Crafting the perfect offensive line isn’t easy, but veteran coach Chris Fisher has some tips to fortify your front five.

Coaching the offensive line is a special task. It is a unique unit within a team that the rest of the offense relies on in order to do their job. The offensive line must work together and trust each other on each play of every practice and game. It is a mentally-challenging position to coach and why I love coaching them.

One of the biggest challenges year to year is finding the five players to fill the line. For starters, we’re not typically working with the best athletes on the team. We are sent kids who don’t really have the skills to play anywhere else. On top of that, most of them all believe they should play another position. I have never coached a lineman who wouldn’t immediately change positions if given the opportunity. Most believe they can play on the defensive line or be a tight end, linebacker or fullback.

I have to channel my inner Liam Neeson from Taken to get them to understand their role. “If you’re looking to play another position, I can tell you it’s not going to happen because you don’t have the athleticism. What you do have is a particular set of skills and body type that translate to the offensive line; skills that I will help develop for you to be a reliable, contributing, and extremely important member on this team; skills that can help this team be successful each week. If you embrace being a lineman right now, then we can start working towards becoming a great team.”

I would love to have my pick of strong, big bodied players with great feet, but most high school coaches don’t have that luxury. I must find them from the 20 to 30 kids sent my way each year.

Let’s start with center. Coaches always talk about the O-Line needing the most intelligent players, and the center is the fulcrum. My center needs to be able to identify the defensive front and where the strength of the defense is, then communicate this with the rest of the line. On top of that, they have to be able to snap and step quickly to their blocking assignment.

The first thing I look for is relentless effort. I need a center who will work to stay in front of his assignment and do everything he can to keep him from making a play. We use the phrase “get run over slowly” to describe what happens to the center at times. Our best centers have been guys who could execute these skills: communication, snapping, quick steps, and relentless effort.

Guards are my guys who can move but work better with someone next to them. I have had athletic guards who could pull well and overtake the next down lineman on outside zone, and I have also had guards who were larger people movers that smothered their man. Either body type requires the guard to have active feet and the vision to look for work. Many times our guards are uncovered and are called upon to help the center or the tackle, or to look for a linebacker threatening their gap. They must be able to anticipate their assignment because they are not always immediately engaged at the snap. Guards have to know when to do what they are coached to do, but also be able to improvise at times and do what it takes to get a block.

Ideally, tackles have the ability to work in space. Many times they are put in a one-on-one situation and they must be able to handle this solo assignment. They must be able to set the edge and keep faster, more athletic defensive ends from getting into the backfield. Tackles must have vision to see who is lined up over them as well as those off the line outside and away from them. They must have a sense of multiple threats on a single play and be able to communicate to the guard who he will pick up so the guard knows where to look for work. Tackles are the soloists of the choir. They are the ones who stand out to people and their performance, for better or worse, is the most noticeable of all offensive linemen.

Each individual must use their skills to execute their assignment on a given play, but their performance is linked. If four do their job and one fails, disaster is imminent. Playing on the offensive line requires all five to work together and individually at the same time. They must rely on and trust each in order to be successful. They are the Five Musketeers – all for one and one for all.  It is a challenge and a privilege to work with them every day.

Chris Fisher is the offensive line coach for Ridge Point High School in Missouri City, Texas. He is a 17-year coach and member of the Texas High School Coaches Association. Fisher is also the founder of the Twitter chat network #TXHSFBCHAT. You can follow Coach Fisher on Twitter @coachfisher_rp and @TXHSFBCHAT.  You can also learn more about #TXHSFBCHAT on his website