Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Is Everything I Know is Wrong? Blocking Practice

My best day; my worst day.  I was playing defensive tackle.  It was cold, windy, sleety.  We were playing a better team. 

I learned about blocking by being blocked.

The guy blocking me was winning.  This was fifty years ago and I can still vividly see his wide back spreading out in front of me like the hood of my 1989 Mercury.  I can feel his shoulder in my belly driving me backwards and to my left, creating a running lane to my right.  And here came the runner using that lane to gain yards.  My worst day in a not very illustrious football career.

You'll be happy to know I did salvage something to preserve my ego.  The ball carrier held the ball around the middle.  Weird.  Nobody holds the ball like that.  So while I'm riding the blocker's shoulder, I reached over his broad back.  With my right hand I tapped the nose of the football.  Popped it out of the runner's grasp.  I grabbed it with my left hand. 

The runner kept running.  My blocker discarded me and went on to seek another target.  No one noticed the runner didn't still have the ball. 

I had a problem.  I'm a lineman.  Lineman are coached to never never never pick up a fumble and run with it.  If the ball is loose fall on it!  Now technically this was a fumble.  I had possession of the loose ball.  So I did as I had been coached to do and fell on it.  All these years later I wonder if I could have just kind of ambled to the end zone, maybe whistling Dixie in nonchalant stroll.  No no one knew I had the ball.  I might have just walked it in for a score.  That opportunity was lost when I went to the ground and protected the ball.

A little while later the whistle blew.  The play stopped. 

The official, a puzzled look on his face, said "Who has the ball?" 

I confessed.  I do. 

One of my career highlights.  One of my best days.  I won the praise and love of my coach and team.  I got to go the bench and snuggle up in one of those fur-lined rubber rain parkas, out of the sleet and wind.

Through the rest of the game that blocker owned me.  But through the rest of the game I kept reaching over his back, grabbing at the ball.  The runner didn't lose it again but fighting me for possession slowed him down, allowing my unblocked teammates to tackle him.

I watch blocking drills at the Outlaws practice.  Not very much.  It doesn't make for cool photos the way the passing game does.   There's no ball.  I'm never quite certain in the drills which player is on offense and which on defense.  And it does make a difference.  The offense wants to maintain the contact, defense wants to break free to pursue the ball. 

In the drills, one player holds a blocking pad but I can't tell if she is role playing the blocker?  or blockee? 

Sadly, the pictures aren't all that much fun.  Well, maybe if you're in the picture? 

I would never have my arms extended.  I'd be trying to
get my shoulder into the pad.  Things have changed
since I played the game.

There is a lot of arm in the way the game is played these days.  In my day the aim was to get solid contact with my shoulder and maybe upper arm as an extension. 

It is hard to tell in a photo just how much energy is being expended.  But take a look
at that blocking pad.  All scrunched up - Ski is really working it over.

Okay, starting low.  If you keep your balance and you are
lower than the opponent, you'll win.

When the opponent is taller it is easier to be lower.  Once again
the accepted technique is to extend the arms.  My out-of-date
method would be to drive my shoulder into the opponent.

There was one match-up in the drills that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Ski versus Dikibo.  I've know Ski for years and love her all-out blue-collar hard hitting approach to the game.  I used a photo of her on the cover of my book.  Dikibo I'm just beginning to know.  She seems quiet, almost bored, almost tranquil. 

The the coach says go hit that blocking pad.  And wow!  It sounds different, as in loud.  The popping of pads is like being at a pro game.  Ski is immovable.  Dikibo irresistible.  What a cool match-up.
Dikibo's arm drives through and over the top of the pad.  I think maybe the pad holder should
wear her helmet when Dikibo is the hitter.  Hard as the hit is, Ski isn't giving an inch.

The pad is supposed to protect the hittee.  I think.  But it is so floppy and there's so much
force going on it just gives up and folds.

In the Superbowl Sunday, I'm going to study line play.  They don't play the line the way we did back in the fifties.  And we don't coach Outlaws to play the way I was taught.  After the game I'll comment more on line play. 


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