With the NFL Combine starting tomorrow, the speculation about which athlete will end up on which team and why is amongst us. Many draft experts, including Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s Lead Draft Analyst, believe that the offensive line is a weak group.
This post got me started down a mental wormhole that I couldn’t get out of until I put my thoughts on paper. So here we go. Geoff Schwartz, former NFL tackle, pointed out using the graphic below that after the CBA rules changed the training camp practice allowances, effectively eliminating two-a-days from the players schedule, that highly drafted offensive linemen are not living up to their expectations. While I agree with Geoff’s assessment that repetitions are a requirement to players achieving their potential, I think there is a bigger reason that top drafted offensive linemen don’t live up to the expectations that come with being a top draft pick other hand practice time. I think teams that miss on offensive linemen are confused as to what is important in an offensive lineman. Teams get caught up in the measurables. It’s easy for scouts and GM’s to sell one another on a 40 time, a vertical jump, bench press repetitions, or arm length, and hand size.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to have to meet the baseline of size, speed, and strength. These will all be on display in abundance at the NFL Scouting Combine in the next several weeks in Indianapolis. And to be a top draft pick, you had better be well above that baseline that is the minimum acceptable for the position you are intending to play. Simply, if you are bigger, faster, and stronger than another guy playing the same position, then you have more POTENTIAL for a greater upside. That can’t be discounted. But, what does a guy need to achieve his potential? And what are teams missing?
Other than the quarterback position, offensive line is the most mentally demanding position on the football field. Lineman are in a constant state of evaluating the opponents alignments, movements, stance, looking for visual queues that are constantly changing up until the final second of the play clock. Along with this visual processing, five guys must communicate effectively with one another and with the quarterback and perhaps the tight ends and running backs. Breaking the huddle, a player hop-steps to the line-of-scrimmage, armed with a play and an audible, based on what the defense presents. The first task all offensive lineman have is remembering the play (s) called in the huddle along with the potential pitfalls of that play and the calls that may come up according to what the defense shows. I would use a mental/visual checklist with every play that was written into my notebook and studied for hours on a weekly basis that looked something like this:
- Play (I Right 50 Slant)
- Over 4-3 Front (Single to Mike)
- Over 4-3 Front (Will Walked up on LOS- Possible Weak Dog-Alert Gang)
- Under Wink Front-Sam on LOS (A to Mike)
- Under Wink Front-Tight Nose Guard (Alert Strong Dog-check to 60 Straight Boss)
That is one play, and a day one training camp install play at that, meaning it is very straight forward and should be easy to commit to memory. However, there may be as many as 25-30 run plays in a tight game plan with all of their associated checks at the line of scrimmage. There are a dozen different pass protections. There are backed-up situations, two-minute, four-minute, short-yardage, and goal-line situations. These situations are all reviewed in meetings and walk-throughs and repped in practice. And then there are the plays that need to be ad-libbed at the line, because the coaching staff didn’t necessarily account for that in their script. As you can see, there is a lot of studying and memorization that goes into playing one game of football. It can be overwhelming and perhaps debilitating for a player with a slow brain.
There are also multiple plays called at one time when breaking a huddle. That’s right. A team can call multiple plays with multiple checks at the line of scrimmage. And yeah, the player still has to get the snap count right, which can throw a wrench in everything.
Can it be done? Yes. There are successful guys all across the league who are GROWING the game as offensive line. I did say GROWING. There are offensive linemen who are evolving the game of football. But how are they doing it?
They have lots of RAM! Yeah, that kind of RAM. Their brains have a lot of Random Access Memory. I am comparing an offensive lineman’s brain to a computer. How do you buy your computer? If you’ve got the money to spend, you always opt for more RAM. A computer’s RAM is measured in both size and speed and determines it’s capabilities. Just as a player’s physical body is measured in size and speed, teams need to concern themselves more with a player’s mental size (gigabytes) and speed (megahertz). A player’s brain power will determine if he’s going to be able to build out his own personal game plan to go along with the framework of one that the coaching staff hands out at the beginning of the game week. Is he going to be able to study this game plan on his free time? Does this player have the mental capability to:
- Study his game plan book and memorize those images and his assignments with the given play
- Transfer that to the game film that he will be watching all week
- And then take those images and layer them on top of one another when breaking the huddle on game day.
That’s not an easy task. And there had better be a surplus of RAM to be able to completely switch images in his head when the defense shows something different than what was expected when the huddle broke, and the quarterback doesn’t like the play that was called. Oh… and the whole time you had better be communicating to the lineman next to you, because without being on the same page, a play is destined to fail.
It is incredibly complex and requires not only a guy who has that mental acuity to be able to handle the work load, but also a guy who is willing to study and be prepared for all of these different scenarios.
And then of course, there is the actual blocking.
If I were a team, I’d start player evaluations with the brain. Without it, all of the physically freaky gifts that an athlete has will be a waste.
To bring us back to what got me started, no matter how many repetitions a guy gets in practices (two-a-days or not), if he doesn’t have the computer to process the data, he will continue to make the same mistake repeatedly. Players with fast computers learn at a much faster rate and are able to achieve their potential.