offensive line

What Does the Offensive Line Do in Football?

While the quarterback and wide receivers often receive the most attention, the offensive line plays a critical role in the success of the team.

Here we look at the responsibilities of the offensive line, their impact on the game, and the skills required to excel in this position.

Let’s take a look.

The Role of the Offensive Line

The offensive line is a group of players positioned in front of the quarterback.

Their primary objective is to protect the quarterback and create running lanes for the ball carrier.

They form a barrier between the defense and the quarterback, giving him time to make decisions and execute plays.

Additionally, the offensive line is responsible for blocking the defensive players to prevent them from reaching the quarterback or disrupting running plays.

They must work together as a unit, communicating and adjusting their positions based on the defensive alignment.

Pass Protection

One of the main responsibilities of the offensive line is pass protection.

They create a pocket around the quarterback, allowing him to survey the field and make accurate throws.

To achieve this, they must quickly react to the defensive players’ movements and adjust their blocking techniques accordingly.

The offensive linemen use a combination of footwork, hand placement, and body positioning to keep the defenders at bay.

They must be able to recognize different pass-rushing moves and adjust their technique accordingly.

For example, if a defender attempts a bull rush by driving straight into the lineman, he must anchor his position and use his strength to hold his ground.

Run Blocking

In addition to pass protection, the offensive line is responsible for run blocking.

Their goal is to create openings in the defense, allowing the running back to gain yardage. This requires a combination of strength, technique, and coordination.

When run blocking, offensive linemen engage with the defensive players and attempt to move them out of the way.

They use a variety of blocking techniques, such as drive blocking, where they push the defender backward, or zone blocking, where they work together to create running lanes.

Skills Required for Offensive Linemen

Being an offensive lineman requires a unique set of skills and attributes.

Let’s explore some of the key qualities that make a successful offensive lineman:

Strength and Power

Offensive linemen need to possess exceptional strength and power.

They must be able to engage with defensive players and hold their ground.

The ability to generate force and drive opponents backward is crucial in both pass protection and run blocking.

Agility and Footwork

Despite their size, offensive linemen need to be agile and have good footwork.

They must be able to quickly react to the movements of the defensive players and adjust their positioning accordingly.

This allows them to maintain proper leverage and effectively block their opponents.

Intelligence and Football IQ

Offensive linemen must have a deep understanding of the game and be able to quickly analyze the defensive alignment.

They need to recognize different defensive schemes, identify potential blitzes, and communicate with their teammates to adjust blocking assignments.

A high football IQ is essential for success in this position.

Communication and Teamwork

The offensive line operates as a unit, and effective communication is vital.

They must be able to communicate quickly and efficiently, making adjustments based on the defensive alignment.

This requires trust and cohesion among the linemen, as they rely on each other to execute their assignments.

Case Study: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

One of the most dominant offensive lines in NFL history is the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line from 2014 to 2016.

Led by players like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, they were known for their exceptional pass protection and run blocking abilities.

During this period, the Cowboys’ offensive line paved the way for running back Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing yards in 2016.

Their ability to create running lanes and sustain blocks allowed Elliott to excel and helped the team achieve success.

Furthermore, their pass protection skills provided quarterback Dak Prescott with ample time to make decisions and deliver accurate throws.

This resulted in a highly efficient offense that consistently moved the chains and scored points.

Tackles vs. Guards vs. Center

The offensive line in American football is made up of five positions: two tackles, two guards, and a center.

These positions have distinct responsibilities and roles in the team’s offensive strategy.

Tackle (Left and Right)

The tackles are typically the largest players on the offensive line.

They are positioned on the outside of the line, with one on either side.

They have two primary responsibilities: blocking for both the running game and the passing game.

In running plays, they block defensive players to create lanes for running backs.

In passing plays, their primary responsibility is to protect the quarterback from “edge rushers” – typically the defensive ends or outside linebackers who are trying to get around the edge of the line to sack the quarterback.

The left tackle, who protects the quarterback’s blind side (for a right-handed quarterback), is typically the most skilled pass blocker on the line because of the importance of this role.

Guard (Left and Right)

The guards are positioned between the tackles and the center.

While they are typically smaller than the tackles, they still need to be large and strong, as they have to deal with large defensive tackles and sometimes linebackers in the running and passing game.

In running plays, guards are often asked to “pull”, or move laterally along the line of scrimmage before turning upfield to block a linebacker or defensive back, opening a hole for the running back.

In passing plays, guards are responsible for protecting the quarterback from interior defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers.


The center is in the middle of the offensive line and has an important role.

Before the play starts, the center snaps the ball to the quarterback and then immediately moves into blocking.

Besides blocking, centers often have the responsibility of calling out blocking assignments and identifying the defensive alignment.

Since they snap the ball and have a view of the entire defensive line, they are generally in the best position to make these calls.

The center must have a great understanding of the game and work closely with the quarterback.

These are general roles, and specific responsibilities can change based on the team’s offensive scheme, the specific play being called, the skill set of the individual player, and the defensive alignment.

Left Tackle vs. Right Tackle

The left tackle and the right tackle are both key positions on the offensive line in American football, and while their core responsibilities are similar – blocking for the quarterback and creating running lanes – there are significant differences, primarily related to the quarterback’s handedness.

Left Tackle

In a team with a right-handed quarterback (which is the most common situation), the left tackle is often considered the most important position on the offensive line.

This is because they protect the quarterback’s “blind side.”

Since a right-handed quarterback turns his back to the left side of the field when setting up to pass, he can’t see defenders coming from that direction.

So, the left tackle’s role in pass protection is crucial to prevent those blind-side hits that the quarterback can’t see coming.

As a result, left tackles are often the highest-paid players on the offensive line and are expected to be the best pass blockers of the group.

Right Tackle

The right tackle, while still an important position, often doesn’t face the same level of pass-rushing talent as the left tackle does, because most teams place their best pass rusher on the quarterback’s blind side.

Right tackles, however, often play a key role in the running game.

Many teams prefer to run to the right side (as right-handed running backs often find it easier to carry the ball in their right arm), which means the right tackle needs to be very good at run blocking.

Differences in today’s game

While the above outlines the traditional roles of the left and right tackles, it’s worth noting that in modern football, the distinction between the two positions has blurred somewhat.

As defenses have become more sophisticated and versatile, teams are more likely to move their best pass rushers around to exploit matchups.

As a result, right tackles today also need to be excellent pass blockers.

Similarly, left tackles also need to contribute effectively to the running game.

Note that these roles can be reversed in the case of a left-handed quarterback.

In such situations, the right tackle takes on the primary role of protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

Average Height & Weight of Offensive Linemen in the NFL

The average height and weight of offensive linemen in the NFL can vary depending on their specific position.

However, we can provide with approximate ranges based on historical data.

Offensive Tackle

  • Average Height: 6’5″ to 6’7″ (196 cm to 201 cm)
  • Average Weight: 300 to 320 pounds (136 kg to 145 kg)

Offensive Guard

  • Average Height: 6’3″ to 6’5″ (190 cm to 196 cm)
  • Average Weight: 310 to 330 pounds (141 kg to 150 kg)


  • Average Height: 6’2″ to 6’4″ (188 cm to 193 cm)
  • Average Weight: 300 to 320 pounds (136 kg to 145 kg)

It’s important to note that these are general ranges, and individual players may deviate from them.

NFL offensive linemen often possess a combination of size, strength, and agility, but the specific requirements can vary depending on the team’s offensive system and play style.

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FAQs – Offensive Line in Football

1. What is the primary role of the offensive line in football?

The primary role of the offensive line is to protect the quarterback and create running lanes for the ball carrier.

2. How do offensive linemen protect the quarterback?

Offensive linemen protect the quarterback by forming a barrier between the defense and the quarterback, using techniques such as footwork, hand placement, and body positioning.

3. What are some common blocking techniques used by offensive linemen?

Common blocking techniques used by offensive linemen include drive blocking, where they push the defender backward, and zone blocking, where they work together to create running lanes.

4. What skills are required to excel as an offensive lineman?

Offensive linemen need to have strength, power, agility, footwork, intelligence, football IQ, communication, and teamwork skills to excel in their position.

5. How does the offensive line impact the success of the team?

The offensive line plays a crucial role in the success of the team by providing protection for the quarterback, creating running lanes, and allowing the offense to execute plays effectively.

6. Can offensive linemen score touchdowns?

While it is rare, offensive linemen can score touchdowns in certain situations, such as recovering a fumble in the end zone or catching a pass on a trick play.

7. How do offensive linemen communicate with each other?

Offensive linemen communicate with each other through verbal and non-verbal cues, using hand signals, calls, and pre-determined blocking assignments.

8. What is the importance of teamwork among offensive linemen?

Teamwork is crucial among offensive linemen as they must work together as a unit to execute their blocking assignments effectively and adjust to the defensive alignment.

9. Can offensive linemen play multiple positions on the line?

Yes, offensive linemen can play multiple positions on the line.

They often have the versatility to play different positions based on the team’s needs or due to injuries.

10. How do offensive linemen prepare for games?

Offensive linemen prepare for games by studying film of their opponents, analyzing defensive tendencies, and practicing their blocking techniques and assignments.

11. Are offensive linemen eligible to catch passes?

Yes, offensive linemen are eligible to catch passes if they report as eligible receivers before the play.

However, this is not a common occurrence.

12. How do offensive linemen adjust to different defensive alignments?

Offensive linemen adjust to different defensive alignments by communicating with each other, recognizing the defensive scheme, and making pre-snap adjustments to their blocking assignments.

13. Can offensive linemen be penalized?

Yes, offensive linemen can be penalized for various infractions, such as holding, false starts, or illegal blocks.

These penalties can result in a loss of yardage for the offense.

14. How do offensive linemen contribute to the running game?

Offensive linemen contribute to the running game by creating running lanes, engaging with defensive players, and sustaining blocks to allow the running back to gain yardage.

15. What is the impact of a strong offensive line on the team’s success?

A strong offensive line can significantly impact a team’s success by providing a solid foundation for the offense.

It allows the quarterback to make plays, protects against sacks and turnovers, and opens up opportunities for the running game.


The offensive line is an essential component of a successful football team. Their primary responsibilities include protecting the quarterback and creating running lanes for the ball carrier.

Offensive linemen must possess a combination of strength, agility, intelligence, and teamwork skills to excel in their position.

Through effective pass protection and run blocking, they contribute significantly to the team’s success.

Understanding the role and impact of the offensive line is crucial for appreciating the complexity and teamwork required in the game of football.

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