It's the position that gets the smallest amount of notoriety even though it's the only group on the field that remain side-by-side throughout the duration of a game. Everyone loves to glorify the quarterback throwing beautiful passes, the running backs making nice cuts, and wide receivers climbing over defensive backs to make nice catches, but offensive lineman are hardly ever noticed.
Former NFL head coach and long-time offensive line coach Mike Tice had one of the best quotes ever about the position. He says that, “If the offense is a car, then the offensive line is the engine." While you may never see the engine of the car because it's always under the hood, everyone knows when there's a strong one under there because of how loud and efficient the car runs.
There's so many small details that go into the position that casual fans would never notice. Many believe that offensive line is simply just about blocking the man across from you and while that's a large part of the equation, there's so much more that goes into playing the position.
Seeing fronts, techniques/alignments, and blitzes are just a few of the many pre-snap indicators that blockers must seek before ever attempting to execute plays. The two basic types of schemes are man and zone blocking.
Man blocking is exactly what it states. Blockers are assigned exact defenders to block on certain concepts. On the flip-side, zone blocking relates to blocking a specific zone or area in order to create creases or pockets of running room.
Offensive lineman must have the wherewithal it takes in order to execute these schemes in cohesion in order to gain positive yardage. Smarts refers to deciphering these indicators and predicting what the man across from you is going to do on that given play. Being able to get a beat on what those defenders are doing is the trait of awareness or knowing what matchups are going to do based on certain pre-snap alignments.
There's nothing better than seeing an offensive lineman pull around and obliterate the man in front of him. That type of demeanor is infectious not only across the offensive front, but the entire team. Physicality is a trait that isn't coachable. It's a characteristic that's naturally instilled in a prospect or it's not. It's not something that you can help develop over time or place inside someone.
There are some offensive lineman who cherish making their matchups life a living hell for four quarters. Colts All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson is a great example of this. He treats game as if they are street brawls, but yet he comes out of them unfazed. It's because he takes pride in being the aggressor and taking the pain to defenders instead of things being vice versa. His physicality and want to to block defenders are what's helped him became one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL now only entering his second season.
Picking on offensive lineman because of their different sizes and labeling them as the least athletic players on the field is long gone and in the past. With the disparity and gap in offensive and defensive line talent only growing larger by the year, athleticism has become paramount. The days of the old school road grader who excels in short areas are now mostly a thing of the past.
In man blocking schemes, blockers are still required to show an optimal amount of athleticism especially when pulling in between the box. While there are ways to mask some deficiencies, they still have to be able to operate in certain areas.
Highly athletic offensive lineman are better fits in zone blocking schemes because it enables them to hide their lack of power or strength. Being able to move laterally is a baseline requirement in this scheme due to the side-to-side nature associated with it.