PITTSBURG — Blocking is an unglamorous and often overlooked job on the football field, but the offensive linemen are arguably the most important players on the team.
With preseason practices in full swing, the Pittsburg State offensive line prepares for another season of life in the trenches.
“The first thing we’re doing is just getting the offense installed,” PSU offensive line coach Steve Wells said. “We have a good experienced group, so we’re moving pretty fast. We just need to get our base schemes in so we can hit the ground running when we go full pads.”
During the first week of camp, the O-linemen use half-pad practices to work on the basics.
“We’re just working to get better as individuals,” PSU offensive lineman Bo Farrow said. “This is a time to work on ourselves and our techniques. We just want to develop and refine our skills, so we’re ready to put those skills to use when we come together as a team.”
When the job is done well, few fans take time to appreciate the work done by the men up front, but many are quick to criticize when the yellow flags hit the field.
“Penalties are drive killers,” Farrow said. "We try to avoid penalties as much as possible and it’s all mental. If we eliminate mental mistakes, we’ll eliminate penalties.”
To help avoid self-inflicted wounds, the O-linemen stay in the film room long after practice has ended.
“A lot of people know that it’s a physical game up front, but the players actually spend more time working on the mental side of it,” Wells said. “We spend hours on the field working on the physical part, but they spend twice as much time on the mental side of it. The way defenses play now, they’re going to see a different look every time.”
Simply put, the offensive line has two jobs — create running lanes and protect the quarterback.
Teams are going to the air on offense now more than ever, so maintaining a solid pocket for the quarterback is critical.
“In the passing game, we have one rule and that’s to keep the quarterback clean,” Wells said. “It goes back to the same philosophy of not missing assignments. We have to put five big bodies up front and as long as we’re on the same page as the quarterback, we’ll be good.”
Although the passing game is a big part of the offense, the running game is equally important.
“Missed assignments get you beat,” Wells said. “We have to be sound on our assignments and know where the proper fits happen. We try to work on and emphasis getting the running backs on the same path as the offensive linemen, understanding where our blocks are going to happen and knowing where our cuts are going to happen. We just have to be on the same page with the running backs, know where the initial aim points are and make the cuts based on that.”
Muscle may be the first criteria for any O-lineman, but sophisticated defensive schemes sometimes make the game mentally challenging.
“We won’t see the same look twice,” Wells said. “Defenses will try to get you into mismatches and try to confuse you into blowing assignments, so it’s a challenge, but it goes back to the mental preparation that our guys put in while watching film and going through the walkthroughs.”
The offensive line appears to be a strength for PSU heading into the season, as plenty of depth in multiple positions gives coaches the luxury of cycling players in and out between plays without skipping a beat.
“We really do have experienced group,” Wells said. “We have 17 guys who were here a year ago and that’s tremendous. When you start breaking that down, we have almost 100 starts between everyone up front and that’s a huge total. A lot of times, we can only put five on the field, but we have a bunch of capable players. We like to put five guys out who have a full tank on the field and are ready to go. If doing that requires us to substitute some guys every play, we’ll do it. We have enough experience to trust the next guy up and that’s a huge advantage for us.”
No wins are guaranteed in the MIAA, so the O-linemen give max effort everyday to prepare for opening kickoff.
“It’s a battle each and every week,” Wells said. “We know that when we line up, there’s going to be a good team across from us. There are no weeks off. The way college football is today, everybody puts a lot of emphasis on having great defensive linemen, so you have to ready to go to war each and every week.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.