COACH’S CORNER: Offensive line isn’t as simple as blocking the guy in front of you

Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.

I remember hearing a story about Bishop Dwenger Defensive Coordinator Casey Kolkman receiving a phone call in 2006 and being asked by his friend on the line to “put on Channel 50.”.

Kolkman being curious switched his television over and asked his buddy on the other line “Which college is that?”

It was Warren Central’s offensive line being featured.

All top-tier programs around the country share one thing in common, excellent offensive line play!

Fans tend to blame every sack and loss of yardage on the offensive line, but the complex scheme and communication going on by the “hogs” up front is a subject we will attempt to tackle on this week’s “Coach’s Corner.”


Offensive line is arguably the toughest position to coach because of the intense attention to detail that is required to improve each individual lineman. It must be understood that an OL coach essentially coaches four positions: tackle, guard, center, and the line as a full unit.

Each individual position requires specific footwork, hand placement, agility, and quickness to succeed. Add to that the film work and preparation that goes in to learning different defensive lineman’s tendencies and you can begin to see why OL coaches are without a doubt one of the most integral part of any successful staff.

Technique also can change week to week based off of the opponent. While fundamental building blocks of good OL play stay the same, individual matchups sometimes cause a new skill to be learned on the fly during a week. An example of this would be a team that uses what we call a “wide 9” technique from their defensive ends,  where the defensive end lines up abnormally far to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.

New steps, reaches and skills are taught during the week just to learn to deal with one player in a defensive scheme. This happens weekly, all while drilling over and over the start, stance, and first steps that are the foundation of offensive line play from Day 1.


We all remember taking a foreign language in high school that we couldn’t wait until that period had come and gone that day. Football nomenclature has a tendency to make Latin look like third grade English. Offensive line communication is even more complicated than that!

Communication before the snap is so crucial to an offense’s success that I can’t begin to state its importance. Things happen “pre snap” that change the look and “rules” of what is about to happen for the offensive linemen so often that a series of code words is needed to quickly communicate to each other what is happening.

The following is a brief list of codes we used when running our offense when I was the offensive coordinator at North Side from 2010-2015. It gives you an idea of just how much goes on before the ball is snapped. DISCLAIMER: This is only a fraction of the calls we made, and while some of this language is universal to multiple offensive lines, these codes were used exclusively with our staff only, therefore not to jeopardize what any current staff or team uses…

“Uma”: Uma told the tackle and guard next to him that it’s “you and me” on the defensive linemen in front and they work to the linebacker at the next level however it happens.

“George”: Guard and center working the same concept as listed above.

“Bump”: Someone has walked off the edge of the tackle, so the tackle is telling the guard to take his man while he bumps out and blocks the defender who just walked up.

“Down down down”: When we were going to leave the defensive end to be read by our quarterback on some form of a zone read, this alerted the entire offensive line to block the first man “down” from them to the inside.

“Bob”: Let the offensive line know we had a “Back on the Backer” coming through so don’t worry about the play-side linebacker, as we had have someone for him.

“River and Lake”: A pass blocking scheme that told the center which way to help and also communicated we had a back in the backfield responsible for the opposite linebacker in case of blitz.

“Empty empty empty”: As simple as it sounds. A reminder that we have no running back on the pass play so we must “block the box,” meaning take care of the four down linemen and the first blitzing backer and that is all we can block.

“Green and gold”: Told our entire unit we were doing a rollout pass one way or the other so we all had to reach and run to the next man toward the direction our quarterback was rolling out.

“Hinge”: A call from the backside tackle confirming he got the green or gold call and letting his teammates know he will essentially “hinge” like a door and protect the quarterbacks back side as he rolls.

“Horn”: The center is letting the line know he is pulling away from where he normally blocks.


“Championships are won in the offseason” is a cliché as old as the day is long, but in 2019 it rings more true than ever. The addition of specialized year-round training has upped the ante for teams to be able to physically compete on the field. Offensive linemen tend to be weight room rats, meaning you see guys in there pumping iron nearly daily in the winter and summer.

Physically being able to push your opponent around and dominate the man in front of you is what football is at the core. It is still a game in which real estate is contested 10 yards at a time in as physical a manner as possible, no matter what changes scheme wise with time.

However, the mental side of the game as outlined above is where we have seen the biggest change in offensive line play over the last 20 or so years. In the late 1990s teams may have had two or three different blocking “schemes” that carried them through a game, and those tended to be pretty simplistic. Plays like iso, blast, and trap were simple downhill running plays where for the most part you blocked the man in front of you and drove him into the ground.

In today’s game, linemen must be as much of a film rat as they are a gym rat. Multiple defensive fronts, stunting defensive linemen, exotic blitz schemes and more contribute to the hours of film work that linemen must put in, something formerly reserved only for coaches and quarterbacks.

The “picture” (how a defense is lined up before the snap) dictates all the calls outlined above and the rules an offensive linemen must follow. But with the defensive focus now on moving players around before the snap as well, the picture the offensive lineman sees could change as late as five seconds before the quarterback calls for the ball. The ability to make a quick decision on the fly, communicate effectively, have the technique to do the correct thing and the toughness and strength to execute the block are all things that come into play each and every snap.

While certainly it is frustrating watching an offensive linemen miss a block and your favorite team’s quarterback get sacked, I hope these few minutes will help give you an appreciation and understanding for just how much goes into each and every play by the “big uglies” up front! THANK YOU OFFENSIVE LINEMEN AND OL COACHES FOR ALL YOU DO BEHIND THE SCENES!


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