Interviewing players and coaches creates an interesting dilemma for me as a journalist. I know a lot about football, but clearly not everything. Every now and then, someone will use a term, I either don’t know, or I do know, but not necessarily enough to write about. After all, if I don’t understand a subject how can I write about it in a clear and concise way the readers will understand. When I run into this situation, I stop the interview and have my subject explain the term to me. I see it as a learning opportunity and I’ve benefited from speaking with some of the smartest people in the sport. Not long ago I was messaging with my friend, Lehigh Valley Full Back, NAL All-Star, Undra Hendrix, and picking his brain about some bit of terminology or another when we realized we had an opportunity to help fans to understand arena football a little bit better.
A coach of a team who’d just watched his QB get knocked around for 60 minutes told me the offensive line wasn’t communicating with each other very well. I pressed him for an explanation, and he said they weren’t always sliding the same way, and it was creating rushing lanes and ruining their passing game. Anyone at the game could easily see the huge holes in the O-line, and I already knew the term Slide Protection, but I only had a general understanding of what it meant. It’s pretty obvious that everyone on the O-line needs to know who they’re going to block on every play but how is that determined? Confusion on even one play could be the difference between winning and losing. I haven’t played football since I was a little kid, and I immediately realized I didn’t know enough about the term to write about it in a way my readers deserve; enter Undra. I asked him to explain the term, and this is our conversation.
AF Insider: Hi Undra, as a fullback I know you’re an integral part of the blocking scheme, and I was wondering if you could explain to me what “Slide Protection” is?
Undra Hendrix: Yeah, sure, no problem. Basically, Slide Protection means the offensive line is going to slide right or slide left. At High Country last year, it would be 52 or 53. The “2” was to the right side, and the “3” was to the left. In that offense, the FB made the call because the FB was coming to the end. So for instance, if we called 52, and the offensive line was supposed to slide right the FB is going to slide to the left.
AF Insider: I saw a game where the QB was getting beat up a lot and the coach told me after the game the line wasn’t communicating well.
Undra Hendrix: What he was probably saying is someone on the line didn’t understand his responsibility on each play. So if the offensive line was supposed to slide right, and he slid left, which allowed a free man on the defense. If you don’t pick up someone, it makes it easy for them to pass rush.
AF Insider: It seems like guys should be able to block whoever is directly in front of them, so what is the purpose of the slide?
Undra Hendrix: It depends upon the Mack (the middle linebacker lined up 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage and just to the left or the right of the nose guard) and the nose guard (the defensive lineman playing directly across from the center). You have to put a bigger body on the Mack to try to slow the pass rush down a little bit; it gives the QB a bit more time to get the ball out. This is especially true on “50.”
AF Insider: What do you mean “50?” What does that number signify?
Undra Hendrix: The “5” is the number of steps in the QB drops. So 50 protections are 5 steps, and 30 protections are 3 steps. In 30 protections, the QB needs to get the ball out quick so everyone ends up cut blocking. The defense usually knows if it’s going to be a quick game, so they try to get their hands up so you go low and get into their knees, and that makes them have to bring their hands down.
AF Insider: With a three-step drop, the QB is still pretty close to the line which means the receivers haven’t had time to get that far down the field. With the defender’s hands up, they could easily tip or bat the ball down. If that’s the case, then the QB would need to find a lane to throw through because he doesn’t really have the time or space to go over the top?
Undra Hendrix: Yes sir, which is why you cut.
AF Insider: The numbers, do they apply to where the defense is lined up, or the offense?
Undra Hendrix: The numbers are for the offense only. Even numbers are to the right and odd numbers are to the left. So if you’re running the ball to the right, it would be 22, 24, 26 and to the left would be 23, 25, 27. Passing is the same way 52,54; they are to the right and 53,55 on up is to the left.
AF Insider: Is it always the full back making the line call?
Undra Hendrix: No, that usually depends on what team you’re on and how the coaching staff likes to do it. Sometimes it could be the fullback, or it could be from the sideline. You don’t always slide, but against good teams, you have to change up the protection. It also keeps the blockers up front fresh. If I had to go against the Mack on every play, I’d wear down just like he is. When you change up the protection, it helps keep the offensive linemen and fullback fresh. The linebacker might be 6’2 265, and if he’s going against a guy who’s 5’11 280 on every play he’ll have an easier time of it than if he has to deal with the slide matching him up on a guard who’s 6’5 and weighs 340 lbs.
AF Insider: What about when the fullback blocks in the gap between the center and the guard, what is that called?
Undra Hendrix: That would be 30 or 50, and it’s when the fullback lines up over the strong gap, unless they tell us to go weak. Strong means the fullback would line up over the gap with the Mack and weak means the fullback would line up in the gap away from the Mack.
AF Insider: So those’re the basics of line play and slide protection?
Undra Hendrix: Yeah, that’s really about it. It changes up depending upon who you’re playing and also how you want to change it up during the game. That’s where you can tell the difference between the guys who practice and pay attention and those who are just showing up for the paycheck.
AF Insider: Hey Undra man, thanks. I really appreciate this. Would you mind coming back and explaining other terms or situations I might run into from time to time?
Undra Hendrix: Yeah, sure. Thanks