I have heard it said if national defense is done right, we will never hear of it. But if they do it wrong, we all know. It is the same for these next two position groups. These men that make up the most anonymous and non-glamorous positions are called the tackles and the guards on the offensive line. When they are doing it right, then we (as casual fans) will hear accolades about the great passing ability of the quarterback and how much time he has to find an open receiver. Or we will hear about the keen ability of the running back to find those “open holes” and run up field. But if these linemen do their job incorrectly… then, we will know who they are.
First we will talk about guards. There are two guards on the line. They line up on each side of the center. One of their jobs is to keep the defense from get into the backfield. If the defense can’t get into the backfield they can’t sack the quarterback or tackle a running back for a loss of yards on the play. Their other jobs vary from play to play; if it is a passing play, they try to form a wall around the quarterback in order for him to have a few seconds of time to find an open receiver. If it is a running play, then they try to bowl over the defenders in order to open up “holes” for the running back to pop through. These men need to be large, strong and fast. Large to be able to absorb the punishment meant for the players in the backfield, strong in order to send those defenders backwards on running plays and fast to be able to adjust to the constant changes that occur in the course of the game.
Lining up next to them are the offensive tackles. When I studied the tackle positions, it seemed to me that the job description more accurately described a form of punishment. These men have to control a large amount of open field and usually defending against much leaner, faster, stronger defenders coming from anywhere in that open field. These defenders have one thing in mind; they are zeroing in on the quarterback or the running back. Tackles are usually the largest men on the offense, and yet they are required to be as fast and as strong as those they are blocking.
The tackle that lines up on the right side, or right tackle, usually has a tight end that also lines up with them. The right tackle usually has the responsibility of blocking the biggest defender, so having another comrade on the line is a bonus.
If you have ever seen The Blind Side (and if you haven’t, you need to) the character that Sandra Bullock plays gives an excellent description of the left tackle. The left tackle has a unique duty. In the NFL, there is only one starting quarterback that is left-handed (Michael Vick, and he’s injured at this time). Why is that important? When a right-handed quarterback is getting ready to throw, his back will more than likely be towards the left side, his blind side. He needs absolute trust that his left tackle will stop or delay a defensive player coming at him from that side. It is also mentioned that the left tackle is usually the second highest paid player on the team, using the beautiful analogy of the quarterback being compared to a house and the left tackle to the house insurance.
Both of these groups, the guards and the tackles, have to figure out how to stop the defense without grabbing and holding on to the player or their jersey. If they grab hold of it and are caught they are called for a holding penalty. You know, one of those times when the ref throws that pretty yellow flag? (BTW – Why is it yellow? Yellow reminds us of happy things, and I guarantee you that half of the men on the field are not experiencing happiness when a flag is thrown. I think they should change the flag to a strobing red siren. That would be more compatible with the circumstance). As I did a little more studying on these positions this week , what I have found out makes me much more compassionate to the plight of a offensive lineman when a holding penalty is called. In fact, I would like to petition the NFL to allow them whips and chairs.
These four, undistinguished, unspectacular positions hold the key to success for all offenses in the NFL. For whoever wins on the line of scrimmage will win the game. Have a great week!