"Build your empire on the firm foundation of the fundamentals." - Lou Holtz
Footwork, posture and pad level - 3 major areas for improvement for any offensive lineman, at any level.
What doesn’t occur to most players and coaches is just how much of an impact developing a better 3-point stance can have on those particular shortcomings. Let me explain.
The purpose of the stance is to best prepare you to win blocks, and if you’re lacking on some of these points, you might be missing out on some power and leverage during the play.
NOTE: There are many types of OL stances in football based on the position and the type of offense. Today we will focus on a balanced 3-point stance for Guards and Tackles - the most common OL stance in football.
Often this is addressed with a simple “feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.” While true, it's important to get it just right for your frame.
Having your feet too wide will affect your first step - you will be prone to false-stepping and stepping underneath yourself.
Conversely, if your base is too narrow, you’ll be unable to manipulate the weight to the inside of your feet - losing the ability to control the size and power of your steps out of your stance. Poor stance width will also hinder your ability to control your pad level and body posture throughout the play.
Do this - When bending down into your stance, make sure that you can easily put the weight on the inside of your feet, and if not, try edging them a little wider. Then, take some 6-inch power steps in each direction to ensure that you're not too wide.
In football, stagger can be defined as the vertical, forward-to-back depth between your foot alignment.
Right sided players generally have their right foot back, and left sided players their left (the reason for which is another topic altogether).
The question to be answered today is “how deep”? This is a hotly debated subject, and is again often oversimplified and will vary from player to player.
Its universally agreed upon that Tackles should have a little more stagger than Guards. Why? Being further out on the line of scrimmage, tackles have to kick further back more often, to deal with defenders who are aligned much wider.
Young players tend to suffer from a lack of stagger rather than from too much.
Just as the base width provides side-to-side balance, the stagger provides forward-to-back balance; when your feet are too even, your center of gravity is on a single axis and two main problems arise:
- It becomes easy to see if you have too much weight on your hand or too little. You won’t be able to be sneaky with your weight distribution. If you are preparing to pass set or pull, it will be glaringly obvious to the DL and linebackers that you’re “lite” in your stance.
- Your pass sets will be thrown off. Your initial kick step will have to travel too far to establish a proper pass protection stagger. When your foot isn’t on the ground, you can’t react to the defender’s movement, so smaller steps are desired. When pass setting with your inside foot, it will be much easier for it to drop behind you, opening your feet and hips to the inside which is basically the cardinal sin of pass protection.
Do this - Start somewhere between toe-to-instep and toe-to-heel and try some run steps and pass sets out of it in both directions. Just be sure to avoid having your heel come up on your outside (back) foot, which leads to the next hotly debated topic...
The Outside Foot
“Should the outside foot be slightly turned outward, or should both feet be facing straight ahead?”
This is certainly the most contested issue on the subject of the 3 point stance, and it probably always will be. Many old school downhill run coaches will argue both toes should be straight ahead, but nearly all high-level line coaches in a balanced pass/run offense would disagree.
To have a truly balanced stance with efficient stagger, you simply cannot afford to be up on your toe, but rather distributing the weight to the inside of your entire foot.
To achieve this, you will need to turn the toe out a bit and squeeze the knee in. The most important factor is not letting your outside knee point outward with your toe, but keeping it pulled in so that your knees, hips, and shoulders are parallel with the line of scrimmage.
Do this - take your normal stance with stagger and see how much your outside heel comes up while keeping your toes straight. Staying bent down, let your outside toe turn outward until you are able to get your foot flat through the inside of your shoe, and then pinch the knee in to be square with your other knee. Mess around with it and find a spot that you feel poised and then start to rep your steps and sets out of that position. Get used to it and enjoy the added explosiveness, balance and posture out of your stance!
The “Down” Hand
There are three factors that come into play: Where you place your hand, how you set your fingers and how much weight you place down.
The weight and placement go “hand and hand” (bad pun, sorry). Ie, if you put your hand further in front of you, it will naturally bear more of your weight - and closer, less.
With a goal of being balanced, start with it underneath your outside eye and go from there. If your hand is outside the frame of your head it's too far out, in front or to the side.
The hand itself should be open and all 4 finger tips, plus the thumb, should be firmly planted in the ground (“Five Fingers Firm”). This will give you the best surface area to manipulate your weight distribution and will help provide the perfect amount of forward attitude vs the alternatives of putting your knuckles down or using just a few fingers.
Do this - To test: in a stance with 5 fingers firm, pick up your hand without moving your feet- We’re looking for just enough weight on there that you ever-so-slowly fall forward- if at all. So if you find yourself falling on your face immediately, try taking a little off of it- slide it back a little, and test again.
The “Off” Hand
Remember, the goal for your stance is to prepare you in the best way to win your block during the play.
The off hand, the one not going on the ground, is no different but is almost always left out of the conversation. It needs to be in a “ready to strike” position- arm bent, elbow in, and hand open.
Your forearm can be touching your thigh but avoid resting too much of your weight on it.
Keeping the elbow tucked in- but not inside of your leg- and having the hand open will help you as you now won’t need to “prep” that hand to strike between the time of the snap and the time of your punch.
Do this - Get into your stance and set the off hand in your normal way. Leave that hand/arm exactly how it is, and stand straight up- as seen below. Is that hand in a relatively good strike position?
Your hand should be open and closer to your sternum than your face. If it is up by your ear, lower it to where you’d like to carry it in your pass set and drop back down into your stance. Try some quick pass sets and see if its easier to be punch-ready with your hands!
Posture, Posture, Posture!
Now that the frame is set, we can wrap this up with the final piece, your body posture.
The key takeaway from this will be keeping your back flat and poised, instead of rounded.
The biggest issue I see out there is letting the tail bone “droop” down, which results in either a rounded back or a “Squatty Dog” stance (head in the sky, butt on the ground).
The trunk should be low but not too low, and the eyes should be up but not completely. Bend your knees to lower your center of gravity. Finding that middle ground can be tough but it will help you be more explosive!
Do this - start by standing straight up, with your feet set and staggered. Picture like you have a squat bar on your back, and sink down toward a squat position- just not so deep that your tailbone points downward. Put your hand down and evaluate your position. You should be able to look up and see the ground about 6 or 7 yards in front of you. Your tailbone should be in line with your spine. Your lower back should be so flat that you can ALMOST balance a glass of water on it. Try raising or lowering your hips and your butt to find a spot where you feel comfortable, yet strong, through your lower back.
Stances can vary greatly by body type, position and the offense you’re in. The key to being perfect is finding what works best for you, and making it become habit by getting endless repetition.
Self evaluation is a huge part of development, so if you haven’t considered these crucial areas of your stance, using this list will be an excellent resource and starting point for you.
- Base - Just outside the frame of your body
- Stagger - Heel to toe or heel to instep
- Outside Foot - Okay to turn out slightly
- Bent Knees - Pinched in, square along with hips.
- Down Hand - 5 fingers firm, very little weight forward
- Off Hand - Open, ready, elbow in, tucked
- Back - Flat, tail bone in line with spine
- Eyes - Forward, head up but not too high.
Thank you for reading and sharing, Be sure to join our newsletter for more tips! Good luck in your blocks and as always, stay hungry!