If you want to, you can watch quarterbacks dropping back and letting the ball fly to receivers running like gazelles. Sure, if you’re into the pretty things, you can watch running backs break into the open field. But if you like football, real football, you like man -land, the area around the line of scrimmage where plays are either succeed or fail. We’ve got five of such plays that we’d like to highlight. We call it the dirty work and it’s beautiful.
Let’s start with two fullback leads.
Fullbacks and linebackers have been sworn enemies since the dawn of time. They’ve battled over contested territory more times than the Palestinians and Israelis. But alas, the game’s innovators have tried to scheme fullbacks out of the game. As a result, defenses have taken to eliminating linebackers from the field for an extra safety or a nickel. But on the rare occasion that an actual fullback leads into a hole against a real linebacker, it’s like two rhinos fighting over a watering hole on the Serengeti.
Here’s UTSA's rhino, Halen Steward running a lead play B.J. Daniels. Baylor’s Jordan Williams steps into to fill the hole at the point of attack. If this play is going to work, all systems must operate in unison.
UTSA brings in a double tight end set to the field side or wide side. Baylor adjusts by shifting their defense to the strength and putting five players shaded to that side. But UTSA is running a false flag operation, and they go to the short side or boundary. Numerically they have an advantage.
The center and guard run a combo block, with the guard scraping to the next level to get a piece of the Mike backer.
The tackle kicks out the defensive end.
Steward has to get a win on his lead against the linebacker.
A good linebacker, who has leverage, can fill the hole and force a back to bounce or hesitate. A good fullback will lead up and use the linebacker's movement against him, creating space inside or outside within the designated gap. But at the end of the day lead blocks are about who’s got more pop in their tart. It’s a collision that is won by leverage, leg drive, and aggression.
Here Steward absolutely stones Williams in the hole, creating just enough air for B.J. Daniels to scamper for a first down and then some.
Will Phillips and Jordan Myers vs. Hawaii
On to our second lead play.
This one comes from Rice’s trip to the Islands. Mike Bloomgren’s intellectual brutality movement is starting to gain traction. The bread and butter are these toss leads. LSU and Stanford made them famous.
Here’s a simple pull by the backside guard, he’s going to lead up through the hole and take the first off-colored jersey that shows. In this case, it’s an inside linebacker. Tight end Jordan Myers is going to hook and seal the defensive end. Some of you may be screaming that this is a hold. Fair enough, but no one called it so on the play sheet this looks like a first down run.
Fullback Will Phillips is going to lead up on the first black shirt outside the defensive end. There’s a bit of nuance to this block. Phillips can’t just run out there like an unguided missile. Phillips stalk blocks the defender, meaning he gets to the point of attack breaks down and squares up on his frame and drive him out of the hole.
Don’t sleep on guard Jack Greene’s pull on this play. It’s one thing for a big fella to get out in front like that. It’s another to have the body control get into the play gap, locate, and lock onto a target like Greene does here.
The chip block is a valuable tool to slow down a pass rusher. For Texas A&M on Saturday night, Clemson posed a particularly dangerous issue, when you’re playing against the best defensive line in college football, who do you double? How do you ensure max protection and still function in the passing game? Part of A&M’s answer was a chip block.
You ever watch a UFC fight and see a fighter deliver repetitive leg kicks to the lead shin of an opponent? It’s a subtle tactic, but it's devastating if done correctly. The opponent has to slow down and protect his shin, and that pause takes his mind of being aggressive. Have someone kick you in the shin to prove the point.
That’s what a good chip block can do. While a defensive end his engaged with a tackle, working on all those fancy pass rush moves, boom, a back comes in and delivers a shoulder. After a few of those, the defensive end, like the fighter, starts devoting attention to the tactic and away from his aggressiveness.
Here are two great chip blocks on successive plays by Trayveon Williams and Jace Sternberger. If you’re looking for an example of Jimbo Fisher’s physical rebuild of the A&M program, this is a pretty good one. Safe to say A&M wasn’t de-cleating future first-round picks on chip blocks a year ago.
Mean Green Twist
Let’s get over to the defensive side for a couple of plays, the first come from North Texas’ win over UIW.
A defensive stunt or game relies, much like an offensive blocking scheme, on a lot of pieces working in unison. Here’s a great example. UIW is facing a third and six; it’s an obvious passing down. Remember earlier how we talked about the balance of protection vs. the ability to get assets downfield? For spread teams, they often struggle with that balance. Their ace in the hole is to get the ball out quickly. If not, they don’t have enough bodies in protection to hold up.
North Texas runs a twist game with their linebackers. Brandon Garner lines up outside the tackle but twists inside will E.J. Ejiya moves inside out. But again, it’s all about moving pieces, and LaDarius Hamilton makes this play work by attacking the guard/tackle split, or area between the two.
You want to pressure an offensive line, make them react to a twist. Blocking a twist requires eye discipline, communication, quick reactions, and above everything else sound technique. If not, someone is coming free for the quarterback. In this instance, everyone comes free.
The other subtle part of this scheme is the nose slanting away from the twist and occupying the center and offside guard. Hamilton and the nose occupy four of the five offensive linemen.
This twist opens up like a can of beans. Generally speaking, in pass protection, if an offensive lineman turns his shoulders to the sideline, it’s a bad sign. It certainly is here.
Last clip, and it’s different because Ed Oliver’s different. We could put five Ed Oliver clips a week up here if we wanted to.
If you follow along with Ed on Twitter, you’ll see videos of him working with a movement guru called the Footwork King, Rischad Whitfield. If you’ve seen the videos, you might wonder what they have to do with football?
Here’s what they have to do with football. This is Ed Oliver running that same circle drill, using his hips to get into the backfield faster running a circle then most humans could do running a straight line. Also, it’s a good idea to block Ed Oliver, pro tip.