Building an offensive line: A simple, objective solution for how to grade and evaluate offensive linemen

By Keith Grabowski | Posted 8/8/2016

A week into the preseason, many coaches are challenged to find and create the starting offensive line unit.

Today’s coaching climate demands complete transparency between players and coaches, including answers that are more black and white than gray. While the media has for decades talked about “quarterback controversies,” any position can turn into a controversy without an objective system for naming starters and slotting back-ups correctly.

The line is the unit that makes every offense go, and while the position might not be as glamourous others on that side of the ball, chemistry and execution are critical for everyone else on the offense to do their job.

A simple system for grading practice and games can ensure that the best five players for the job are on the field.

SEE ALSO: Read more of Keith Grabowski’s Building an Offensive Line blog series

Filming practice

What most coaches see as the biggest challenge – filming practice – is easily accomplished with today’s technology. The answer is found in just about everyone’s pocket.

With a smart phone, any offensive line coach can have practice filmed from behind the offensive line. It’s even better if a tablet is available.

Either way, handheld devices allow coaches to evaluate the offensive line play from any angle.

Recordings can be uploaded directly to Hudl to cut, splice and share. If the team doesn’t have a Hudl account, the view from the phone or tablet is enough to evaluate each practice rep.

The best view is from about five yards behind the tailback. The person recording should be sure to get a view from a few yards outside each tackle or tight end

It takes about five minutes to walk through any trainer or player to get these recordings. There really is no excuse for an offensive line coach to not film a tight angle during practice.

The next step is to create a grading system that provides instant and clear feedback needed. I use the three Fs: footwork, fit and finish.

  • Footwork. This evaluates stance and start, specifically the first three steps. Much of the execution can be accomplished with the correct initial steps. Having a good start with the correct footwork increases a lineman’s chance for success on any given play. We simply use plus and minus signs to record if the player has the correct footwork.
  • Fit. The fit is both the positioning of the hands on upper body on the defender, as well as blocking the correct defender (the blocking assignment.) If the blocker correctly uses his hands and moves his feet properly in this phase of the block he gets a “+.” Conversely, if there is an error, he will receive a “-.“ If he did not even block the correct defender, it is a minus, regardless of the technique used.
  • Finish. Finish means blocking until the whistle. We want linemen who are running their feet on contact and finishing blocks. Sometimes a lineman may climb to the second level and no defender is available for him to block. We want him to finish by finding work downfield and at the very least, be on the run to make a block when the whistle blows. We do not want any lineman standing around and watching at the whistle. Any play in which a lineman is not running his feet through a block, finding work down field or are standing around earns a minus.

Star blocks

We also use an asterisk (*) to indicate a star block. A star block fits the following criteria:

  • Pancake. Put a defender on his back.
  • Out of the picture block. Drive the defender out of the view of the camera.
  • Drive time. Any block in which the lineman drives the defender from the beginning of the play to the whistle.
  • On the ground. Any block which puts a defender to the ground.

Calculating totals

We make the lineman themselves come up with the final calculation. Most of our grading is done on a separate template called “lineman grading,” in which each position has a column. We put a series of three marks (+, -, *) on the plays. Each lineman will go through the film on their own and calculate their grade for footwork, fit and finish. This gives them some good feedback on areas they must improve as well.

The players go through and calculate their grades for each practice and we keep running totals. This allows us to know who is performing well and creates a very objective system for naming starters and slotting back-ups.

In the end, it creates a culture in which each player is responsible for his performance and allows the coach to avoid any controversy over playing time.

Keith Grabowski has been a football coach for 26 years, currently serving as an offensive assistant and technology coordinator at Oberlin College in Ohio. He previously was a head coach at the high school level for eight years and the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Baldwin Wallace University. Grabowski serves as an advisor for several sports technology companies. He is a columnist for American Football Monthly and writes his own blog at He’s the author of “101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays” and five other books available on and operates Coaches Edge Technologies. Follow him on Twitter @CoachKGrabowski.