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Offensive Line Technique 101, Part 2: Hand Placement

Let’s learn a thing or two about one of the most unappreciated positions in football.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins fans know pain and suffering when it comes to offensive line play. Resources have been spent innumerably, whether draft or free agency, and the end results have misrepresented the investments made.

Long story short, let’s think of the OL through a new prism and find a positive connotation that can trump the nightmares you have of Dallas Thomas — I know you still have them. It’s OK to cry.

Check out the 1st installment of the series about stance and leverage right here.

I’m excited to bring on fellow Phinsider sdphinsfan, who played offensive line in his playing days. I appreciate him collaborating with me on this.

Two big picture things to remember about hand placement from sdphinsfan:

  • It’s a way bigger deal for DL vs. OL
  • It’s totally different in run blocking vs. pass blocking

Again, I’ve consulted with a former college football center on OL technique (in addition to sdphinsfan) — this information is a result of the things I’ve learned in those conversations.

The number #1 rule of thumb of hand placement is to keep your thumbs up. Your target area is the numbers — you’ll play with different types of leverage whether it’s a run or pass play, but your hands are always targeting the numbers.

The defender’s face serving as one point of a triangle, imagine your hands where they’re going on the defender’s body as two more points forming the base of the triangle. It is this triangle zone where you’re using your hands to maneuver defenders. “Punch and replace”: it’s a constant fight for inside control.

(*Little known fact —There’s a “sweet spot” in the DL’s shoulder pads: where the DL’s arms come out. According to D-Rock, it’s “super easy” when you get in this position — the goal is to get the thumbs near where the shoulder pads are tied together and the remaining four fingers around the side into the crevice near the armpit. If you’re able to do this, you can use the DL’s shoulder pads like a steering wheel. Sdphinsfan agrees: “You own him.”)

Hand Placement on Passing Plays

Watch Ja’Wuan James. Perfect example of “punch and replace”: punches thumbs up, quickly resets, ready to punch again.

Pass protection is more about footwork than it is hand placement. Think of a boxer’s jab as being the best prescription for pass protection — an offensive lineman just uses both hands to jab. Your “punch” is going to keep the defender’s distance away long enough for your quarterback to get rid of the ball.

Tips from sdphinsfan:

In regards to pass blocking or blocking in space, we were taught that nothing good comes from using or relying on your hands. Here’s why...

1. When you use your hands, the natural tendency is to grab. Grabbing leads to holding (bad) or reaching which looks like holding (bad).

2. Using your hands brings more of your upper body into it, and thus less of your lower body. This is exactly what the defensive guy wants. This has negative affect on your base and your balance. Keep in mind, when you are pass blocking, you are doing this in space so your ability to move your feet and maintain your balance is at premium.

3. Using your hands gives a DL one more thing to use against you. He’s looking to grab anything for leverage and hands/arms give them something.

Hand Placement on Running Plays

Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore are the key blocks on this play. Sitton gets into a “steering wheel” situation with his guy and completely washes him out from the B gap. Kilgore keeps his hands inside, and the way he’s able to completely rip the 1-technique back inside, my guess is he caught the sweet spot in the shoulder pads, too.

At any rate, you’re still targeting the numbers with the hands in run blocking, but run blocking requires more steering, so by nature, it requires more hands. The main rule is to keep your hands inside without fully extending the arms. This serves two purposes: you have more driving leverage, and you’re working to actively avoid anything that looks like holding.

Tips from sdphinsfan:

Arms are bent, always kept inside.

In run blocking, the last thing you want between you and DL is space. That means you aren’t moving your feet and it looks like holding.

More Nuances from D-Rock

Me: “What about instances where an OL isn’t using their hands at all, say like a pulling guard that dives at someone. What’s the idea there?”

D-Rock: “You’re supposed to put your shoulder through the defender’s thigh pad when you cut but that’s usually when you get a lineman on a WILL who isn’t in the hole and is more athletic. You might see something like this on a screen play, too. As the lineman, you’re probably not going to get your hands on him, so basically you just need to buy your running back a few seconds and prevent the OLB from making the play.”

Me: “Any special hand techniques for twists/stunts?”

D-Rock: “There are techniques you use to essentially pass a player off to/from another OL. We bumped shoulders and the verbiage was “loop.” So if I’m the right guard and I’m bumping the RT shoulder’s and yelling “loop! loop!” that signals to the RT to take the crashing DT, and the right guard’s job is to slide back to get the stunting DE. If the DL is slanting away from you, you can usually just “wash” him (pushing in the direction he’s already going). If he’s slanting in your face, then it’s tougher. You’re probably gonna have a hand on the shoulder pad and one on the chest and hope that you have leverage, or can at least seal him off.”

Footwork will be the next installment in the Offensive Line technique series, and I’ll resume after I return from the NFL Combine. Let me know what you think so far down in the Comments Section!