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How to improve your football team’s blocking

Posted by John T. Reed on

Blocking is key to offensive success in football. On a typical running play it is what nine or ten of the offensive players are supposed to be doing. (After a handoff, the QB should be pretending he still has the ball to decoy some defenders.) How do you expect to succeed if some of your nine or ten blockers are not doing their jobs?

Everyone is a blocker

Who is in charge of your team’s blocking? Most youth or freshman or JV coaches say the line coach is in charge of that. My ass!

Receivers and running backs also need to block and if the only coach teaching blocking on the team is the line coach, gook luck playing five-man football offense against an eleven-man defense.

The least experienced coach?

And what about the quality of the line coach? In youth football, it is generally given to the most junior or most inexperienced coach. A team that assigns an NFL Hall of Fame coach to coach the prima donna ball handlers will lose all its games if it assigns a beginner to handle the blocking on that team. Better you should do the EXACT OPPOSITE.

You need your best ball carriers and passers to play those skill positions. But ball carriers do not need much coaching on how to run with the ball other than how to receive the handoff and prevent fumbles. They are natural athletes.

Whom to block is the key issue

Ball carriers DO need to learn how to block, and be motivated to block. But most of all with ALL blockers is that they must know WHOM to block.

Suppose I came to one of your practices and asked you to run your main offensive play. I expect your blockers would do nothing that made sense. They would just generally do something designed to make it look like they were blocking someone.

So I get them to get back to their pre-play alignment and tell them this time I want no one to move except the blockers and that they are to simply go to the defender they are supposed to block and freeze and stay frozen until I tell them to recover.

Two or three unblocked defenders

There will probably be two or three unblocked defenders—a disaster in game. I will ask the players, “Who’s supposed to be blocking this defender?” They will shrug. That is an uncoached team and one that is doomed to failure.

Coach never thought about it

I will then ask the coach the same question. He will probably not know, he never thought about it, and will try to figure it out in a second or two. I will probably not like the answer he gives pointing out that player has a terrible angle or that he is too far away. Most likely, one of the blockers who actually blocked a defender will have blocked the wrong one.

I will ask you where it is written down who is supposed to block whom on this play against this defense and the coach will probably admit it’s not.

An absence of coaching

This is not bad coaching. It is a total absence of coaching.

You must scout

First, you must have a scout defense opposing your offense in practice. How are they going to learn whom to block if they have no one to block when you practice the play? There must always be a defense in front of your offense when you practice your plays. I guarantee there WILL be a defense there on every play in the games.

Align in opponent’s defense

Furthermore, your scout defense must align like the defense of your upcoming opponent in order for the practice to be useful. That is why they are called the SCOUT defense. They use the scouting report as their defensive play book. The scout report is your re-creation of the upcoming opponent’s defensive play book. And your scouting of the upcoming opponent must identify exactly where each defender aligns in each of the opponent’s defenses.

If you are thinking we do not scout, start. You simply cannot coach a football team without scouting. When I was a low-level assistant, we practiced our offense against our defense.

Practicing against the only defense that you will never face

Say what!? That is the only defense we will NEVER face this season. What in the name of God good is that?

Generic defense?

Some teams have their “scout” defense align in some sort of a generic defense—typically the mythical 5-4-2. But again, almost all youth teams have more than one defense even if the “5-4-2” is one of them. (There are a million books on a million football defenses but none on the 5-4-2. It is an invention of youth coaches based on a vague notion that the 5-4-2 must be a sort of a basic defense. It is not.)

Where do the defenders align?

And pray tell, exactly where does the nose align against a pro right offensive formation? The 5 in 5-4-2 suggests there is a defender on the center nose to nose or nose to one of the center’s shoulders or aligned in on of the two center-guard gaps.

Which is it? You have to know in order to know how to block each different play you have. Indeed, you need to know where EVERY player on the defense aligns in each of that team’s defenses so you can design the blocking for each of your plays against each of the upcoming opponent’s defenses.

Does your offensive playbook have not defenses in the diagrams?

What does your playbook look like regarding blocking? I have seen a zillion playbooks of youth teams and some of freshman and JV teams. Guess what they do not have? A defense. They just show the O line, the QB and eligible receivers, and the path each of the potential ball handlers. They show no blocking assignments at all. The defense side of the diagram is blank—no defenders or indication as to which offensive player blocks each defender.

And you wonder why your blocking sucks?

Gotta know the rules and safe techniques

Your blockers must know how to block in terms of not violating the rules and not injuring EITHER themselves or their opponent. You as a coach are responsible for the health and safety of BOTH your own players and those of your opponent.

But for getting the job done, blocking technique is far less important than knowing WHOM you are supposed to block.

Whom to block is paramount

Whom to block is far more important than how to block. (I’m talking about blocking technique here. They do have to know how to block safely and legally.) I once was on a youth team where the offensive coordinator had been a Division I-A running back. He was the offensive coordinator on the youth team.

Which guy to block is more important that which technique to use to block.

More hitting sleds?

He correctly noticed that our blocking was worthless. But his solution was to dramatically increase the amount of time the team said hitting blocking sleds and dummies and pads.

Waste of time.

Teach responsibility

I teach blocking as a responsibility as in, “Your job, Jeff, is to make sure your defender does not make the tackle. I don’t care how you do it or how hard you hit or any of that as long as your block is legal and safe and your guy does not make the tackle. Got it?”

“If your guy does make the tackle, you are in trouble. If it happens too often, you’ll be fired and your position will be given to a teammate who does stop that guy. Do your job or you will lose your job.”

Here is what your blocking practices should look like

Here is what my practices look like in terms of blocking. There is a scout defense. It is run by a coach who has 8 1/2-x-11-inch white cards with the opponent’s defenses as we expect them to align against our offensive formations. There would typically be three opponent defenses. Call them A, B, and C.

The offensive coordinator has a practice script which shows each of your plays against each of the opponent’s defenses. So he yells to the scout defensive coordinator “Gimme A.”

He then calls the offensive formation and play. Maybe “twins left play one.”

The offensive aligns in their spots, but everyone is standing, not in a three-point stance. There is a ball on the ground, but no one touches it. The OC yells, “Fit and freeze, play one, Go!”

Each offensive player then goes to the defender he is supposed to block and puts the correct shoulder against the defender and freezes in place. The defenders do not move unless they are to be trapped in which case we have them penetrate across the LOS.

After the offensive players all move to their blocking assignment and freeze, the coaches check to make sure they are blocking the right defender and have the correct shoulder on the defender. In the game, we block with hands, not shoulders, but we need to get the center of mass of our bodies between the defender and the path of our ball carrier. Thus the shoulder placement.

An unblocked defender

Typically, on the first walk-through, one or two defenders are left unblocked. We coaches immediately descend on that spot. “Who’s got this defender?” 

All of our players wear a wrist coach that is unique to their position and tells them whom to block or which pass route to run etc. on each play.

Usually, some guy did not do what his wrist coach said. he is double teaming some defender, a thing we rarely do so that should tell our blocker he is on the wrong guy. As a coach, I carry a diagram that shows essentially what all the wrist coaches tell each player to do. So I see the line on the play diagram from the defender to who is supposed to block that defender. “John, what does your wrist coach say?” John looks, turns sheepish and says, “He’s my guy, coach.” “So why are you over there? Is your wrist coach wrong?”

Correct wrist coach

Usually, it is not. When it is, I make that corrective note on my card that has all the wrist coaches and we hand out the new corrected versions to the players the following day.

Once we make sure Play 1 blocking against defense A is correct with at least one correct rep the OC yells to the scout defense coach, “Defense B.” Then we do it again, “Play 1 fit and freeze, go!” In each case, there is a pause after the phrase “Fit and freeze” so the offensive players can look at their wrist coaches as they do before every play in the game.

After the players freeze against the rearranged defense, we again make sure that deach defender is being blocked by the correct offensive player. Generally, a offensive player is wrong. He is corrected as above.

No snap, just walk to blockee

The ball is never snapped in this fit and freeze walk-through. No one moves except an occasional defender who will be trap blocked.

High-speed drill

This do we quickly cycle through the entire offense against the each enemy defense. Every week, this exercise reveals the wrist coaches have some errors.

Some plays don’t work every week

On the weekend before the week of practice, we coaches diagram each of our plays against each of the opponent’s defenses. Inevitably, some of the plays simply do not work against that particular defense—too hard to block because of a bad angle on a bad guy near the path of the ball carrier. So we take that play out of the week’s game plan.

Almost everyone’s first play: 32 dive

What is the most popular first play of the game all the way up to the high school varsity level? 32 dive right. When I coached JV defense at Miramonte, I always called our “nose gap.” That put a big nose tackle right in the path of 32-dive. I also told him the first play would probably be 32 dive.

It almost always was. He killed it. The idiot QB never audibled out of it. Stupid. 

Block the closest guy

I once asked one of my freshman who was a star O lineman on the youth team how they knew whom to block the prior year on the youth team. “They told us to block the guy closest to us.”

What!? For example, who blocks the nose in the middle of the 2 gap, the guard or the tackle? He is equidistant to each of them. On our wrist coaches, one guy would be assigned to any lineman in that gap—usually the play side O lineman. Or if it was a trap, maybe the backside guard. You can’t tell linemen to block the guy closest to them. In many cases, that would mean blocking the defender toward our ball carrier.

OIL blocking

Here’s another one I’ve heard. Youth coach says, “We use OIL blocking.”

That sounds sophisticated and footballish, doesn’t it? it is also idiotic. It means on in linebacker, that is, first if there is a defender on me, I block him. If there is not a defender on me, I block the next defensive lineman to my inside. If there is no defensive lineman on me or to my inside, I block a linebacker. 

I think that may be a good rule for the right tackle on an off-tackle play to the right side. But only for that position and only for that play. Try diagramming that blocking rule at all ten blocking positions for 31 trap or 34 lead. You will get an insane play diagram.

• Know exactly how your opponent aligns in each of its defenses

• Tell each player whom to block based on rules on their position’s wrist coach

• Check each of your plays against each of your upcoming opponent’s defenses with a walk-through

• Fix the wrist coaches each week as necessary

• Hold each player responsible for keeping his defender from making the tackle.

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