From a 2019 Unrivaled Article...
As another round of NFL training camps start up in preparation for the upcoming season, it is a good time to look at the key technical areas of opportunity for offensive line play. Each game, these highly skilled, unsung heroes of football will face multiple fronts and opponents; while being asked to execute numerous techniques in lock step with their four (or five) teammates. To consistently provide a winning outcome, offensive linemen must master their process regarding each aspect of their job requirement. Technical mastery encourages higher level thinking and decision making.
Footwork is king. The more demand and detail put into the execution of initial footwork, the better the outcome. I broke down multiple games from several different teams during the 2018 season and compiled them by play requirement (playside drive block, play action pass, backside cutoff, etc.). Not surprisingly, pad level and hand placement errors were highest during inline playside and backside blocking (66% and 56% pad level, respectively). When diving into the data, it is clear that losing leverage on the first step into contact creates a chain of events leading ultimately to poor pad level. I define a poor first step as losing leverage. In individual training we speak in terms of inches; for team reporting it is a universal law that stepping underneath oneself is a bad idea.
The group of tackles and guards false stepped 22% of the time on backside combo blocks, and nearly 28% on backside cutoffs. All positions lost leverage on their first step into a drive block 27% of the time. If you lose leverage on your first step, you are likely going to be short on your second step landmarks (29% on cutoffs and 21.6% on drive blocks), and not in a position to strike near foot in the ground with loaded hips and low pad level. Many lineman are talented enough to overcome these flaws, but imagine the improvement in scheme execution if we improved consistency with these small but crucial details of the position.
Winning footwork leads to low pad level and winning landmarks, which give lineman the best opportunity to gain advantage with their hands. In the passing game, particularly man passing situations, lineman often ‘swing the gate shut’ by over-stepping with their initial drag step. Against all positional rushers, this offensive group had a poor second step 16.2% of the time in man passing situations. Later in the play this will manifest through poor landmarks, wide feet into contact, or being out of control with hand placement/punch (loose, or unable to redirect). Offensive linemen understand that losing in the passing game gets your name in the paper for the wrong reasons; it is reasonable to expect these numbers to be lower than the run game. Even so, I would argue that because your initial kick step is uniform more often than not, there is little reason to have these numbers so high. (side note: I’m not sure anyone in the current game is making this error more than I did during my career – an irony not lost on me).
The lesson here follows Pareto’s 80/20 rule: make sure these key points of technique are mastered by detailing the process and acknowledging their importance during every session to improve the overall performance of your team.