Football Offensive Lineman
What is an Offensive Lineman in Football?
The offensive line in football is a group of five linemen that stand on the line of scrimmage at the start of every down. Offensive lines serve as blockers and counter the opposing team's defensive line. They also must block to open up holes for the running back to run through. The offensive line consists of the following player positions:
Offensive Lineman Responsibilities
The responsibilities of offensive linemen can be summed up in one phrase: protect the quarterback. As the play-runner and primary passer, the quarterback is the most important player on the offense and is the defense’s primary target for as long as they are in the pocket. If the offensive line fails to protect the quarterback, the offense will be unable to advance down the field, earning first downs, touchdowns, or field goals. Thus, offensive linemen, who represent the primary line of defense for the quarterback, must be skilled at blocking and holding back the defense.
Offensive Lineman Positions
As listed above, there are four major offensive lineman positions: center, left tackle, right tackle, and guard. Like tackles, guards are also sometimes separated out into left and right guards. Let’s learn a bit more about each of these positions.
Centers stand in the middle of the offensive linemen. They are responsible for snapping the ball to the quarterback or ball carrier on every play, and must read the defense to call out specific blocking plays. The center is a vitally important position, as the quality of their snap and play calling will direct the course of the play almost as much as the quarterback.
Despite never touching the ball, the left tackle is one of the most important players on the team. The left tackle stands to the left of the center and defends the quarterback's left side, which is often their blind side, as most quarterbacks throw right-handed and will thus have their back facing left. This means that the quarterback is extremely vulnerable to a tackle from behind, making the left tackle even more vital.
The right tackle has the same job as the left tackle. He stands to the right of the center, facing off against one of the two defensive ends. Just like the left tackle, he is responsible for closing gaps in order to defend the quarterback. However, as they don't cover the quarterback’s blind side, their job is slightly less important.
Left Guard/Right Guard
The guards play on the left and right of the center. These guards may not be skilled as the tackles, but they have to block the heaviest defenders: the defensive tackles. The primary responsibility of the guards is to close up the offensive line with the center, forming an impenetrable wall that the defense cannot break through to reach the quarterback.
Offensive Lineman Skills
Size and toughness are the primary attributes of a good offensive lineman, but there are several skills that truly great offensive linemen have mastered. Learning the quarterback’s cadence and getting in rhythm with the snap count is an important skill. False starts and late starts are both costly errors for an offensive lineman. Proper blocking form is also essential; offensive linemen must use all parts of their bodies effectively to block their opponents.
Offensive linemen must be highly athletic and intelligent. Even though their job seems straightforward, the best offensive linemen study hours of film preparing for each opponent. An aware and well-prepared offensive line can be the difference between sacks and touchdown passes.
Notable NFL Offensive Linemen
- Alan Faneca
- Gene Upshaw
- Will Shields
- Jim Parker
- Anthony Munoz
- Walter Jones
- Joe Thomas
- Forrest Gregg
- Willie Roaf
- Mike Webster
- John Hannah
- Mike McCormack