FRISCO, Texas — More than 40 offensive linemen were flanked in a horseshoe formation with their eyes plastered to the screen at the front of the room. They were all transfixed.
The oversized group was watching clips of Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller dominate offensive linemen across the league while Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz provided a scouting report of his rival. Schwartz suddenly stopped mid-sentence and nonchalantly blurted, “Don’t watch that one.”
The comment drew chuckles across the room as they watched a clip of Miller getting the best of Schwartz on a rep last season. Schwartz then continued with his assessment of Miller’s game. Others added their input on the seven-time All-Pro.
“He’s got elite quickness and elite timing,” one lineman said. “That is a pretty s—ty combo to go against.”
This is why all these offensive linemen gathered last weekend at the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star, around the corner from the Dallas Cowboys‘ training facility. They were sharing trade secrets and trying to improve their games, figuring out how to stop or minimize the damage some of the league’s best pass-rushers inflict on Sundays.
None of the men in that room, no matter their accomplishments or resumes (some of which are quite impressive), are impervious to getting beat by Miller when they face off for potentially 60 to 70 snaps in a game. So for the second straight year they congregated at the OL Masterminds and devised plans to stop players such as Miller, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.
Schwartz, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, Saints tackle Terron Armstead, Bucs center Ryan Jensen, Raiders tackle Trent Brown, Bears tackle Charles Leno Jr., Broncos guard Ronald Leary and Eagles guard Brandon Brooks were some of the more dominant voices in the room. They talked about how Mack’s get-off is simply to get them to open up, how not to fall for DeMarcus Lawrence‘s head fakes, how to avoid getting bull-rushed by Cameron Jordan, and why it was mandatory to use an attacking and physical pass set against Donald.
More than just seasoned All-Pros digested the knowledge. The group also consisted of some of this year’s top draft picks (the Vikings’ Garrett Bradbury and Saints’ Erik McCoy), free agents who have played in the league such as Hugh Thornton and Jeff Allen, retired veterans such as Geoff Schwartz and even a few college linemen.
Renowned offensive line trainer and scouting consultant Duke Manyweather and Johnson organized the event, the offensive line’s version of what Miller has done the past few years in California with some of the league’s top pass-rushers. Manyweather introduced the conversations, which ranged from how to train, take care of their bodies, handle conflict with coaches and deal with crowd noise and self-confidence. Even the veterans were taking notes.
“There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.'” Eagles guard Brandon Brooks
But a majority of the two-plus-hour classroom sessions from Friday to Sunday centered around the best players they face on Sundays (Miller, Lawrence, Mack, Donald, JJ Watt, Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and more). Different linemen who play different positions chime in on each.
“Just finding a way to stop some of those guys and having those blueprints on field,” Armstead said. “They’re like study guides. It’s work done for you in a sense in that you can see how effective it can be, or ineffective. And then make your plan from there.”
It’s a start, but it’s hardly foolproof.
“There is more to it than the plan,” Armstead added. “You still have to execute.”
Trying to get better
Manyweather, along with offensive line consultant Brandon Thorn, have the clips loaded. There is a slide that notes each pass rusher’s top moves, counters, best practices and some notes on their preferences — such as the frequency with which Miller used his spin move in 2018.
Then the floor opens and the conversations flow. Anything goes.
“This stuff is all about offensive linemen trying to bounce ideas off each other,” Leno said. “We’re just trying to get better. Get better and improve offensive line play. We’re saying all this stuff, and to think we’re going to go out there and block every single defender, no. They get paid, too.”
The idea is that the offensive linemen can take some of the ideas and techniques discussed and add them to their arsenal. Armstead explained during one of the sessions how he utilized something from last year’s OL Masterminds during an early matchup with the Buccaneers’ Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul beat Armstead early in that Week 1 matchup with a cross-chop move. This prompted Armstead to make an in-game change. He switched to a striking technique that was discussed by Mitchell Schwartz (among others) at the previous year’s OL Masterminds. After that adjustment, Pierre-Paul went silent. His name did not make the stat sheet.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that what worked for Armstead that week will work for another offensive tackle. Everyone in the room seemed to concede that. Linemen come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone can take the same approach that Trent Brown did, when his pass sets begged Mack to bull-rush into his chest. Not everyone is 360 pounds and has Brown’s 36-inch arms.
In fact, Schwartz talked about how early in his career in Cleveland he was trying too much to imitate future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas when he was not Joe Thomas. Schwartz believes his game elevated to the next level when he focused on his individual strengths. That played right into the theme of the second annual OL Masterminds, which seemed to be to trust yourself and do what you do well.
The information sharing that occurred at OL Masterminds and at Miller’s pass-rush camp has been met with criticism by those who view it as helping the enemy. But the players don’t seem to have reservations about the sessions.
“Even if we didn’t have this, there are guys in here that know each other,” Brooks said. “They are going to discuss the same things. It’s just a great idea where guys from all over come. There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.’ You have some O-line coaches who teach their ways. There are different line coaches and players who teach it a different way that just so happens to work for you.”
Johnson noted that players speak immediately after games, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Some then train together and talk about techniques and opponents in the offseason. So why not get all this offensive line knowledge in one room to better yourself and the overall line play around the league? All the information in the world doesn’t necessarily make a good lineman or mean that the individual digesting it can stop or contain Miller or Mack.
“Mike Tyson said it. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Johnson said. “Basically, there is no recipe. There are going to be guys that get their ass kicked. Sometimes I’m on the other end of that. But the more you can prepare, you’ll be in a better position to be your best self. That is what I like about [OL Masterminds].”