Thoughts on Choosing Youth Football Offensive Lineman

Big Center

A reader posted a comment a few weeks back asking; “What’s the best way to devise an o-line depth chart? How do you decide who plays guard or tackle?” These are two great questions and there are many strategies to develop an offensive line. Let me offer my thoughts which I am sure there will be much debate.

When I coach youth football players from 2nd grade to 6th grade, I prefer to protect the Center – Quarterback exchange as much as possible; Guard, Center, Guard. By protecting the middle we can snap the ball and the QB can make the necessary hand offs in the backfield. Your number one priority on offense is to get the snap to the QB and this is tough when your opponent knows you have less than effective guards and center. Another advantage of a strong middle offensive line is the wedge play in youth football.

Many seasons I have a play side line (strong) and a backside line (weak) so my strongest G, T and E will move to play side for better blocking. I also overload the O-line with an extra Power Tackle since pulling a backside guard seldom achieves the same success as an overloaded offensive line in my experience coaching youth offensive lineman.

Something that I learned late was that you should expect your offensive lineman to learn advanced blocking calls just like your running backs must learn running lanes, holes, and pass routes. Lineman can handle the challenges of advanced blocking techniques if you expect them to do so. Lombardi said football is blocking and tackling, so don’t forget to spend a majority of your time teaching your players how to block during your offensive time period. I know working with the running backs is very popular and glamorous but championships are won in the trenches.

And finally before moving to the individual offensive lineman position specifics, do not forget to involve your running backs into your blocking schemes. Many coaches forget to teach their running backs who to block and any adjustments for shifts or blitzes. You can’t block all 11 defenders with just your offensive lineman. Your main blocking back usually your Full Back should be able to block LBs and Defensive Ends in the open field. Make sure you teach open field blocking and how to push a pile to your running backs.

The Center

The Center is your most important offensive lineman. Every offensive play starts with your Center. Your Center must be smart, good hearing, understands ball protection, good hands, quick, and must be able to snap the football. Centers come in all sizes but I prefer big Centers so their size makes it difficult for the defense to see my smaller QB and harder to penetrate in the “A” gaps. I’ve had small Centers a few seasons and this is ok if your O-Guards are bigger and can protect the Center / “A” gaps. Lastly, your Center must be smart, know how to snap the ball and mistake free.

Offensive Guards

Since I prefer big Centers, I like my offensive guards to be medium size and very quick footed with good hand speed. Usually in youth football the “A” gaps are filled with MPP defensive players so a good Center can handle them and let the offensive guards pull, double team with the OT or track to the LBs. The OGs also must help protect the Center on mid line stunts and blitzes. We have a blocking call for “A” Gap LB blitzes to protect the middle. My play side guard will usually be one of my top blockers on the team and my weak side guard will be an expert at crab blocking (fill block) or quick enough to pull / track a play side LB / SS. As a general rule of thumb, slow FBs make great offensive guards.

Offensive Tackles

Your play side or strong side offensive tackle is usually one of your biggest lineman and maybe your best blocker, especially power drive blocking. Your offensive tackle must be able to move one or two big defensive players out of the hole with support from your TE or OG. The OT must be good at double team blocks and holding their ground when they are over powered by the defense. Your strong side OT must also be quick enough to deal with a stunting DE or OLB. I will give up some size for quickness for my play side OT. Your backside OT must be good size and able to fill block if you are pulling a OG.

Tight Ends

The TE in youth football is another position that is suited well for slow FBs or quick OTs with good hands. If you are mainly a running team, you may want to consider your play side TE another O-Tackle and not worry about catching passes. Last season, we played a weight limited lineman only player at our play side blocking TE because he was also as fast and quick footed as a FB. He was able to handle the DEs/ OLBs without many issues which allowed us to block other players with our FB. If we threw the ball, we would throw to a slot or wing lined up next to him or threw to our backside TE. At the backside TE, I prefer a tall medium sized player that is a decent blocker with good speed but has great hands for the TE quick pass play. I prefer tall TEs because QBs can find them easier over the middle on pass plays. The TEs don’t have to be fast but quick off the line.

When choosing youth football lineman, remember weight should not be your biggest factor determining offensive lineman. Look for quick feet and hands.  Our best blocker last season was our 85 pound half back / quarterback. He could easily block much slower 130 pound lineman without much trouble. We actually made up several plays called “playerX chow” so this particular HB moved to the OL so he could chow the opposing defensive player and our running backs ran over his block. Most of the time, a smaller but quicker OL will outperform a slower oversized OL. If you are drafting an offensive line, try to draft big FBs. These versatile players in youth football are diamonds.

How do you choose lineman? I would love to know your thoughts. Post a comment.

Cheers,
Coach Parker
Keller, TX / DFW / Fort Worth, Texas
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3 Comments

Filed under Blocking, Offense, Youth Coaching

3 responses to “Thoughts on Choosing Youth Football Offensive Lineman

  1. Bluefields

    I love that line “Football is won in the trenches.” It’s absolutely true, but at the same time, you’re advocating for a run heavy, old-school football style Would the OL be configured differently if the team was playing a quick passing style attack? Here in California, heavy passing is far more popular than a grind-it-out attack, and I was wondering if you might use more agile and athletic blockers instead to counter the pass rush. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    • Even at the National level, I don’t think you see many youth football teams that can effectively pass from 2nd to 5th grade. Maybe some 6th grade teams or a few older 4th / 5th grade Select teams. So I would still use my recommendatons above for the majority of offensive line choices. For a passing team, I probably would change my TE requirements a little bit and make sure my Center can snap shotgun.

  2. Ron

    I will have to disagree with you on this issue. However, there isn’t a correct answer. I will first tell you what we did when we ran the split back veer and what we do now running the single wing. After doing several blocking drills on the 3 days of non equipment practices, we would grade all potential line men. We would put the best line man at right tackle and the second best and left tackle. In order to block the defense best players, linebackers, we needed our tackles to learn to veer block these LB’s. Then our 3rd best was our center. Yes the center can’t be too weak, since he has to handle a NT in a 5-3, which is still the number one youth defense that we see in central jersey. But he usually always got help from the PSG. Finally, fourth was our right guard and then our left guard. Although, we sometimes had problems with our guards blocking the MLB on the osv VS the 5-3. Our depth chart would follow the same suit. If the RT got injured, then the LT tackle would move over to RT. And the our center would move to LT. Our RG would move to center and our LG would move to RG. Finally, the next best lineman off the bench would play LG. I know this sounds very complicated and time consuming because the linemen had to learn to play different positions, but we only had 4 running schemes, 5 running plays, and 1 play action blocking scheme. Now in our single wing offense our best lineman is our long guard( right guard for most) then our outside tackle( power tackle), 3rd short guard( left guard), 4th our long snapper( center) and finally our inside tackle. Let me back track a little. I should have told you our total order of selection for the our single wing for you to get a clear understanding of why our linemen are chosen in that order. Blocking back is 1st. Looking for the best blocker that can carry the ball and can catch. Wing back 2nd. Looking for the fastest runner that can carry the ball but must be able to block LB’s and can catch. 3rd or 4th does not really matter. The tail back has to be able to run and throw a little, but he does not block often. The full back has to be able to run and block but he never catches a pass. The long end( right end) is 5th and the short end is 6th. They both must be able to block well and catch. However, we would often put MMP at short end and run to the long side. Sometimes we put MMP at short end and short guard and run to the long side. Finally, we put MMP at inside tackle and run to the short side. Our linemen is chosen after our skilled position players. If you put too many weak players to one side, a competent DC will know that you will only run away from that side. Except when we run wedge. We run wedge with MMP and often still move the ball. Our long snapper is usually medium to tall, but he does not have to be very good. The key assignment is that he can snap a low ball to the correct running back. His block is 2nd. He is surrounded by the best line man and the 3rd best line man. And our worst starting line man, the inside tackle, is surrounded by our best lineman, the LG, and the OT our 2nd best lineman. The single wing is the easiest youth offense that i have ever coached and i started coaching youth football in 1992. There is a long list of why this offense is simple to run at the youth level, but one thing i really like is that i can hide my MMP on the line and still move the ball. In the veer we had to hide MMP at SE, FL, and on def, A gap players.

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