How to Teach Offensive Linemen the Kick Step in Pass Protection

By John Gnosca
Offensive Line Coach
Palma High School (Salinas, CA)
Twitter: @JGnosca

KICK STEP 

Everything I’ve learned about offensive line play has come from coaches that I’ve been privileged enough to play for, talk to, or listen to. These coaches include Chris Dalman, Justin Iske, and Bob Wylie, who are some of the best offensive line coaches in the game of football. The techniques and fundamentals I teach are not the only ways of doing things nor are they the best, it’s just what I believe in and feel is most effective.

That being said the kick set is my favorite pass set versus a defender who is playing on my outside shoulder or wider. If the defender is two men plus from our body then we will execute a vertical pass set to intersect and block the defender. Kick sets are utilized by all five offensive lineman with the center exclusively kick setting to get on the same depth as the guards in order to pick up stunts, games, and twists. If the center doesn’t get on the same level as the guards you are asking for penetration and it makes it virtually impossible to communicate and pass off stunts.

Back to kick sets, kick sets must be broken down and taught piece by piece to the offensive lineman. Whether that is teaching them from the ground up, or top down, it must be broken down and compartmentalized for the offensive lineman to understand, and execute a good kick set. 

PASS DEMEANOR

I think it’s important before I get into the actual teaching of the kick set, to first talk about the proper pass demeanor an offensive lineman must have when pass blocking. 

  • Feet outside knees, knees outside hips.
  • Chest out, helmet back.
  • Tight elbows, elbows are close to the rib cage.
  • Big butt in pass protection, sink hips.

Post foot up, right guard and right tackle left foot up, left guard left tackle right foot up. 

  • Stay square to the LOS
  • Weight shifted to the inside groin, to protect against a counter pass rush move inside.
  • Where the hands should be for an offensive lineman in terms of pass setting is something I’ve gone back and forth on. Carrying high hands we want to form a triangle with our hands (thumbs are the point of the triangle) elbows are the base, fingertips at our chin. The downside of carrying high hands in pass protection is it gives the pass rusher a target. I’ll touch more on this later in the article.

Initial Kick Step

On my first kick step my hips come down, my knees are bent, weight on the insteps of my feet, ankle ahead of knee, knee ahead of the hip. Most offensive lineman will either push off straining the inside leg, with the toes coming off the ground, shifting the weight to the outside half of the body. Or the offensive lineman will bail, turning or rolling the outside hip, in turn creating a soft edge for the pass rusher. Or the offensive lineman does it right.

Some offensive line coaches teach a six inch step for the first step of the kick step. I prefer the Bob Wylie approach where the offensive lineman is just trying to cover the defensive lineman’s feet up with his feet. The wider the defender, the bigger the first step. If the defender is 2 men plus off my body I will utilize a vertical pass set to intersect and block the defender. A drill to work the first kick step is a drill where I have the offensive lineman align on a yard marker anywhere on the field, and on my command they will take just one kick step (not moving the post foot). I also make sure they are keeping a great pass demeanor, and keeping their shoulders square.

How do I keep my shoulders square?

The knee of the outside leg is pointed vertically downfield, not outwards. The knee should also be inside the foot in order to maintain a great base and to allow the offensive lineman to generate power. Once they lose this alignment, they lose control of their hip. It’s like flying a plane without a rudder, you’ll crash and burn. It is also important that the offensive lineman’s toes be pointed outwards a little bit, with the cleats in the turf. If the toes of the kicking foot are pointed vertically that will lock out my outside hip. We also want the weight on the inside thigh with our shoulders going opposite the kick. For example, if the offensive lineman is kicking right his shoulders should be slightly tilted left and vice versa.

Why do I want my shoulders turned slightly inside?

I protect against the pass rush with my feet, and control the defender with my hands. So if the pass rusher spikes inside of me my shoulders are already going that way. 

Post Foot

When an offensive lineman kicks, the post foot should move as well. The post foot should come back and in making sure the cleats are staying in the ground and the lineman isn’t “hopping” back. On the second step we are “dragging” it in the ground, this step shouldn’t have any air time.

Justin Iske the offensive line coach at Southwestern Oklahoma State University has a great line, he makes the comparison of a boxer throwing a punch and how the boxer wouldn’t take a foot off the ground to throw a punch. It’s the same concept in pass blocking when we punch a defender we don’t want to do it with a foot in the air.

The second step in the kick slide is what I refer to as a “drag” step, making sure that foot doesn’t lose contact with the ground. A drill to emphasize the first two kicks is once again have the lineman straddle a yard marker, and have them execute the first steps of a kick step. On the second step it’s important the lineman doesn’t hop back, but keeps the foot to ground relationship. Then once they hit that second step, they hold it!

THEY HOLD IT! It’s a drill!

Don’t let them drift out at the end have them finish by holding it at the end. It’s also important that the lineman doesn’t t come across the yard line with the second step, that’s why I love the yard lines it’s like another coach out there. Breaking down the steps one-by-one is critical in teaching a proper kick or post set.

Kick Slide Kick

Once you have introduced and drilled the first two steps of the kick slide, you can add a third step. Now the lineman will kick step, slide or drag the second step, then take another kick step. This is when I start seeing if the offensive lineman has his weight on his inside thigh, if the weight is on the outside your body weight is going that way and the lineman’s inside hand crosses his midline, now the defensive lineman can cross your face to the QB. 

Post Set

An offensive lineman will utilize a post set when the defender is aligned head up or inside of him. The lineman’s first step is a “power” step, so I will move my post (inside) foot and drive it into the ground, roughly around a six inch step.

On the power step the lineman doesn’t want to burry his foot inside because if the defender jumps out I have a problem. When I take that power step my weight comes down the inside of my calf, down the arch of my foot. My shoulders will once again be tilted slightly opposite of where I am setting. The second step we are “dragging” in the ground, making sure it doesn’t come inside my knee which will cause me to have an unstable base.

The post foot should be up maintaining the stagger we created in your stance. With the power step we want our cleat to cut the top of the grass, there should not be a lot of air time with this step.

Recovery Step

As legendary offensive line coach Bob Wylie once so elegantly stated “This step will save your ass.” A recovery or replace step is used when I’ve gone to far I’ve overset. If I’m kick setting and I get fully stretched at the crotch (usually caused by the lineman taking too big of a first step) this situation will happen to all lineman at one point or another. If I move my post foot next I will step underneath myself, which will cause me to open up my hip. In this case I want to move my outside foot back to my base, right where I started from. Then I can power step if the defensive lineman slant across my face. 

Eyes in Pass Pro

If I have no help my eyes are on an inside target, near number to armpit. If I have help in the protection I have an outside  target, far number to armpit. In a one-on-one pass pro drill the offensive lineman will use an inside target. The eyes should be on the aiming point and not the pass rushers helmet, because we don’t want to fall for any head fakes by the defender. Also some offensive lineman have a tendency to close their eyes when they punch we want to keep them open at all times throughout the play. 

Hands

Do I carry low or high hands in pass protection? I prefer low hands because  pass rushers key the offensive lineman’s hands, they wait for the offensive lineman to do something with their hands to execute their pass rush move.

Carrying low hands makes it harder for the pass rusher to get to them and messes up his timing. By carrying high hands the pass rusher can use one hand to defeat the blockers two hands. One way to position the hands is one I got from Justin Iske, where the offensive lineman will carry his hands stomach high, thumbs together, hands six inches away from the stomach.

Now some high school coaches may stay away from that due to the fact they are worried about the offensive lineman transferring power. Another way to carry hands is the “staggered” hands approach which is the foot that’s back that hand will be down by the stomach, and the foot that’s up that hand will be up with the thumb by the nipple. This is also a favorite method of mine because the pass rusher can’t defeat the blockers hands with one.  

When to Strike

When the defender makes his move and is within reach, then he is close enough to strike. We don’t want to reach for the defender because then I get overextended, if he isn’t rushing then he is no threat to sack the QB. We always want to strike the defender going from low to high, that will cause my hips to sink and slightly roll. It also causes my head and shoulders to go back a little bit.

When I deliver my punch I need to tuck my chin in order to avoid overextension and prevent me from leaning on the defender after contact. We also want our thumbs up because that keeps are elbows tight to the rib cage. In order to attain tight hands the lineman needs tight elbows. We also never want to use our legs to strike a blow, just our upper body. Keep the knees bent and don’t strain your legs! 

Where To Punch

Once the lineman strikes the defender it’s over, I don’t drop my hands off of him. I want to capture the defenders inside shoulder, punch and grab the tip of his inside shoulder pad, I don’t want him going inside. The outside hand is on his peck, once I get my hands on him I grab him.

If the defensive lineman gets his hands inside of me I have to make a small circle, and reset my hands. In pass pro your feet have to move before your hands. If I’m blocking a defender and he jumps out, and my feet are static my hands go across my body my midline and the QB gets sacked. Feet must stay alive and active, the hands will follow the feet, if my hands go before my feet go, my feet stay behind me and bad things will happen.

Once your feet start in motion they must stay in motion. Be violent with your hands, he’s padded and you won’t hurt him. I also want a little bend in my body so when the defender strikes me my body gets to where it needs to be. I don’t want to get hit with my body straight, my shoulders should be a tad over my knees.  

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