September 24, 2015
I don’t like to use war terminology but the physical skirmishes at the front line in the NFL are battles. Now that three hundred- and thirty-pounds athletes are the norm on NFL offensive lines and the average defensive lineman weighs closer to 290, big mounds of muscle and flesh are pounding it out every down. When the two sides collide on any given play, the fighting for balance and positioning is study of physics and cause and effect.
The offensive line moves in unison to open the smallest of daylight in between arms and torsos of the defensive players so their running back can run through for a couple of yards. When the opening is created, it is now up the running back to maneuver through. That opening may last only one or two seconds when the offensive linemen are able to get leverage and forward momentum on their opponent. When there is a pass play, the offensive lineman weight is more on the back of their heels and they stand more upright to create a wall. The defensive linemen use forward momentum force with 34” arms and hands used as cantilevers and battering rams to push through the wall.
This is the essence of all football at any level but at the pro level the power is unbelievable. The power is a result of yearlong strength and speed training. The coaches drill the players to work in unison with the other lineman to create the bond that will make the wall. The defensive coaches are looking for the weakest link to exploit and capitalize with physical dominance.
The results of the sixty-minute scrum at the lines is not only the scores but the physical toll that these players endure. When a multitude of large men are piling up and landing on each other, one can’t imagine what that feels like. One wrong turn of your body, one late pile on by another player, a loose ball, a slip on wet grass are just some of the dangers of the job. Offensive lineman are most susceptible to leg and knee injuries and the defensive linemen endure back, arm and shoulder injuries.
Linemen that can endure a few seasons become savvier and use more of experience than sheer brute force to gain advantage. A lineman that last five years in the NFL is rare, players that have, are beating the curse of a significant injury. Most love the sport, the comradery and are payed a good salary to endure the physical toll. Next time you are watching an NFL game, just watch the line for plays and how one side tries to gain advantage on the other. Sometimes it more scheming and coaching, but when it comes down to the final outcome, the players make the difference. The players that are stronger and faster will outlast their opponent, but that advantage is not a large one, like the age-old cliché, it is a game of inches.