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Film Session: Chris Strausser and his impact on the Colts’ offensive line

Breaking down the five fundamentals of offensive line play by Chris Strausser

The 2020 NFL Draft has passed us by and now we are all waiting out the dead period until the real practices and games begin. With the unexpected global pandemic of Covid-19 hitting hard, we don’t even know how long this particular dead period may last this year. One way I personally like to kill the time is to research and study techniques of some of the best positional coaches in football. One of my personal favorites to study is Colts Offensive Line Coach Chris Strausser.

A coaching veteran of 31 years, there are few coaches that have more knowledge than Strausser. For today’s article, I will be examining a coaching clinic he did in 2013, when he was the OL Coach at Boise State, and breaking down aspects of that video and how it relates to the Colts from this past season. This article is the first of a series of offensive line pieces where I break down the philosophies and techniques of Howard Mudd and Chris Strausser and analyze their impact on the 2019 Colts offensive line. Today, we are starting with Strausser’s five fundamentals to offensive line play.

The Five Fundamentals of Offensive Line Play

Strausser starts this Coaching Clinic by stressing the three keys of great offensive line play. Those keys are playing smart, great fundamentals, and finishing blocks. He then goes into more depth with fundamentals as he breaks it up into five main categories. The five categories are listed here below in this picture:

Today we are going to go into detail on each of these points and show how the Colts’ offensive line has practiced these points over the past season.

1.) Stance and Start (Fit)

In regards to stance, Strausser doesn’t have a particular type of stance he wants his guys to be in. He typically had his guys in a three point stance at this point, but the key, to him, is having linemen relaxed and comfortable and ready to fire off.

The real point to emphasize here is the start, though. There are two main elements to the start, in Strausser’s eyes. One of those elements is called the “drop and cock.” This is basically a start where the lineman drops their arms at the snap and cocks a punch to gainn. He relates this to a boxer and how a boxer brings their arms in to their chest to gain power before punching, rather than just running around with an extended arm.

The other key element is that first step. Those first two steps will have variations depending on the run play, but for the most part it is a lateral then vertical step. The lateral step is used to line up the block and then the vertical second step is used to fire off and seal off the block on drive blocks or inside zone plays.

To demonstrate the importance of stance and start, let’s look at right guard Mark Glowinski on this play. Watch his first step as the foot starts lateral to line up the block before the second step explodes forward vertically to control the block. He does a great job of cocking his arms back to deliver a good punch as well. He could have done a better job of holding the block after the point of attack, but he executed the start and stance aspect of fundamentals and that allowed running back Marlon Mack to still get a decent gain on the play.

2.) Butt Down (Pad Level)

For this next fundamental, when Strausser says "butt down", he really means knee bend. He uses the term “butt down” as a coaching point because that is something that is much easier to understand in practice than knee bend. The main emphasis with this point is for players to keep their hips sustained at the same level throughout the play. Their knees should always stay bent and their butt should be at the same level it was at before the ball was snapped.

Let’s look at the best guard in the NFL, Quenton Nelson, for the perfect example of this. On a goal line play, getting that initial push is so vital for linemen. Nelson does a great job of sustaining the same hip level throughout the play as he is able to drive his defender to the ground for a pancake. Low pad level and “butt down” is the key to an effective leg drive, especially when you have the power that Nelson has.

3.) Feet Apart Base

The key to an effective base according to Strausser is for the lineman to first have their feet wider than their shoulders. After having the feet wide, the knees are bent inside the ankles to produce power from the ankle down low. The last point of emphasis is to play with quick and tight feet. He doesn’t want elongated or big steps, he wants quick and decisive steps that derive from that good base.

For an example of this, let’s look at young offensive tackle Braden Smith. Smith is naturally a very powerful tackle and he is able to win so many reps when his feet are in sync with his base. Here, he starts out with a perfect base. His feet are lined up wider than his shoulders. He fires off the ball and uses his power from his ankles along with a good knee bend to drive the defender off the ball. He then finishes the block by using quick and choppy steps to roll with the base and drive the defender out of the play.

4.) Hands Inside

Strausser starts off this fourth point by saying that this is one of the most important aspects of offensive line play. He describes the perfect hand position as elbows tight with thumbs up striking inside the numbers. He says that he always wants his linemen attacking on the rise out of their stance and almost never on the downswing. Hands inside and an offensive lineman always has a chance.

Let’s look at the great Ryan Kelly for an example of this point. This play is the perfect example of why hands inside is so important. Kelly initially stalemates with the defensive tackle at the line of scrimmage, as they both explode off the line similarly and have similar leverage. The key difference, though, is that Kelly has his hands inside and in perfect position. From this position, he is able to redirect the block and drive the defender into the ground for the pancake on the play.

5.) Eyes to the Aiming Point

The final point in Strausser’s clinic is having his linemen keep their eyes on their aiming point. This is important in all phases of blocking as the eyes will tell you where your hands need to be, and where the best spot is to make contact to win the block. He identifies the five main aiming points as being under the chin, the collar bone, the shoulder, the V of the neck, and the inside armpit (mostly on pass blocking reps). Under the chin is the main aiming point on reach and drive blocks.

For an example of this, let’s look at this play from veteran offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo. He is climbing to the second level on this play in the hopes of reaching the linebacker before the running back commits outside. Watch Castonzo’s eyes here, as they are dead-focused under the chin of the linebacker. Even as he stumbles in his climb, his eyes never leave his aiming point and he is able to make solid contact at that spot. Once he gains that contact, he is able to run the linebacker out of the play.

Statistical Improvement

While that is a lot of information to digest above with a ton of techniques and sayings, it is nice to throw some stats to back it up. In 2018, under OL Coach Dave Deguglielmo, the Colts ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,718 yards, 22nd in the NFL in yards per attempt with 4.21, and only totaled 856 yards rushing before contact.

In 2019 under Chris Strausser, the Colts ranked 7th in rushing yards with 2,130 yards, 11th in yards per rush with 4.52, and had 1,137 yards rushing before contact. There are obviously a lot of factors that go into those stats, but the run game improved a lot with Strausser as the offensive line coach with basically the same players.

Final Thoughts

While this information is fun to look at, and a good study point for any future offensive line coaches, I will say that all five Colts starters likely came to Indianapolis with these fundamentals already known. It is highly unlikely that an NFL offensive lineman doesn’t already have these techniques and drills in their mind already or else they wouldn’t be at this level of football.

However, Strausser was brought to Indy to help these players refine their technique and build on what they already have. Unlike Deguglielmo, Strausser is a pure teacher as a coach. He was brought in to really help these players maintain their knowledge of these techniques and help them get to the next level as players.

This article shows that on film (as well as in the statistical column), Strausser has already had an impact as the OL Coach. He already has these players playing at a higher level just from pounding home some universal techniques and ideas into their head. His emphasis on the little details has already gone a long way for these players. I expect even bigger things in the future for these players with the excellent coaching of Chris Strausser. Stay tuned going forward for articles like this as my next couple will focus on the “Mudd Technique” and how Strausser and Mudd’s unique pass blocking style helped the Colts in 2019.