The Changing Game
of the Offensive Lineman
FOOTBALL LOOKED VERY DIFFERENT WHEN Lancaster coach Chris Gilbert was an offensive lineman at South Oak Cliff in the early 1990s. Sure, the spread offense was gaining traction, but it was
still only a little less mysterious than a newfangled thing
called the Internet. Most teams were closer to “three yards
and a cloud of dust” than the current philosophy of three
plays in 40 seconds – and a cloud of rubber pellets from the
“When I came out of school, the whole game was between
the hashmarks,” Gilbert said. “You now have so much of
what I call space football.”
Space football sounds like something out of a sci-fi
stadium, but it’s actually a great description of today’s
football world. The gridiron is often like a dragstrip, as spread
offenses try to stretch defenses, create one-on-one mis-
matches and force defenders to make tackles in space.
It’s a potent strategy that has created many painful nights
for defensive coordinators. But at its core, just like every
other offensive scheme that has burned hot in football’s
history, is a strong offensive line.
“I can sit back and think about every team from 2003 until
now, and our best teams were the ones that were great up
front,” said Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire, whose Longhorns
have won two straight state titles (5A Division II in 2013 and
6A Division II last year). “We have really good skill. It’s the
times we’ve been able to match that up with big bodies that
we’ve been able to make deep runs.”
The players who make up that line have evolved with the
game. Years ago, when the prevailing offensive strategies
were far more smashmouth, offensive linemen could rely
more on size and brute strength. Girth meant worth.
That’s still true today, of course. The average size of the
state’s top five offensive lineman recruits in the Class of
2015 was 6-foot- 4 and 304 pounds.
“Twenty years ago, you rarely saw a 300-pound lineman,”
Euless Trinity’s Chris Daniels has burst to go with his bulk ( 6-4, 300)
said Katy coach Gary Joseph, whose team has battled Cedar
Hill in three state title games and won the 5A Division II
championship in 2012. “Now it’s pretty much the norm.”
Yes, still big. And getting bigger. But despite getting bigger,
the offensive linemen have actually become better athletes
– and the elite guys have become incredible athletes. Allen’s
Greg Little, a senior offensive tackle who is orally committed
Linemen are still huge, especially compared with those from twenty or more years ago.
In 1990, the Associated Press’ 10 all-state defensive linemen in 4A and 5A averaged 235
pounds. Last year, the all-state defensive linemen in the largest two classes averaged
nearly 260. (For a really stark contrast, here are the weights of the 1940 all-state linemen:
175, 180, 190, 195, 214).
The game has changed, and so have the defensive linemen. The tackles and ends are
bigger than ever, but also more athletic than ever, and they’re essential to a defense’s
hopes of slowing down a turbocharged offense.
The offenses seem to get faster every year, both in regards to their hurry-up tempo and
the speed of the players. They can be a nightmare to stop. But as defenses build their
response, they’re producing linemen that can strike fear into an offense trying to protect its
“A guy who is 6-5 and 275 pounds who can run a 40 between 5-flat and 5. 5 … that guy
coming at you is pretty scary,” Robinson said. “That’s why you see a lot of screens and short
passes. You’ve got to get the ball out of the quarterback’s
hands or you’re going to go through a few quarterbacks.”
BIG MEN ON CAMPUS
Silsbee offensive tackle Patrick Hudson
to Texas A&M, moves with the fluidity of a
tight end despite being 6-foot- 5 and 285
pounds. You’ll hear similar descriptions
of seniors such as North Mesquite’s
Jean Delance ( 6-5, 270) and Copperas
Cove’s J.P. Urquidez ( 6-6, 295).
These guys are more than just big. In
the era of wide-open, fast-paced football,
they have to be more than mountains.
“It used to be run on first down, run
on second down, pass on third,” North
Mesquite coach Mike Robinson said.
“Today’s linemen have to put as much
into pass blocking as they do run block-
ing. They have to be versatile and more
athletic, and they have to be quicker and
A top-notch lineman, regardless of his
team’s offensive strategies, is strong,
agile and has tremendous footwork
and balance. He knows how to use his
hands, and can get them into the chest
of a defender and control him without
getting flagged for holding.
Centers call out blocking assignments,
and then must snap the ball and quickly
take a step to get in position to block.
Offensive guards, despite usually being
the bulkiest of the linemen, need to be
able to “pull” – step back from the line
and sprint around an offensive tackle
to make a block for a running back.
Offensive tackles are given the task
of stopping the fierce pass rush of
defensive ends, who are often a freakish combination of size and speed.
And yet the offensive linemen aren’t
playing, by the classic definition that
becomes more of a misnomer each year,
a “skill position.” It’s laughable when you
consider the kind of time that offensive
linemen spend working on technique.