. It’ll be more on his pass protection.


Guards also need long arms, but not as much because they have help from the tackle and center to fill their area/gap. The Right Guard is essential, so glad to see McCoy put Ron Leary back in that spot. He’s who watches the QB and discreetly taps the C on the leg when it’s time to snap the ball.  This is done for a couple reasons. First, this allows the Center to keep his head up. If he has to look between his legs to see the QB, he’s not paying attention to the defense, nor is he in a good position to do anything after he hikes the ball than get plowed over.  Secondly, if the C relies on hearing the quarterback in crowd noise, he’s in trouble. Thirdly, there are fake calls and hand movements, or the QB can change a play, the G is supposed to make sure bad snaps don’t happen. In a recent SB, many blame the C for the snap over the head, but I say the RG messed up. He didn’t keep his eyes on the QB. This may be why Garcia didn’t stay at his new RG spot, he had trouble with this.


Tackles are generally the biggest on the line, they are also usually the best athlete. You picture Von Miller coming off the corner, the guy has to be big enough to control him, but agile enough to get his hands on him. They have to be part road-grader but also have to be able to dance/shield  the DE/OLB to protect the QB.  Hence tackles tend to be big and tall mamajamas. They need long arms because they are responsible for the outside edge and to make sure no one busts through or around that outside edge of their wall.

As far as run blocking, they become tanks. Their mission, if the play requires a RB to run behind them, is to flat out knock guys on their butts or out of the way. There is game film of Garett Bolles knocking players a few feet back. That’s why he was drafted. Not so much to protect the QB, but to help the run game. Which, in turn, helps a quarterback.

These guys need to be smart to be good pass protectors. They need to read a defense, know who’s rushing or blitzing and know where the play is supposed to go and where their QB is. Plus, they’re supposed to maintain a certain depth. All the while keeping their hands up and inside the shoulder pads otherwise they’ll get flagged for holding. Usually.

If an Offensive Lineman has a set of stones, then he will succeed in any version of any offense.


Center is in the square in the middle of the field, flanked by two guards, who are flanked by two tackles.  They generally have a 3-foot split between them, but at times it is more spread out, others it’s a bit more compact.

Click to enlarge

These are  accented by the translucent letters with the orange border. A gaps are in between C/G, B gaps are in between G/T, C gaps are in between  T/TE. Now you will see 3  orange/colored cirlces that are a bit transparent. Those are for imaginary players that could be lined up in the spots, to showcase the full gap/hole/technique sequence (more on that below).  D gaps are in between the TE and the imaginary wings (W).  Gaps are generally a defensive term, but some coaches use gaps in an offensive playbook by calling a play C dive strong ( RB dives through the strong side C gap, in this example that would be on the right.


Theses are accented by the translucent numbers with the navy border. Most offenses have Even Numbers to the left and Odd Numbers to the right. Some go the opposite route just to make it more unique. Each hole is on the outside hip of the player it is below. 0/1 on the Center  2/3 off the appropriate guard, 4/5 off the appropriate tackle, 6/7 off the appropriate TE, and 8/9 off wide of the wing whether one is in place or not.

Back Numbering 

This is an OL piece, but it’s a perfect time to explain play calls for the running game. The tailback, deep back, lone back, is generally listed as the #2back.  So 20 series plays are him running to the various holes explained above.  You will see 6 running plays diagramed with dashes and various colors.  The fullback is generally the #3 back, so the 30 series plays are him running through the various holes.

Play Calls

They are explained in the key included in the graphic.

  • 28 Sweep — 2 back  8 hole, it’s called a Sweep
  • 20 Dive —  2 back 0 hole, it’s called a Dive
  • 24 Off-Tackle — 2 back, 4 hole it’s called Off-tackle
  • 23 Isolation FB Blocking  —  2 back 3 hole, it’s called an isolation and the FB leads the 2 back through the hole
  • 31 Dive  — 3 back 1 hole, it’s called a Dive
  • 27 Power FB Blocking  — 2 back 7 hole it’s called a Power/Lead as the FB leads the 2 back through the hole


During games you hear the QB talking, but you also hear the Center (in most cases) calling out line adjustments, and blitz pick  ups.  You’ll hear #52 is the Mike, or the opponents saying #54 is the  Mike speaking of Brandon Marshall more times than not. This simply allows the OL to know who the center of the defense is and adjust their blocking/scheme/rules accordingly. Other lineman communicate with each other. They clarify whether they are covered or uncovered,  sometimes they make a call that signifies they want help (usually from an uncovered player beside them). They have their own terminology based on what the play call is to let his neighbor know what he’s doing so the other player can adjust as well. Opening holes and protecting the QB is the name of the game when it comes to the OL.

The Center/Guard also at times have a different form of communication and it’s deals with the snap count.  The QB will at times use a silent snap count which is either a movement from his hands or lifting and planting of the leg.  A guard usually keeps an eye on this and then taps the C on the leg to let him know to snap the ball, but this creates a tell for the defense to know when the ball is coming.

Communication in between lineman is an enormous key to the success to both the running game and  the passing game.


Run Blocking is explained in greater detail here.

Pass Blocking will be explained in greater detail here.




%d bloggers like this: