Steve Helminiak - Loras College - Offensive Tackle Pass Protection - WP

The Best Fundamental Drills To Teach Young Tackles To Protect The Edge

Moving into my 26th year coaching the Offensive Line, I have witnessed the evolution and constant changes to our great game.  Our staff is constantly tinkering and adapting to these developments.  In 2014 we implemented a Tempo Offense with a much higher emphasis on throwing the football.  The year before we took over, 2013, Loras gave up 34 Sacks on 222 Passing Attempts, or a Sack every 6.5 “Dropbacks”.  In our first season, we gave up 24 Sacks on 450 Passing Attempts, a Sack every 18.75 “Dropbacks”.  Since we have made marked improvement with our best season coming in 2017 with 10 Sacks on 387 Passing Attempts – a Sack every 38.7 “Dropbacks”.  Although the offense is drastically different than before our arrival and we get rid of the ball much quicker, it doesn’t diminish the fact our QB wasn’t hit nearly as many times, creating trust and confidence in the pocket.  Stating the obvious, a QB with his eyes downfield is much better than a QB with his eyes on the rush.

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Although the game has changed how offenses are orchestrating, fundamentals remain crucial to the success in the individual battles players face on each down, specifically Offensive Linemen.  There is nothing better than watching an Offensive Line grow, learn their trade and function as a unit.  Make no mistake, learning to play Offensive Line is much like learning a trade….there are welders, plumbers, carpenters, and O-Linemen.  Our techniques are unlike any other in sports and teaching it to a young offensive lineman can be a challenge but is extremely rewarding!  This is why the AFCA Technical Manual is crucial.  There are schemers and there are technicians, I believe in mastering technique through repetition with variety.  Different players will learn and can execute differently, so the variety allows for each player to mature.  There is no one way to coach the OL and I’ve learned and taken ideas from so many great OL coaches going back to the old Chicago Bears clinics to the COOL Clinic to the AFCA Convention, etc. and morphed them into what works for us.  I’d like to share some of those drills that we utilize to enhance our Tackle play because you never know when a young player is going to have to line up for you.  Teaching young tackles to kick-slide is a challenge and takes many reps, even if they are a well-coached kid coming into your program.  This article will emphasize the kick-slide progression using 5 easy and basic Kick and Pound drills we use to teach in our 5 and 6 man protections.

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STANCE: Starting from the ground up is a must.  The Kick-Slide has to be understood by the player with his feet first.  The player’s feet will put him in position to be successful to complete the block.  Learning to block going backwards is a difficult skill to master.  As this article is going to stress the Kick/Pound drills, I’ll only touch on our stance.

STANCE: 2 Pt. Stance – Much like our 3 pt. we are slightly wider than shoulder width, case by case based upon the player’s length and flexibility.  His screws must be in the turf, with weight on his in-steps.  I prefer toes pointed slightly outward, with his kick leg with a more pronounced “turn of the toe”. Moving up, it’s important to have his knees inside his ankles with all angles leading to the core.  Flexibility at all angles – ankles, knees, and hips.  This stance also allows our tackles to get into our run game.  Chest is up, but not straight up, head is up with clear vision to see LB and Safety movement.

DRILL 1

SET: Live feet – initially we teach a “Rocker” or “Settle” step to ensure balance in our set.  This step is with the outside foot initially, but it is fine to settle with both.  Remember this is only for initial drill purposes as sets can change based upon protection and defensive alignments.  Chest is up with our hips in.  Young guys tend to stick their butts out, reinforce hips in.  As the chest comes up, we need to put our “Hands on the Shelf”.  Hands on the shelf means out in front with a bend to the elbow, ready to strike.  As a general rule, thumbs should be at a level at the bottom of the pec, of course, body styles can vary this.  Also as a reminder to keep their hands inside, I teach them to cross their thumbs, this keeps hands tight and more importantly, thumbs up.

DRILL 2

SET – KICK DRILL: 

SET – KICK, SET – 2 KICKS, SET – 3 KICKS:  After we rep Stance and Sets, we begin working our Kick-Slides.  We are a lateral kick OL, not a vertical kick team.  The thought process is to cut them off at the pass and engage and get to the Intersect.  We still work much or most of our drill work in a Grid.  Doing work in a grid allows players immediate feedback on foot placement thus building muscle memory on where their feet are and should be, and allows me to instantly see footprints in grass and rubber tracks on turf in relationship to their box.  If we are working with a RT (see diagram), he starts with his “left foot on”, which means his left foot is on the line to his left.  He should align at the top of the box, whereas if he was in a 3pt, his hand would be on the line in front of him.

We start with SET – KICK, each tackle taking 1 kick followed by their slide step and they need to “Stick the Landing”.  Sticking the landing is stopping immediately after 1 kick and 1 slide, staying in their posture.  Knees still inside the ankles! We want to match our kick with the slide on distance – short, crisp kicks, 6-8 inches with not much air between the turf and their cleats – “Blade the Grass” working on a 45-degree lateral angle.  When they “Stick the Landing”, after 1 kick and 1 slide, you can immediately see if their steps match.  Most young guys over-slide, eliminating a solid base.  After they “Stick the Landing”, they must stay in their posture to get the feel.  Sometimes, I’ll have them immediately get back into their stance without moving their feet, again instant feedback on if their base is solid.  Have them stand up without moving their feet and they can instantly see are they right or wrong, and how it feels.  While performing the kick, we want the kick foot light, with weight on the front thigh-board, but balanced with a slight tilt to the shoulders (inside shoulder slightly lower than outside, but not extreme).  During the drill there is no defender, to start this is done on air.  The drill progresses to SET – 2 KICKS and “Stick the Landing”, then, SET – 3 KICKS and “Stick the Landing”.  During the SET – KICK DRILL, we want the shoulders as square as possible while moving on our 45, as they progress through the drill, there will be a slight shoulder turn.  Young guys are going to turn out much too quick and it must be minimized in order to prevent escorting them to the Q.  For drill purposes, going on air, there is nothing forcing them to turn – STAY SQUARE.  On defenders, we try not to turn until we lose our INTERSECT.

DRILL 3

SET – KICK / POUND:  This is actually the same as Drill 2, but it adds “Pounding the Post”.  After we complete getting to the 3rd kick in Drill 2, we begin to “Pound the Post”.  We basically re-run the previous Drill, but after each segment, we Pound the Post twice.  So – SET-KICK-2 POUNDS, SET-2 KICKS-2 POUNDS, SET-3 KICKS-2 POUNDS.  Again, this is drill work, and the goal is to get the tackle to kick, stick the landing, slight transfer of weight and now our slide step foot becomes our lead step foot or Post Foot.  The weight transfer must be slight enough to maintain balance and base and with that slight transfer, quick enough to react to take away the inside on the redirect.  The weight transfer now puts the weight on the outside thigh-board, allowing the tackle to move his post foot.

The next 2 drills are a continuation of the previous drills, but we add a defender.

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DRILL 4

KICK TO THE INTERSECT: 

Kick to the Intersect begins much like our Set-Kick Drill – the tackle aligns in the grid the exact same way, but now we add a defender, but when we first run this drill we are NOT making contact, our goal is to kick to the intersect.  The intersect can really happen in any of the first 3 kicks as a general rule.  The intersect is the relationship of the tackle’s fit on the defender.  The ideal intersect is the tackle’s shelf is between the armpit and the inside number.  Of course in crossover drills and game situations, the ideal strike point is going to vary – this is drill work designed to help young tackles learn how to put themselves in position to be successful.  The intersect puts the tackle in position to take away the inside gap while still not getting turned quickly giving the defender a short edge.  Control the inside half.  As mentioned earlier, this begins as a non-contact drill – you have to coach up the defender to make sure he understands his path and that he needs to stop once the tackle gets to the intersect.  We are working to get to the intersect, so the tackle begins to “feel” where the fit should be on the defender.  We still want to “Stick the Landing” as a carry-over from previous drills with the same coaching points pointed out above.  As the drill goes on, the alignment and charge of the defender can change with each rep, the only alignment and charge we do not utilize in this drill is the extremely wide alignment and wide rush which would put us in the position to “Run the Horn” – a separate drill.  After you have worked Strikes and Timing of the Strike, you can add that element to this drill – Kick to the Intersect and Strike.  Hands and Feet Work Together.

DRILL 5

RUN THE BOX:

In our Run the Box Drill the tackle aligns the same as he did in the previous drills.  The defender is actually the one who Runs the Box.  He aligns in one of the 2 boxes above the tackle’s box and initially his path should get the tackle to Kick to the Intersect, he then turns at the bottom of his box to force the tackle to Pound his Post.  This is a carry-over drill from Drill 3, again, the goal is to get the tackle to kick, stick the landing, slight transfer of weight and now our slide step foot becomes our lead step foot or Post Foot.  The weight transfer must be slight enough to maintain balance and base and with that slight transfer, quick enough to react to take away the inside on the redirect.  There is still an Intersect, but now the Intersect is the inside number to the midline.  I do not want them running on the redirect, Pound the Post, stay balanced with a base, again this is drill work.  Typically, they can usually pound one more time, they tend to stop too soon, thus not getting to the Intersect.  After you have worked Strikes and Timing of the Strike, you can add that element to this drill – Pound to the Intersect and Strike.  Hands and Feet Work Together.

Conclusion:

These are easy drills that you can get a ton of reps in a short period of time.  This can be early in camp drills, part of your EDD’s, or great refresher drills.  Whenever possible, I try to use these as Carry Over Drills – Indy to Crossover.  Just as I want them to get immediate feedback in the drill itself, if I can carry over immediately to a crossover drill, it allows the player to get instant feedback and “feel” of the technique against a defender.  Mastering the Kick/Pound takes many reps and there are so many additional drills that you can add in providing variety and reps with different emphasis in each drill while still reinforcing the Kick/Pound.   Set-Strike-Pause/Set-Strike-Pause-Kick/Pound, Locked-Up Kicks/Pound, Strike-Show-Reset-Strike, No Hands, Run The Horn/Settle are all varieties we utilize. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at any time – steven.helminiak@loras.edu.

 

Steve Helminiak enters his 25th year as a football coach and his fifth as the head coach at Loras College, Helminiak starting his coaching career as a student assistant, working his way up to become the offensive line coach and eventually the offensive coordinator. In 2006, Helminiak became the head coach of Southern Oregon University, a position he held for 5 seasons. In 2011, Helminiak returned to his alma mater as the offensive line coach. In 2013, Helminiak was named the 27th Head Football Coach in Loras College football history.


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