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Football 101: The West Coast Offense

Offensive Linemen

By Mark Lawrence

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Offensive Guards

The next position of similar importance on the offensive line in the West Coast offense is the offensive guard. The ideal size for the offensive guard is about six foot three inches, and the should weigh about 300 pounds.

Similar to some of the other positions on the offensive line the requirements for playing guard in the West Coast offense depend to a great extent on the type of passing and running the team will do. In this regard, two obvious options exist, either the offensive guard has to be selected based on his capacity to contribute to a team's existing system of offense or the team has to style its offense according to who its guards are. Typically, the latter option prevails. A team adapts its offensive style to the abilities of its guards.

An example of how a team adapts its offensive system to its guards occurs when a particular offensive guard can or cannot do something to his right or left.

If the left guard can pull and trap, then the team is more likely to run plays to the right with the left guard pulling (and vice versa). The guard positions are personalized according to what they can do. Typically, one or the other offensive guard on a team is stronger or weaker in a particular technique or the ability to get the job done.

As a rule, great offensive guards possess several traits, including quickness, agility, explosiveness, the ability to pull and trap, and the ability to go inside-out on a linebacker. Randall McDaniel of the Minnesota Vikings is an excellent example of this type of offensive guard. Although he only weighs approximately 280 pounds, he is an outstanding player in every sense. He fits their form of the West Coast offense perfectly. In the West Coast offense more than anything, offensive guards must be able to pass block. Generally speaking, girth, stability and body balance are essential factors in this skill. Because the offensive guard can usually get help as a pass protector, he just has to have enough power to avoid being knocked back. Just the sheer number of people inside will help the guard pass block. As a result, the guard can have some limitations as a pass blocker as long as he has enough girth to keep the defensive tackle from picking him up and moving him.

The offensive guard position requires less technique for pass protecting than is essential for an offensive tackle. On the other hand, the offensive guard position requires more blocking and movement skills. For example, in the West Coast offense the guard is used on numerous blocking combinations where he must get from point A to point B, pulling through a hole, trapping, pulling on sweeps, coming inside-out on a blitzing linebacker, etc. Collectively, this capability requires that the offensive guard has agility, mobility, and a refined level of techniques.

Centers in the WCO

The last but, most important position on the offensive line in the West Coast offense is the center. The ideal size for the center should be about six foot two inches and weigh about 290 pounds.

The offensive center has a critical role in the West Coast offense. Not only must he start every play with a flawlessly executed snap, he is typically the key man in making line calls. These calls are vital, and there is no way a team running the West Coast offense can do without them.

For example, with the constant defensive changes that occur during a game, the offensive line must react to those changes if an adjustment in the blocking scheme is required. Because he is literally at the center of the action (in the middle of things), the center is the obvious member of the offensive line to identify and communicate to the other offensive linemen what blocking adjustment must be made.

As a result, the center must have a thorough command of the offensive line blocking system, the game plan, and individual defensive players his team is facing. In a few isolated instances, some teams use an offensive guard to make line calls because the guard is either more experienced or more adept at making them.

As a general rule, the center doesn't have to be an exceptional blocker. The center usually doesn't have to block the nose tackle one-on-one, although if he can, it provides a considerable advantage to his team.

The center who can isolate one-on-one with a nose tackle will take tremendous pressure off of the offensive line, particularly the guards. Most West Coast offense teams typically find a way to help the center with the nose tackle (slide a guard). If the other team is in alignment that doesn't have a nose tackle (4-3 defense) or has the nose tackle stunt away from the center, the center helps a teammate with his blocking responsibilities.

One additional factor related to the center that West Coast offense teams address is his height. Although there have been successful centers in the NFL who were relatively tall, many West Coast offense teams feel that, all factors considered, a shorter center is better. Not only does a shorter center have lower center of gravity (thereby facilitating body balance), he also tends to be more mobile a trait that offers significant benefits to an individual who must operate in a relatively small area. A large body can be a hindrance in a small area (somewhat analogous to the limitations imposed on a jockey who weighs more than 150 pounds).

Most West Coast offense prefer a center who is able to quickly move in between people. In most cases, a shorter center can do that better than a tall, rangy one.

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