Speaking to offensive line experts Scott Peters and Jim McNally, I realized how important it is to use the right equipment for technique drills.
Many of us use chutes, boards and shields to teach technique. The reality is that some of those devices may actually be teaching incorrect muscle memory and undoing the technique we are teaching.
RELATED CONTENT: How USA Football’s Contact System is helping the game evolve
Let’s start with looking at an expensive piece of equipment that seems to be a staple in many programs. Most likely, your program purchased your sleds years ago, and although they're still useful tools, you might need to retrofit new techniques to maximize their value.
The main concern with most sleds is the placement of the pad. Many of the pads were designed for shoulder blocking and don't promote tight hands and elbows. Keeping elbows in and hands tight are critical to proper technique. If pads are too wide, hands and elbows can flare out.
Photo via gazette.com
Chutes were designed to promote the “low man wins” concept. They emerged in an era where the flat back stance and “fire out low” mentality dominated the thinking behind offensive line play. Unfortunately, that mentality can lead to improper technique, as defensive linemen can easily side-step or deflect the charge and still be in the gap they need to defend. In addition, “low man wins” may be an antiquated understanding of leverage.
The hips staying low — not pad level — is the critical factor in maintaining leverage. When the hips come under the torso to maintain hip leverage, the upper body (pad level) will rise slightly. This is not what the chutes train. The chutes train a lead step and forward body lean, which keep the hips behind and not in the optimal position for the leverage needed.
Photo via The Herald Bulletin
Shields often present the same problem as sleds. They're wide and they don't present the “handles” or targets needed for hand placement. If they're too wide, the don't promote elbows-in with hands tight.
RELATED CONTENT: Building an offensive line: Add offseason skill development to strength training
The remedy for making shields usable is easy: Take an old pair of shoulder pads and fit the shield with the pads. We did this in the spring and utilized the shields in all of our drills. Shields fitted with shoulder pads give the exact target and hand placement needed for all of the blocks we use.
Boards are designed to promote a wide base. In general, they work fine to do this, but as a defender is placed across, they need to be mindful of footwork to avoid tripping.
When purchasing any equipment for offensive linemen, the question you should ask is this: Why are we using this, and what do we want to teach? Equipment needs to help instill proper, effective techniques.
Keith Grabowski, USA Football's director of football operations, has nearly three decades of coaching experience at the high school and collegiate level. As host of USA Football's Coach and Coordinator podcast, he interviews the most knowledgeable head coaches, coordinators and position coaches from professional, college, and high school football. Keith and his guests discuss the philosophy, concepts, schemes, and strategies they have learned throughout their careers. Each show includes a specific idea that can be applied to help coaches at every level find the winning edge.
This is an updated version of a blog that originally published December 19, 2016.