By Steve Czekalski, Former Line Coach, West Deptford (NJ) High School
Offensive line coaches can borrow a phrase from high school English teachers as a guiding principle in the use of alliteration: “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance Pain.”
If the coach’s goal is to maximize practice time, increase performance, and avoid the withering glare of an angry head coach, following are some steps he can take to avoid “performance pain.”
Designing the Individual Practice Session
The Wing-T offensive line coach must design and implement drills that emphasize the techniques used to execute the plays slated for the practice session.
Buck Sweep and Waggle mean that Down Blocks, Sweep Pulls, Waggle Pulls, and Log Technique are logical choices. Double teams, Escape Technique, and learning how to trap are essential for the Guard Trap to go the distance.
Meaningless drills will now become meaningful to the players. Linemen will see the connection between their performance during the individual session and their execution of play in a team setting.
Don’t practice something you most likely won’t do. For instance, it makes absolutely no sense to practice speed (or jet) sweep pulls if there is no chance that the play will be run during the course of the week.
A Sample Schedule
We’ll assume that 30 minutes have been set aside for the individual position coaches to instruct their players. A coach who decides to “wing it” will find that his players will be as poorly prepared for the game as he was for practice.
The line coach should mix basic technique drills such as Shoulder Skills drills, Stances and Starts, and driving the sled with more specialized or play-specific drills such as Sweep Pulls.
A good strategy to follow is to break down the time allotted into approximately five-minute intervals and change up every few minutes.
The early preseason camp individual practice session is designed:
4:00: Stance and Starts Through Chutes.
4:03: Shoulder Skills on Heavy Bags from 3-Point Stance (On, Gap, Down).
4:10: Intro Plays of the Day: Guard Trap & Buck Sweep vs. 5-2, 4-4, and/or 4-3.
4:15: Post-Lead (Double-Team) Drill.
4:20: Tackles/Tight Ends - Escape Technique, Guards – Pull Trap Technique.
4:23: Tackles/Tight Ends – Gap/Down Technique Guards - Buck Sweep Pulls.
4:28: Run through Plays of the Day as a Unit vs. Various Fronts.
Obviously, each coach will have to consider factors such as practice schedule, number of athletes, coaches on staff, and equipment and facilities. For example, more than one coach on hand means more than one pair of eyes watching for errors and making corrections.
The ultimate goal in running the Wing-T offense is to develop a quick, rhythmic, machine-like tempo. By maintaining a fast pace and quickly switching drills, the coach adds a conditioning element and gives the players little opportunity to be bored.
Immediately Before Practice
Anticipate what equipment you need and either go out early and get it out yourself or assign your players the responsibility. Countless minutes of practice time is wasted each season with the retrieval and set up of equipment. If you have enough room, set up your drills in advance.
In addition to chutes, sleds, and heavy bags, the most vital tools of the trade for the line coach are spacing strips and cones.
1. Explain the drill and why it is important.
Drills develop and reinforce proper execution of specific techniques. Excellent technique is the foundation of all Wing-T line play. The angle blocks that are typical of the Wing-T offense are especially advantageous for the undersized linemen playing a bigger opponent. Faulty technique equals failed play.
It is imperative that coaches explain what is trying to be accomplished. Coaches are also teachers and must always explain in detail what the drill entails, how to perform the drill, and why the drill is important.
2. Coach every rep of every drill.
Players need feedback. Poor technique that goes uncorrected becomes poor habit and will lead to poor performance in the game. As a coach, it is imperative to always move around, always be active, always be encouraging, and to coach every rep of every drill.
While our focus may tend to be on our starters, we have to keep in mind that our younger players will be the starters of the future. No player should go through a practice uncoached.
The coach should also have consistency of instruction. That means that every repetition gets coached the same way every time. It requires the coach to teach something the same way, utilizing the same verbiage and coaching points with his athletes.
3. Double and triple your reps.
We’ve all been there: linemen snaking back into the distance, waiting for their turn at a drill. Repetition means that players get enough practice performing the skills and techniques required to become good linemen and function automatically with a minimum of thought. Having to think and then do requires a split-second longer than automatically doing.
That miniscule difference in time translates to missed assignments, lost opportunities, and fewer yards. The goal of constant repetition, especially with the offensive line, is to have the entire unit respond in machine-like fashion.
How do you increase the number or reps? By setting up multiple stations, depending on the number of players you have. You should have at least two and possibly as many as four. Two or three is usually ideal.
For example, if we need to practice double-teams we should have enough linemen to set up two stations about five yards apart. A coach should position himself in between the stations and in front so that he can easily switch his attention from one group to the other. He’ll give a cadence and the group on the left will go. He will then focus to the right and those players will perform the same technique.
While the one group is going, the other group should be getting in its stance, and someone should be busy getting the bag and holding it in position.
All of this eliminates the time wasted retrieving the fallen bag, putting it in position, and having players fussing over getting into their stance. While one group goes, the other group is getting ready to go. We can get a rep going every couple of seconds, thus adding a conditioning element, increasing reps, and finding the time to work on other skills.
There are two important points to keep in mind. First, always simulate the same cadence in drills as you do in a game (“Set” – “Ready Set” – “Go”). It makes no sense to use some generic command such as “Go” or “Hit”. You want that cadence ingrained in the O-lines minds, and to vary it as well so that the line gets used to going on sound, on one, and on two. That helps eliminate those aggravating off-sides penalties.
The other important point is that if there is a major problem with the execution of a technique or if a player has a question, don’t be afraid to stop and explain or “coach things up.” We always would rather do one rep right than a dozen reps wrong.
Just because practice is over doesn’t mean the coaching stops. As you walk into the locker room, make contact with as many of your players as possible.
Maybe someone had a tough practice. Pick them up. Maybe someone is feeling discouraged and wants to know what they have to do to get better. Tell them what they need to work on.
Maybe you chewed someone out. Discuss what happened in a calm tone, tell them something that they did well during practice and give them a pat on the back.
It’s your job to keep them up, to make them feel good, to leave practice wanting to come back the next day. What you are doing, in short, is setting yourself up to have a good practice the next day.
Get an Early Start:
Whether you meet as a staff on the weekend or are waiting to receive your cue from the head Coach or offensive coordinator, you know your own offense and you should have an idea of your opponent’s defensive tendencies.
Determine what plays your team will want to run. If the opponent runs a 5-2 know that Inside Trap, Down, and Buck Sweep may be big plays while Belly and Power might be preferred against a 4-3.
Of course, a lot depends on personnel match ups as well. By the end of the weekend or, at the latest, by Monday morning, know what the “plays of the week” will be.
Also study film and familiarize yourself with the opposing personnel and defensive schemes. Be aware of any stunts or shifts that may confuse your linemen and disrupt their assignments.
Armed with this information, start to think about the assignments and techniques that your linemen will need to make practice sessions crisp and to perform effectively on game day.