Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mailbag: Deciding where to play offensive linemen

Kyle Kalis could play several positions in college
 What do you look for in a tackle vs. a guard vs. a center?  Is it just height?
Well, that's pretty straight forward.  It's more than height, but that's a good place to start.

Tackles are generally the tallest players on the field.  The only Michigan tackle under 6'6" for the past several years has been the 6'5" Stephen Schilling, who started at right tackle in 2007 and 2008 before moving to left guard.  If a recruit is legitimately 6'7" or taller, I almost automatically slot him in as a right or left tackle.  Tackles need to be tall to deal with edge rushers, many of whom are long and lanky themselves.  The best way to combat long and athletic guys is to get your hands on them before they can get their hands on you.  If you look at tackles, they're generally the guys you would want on your basketball team who are a little too slow to play tight end.  They tend to have relatively skinny legs.  They also have to have the lateral quickness to stay in front of edge rushers without overextending themselves, getting off balance, and getting their feet crossed up.  I look for a little more agility in a left tackle and a little more bulk in a right tackle.

Offensive guards are the guys who look like bowling balls.  They're generally shorter and stockier than offensive tackles, with thick legs and a low base.  They're also the guys with bellies spilling over their belts.  They're generally 6'4" to 6'6".  They rarely deal with those long and lanky defensive ends on their own (unless there's a loop or stunt), but they do have to deal with massive defensive tackles (like William Campbell), some of whom are 6'5" or 6'6" as well.  Guards have to stay low enough, though, to root out the shorter defensive tackles like Mike Martin and Warren Sapp (both of whom are 6'2").  If a kid can't bend effectively and play with a low pad level, then he's essentially relegated to the tackle position . . . or the bench.  Guards don't have to move laterally in a power offense as much as in a zone blocking system, but they do have to get out and run on plays in which they have to pull.  You want a guy who can run fairly well in a straight line and who also can find a hole, cut up in the hole, and pick up a scraping linebacker.

Centers are generally the shortest offensive linemen.  They can be anywhere below 6'5", but once a kid hits 6'5" or 6'6", you have to consider moving him to guard or tackle.  Because a center has to snap the ball and immediately block a nose tackle or 1-tech defensive tackle, he needs to be quick and maintain leverage.  They also need to be good with their hands, which makes wrestling or a wrestler's mentality very helpful when it comes to playing center.  It's very difficult for a 6'3", 295 lb. center to blow a 6'5", 330 lb. nose tackle off the ball, so the most important thing is the ability to move laterally and use quickness and agility to wall off defensive linemen.  Obviously, another significant part of a center's job is to snap the ball, but most players can be taught to snap if they devote enough time to it.  The most difficult part of gauging a center's future at the position is the mental aspect.  Centers are responsible for calling out blocks and protection schemes, and as we've seen in the past few seasons with David Molk's "head bob," they're integral to keeping the defense off balance with snap counts.


  1. "I look for a little more agility in a left tackle and a little more bulk in a right tackle."
    Does this preference on tackle type flip when you have a left handed QB vs. a right handed one?

    1. Yes. A guy who would normally be a right tackle would be a left tackle and vice versa. You wouldn't make a chance for a series or a half, though, if your right-handed QB gets injured or something. It's a long-term change, so you wouldn't make the flip unless your full-time starter were going to be left-handed.