Author: Todd Bross
Originally Published: November 1, 2004
At the 2002 National Single Wing Symposium Coach John Ward, now at Union High School in North Carolina, explained, defended and demonstrated the solid (or wedge) blocking scheme during a 15-minute break between presentations. It’s easy, effective, requires little memorization, and is very easy to install. It has very few standardized rules, and an entire offense can be run from this one scheme. He has used it at the high school level with good success running power, off-tackle and a lot of full spin. Youth coaches use it as well with great results. He convinced me, and we use this scheme for our entire offense. We were able to install the blocking for our entire offense in one practice — the 3rd practice of the year! Whether you choose to use this exclusively or as a feature in a series, I think it is truly offensive line play at its purest…”We are going to kick your butt, and there is nothing you can do about it”.
There is no pulling, no fancy footwork, no “me-you” calls, no 1, 2, 3, 4 whatever techniques, no trapping, no nothing except kicking your opponent’s butt downfield play after play. By sealing all the inside gaps you disallow any backfield penetration, which gives backs the time to carry out misdirection plays. It also allows smaller teams to play hardnosed against bigger opponents through the use of down/angle blocking and the double teams they create. With no rules to learn, any player can play any line position from any formation on any play. The linemen are freed from thinking and encouraged to hit.
Create a “pile of bodies” 2 levels deep at the center of the line. By down blocking on both sides of the ball, a team gets on every play:
- 3 down blocks at the point of attack (POA) which will often yield “accidental double and triple teams”
- 3 inside gap blocks backside
- 1 kickout block at the POA by the blocking back
- We have also added one downfield trap/crackback block by our backside end at the POA called a “Pizza Block”
There are no “true” line splits. We coach the players to take “fist splits”, or a split the width of their closed fist from their teammate (approximately 3 inches). In an unbalanced 4-2 the 1st man to the long side of the center is the pivot, and the only lineman who may have a different first step on every play. In a balanced front the center is the pivot. Where having an inside hand down may help protect the inside gap, having the lineman comfortable is more important. Therefore not a lot of emphasis is given to which hand is down. Lineman are up on the line of scrimmage, not off it. Their stance can be either be the traditional down hand foot in a instep-toe relationship with their up hand foot, or even (toe-toe). Weight should be evenly distributed between the down hand and feet, to the point where if you were to knock the down hand out from under them the player would fall forward.
We have the center in a 3-point stance, free arm down just like all the other linemen, snapping with 1 arm, looking back. This will give him a more solid base to snap, step, and most importantly, receive a blow from the defense.
It is crucial to emphasize to the linemen that they are not blocking a specific player, but are rather “trains on tracks” and should block anything that crosses their tracks, but to not “jump the tracks” and chase a defender. This will create gaps.
1st Step Rule: is every player step inside. The aiming/coaching point of this step is to “step just in front of the outside foot of the player inside you”. It is not a 90 degree lateral step or a 45 degree down step, but more a 60 degree angular step. With 3-inch splits, this is a short, quick step. Coach the players to just place their heel a few inches (approximately 3-4 inches) in front of the foot of the player they are stepping to. The position of this step is critical!
First Step Mistakes: Step at a less than 60 degree angle (the biggest, most common mistake) — gaps will appear behind and in front of them. Step at a greater than 60 degree angle — the player will have no drive plus create a gap behind them. Step too long (laterally) — they will create a gap behind them and their feet will be too wide and be easily pushed over.
The coaching point is a short, quick step that will, upon completion, have their heel about 3-4 inches directly in front of the toes of the player they are stepping to. Stay Low! Aiming point for contact is the thigh pads of a defensive lineman. Make sure they keep their eyes up. We coach the linemen to bring their “knees to numbers” and focus their “eyes on thighs”. This is not a hand blocking scheme. The idea is to deliver, along with the shoulder pads, a rising forearm blow while creating a wider blocking plane that further protects gaps. On the first step coach the players to load. Their elbows should draw back, but not too extreme — a short, quick pull back that, if the player is staying low, would have their hands level with the top of their thighs, like they are reaching for a holstered gun. Excessive backward movement defeats the purpose of this scheme.
Pivot First Step: Whichever player is the pivot is the only player with different first step footwork. Their rule is always step to the point of attack first! If the play is to the right, they step right; to the left, with their left. This ensures getting a helmet in the closest playside inside gap.
Note: You do not have to use a pivot position from an unbalanced set. Simply have the center always step to the longside every play for an even easier system. We did this with great success, especially running a direct snap offense.
All offensive linemen should move as one unit. Stragglers create gaps. United step progression is critical to solid blocking success. When practicing these steps, the linemen’s feet should sound like one giant foot landing — not a progression of steps.
Second Step: Everyone’s second step is with their other foot along the path they are on. Contact will definitely happen for some players now. Coaching point is to have them explode into the defender’s thighs with their forearm blow and shoulder pads.
The forearm blow is delivered by snapping both arms out and up with a rolling motion that ends with thumbs pointed down. The underside of the forearm is the contact area. This snap is crucial:
- It provides a strong surface. Test it yourself. Raise your arms to simulate the snapping motion, but leave your arms unrotated with thumbs up. Now have someone push down on your arms. Repeat this but now rotate your thumbs down. You will find you have a lot more strength in this position than with your thumbs up due to your increased use of shoulder muscle. Youth coaches can demonstrate that their kids are stronger then they are with this demonstration very effectively.
- The underside of your arm is a flatter, wider surface to strike and block with.
Note: Do not confuse this with the flipper/”icepick in the chest” technique.
With the first step the pivot and player to whom he is stepping towards will “bump” pads. Therefore their second step, although they should still step in the direction they were heading, will more likely be upfield as they press against each other. At the same time the players immediately to their outside will “bump” them on their second steps. This pattern of step, bump, and upfield will continue step-by-step.
Remainder of Steps: Continue Steps 1 & 2. Stay Low! The ideal block makes contact with the defender’s thighs and drives up no higher than their waist. Block too low or too high and a defender will be able to, primarily due to the fact his body doesn’t bend easily above or below the waist, bounce off. Get in his thighs to stop his motion, drive up to his waist where he bends pretty easily and bend in him in half by driving him backward.
Pizza Block: Whichever end is furthest from the point of attack steps just like anyone else and if someone crosses his face, he blocks him! If not, they continue their step progression until they are linebacker deep and head immediately to the point of attack. Find a defender (linebacker, safety, cornerback, trailing defender) and level him!
For off-tackle plays, coach a downfield trap. For outside (sweep) plays, have them go a little deeper and look for a downfield crack back on a defender, which could very easily be a highlight file decleater. To avoid clipping, have the end scream “Hey!” at the poor sucker he’s going to crush a few steps prior to impact so that the defender is facing him.
The pizza block is simple. The backside end’s block is best used downfield at the point of attack, not 5-10 yards behind the point of attack. If that block springs a touchdown, coach buys pizza for the entire team next practice.
Uncovered Linemen: If, after going through the step progression, a lineman does not have a defender anywhere along their path to block, do not release! Stay with the inside man always. Releasing creates gaps/holes, which could allow penetration. Coach the player to stay with their inside man, which will take some work. Since there are only two steps to learn, you should have lots of time for repetition and teaching how to be aggressive in a “controlled” manner. It’s discipline and they can learn it.
Simple Blocking Rules
- If a defender crosses your face, block him.
- Do not block a specific player; block whoever gets in your way.
- Collect “accidental double and triple teams” at all times
- Stay low! Coach them to bring their “knees to numbers” and keep their “eyes on thighs” of the defense
- Drive the defensive line into the linebackers, especially at the point of attack.
Blocking Back Progression: First Step: Always make a directional half step playside with the backside foot. This will allow the blocking back to get in position, get some momentum, and most importantly allow the line to make their first step. Stay low! Coach Ward calls this a “Sniper Block” in that the blocking back sneaks behind the wall of lineman and picks off “One man with one block”.
Second Step: A full step with the playside (other) foot, sneaking down the line of tailpads the line has created. Continue step progression to the target and make an outside shoulder block on the first defender to show at the outside of the point of attack.
Wedge: For plays at the pivot, wedge block. A wedge block is the same as a solid block, but no pizza block. Get up in the wedge and stay in there until if collapses, stalls or daylight shows. The pivot should always step to the center in a wedge block. If the center is the pivot, choose.
Installing Solid Blocking: This is one of the definite upsides to using this system. Since the entire scheme can be taught in one practice, this allows the linemen to get a significantly increased amount of reps in practicing the 2-step progression over the course of a season.
Have the players line up as a line, with correct splits. Use your snap cadence to set them in their 3-point stance, and then have them take their first step (all in the same direction) on “Load!”. Do not have them take both steps — have them freeze after taking their first step.
- Incorrect position of the step foot? (most important)
- Are they too high?
- Are their eyes up?
- Are their backs level and shoulders square?
- Are their feet under them?
- Are their arms in the “load” position to deliver the “explode” forearm snap during the second step?
- Did the line step as one, or did they step as individuals?
- Did they move/step with their back foot?
Have them take first steps to both their left and right, everyone stepping the same direction.
Still freezing after their first step, next have them add the “explode” second step. Check for all the same things, especially staying low on the “explode” step.
After they have become good at the 2-step progression, gradually increase the speed. Go 50%, then 75%, then full speed. You will not be able to call “load” and “explode” now, use your offense’s cadence. They are still all stepping either right or left as a group.
Now, have the right half of the line step with their left foot first, the left half with their right foot. This is where it all comes together and the idea of no gaps will be come apparent. Return to freezing on the “load” step. The two players in the middle of the line will collide/bump. This is exactly what should happen since they both stepped with opposite feet. Check everyone for all the usual concerns. Now have them take the “explode” step. The two players who bumped will head up field, and the two players next to them will collide with them. What they should see and feel is all of them, pressed shoulder pad to shoulder pad, eyes up, staying low with arms extended, deliver a snapping, rising blow. No defender can come between them. They are now a solid wall.
Continue this progression, slowing increasing the speed until you are going full speed. It’s awesome to watch it come together.
Solid Blocking Drills
We developed a drill to teach all the aspects of a successful solid block in a competitive way that maximizes time and repetitions. We call it “Spider!”, in that the first step of the block resembles someone stepping on the bug. Plus the kids like yelling it.
What You Will Need: An orange pylon (or something with a 12″ square base)
Set-Up and Drill: Have two players line up facing one another with the pylon between them. Have them place each of their right feet a few inches from the center of the pylon’s base, so that their feet are aligned opposite one another. They should be very close — only the width of the pylon apart at the helmet, ready to take a 3-point stance on the cadence.
On “Go!” (or whatever your cadence is) have each play take a “load” step, with the goal being to place the heel of their foot on their far corner of the pylon’s base before their teammate does. This is when the players yell (encourage it) “Spider!” and slam their foot down.
As in the actual game, the quicker player wins. However, you can now coach “style points”. Quickness means nothing if they are too tall and their opponent is under their pads, or in a better position to block. Have them freeze on the “Spider!” step and critique them, giving the player with the best form the “victory”.
What will happen, in a short period of time, is that each player tries to be the quickest, lowest, best prepared to “explode” — which is what you want. And they will start coaching themselves, noticing if they (or their teammate) are in better or worse position.
The more pylons you have, the more players can play. The entire line can face across from each other.
After a while, switch feet and step the other way.
This is a great way to practice steps solo. It’s a spoof of the sound farmers make to call hogs (hence the line).
What You Will Need: A shoe
Set-Up and Drill: Have the player place a shoe next to either their left or right foot in a “fist” split relationship with their foot. From a stance, have them take their “load” step, using the empty shoe as the outside foot of the linemen next to them. Switch feet.
Coach Ward has said that his line will come to him and say “So and so is given us problems, let’s just go Solid” or, better yet, “Coach, whatcha say we go solid four or five plays to let them know who is boss out there!” For those looking to really KISS their blocking, get tons of reps, plus promote an aggressive attitude in their lineman you may want to consider solid blocking.