It’s a known fact that many breakdowns in pass protection stem from technique rather than scheme. In his exclusive clinic report, Southwestern Oklahoma State University Offensive Line Coach Justin Iske details the 14 most common technique errors in pass protection.
By Justin Iske
Offensive Line Coach
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
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One of the favorite things for coaches to do in the off-season is to draw up new plays, especially pass routes. Whether it is through self-scouts, stealing from opponents, clinics, staff visits, and simply having more time on their hands than usual, this is the time of year that coaches have the urge to add to their playbooks. Our philosophy here at SWOSU is to keep things as simple as possible so that our players can “play fast” and not worry about memorizing too many techniques and assignments. By limiting the number of schemes we have, we are able to really work on perfecting our techniques and get really good at a few things instead of being average at a lot of things.
For that reason, we like to go back to the basics and look at what we can do to correct problem areas in our blocks. In my previous article, I discussed how we problem solve concepts in the Inside Zone. This time, we are going to dive into how we address pass protection technique errors. He sections below will cover how we address issues with stance, alignment, kick sets, post step footwork, and punches.
Common Errors in Pass Pro Stance and Alignment:
I have found over the years that over half of the technique issues that you run into can be solved, at least partially, by getting into a better stance. It is easy for a coach to get so caught up in scheme and assignments that we forget to continue to teach proper stances. While size has an effect on stance, there are a few things we teach that are non-negotiable. They are as follows:
- Stagger should be no more than toe to instep (except for tackles in obvious passing situations)
- Toes should be pointed slightly out to keep weight on the insteps
- Knees should be inside of the ankles to create power angles
- Whether in a two or three-point stance, your shoulders must be higher than your glutes with the back in an arched position (not flat). We call this loading the hips.
- Your down hand (if you have one) should barely be touching the ground, keeping almost all of your weight in your feet. Down hand should be straight down from the shoulder, not in front of the face. This will keep your shoulders square.
Here are some common stance errors and solutions:
Error #1: Using a false step or not gaining width on the first step.
Solution #1: It is important that the player put the majority of their weight opposite the foot that they are stepping with. For example, if a right tackle was going to kick set to his outside, he needs to put most of his weight on the left foot so that his right foot can gain width and depth with the first step.
Error #2: Poor pad level.
Solution #2: Many times, issues with pad level begin with the stance. If the player’s glutes are too high in the stance, the player becomes a waist bender instead of a knee bender after the snap. Simply getting the player to drop his butt down in the stance loads the leg muscles and lowers the player’s center of gravity to help them get their pads down.
Error #3: Poor alignment or spacing based on the concept.
Solution #3: As for pass protection, it is important to remember that the narrower your splits are, the closer edge rushers are to your quarterback. However, the wider your splits are, the more exposed you are to A gap pressures. We will adjust to our personnel every year. The more athletic are technique sound our guys are, the wider we make our “normal” splits.
Here at SWOSU, we want our players as far off the ball as legally possible. I tell my players if we don’t get warned about being too deep in our alignment at least once per game, then we are not doing our job! This is common for teams that run a lot of zone schemes and/or throw the ball a lot. Teams that run more gap schemes or the wing-t are more apt to crowd the ball. Other coaches will change their alignment based on the play call. Our guards set the depth and we tell our tackles to line up their inside foot on the inside foot of the guard so we don’t get a “flying V” look. It is important to note that if you are a team that uses two-point stances, you must lean forward in your stance so that your helmet breaks the center’s belt line.
Common Aiming Point Errors
It is important to teach different aiming points for your tackles and your center/guards. We teach a midline aiming point to our center and guards. A lot of coaches teach the inside number for an aiming point, but in our experience this exposes our outside shoulder too much. With our tackles we teach a slightly inside aiming point. We want our outside eye to be even with the defenders inside eye. Depending on the opponent and our skill level, we may adjust this aiming point slightly in or out.
Error #4: Being short on aiming point and exposing outside shoulder to defender.
Solution #4: One key to check is to make sure that the player has enough weight opposite the direction that he is going. This ensures that he can push off and gain width on the first two steps. It is also important to make sure that the player is being patient with the punch and don’t throw too early. He must also remember is that square shoulders are good. If the player has to reach for the defender, he will turn our shoulders, creating seams and poor angles.
Common Kick Set Footwork Errors
Anytime we have an outside shade, we will execute a kick set for width. The only time we will vertical set (short set) is if a tackle has one on and one outside and is expecting an inside move from the d-end. For tackles, the width and depth of our kick set is determined by the alignment of the defender. The wider his alignment, the more width we work for. As a rule, our tackles will not execute more than two kick steps regardless of how wide the defender is. We teach our tackles to always push for width to widen the edge.
Our guards and center are responsible for the depth of the pocket. We want to set as flat as possible so that the quarterback has the ability to step up in the pocket. It is their job to “start the fight” as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. Since our alignment is off the ball, the center must always be conscious of getting depth off the ball so that he is at the same level as the rest of the line. This is especially important when facing a team that likes to twist up front.
Error #5: Not keeping the shoulders square.
Solution #5: This problem can usually be traced to the second step. We teach our players that their steps must mirror each other in both the run game and pass protection. If the right foot moves six inches, the left foot must move six inches and vice versa. If a player’s first step gains width and depth, but the second step only gains width, the shoulders are automatically going to turn. The Line Drill / Kick Set Drill is a great option to address these issues.
Set up and coaching points for the Line Drill / Kick Set include:
- The lineman starts in a two or three-point stance with outside foot on the corner of two perpendicular lines (or rolled up towels).
- On command, he will take his first step over the line for width and depth.
- Drill can be done for one step, two steps, or through a whistle.
- Drill can be done on air or versus a defender.
What You're Missing…
Join X&O Labs' exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of Coach Iske's clinic report. Here's just a short list of what you're missing in the full-length report:
- How Coach Iske uses the Ricochet Drill to teach offensive lineman not to overset and give up the inside rush.
- How Coach Iske uses the Kick/Redirect Drill to prevent his offensive lineman from overreacting to the inside move.
- How Coach Iske uses the Down the Line Drill to help his lineman from not losing ground with the inside foot.
- How he uses the Centerline and Hand Replace Drill to develop a “one size fits all” punch approach
- What Coach Iske does with his offensive lineman to help them against particular rushes like the bull, speed and pull moves.
- Film of all of these drills
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Keeping your quarterback upright and healthy is the number one priority of any offensive line coach. The ability to recognize mistakes and more importantly, how to fix them, is the most effective way to get this done. While route schemes, protection calls, hot routes, and the QB getting the ball out on time are important, proper technique up front is the most vital element to accomplishing your goals in the passing game.
Meet Coach Iske: Justin Iske begins first year at SWOSU following four years on the staff at Fort Hays State in 2014. Iske will serve as SWOSU’s offensive line in 2015. While at FHSU, he has coached seven All-MIAA selections on the offensive line, led by two-time second team selection Hawk Rouse in 2011 and 2012 and second-team selection Mario Abundez in 2013. The Tiger offensive line helped produce an average of over 2,000 rushing and 2,000 passing yards per year in Iske's tenure. Iske came to FHSU after two seasons at Northwestern Oklahoma State University where he was the offensive coordinator, special teams coordinator and offensive line coach. His 2010 team won the conference championship and led the conference in rushing offense, sacks allowed and kickoff returns. He spent the 2008 season coaching at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He served as the Special Teams Coordinator as well as coaching the tight ends and offensive line. Fort Scott went 9-2 that season and finished the year ranked No. 6 after winning the Heart of Texas Bowl. Other coaching stops for Iske have included Arizona Western College, Southwest Minnesota State University, Northern State University and Midland Lutheran College.