“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Heraclitus
In our last article, we discussed how to modernize the way you use drills to incorporate a constraints-led approach to drills and open your mind to helping your players think and find solutions to the chaos of a football game.
Again we want to touch on the concept of “repetition without repetition” with this issue’s drill. We found this information in the Altis Foundations Course from the late and great motor behavior scientist, Nikolai A. Bernstein:
This concept was labeled ‘repetition without repetition’ by Bernstein, who suggested that ‘repetitive solutions … are necessary because in natural conditions, external conditions never repeat themselves … consequently, it is necessary to gain experience relevant to all various modifications of the task and external conditions.
Unpacking this, quite simply it states the situations that our athletes face in a football game never truly repeat themselves exactly so we must continually modify the task and external conditions which we will do in this Half Line Blitz Pick Up Drill.
A second key point comes from the Altis Foundations Course to outline why this is important for our athletes in building a sense of ownership in finding the solution to the puzzle that is varying never-repeating situations in a football game and specifically in this text in regards to offensive line play picking up blitzes in pass pro:
Use Questions to Foster a Sense of Ownership
Watching a repetition, pointing out a mistake, and providing the solution is too often the typical coaching sequence. This does not encourage discovery, and there is little, if any learning in this process. Our job is not always to provide the answers to the puzzle, but instead to ask better questions to create athlete ownership in their learning journey. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
To best illustrate a narrative to fit the dynamics of blitz pick-up we want to zero in on one key term in this Altis Foundations explanation: puzzle.
Correctly blocking a play or pass protection is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle like a family at Christmas time. We first must develop a strategy on how to put together this jigsaw puzzle.
Have you ever dumped out a puzzle and tried to fit one piece to all the other pieces one at a time? It is an impossible and time consuming task. You must have a scheme or strategy to effectively solve that puzzle.
Relate this to offensive line play, you cannot as an offensive lineman act alone in a silo. The entire offensive line must work together and communicate as well as employ the agreed upon strategy to effectively block the front and any stunts or schemes employed by the defense. While each puzzle solver or each offensive lineman may solve individual assigned portions of the overall puzzle, it can not happen in a silo.
To do so is like the aunt who hoards all the blue pieces to the puzzle at her corner and has like the 3 pieces you need to solve your portion!
It is also key to remember that some of the puzzle pieces we see on the field may not even belong to our puzzle as offensive linemen. A player dropping into coverage from an outside linebacker spot suddenly becomes a piece of another puzzle for the quarterback and receivers to fit into their pass route scheme puzzle. So we also have to be able to determine as the play develops which puzzle pieces don’t belong to our puzzle.
How to Sort Through the Puzzle
First, we must sort out the mess and start identifying the pieces of the puzzle of the defense and their strategy (akin to turning over the pieces of the puzzle, sorting colors, and shapes).
Secondly, as most puzzle solvers do we find our border or edges and create a structure. In pass protection, the creation of that border or finding all the edges and where they fit is our scheme whether it be full slide or big on big protection.
Once we have our established and agreed upon structure or “found the border” in pass protection, then we start to solve our puzzle by identifying our specific jobs.
Let’s use this comparative to jigsaw puzzle solving: We are solving a farm puzzle. Each person has a shape or figure to complete. You may be working on the barn, another family member works on the tractor, and so forth. The same holds true in pass protection dependent on the scheme employed. We each “find our shape or object” and then start fitting the puzzle pieces together for that shape. The fitting of those puzzle pieces together in our shape (barn, tractor, etc.) correlates with finding the technique to employ in our own individual pass protection battle.
So as the play develops and we all attack our individual battles within the puzzle solving scheme we are employing then the groups of shapes in the puzzle start to come together. Once we have established trust, communication, and effectiveness in our strategy, then any other puzzle that gets dumped in front of us becomes easier to sort, assemble, and solve.
I (Lee) am an avid fan of the MTV’s The Challenge and I can’t help but draw a reference here. The Challenge if you are not familiar with it is a reality TV show in which reality TV stars face a series of challenges to win a large sum of money.
The Challenge much like a football game takes a great degree of physical prowess, but the winners of The Challenge are typically the ones who can also handle the puzzle solving portions along with having enough physical prowess to reach the puzzle solving stations with enough mental stamina to still function and maintain their wide range of puzzle solving abilities.
While many of the puzzles have similar traits, they typically are never the same. Those who hone their physical abilities and puzzle solving abilities typically fair exceedingly well in The Challenge while those who veer to one end of the spectrum struggle mightily.
I draw the comparison to The Challenge because while I may have a player who has a great physical prowess and pass protection technique, that does not ensure success if that player doesn’t have the mental bandwidth to solve the puzzles placed in front of him and especially if they can’t understand and apply our pass protection (or puzzle solving strategy).
Taking the Puzzle to the Field
In the rest of this article, we are going to utilize a half line blitz pick up drill that Coach Blazer uses with his offensive line to help you conceptualize how to create repetitions of the same task without repetition and create a myriad of puzzles for your offensive line to face and apply your pass protection scheme (puzzle solving strategy).
One of the hallmarks of a constraint-led approach to coaching is utilizing small-sided games. As a reminder, half line or 7 on 7 are football based examples of a small-sided game. The elements of game play of football are there, but you have reduced the number of players or other constraints to focus on a smaller grouping of players completing a task.
The Base Way to Run the Drill
In this Half Line Drill, we are going to work a slide protection involving the three offensive linemen to the playside, and the quarterback. We may also utilize a receiver for hot route applications and a running back if they are involved in the scheme. We start with the basics of the pass protection as you would teach it your own scheme.
In this iteration of the drill, things are static in which your players are executing the pass protection and defenders are running a pass rush scheme that is straight forward. The players being blocked are where they are supposed to be and play it as you have shown your athletes.
Here is where the variation has to come to help your players start solving the problems that arise within this task.
Forewarning, your players have to truly understand the original task (pass protection) and the concept of the protection fully before you start any variation. This isn’t for beginning freshmen offensive linemen until they understand the basics. With your more advanced players, you start to change the variables to the play without telling them this is what is going to happen because you want them to self-organize and learn to solve the problem without feeding them the situation.
Adding Variables to the Drill
Diagram 2 below illustrates just one variation you could throw at them in the drill.
The variables of the drill just changed like the variables of the play change in the game. You want your players to be able to adjust and complete the task on their own. Now, they will inevitably make a mistake at some point in the changing of the variables and look to you for the solution.
Here is the key, talk them through how to solve this puzzle with these types of questions:
“If the OLB and DE twisted then how could we handle that?”
“How could we block the blitzing linebacker to the B Gap?”
Instead of putting the pieces of the puzzle together for them. If you can recall from our last article this is why you do so: Even if you give them the solution to this one iteration of the problem, there are probably many multiple iterations of this problem that could happen. This relates directly back to the aforementioned quote from the Altis Foundations Course.
Other Variables to Consider
The variables and variations can come in a variety of manners.
Defenders can line up in different locations, defenders can move post-snap, blitzes, zone drops, stemming, and other player movements can change the variables within the drill.
Good practice would also be to have these defenders’ movements be some of the techniques, blitzes and alignments that your scout has shown over your opponent. While it may help the problem solving equation to have some inherent randomness, there needs to be a factoring of things that your players are also likely to see within the constraints of your opponents.
Then as your players have the mental bandwidth to handle those variations then you can start to build even more chaos into the drill such as music blaring to simulate crowd noise or doing the drill in a no huddle tempo. Another chaos element would be to create some “oh crap” situations where the exact wrong things may happen within the play and have your players make the best out of a crap situation.
This drill is only limited by your imagination and adaptability. You can create an infinite number of “puzzles” for your athletes to solve as long as you help them develop the framework to do so and coach them on how to work within that framework, but also to recognize when they may have to work outside of that framework as well to solve the problem.
This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1: Issue 10.