By Brandon Thorn
Attending the first ever Offensive Line Performance (OLP) seminar that was put on by LeCharles Bentley (LB) and his staff was an incredible experience for me. Along with LeCharles, the OLP staff consists of former NFL offensive lineman CJ Davis, and strength and conditioning coach Matt Lee.
This was a two-day event at the beautiful OLP facility located in Arizona that featured dozens of high school and college OL coaches from around the world, a current high school player accompanied by his father, a female offensive lineman, and a guy starving for more knowledge on offensive line play (me).
Being invited to attend this seminar was truly a honor, and entering the weekend I was ecstatic to be among the best of the best in the world of offensive line development. I wound up leaving Arizona deeply impacted, not only with a wealth of knowledge to add to my toolbox in terms of evaluating, but as to what true leadership should look like, no matter your career field.
I arrived at the OLP facility around 8:30am via a free shuttle from the hotel all of us attendees were staying at.
Upon walking into the facility my group was greeted by LeCharles, who was in his office when we arrived. There was a framed picture of a Bentley Pro Bowl jersey on the wall outside of his office (when he made it as a guard), along with another picture of LeCharles playing in the Pro Bowl alongside the likes of Larry Allen and Orlando Pace.
Further down the hall was a mural painted by a former pupil of Bentley’s, and other unique tributes to all-time great offensive lineman. The setup of the facility was clearly done with a lot of intent, and each piece had a distinct reason for being where it was. There was obvious pride in everything we were introduced to, which wound up being a common theme throughout the weekend.
The facility is designed as a safe haven for the players who train there, aimed at delivering a place where they can hang out after they train instead of simply training and leaving. There are couches and a TV in the lobby area, with a film room nearby.
LeCharles knows firsthand the temptations that exist for professional athletes, and wants to provide a place where his players can not only get world class training and treatment, but a place to have fun, and be safe at the same time.
By the way, this seminar was put on by LeCharles as a way of giving back (another common theme), which was the equivalent of having the OL gospel downloaded into our brains for free.
As we walked onto the field/weight room portion of the facility it looked exactly as the picture above shows.
Immediately, as you can see, the players who train here are LB’s pride and joy. He proudly shows them off throughout the facility, and as you can see in the photo, there is a creed that everyone lives by at OLP: Trust, Tough, Honor, Loyal, Family.
LeCharles made it a point to explain why these words were displayed so boldly in his facility, and the explanation was what you would imagine; these traits explain what it means to not only be a successful offensive lineman, but what it means to be a part of the OLP family. There is a seriousness and intensity about the way business is conducted there that I really appreciated.
One thing about LeCharles is that when you meet him he makes you feel special. For me personally, that goes a long way. There is a presence about him that is pretty awe-inspiring considering he is built like a pro bodybuilder, and looks like he can play meaningful NFL snaps at the drop of a hat. He is genuine in his interactions with everyone, and I’m not only speaking on my behalf, but on the behalf of other coaches who were there with me. That went a long way in setting the tone for a wonderful weekend.
There is a theme about the way the OLP brand is operated: Lead from the front. Lead by example. Practice what you preach. You see that very clearly once you spend some time around the OLP staff.
As the seminar kicked off we were treated to LeCharles telling us about his story, and the story of how OLP was birthed. What followed was an in-depth breakdown of what makes him tick. “There’s not enough time to get better,” LeCharles told us, referring to the pro game. With the limitations on time for mini-camp in the NFL, and the overall desire of NFL coaches to install the scheme, there remains little time for the nuances of the position to be taught. This is where OLP comes in. There is no mention of scheme here, in fact, LB says he has had opportunities to coach, but at this time, wants nothing to do with the implementation of scheme.
He wants everything to do with coaching individual players on how to master their bodies and their technique. He repeatedly said throughout the weekend his job is to “add to the toolbox” of his players, so when squared up against the likes of Aaron Donald, they have a reservoir of options to choose from in order to get the job done.
As the morning went on it became very apparent that LB is a perfectionist in everything that he does, from the setup of the facility, to the explanation of the human body in relation to playing offensive line.
Football is a game of angles. Speed and athleticism are overrated. OL is played in eight angles. These were some of the mantras being thrown around as I was sitting down jotting notes and hanging onto every word.
As most know, my goal when leaving the military was to enter into the world of football evaluation, particularly as a NFL scout. Having played offensive line throughout high school, this was the position I identified with the most. I set myself on a path to learn as much as I possibly can about the game, but especially have gravitated towards offensive line play over the last year or so.
I knew entering the OL world would be a lot like trying to enter the world of Security Forces (my previous career field in the Air Force) as an outsider. This is a group of people who take great pride in themselves, while being extremely misunderstood and largely disrespected. The hesitancy to allow “outsiders” in is rightfully a real thing, because intentions have to be identified first. I understand that mindset, and I respect it. So for me to be welcomed into the most exclusive place in the world regarding OL development, I have been incredibly blessed, and humbled by it.
Strength and conditioning coach Matt Lee gave us a presentation on “OL Athleticism” that was fantastic. There are 5 traits to OL athleticism:
- Functional Mobility
Matt would go on to explain each one of these traits from a biomechanics and physiological perspective. Being a personal trainer myself, with a fascination for the way the human body is constructed, the way offensive line is approached at OLP is an intersection of two of my greatest passions.
What stuck out to me most about this portion of the seminar was the concentration on purpose. Approaching each drill or rep with a sense of purpose and intent, “owning it,” as opposed to haphazardly going through something is a key aspect of improving. Quality over quantity.
In addition, the term myelination was introduced to us regarding this process. Most of us would simply refer to this as muscle memory, but physiologically there is a process inside the nervous system that we are able to train to become more efficient at the task being developed. Without getting too scientific, being deliberate when practicing your craft has an effect on the structure of messages being sent across neurons in the body. Your development will be increased when the work is done with purpose.
Ankle mobility was another aspect of the body that we focused on during the first day of presentation.
The term “kinetic chain” is one that I have used many times on various podcasts and articles, and it simply means that the human body is connected, and effected by nearby muscles, joints, and tendons.
So if there is an issue with ankle mobility, that will work itself up the chain to the knee, and subsequently the hip, and so on. During the morning portion of the seminar, it was emphasized to us that offensive line is played from the ground up.
When a blocker is attempting to drive a defender off the ball the hips need to go into extension in order to generate movement. If the ankles are tight, pad level will prematurely rise, and the full range of motion in the ankle, knee, and hip will be compromised. This seminar focused on unpacking generic terms such as “he plays too high,” and “poor pad level,” among others.
Ankle mobility is a key component that OLP looks at in correcting and developing their offensive lineman.
Appreciate the craftsmanship
It was conveyed to us that arguably the most overlooked component of OL play is the stance. “Start bad, end bad,” was communicated to us by CJ Davis during a presentation on the strike of an offensive lineman. The foundation of an offensive lineman is their stance, and the strike will only be as strong as your foundation. Want to improve your strike, or hand usage, as an offensive lineman? Improve your base first.
“A strike, in OL play, is attempting to redirect the force of a defensive player by generating force from the ground up, passing through the body, and delivered by your palms.”
This was the definition given to us on what exactly a strike is for an offensive lineman. Notice how the term “punch” is carefully avoided. OL don’t punch, they strike.
Here is a picture of internal rotation at the shoulder, which occurs during a punch.
Here we have external rotation at the shoulder, which occurs during a strike. The anatomy of the shoulder is very different in each of these movements. Hence why boxing training isn’t the most practical application of offensive line play, despite its popularity.
In external rotation, there are more powerful muscles involved or “turned on” as opposed to the punch, such as the lats and the full scapula. This also connects the elbows and hips, and generates torque, both critical elements of offensive line play.
If you can’t get your feet right, the hands don’t matter.
OL is a dictatorship, not a democracy
Each presentation built on itself.
If the stance isn’t correct, the first step in pass pro, or the run game for that matter, will not be successful. Getting out of your stance involves the drive-catch phase of OL play, which carries over to the pass and run game.
This involves driving off of your plant leg, and catching with your front side leg. There is no “stepping towards” a defender on a base block that is so often coached. Violent intent must be present when coming out of your stance.
LB made it clear to us during our time at OLP that this seminar was a way of giving back. He told us a story of how his high school OL coach played a massive part in shaping his career. When told he was too small by a big-time college during a visit to his high school (LB is 6-foot-2), his high school coach took him under his wing and gave him the direction he needed to succeed.
This seminar was a big “thank you” to fellow high school OL coaches from around the country, who LB holds in very high regard.
We were taken out to lunch each day by the OLP staff at a local barbeque spot, we were given OLP gear, and we were given access to every staff member with whatever questions we had, and 1-on-1 instruction.
We were even coached ourselves, so that we could understand and feel what we should be teaching players. LeCharles not only taught us various techniques, he made us perform the drills ourselves to engrain the movement patterns, and better equip us to explain it to others.
Give them movements, give them knowledge
Another message that resonated with me was the empathy in which LeCharles has for players, having been one at the highest level himself. There was a clear memo given to every coach in attendance to never lead a player astray by feeding them information they themselves cannot explain. “Don’t just give them the how, but also the why,” was a term often used. As a former player myself, and as anyone in a student type of relationship with a teacher can appreciate, knowing the “why” behind instruction being given can be very powerful.
As much as LB conveyed valuable knowledge in the form of drills, workouts, and movements to everyone in attendance, the directive to respect the responsibility each of us has as coaches on young people was most impactful for me personally. There was a demand for things to be done right, with the player in mind, and that is commendable.
Ultimately, I derived from this experience what leadership at the highest level can, and should look like. Respecting everyone around you by demanding the best from yourself first, then those you are responsible for, second. Leading from the front. Practicing what you preach. Treat others how you wish to be treated.
At the same time, being serious and intense about your craft, with an uncanny ability to inspire those around you. Like LeCharles said to us, this is his calling. Witnessing people maximize their gifts in relation to their calling is a sight to behold in any facet of life. For a weekend I was treated to learning from the best, and I won’t soon forget what that looked like.