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One of the many mysteries to offensive line play is how to achieve optimum aggression from players. Offensive line is one of the few places in society where a “mean streak” is as much a compliment as noting a singers beautiful voice. Coaches and players set out to cultivate a nasty disposition within the o-line but I believe many are misinterpreting the concept of aggression.
Aggression in it’s purest form is a positive as long as it is contained. The worst situation for any team or player to be in is to play in a state of recklessness. This position is one that should be played on the boarder of crazy and at the intersection of psycho. Anything less than that is a disservice to the player and shameful to the game of football. But there is a catch to my concept on the mental engagement of the game. The mental approach on how to play this position is personal, subjective and adapted according to the mental make-up of the individual player.
Not every player is mentally wired in the exact same fashion, just as every player is physically varied. If one player has a maximum 500 pound bench press and another has a maximum 400 pound bench press, this doesn’t mean the “weaker” player isn’t pushing himself. Just as if one player plays with his emotions very visible and another takes a more “quiet storm” approach. How emotions are expressed isn’t universally appreciated . What you or I perceive to be a “valid” emotional litmus test, may not apply to the particular individual.
I had the opportunity to play with one of the best running backs of his era, Deuce Mcallister. Deuce was the type of player that you would be lucky to get five words out of throughout the course of a week. He walked slowly, talked slower and constantly appeared to be in idle mode. There was nothing about Deuce Mcallister that screamed ridiculously talented running back other than his film. When Deuce was in the game, he said nothing as his pads did all the talking for him. There was never any rah-rah with him, there was only production because he played the game within his personality.
The focus should not be on getting players to play aggressively, the focus needs to be on building a players confidence through strength and fundamentals which leads to better play. Deuce played within his personality because he was confident in himself as a football player. It’s the players that build their bravado through awareness of self that will show up when times get tough. Those that wear the mask of aggression and overall badassness are the first ones to tuck their tail when hit in the mouth. If a player is genuinely playing through his personality and is well coached, confident and strong, the aggression will manifest itself through consistently good football.
A shining example of a player from the offensive line perspective that plays through his personality while doing so at a very high level, Joe Thomas. The potential hall of fame offensive tackle is one of the least “aggressive” starting left tackles in the NFL. His lack of aggression is a byproduct of his laid back personality while his extremely high level of play is a product of great confidence, pristine technique and a high understanding of his job on any given play. I don’t think any coach with a Joe Thomas on the roster would be wishing he played with a bit more nasty.
For the lack of a better term, the “problem” with a Joe Thomas is a team can’t win with five of him along the starting offensive line. The tempo is set in the trenches and there has to be a prick somewhere in the mix. Said prick in Miami is left guard Richie Incognito. Incognito is far from a great player but he is great at being an a** because that’s what he is naturally. He isn’t being asked to be somebody he isn’t, his douchebaggery is innate (I mean this as a compliment). The Dolphins understand the concept of how to build an o-line and that’s understanding you need to have multiple personalities spread out which allows each player to play comfortably through their personality. The Dolphins left tackle is one of the best in the game in Jake Long who has the proper temperament for a left tackle while having a slight edge to him. Then we slide over to the left guard where ability drops off while maintaing solid play but all docuhebaggery breaks lose with Incognito. Once we get to the center spot, the play exponentially increases with Mike Pouncey as well as maintaining attitude but with more control. Former first round pick Vernon Carey sits at the right guard spot and could be described as the “quiet storm” type. Vernon plays very hard because when he looks to his left there are guys kicking ass and taking names so his play rises to a higher level each week, he can’t hide. Their o-line is rounded out by a veteran left tackle that is nothing more than a vocal leader that has earned a few stripes in the trenches, Marc Colombo.(Last Seasons Offensive Line)
The idea isn’t to manufacture aggression, it’s to nurture it by developing a players confidence through coaching and strength training. Players will respond aggressively by being more confident in themselves. The visual manifestation of aggression may not be the Metallica form but more Jay-Z like. It’s not about how it looks as much as it’s about how well players are performing.
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