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Offensive Line Roles in 2017

Analyzing the O-Line and what each position means

NCAA Football: Russell Athletic Bowl-West Virginia vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line play has changed a lot over the past few years and that’s changed some of the roles and characteristics of those players, and much of it has to do with how defenses are evolving their schemes.


In the mid 1980’s through the mid 2000’s the Left Tackle was going to be the elite pass protector on the offensive line. Think of legends like Rich Webb, Bruce Armstrong, Jim Lachey and UM great Bryant McKinnie. Defenses would often put their undersized Defensive End with pass rush speed to the QB’s blind side. In the Tight End - 21 personnel - era the LT/LG would be a pass pro combo while the RG/RT were more run blockers. Most TE’s would play lined up to the QB’s passing arm, and most QB’s are righties (a few notable exceptions like Steve Young). Formation and personnel aside, if you watch some of those old tapes the entire OL would slide to help the RT and leave the LT on an island.

Today, many schemes don’t employ a TE, and many of the defenses have to adjust accordingly. In today’s 4-2-5 based schemes, sometimes the D-Ends are a field/boundary switch, at other times it’s strong/weak (to the TE, or trips) switch, and the 3 and 1 tech’s (DT’s) will flip based on RB alignment vs 10 personnel teams.

Elite pass rusher JJ Watt is listed as a Right Defensive End but has played two times the snaps at Left Defensive End rather than right as of November of 2014 (source). Ends are now being asked to be more versatile and to keep the OL blocking scheme off balance, they line up all over the field. Half-Slide pass pro is often called to the 1-tech. Leaving the 3 and 5 in 1on1 battles called “big on big” with the Guard and Tackle to their side and the back going “little on little” to pick up a blitz away from the slide. The T, G and C will slide to the 1-tech working together like a wall to block the 1, 5, and anyone else blitzing.


The build and type of guard you get and need can vary based on the scheme you run and the schemes you see. Teams getting elite 3-techs need strong enough guards to control the 3 and not need a constant double-team. Teams that like to pin/pull, trap and pull guards need athletic guards that can run and get their hands on smaller defenders. Guards can often be weaker in pass pro because they are in the interior and not on an island with only 1on1’s.

Again, back in the 80’s and 90’s you saw more pass pro slated left guards and right guards that would be big hosses to run behind. In today’s game they’re fairly more interchangeable with half-slide protections shifting based on where the 1-tech is and with pulling C’s and G’s being popular. Also with so many zone schemes you have to be able to block a 3 but also combo and rip off to the 2nd level (Linebackers).


The center is vastly underrated and depending on the defensive scheme you’re facing could either be a large body (vs. a lot of 3-4 defenses) or a true athlete (vs. a lot of even fronts). The center in today’s schemes need to pull, as defenses will cover up your guard to keep him from pulling to keep the #’s down at the point of attack. The center also makes the line calls. He’s the brains of the run and pass schemes. Think of Maurkice Pouncey with the Steelers being a really athletic puller against the even fronts but the need for a larger stronger center against a Ted Washington or Vince Wilfork at NT lined up in a 0.

I think of the fall off on the Seahawks line when Max Unger was traded to the Saints. Think about the great Miami O-Lines as well. They had great centers, think Romberg. The Dolphins had Tim Ruddy for years who was an underrated part of their perennial playoff teams. How much better was the ‘Canes line with Gall at center instead of Linder? It’s hard to start a player as a freshman because of the need of the center (although I’m high on Corey Gaynor) to understand not only the offense but also the defense. Miami pulled it off at MLB in ‘16 but Shaq Quarterman is a once-in-a-decade Mike, and early enrolled.

Miami this spring

It’s hard to imagine Miami starting two freshman on the offensive line in 2017. On spring practice day 1 it seems as if the OL goes as follows:

LT St. Louis 6’5 305 Jr

LG Darling 6’4 300 Sr

C Gauthier 6’5 305 Jr

RG McDermott 6’7 300 Sr

RT Donaldson 6’6 350 Fr

As you can see, there’s not a ton of disparity on the OL regarding size (besides Donaldson being 50lbs heavier than everyone else). The thinking of the OT’s being taller/rangier is still there to a degree but it’s not a necessity like it was to have that LT be long armed and uber athletic. It’s a nice problem to have, but with half-slides it’s not as necessary. Another mountain of a man in Sunny Odogwu is 6’8 320 and coming off an injury but was the RT in 2016.