Controlling the Chaos: Decision Making of an Offensive Lineman

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]This article was inspired by Mark Schofield’s “Decision Making Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum, which is a must read for anyone who enjoys football and the inner-workings of the sport.

Offensive line is pretty easily the most misunderstood position in football.

More can happen in a second along the offensive line than can happen in an entire play for some positions. Positions played by the slowest players on the field have to be prepared to respond and adjust as quickly as any.

There is a saying that beauty can be found in struggle. Here’s a look into that struggle:

“Shit, 2nd and 11. Again.”

We just ran 15 Push Lead Cowboy. 15 is our basic inside zone play to the left. Push means that the player we identify as the “Mike” linebacker (we call him the “Point”) as one player farther than normal to the playside “pushing the Point forward”. This is only when the defense lines up in an Okie front, which they did halfway through the quarterback’s cadence. The Lead means that the H-Back would lead block for the quarterback on the read option, whether he kept the ball, or gave it to the tailback. Cowboy is an orbit motion from our slot receiver, giving the potential for the quarterback to pitch to a player if he keeps the ball.

I’d fallen off the combo block on the nose while working up to the backside inside linebacker on the last play. The nose tackle goes around 295, while the inside backer is about 245, and he talks endless trash throughout the game. The nose tackle was able to cross my face on the combo block once the center climbed to block the linebacker, stopping our tailback for a loss of a yard. I’ll hear about that one tomorrow.

“On the Ball, guys! Let’s go!”

We’re in our no-huddle tempo. We’re about halfway through the second quarter, but we’re trying to keep the defense a little vanilla and off-balance. We’re hoping some tempo will give us a little boost, which we need badly right now.

This is the third consecutive year we’ve played this team in a Homecoming game. They took ours last year and are hell bent to not let us take theirs.

“Guys, we’ve GOT to get these checks done quicker. I snapped that with 1 on the Play Clock”

This large defense that’s kicking our ass right now has been stemming from 4-3 to 3-4 fronts all game because their outside linebackers are big enough to also play defensive end. They roll their defensive front near the snap of the ball and it’s messed with our run combinations all day.

Our quarterback was halfway through his cadence when they switched from a 4-3 to the 3-4, which changes the rules for the offensive line combinations, and made the center stand up and adjust the assignments.

Crap, remember to look over at the sideline.

“Twenty three, twenty three!”

My offensive coordinator is screaming the number at the offense. He also has his thumb stuck out of his fist near his crotch. Ah, yellow. Yellow 23, what play is that? Ah, 66 H Drive Y.

I look up again. The wide receivers coach is holding his right arm out giving the okay signal straight out. Toledo is the formation, we’ll have three receivers to the right of the formation, no tight ends. My offensive line coach is yelling obscenities at me for missing that block on the nose tackle. My bad, coach.

66 is the protection call. The first 6 means it’s a 6 man protection: the five offensive linemen and the tailback. We’re going to the six man scheme because the last drive got our quarterback killed on third down in our 3 step five man protection scheme. The second 6 means that the quarterback’s ideal launch point will be behind the right guard and tackle.

“I’m hard over here, fellas.”

The defense lines up in an Over front, or a 4 man front with a three technique to the field side, my side. In our scheme, this means I’m 1 on 1 with this three technique. I’m on him. Use your imagination to figure out the correlation between the words “hard” and “on” and consider the context of 18-21 year old young men in a testosterone driven environment, and you can put two and two together.

Again, this guy is solely my responsibility. No matter what happens, I can not leave him, because I’m the only guy who can account for him. Two drives ago our tackle said his go to move was the swim, so I’m prepared to bury him as soon as he raises his inside arm.

“Blue 26, Blue 26, se…”

Our quarterback uses colors in his cadence pretty liberally, but the only color that matters to the offense is Orange, which if he uses orange, the number he uses behind it is the play call. Not orange, not worried about it. I’ve got more pressing concerns at the moment, anyways.

Again, as soon as the quarterback begins his cadence, the defense switches into an Okie front, or a 3-4 front seven with the outside linebacker to the field a bit detached to cover the slot. The defender lined up over me suddenly vacates, and is now outside of the right tackle.


Our center is yelling out the audible for the offensive line, and the quarterback momentarily breaks his cadence. The Point, or the “Mike”, is now the offense’s left inside linebacker. Great, he was the conference player of the week last week.

“Sally, Sally, Sally”

I’m a part of the slide, now. With the nose tackle being a zero technique over the center, I’m assuming full man on him, even though the center is also there to help.

“Sunday, guys. Sunday”

The quarterback is now changing the cadence. This front is ultra aggressive, so it’s paramount that there is variance in the cadence to give the offensive line a chance.

This is one of the toughest times for an offensive lineman, differentiating from the next sound the quarterback makes, and the next sound anyone makes to not false start.

“Watch 4, Watch 4”

Luckily, we’re all watching the ball, and don’t get a future cussing out from our offensive line coach; none of us jump.

Our center is yelling because the strong safety is rotating down, he’s coming on a blitz. Oh, number four? Isn’t that the kid who went to HS ten minutes from Carroll? Why is he playing in Illinois?

Better be ready to move here.


The ball is snapped, again, with 1 on the play clock. After the defense switched their defensive alignment, I now have to kick to the left. Gotta switch my feet. Good thing I used to play center, and got a few snaps at left guard against the scout team this week.

Not only is the strong safety blitzing off the edge, but the point linebacker is blitzing too. I’ve got to get all the way over in front of the nose tackle. He’s coming straight forward; have to get some extra depth on my third step. I have get all the way over, but I can’t give him a two way go. I have to make the picture as clear as possible for our running back.

“I can’t get backdoored”

Some of the symphony among the madness, in-play adjustments can make or break a play. This is a similar rule as I had when the defense was in a four front, but the assignment still applies. I can’t give this nose tackle, this 6’4” 295 lb nose tackle, a chance to get across my face to my right. This is my entire concern at this point, otherwise the running back’s coach is going to be down my throat for putting his guy in a difficult situation.


I’m now screaming, as I push our center over to block the blitzing linebacker, even though he can’t hear me with everything going on. The fans behind us are all ringing cowbells, and it’s tough to hear much of anything. The nose tackle is now 100% mine, and the center is now 100% responsible for the most physical linebacker in the conference, but with a 5 yard headstart. Have fun, Kevin.

We’re hot, now. They’re sending more guys to a side than we can account for. The running back is looking to the front side, but he’s not counted in the protection. Hope the quarterback saw that backside safety blitz at the last second.

“Here comes the Push-Pull”

The nose tackle is in full on bullrush mode, which in itself, I’m not as concerned about. It’s the 295 lb part with long arms. I have to commit to the bullrush, which sets you up to be put on your face.

Luckily for me, he’s just trying to push the pocket. It’s not fun, but I’ll deal with it. I hop three times, with the third time exploding my hips forward to negate his forward momentum.

“Oh, shit”

In my periphery I see our center get completely housed by the blitzing inside linebacker. The five yard head start proved to be prudent, but he tripped over the center. While it’s an awe inspiring hit for the defense, he’ll get kudos from coach later for sacrificing himself to keep the blitzer from getting home.

Good job on getting killed the good way, Kevin!

Suddenly, things quiet down a little bit.

“On the ball!”

Good thing for us, the pass was complete. Our slot receiver, a two year starter, saw the blitz and cut his route short to let the quarterback get the ball out before he gets killed. Glad he was in instead of the freshman, who hasn’t mastered hot route reads yet.

My facemask is now askew, this is the third pass rush in a row that the nose tackle’s hand has ended up in my facemask, yet no penalty. Alas, we must move on, and get up to the line of scrimmage.

It’s almost 3rd down.

Follow Owen on Twitter @RieseDraft. Check out more of his work here, such as his guide to identifying defensive fronts.

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