Following the line

O-line

Norm Katnik gives us a look at a spring ball practice for the offensive line with his thoughts on the strategy behind certain drills and commentary on the players currently fighting for position spots. Katnik was a three year starter for the Trojans, he was named All Pac-10 as a senior, and he played every position on the line during his USC career. His brother Kurt is a sophomore tight end for the Trojans. Click below for part 1 of the story:

After stretching on Brian Kennedy Field the offensive line moves to the northwest corner of Howard Jones Field (along the right field line of Dedeaux Field) for a 1/2 speed drill which simulates run blocking.

"This is just a basic run drill where they'll go through every situation, every scenario that you might see from the defense. A lot of the scenarios will depend on what the offense is going to be working on today so in this drill the lineman can get a basic look at what they are going to see during practice. This is basically the same thing they will start with every day during the season. There may be some minor changes, Tuesday may be zone day where you work on the zone game, Wednesday could be power and the G schemes which is where you're pulling people."

New center Ross Burruel comes to the line making the call based on what he sees from the defense.

"The thing that makes it so hard for a JC guy, especially a center, is that he's got to know all the calls and keep track of so much. It seems basic but you need to remember the snap count. When I first moved to center that was probably the hardest thing for me. You had to know what to do, know what to say, know where everybody is and then to remember "on one" or "on two". That was probably the most difficult thing."

What are some of the things that are trying to be accomplished in this drill?

"If you're trying to do too much, if you're trying to think for everybody else on the line or think for the quarterback, that's when you get all messed up. You've got to stick with the basics, stick with what they're working on with these drills because that's what's going to happen. Your natural instinct sometimes is to help your buddy, to do a little extra, but that's when a linebacker is gonna come downhill and run right by you to make a play in the backfield. You've got to do what they're doing right here in this drill and things will work out correctly. It's repetition, repetition, repetition, you can never do it enough. Especially with these young guys."

You have to be able to trust the person next to you.

"On the line chemistry is the #1 most important thing you can have. If you can find guys who can play well next to each other, who can work together if one is unsure of something to make sure there are no mental errors, they can reassure each other and that's so important."

The line moves to Howard Jones Field with the rest of the offense to run through a series of bag drills while the defense does the same drill on Brian Kennedy Field. We asked Norm to talk about Kyle Williams.

"I think Kyle's been playing really well. At times in the past I think he was unsure of himself in terms of what to do but now that he's an older guy he kind of has to know what's going on and that's forced him into the right stuff. I think it's probably helped him because he's been doing the right stuff so far. When he got here he was more of a run blocker but he ran with his feet over his toes and that can get you in a lot of trouble in pass blocking with some quick ends. One of the things I think he's done well so far this year is he's learned to get his head right over his feet and not be so heavy on his toes. That's helped him settle down with his run blocking and he looks so much more comfortable with his pass blocking because he's in the right set. That's what pass blocking is all about is being in the right set. If you can get set right it doesn't matter what else you do because you're going to be between the defensive lineman and the quarterback."

Drew Radovich.

"I think Drew is a pretty good athlete and that's just something you can't teach. He played a little lighter in high school and he's gained some weight since he's been here but he's still got that athlete in him. He still thinks he's an athlete and he moves like an athlete. That's something that's always going to be on his side. No matter what level he plays at, no matter who he goes against, he'll always be able to move his feet well and do stuff like that correctly."

Fred Matua

"Fred has done a good job this spring trying to be that leader because he is the guy with the most experience right now. I was talking to Ryan (Kalil) the other day and he was saying that Fred's done a pretty good job with that. There really isn't anyone else to take that role whether it be vocally or not but Fred's a pretty vocal guy as it is anyways, I'm sure you know that, and so he's inspiring guys and getting them on the same page. That's so important. If everybody is working together, it could be right or wrong, but if they are working together it will be fine because that's the way the o-line works. You just need to have one cohesive unit working the same way."

When Fred first got moved to the offensive line he wanted to play defense.

"He definitely has that defensive mentality because he has that fiery attitude. It's hard to get that out of someone but you can use that on the offense too. It helps to get the line and the whole offense going. I think it was a good move for him to play offense because his body type, his size."

Travis Draper.

"Travis Draper is another guy like Drew who is a tall, not too big, athlete. He's just an overall good athlete and as the years go on he's gonna learn the plays and be more confident with his steps. If you're a good athlete and you have confidence in your steps, you may not be as fast or as physical, but you can use that ability to stay in front of your man and prevent him from making a play on the guy with the ball."

How important is it to get to that point where you aren't thinking about the play but instead you are just reacting?

"You need to have the confidence to know what you are doing without thinking. When you hear that play in the huddle you run it through your head ten times before you get to the line of scrimmage. You have every different scenario going through your head so when you put your hand down at the line of scrimmage you already know what's going to happen even thought it hasn't happened yet. Without having to think it's already done. It makes it so much easier when you get to that point."

At this point the line moves to Brian Kennedy Field where they join with the defensive line for a run drill.

"This is a similar drill to what they were doing earlier but it's just against a defense now. As Eric (Torres) and I were talking about on the way over here, every drill that you see where it's just offensive line against the defensive line is a defensive biased drill. When you have a defensive lineman who knows exactly what's coming, like on this play he knows it's going to be a run play so they are just trying to get off the ball as fast as they possibly can. A good defensive lineman is going to do that anyways but sometimes a defensive lineman in a team situation isn't going to do that. He may slow down a little bit, stand up, look for the ball. Here they don't have anything else to do but get off the ball as fast as they can. They're not thinking anything about defensive football."

The next drill is a pass rush drill which is a one on one pass rush to a stationary target in the backfield.

"As an offensive lineman if you can learn to do this, if you can learn to do it to perfection like Jake (Rogers) use to, Jake was a great offensive pass blocker, if you can learn to block a guy in a pass rush drill you're a pretty darn good pass blocker. These guys work at this, they work at it every day. You may give up a sack in this drill but it took three and a half seconds. That's pretty darn good when you figure the defensive linemen are just coming, they've got their ears pinned back and they're doing anything and everything to get to the quarterback."

What is considered a good performance in the pass rush drill?

"Good in this drill is moving your feet. If you can move your feet, even if he's beating you with his hands, if you're moving your feet and staying in front of him you've done a good job. Even if you get pushed back a little bit, I always thought in a game a bull rush wasn't nearly as good because there were so many things you could do to stop it. First of all, I think adrenaline on the offensive line prevents the bull rush a lot. You could also cut the guy or do other things to stop a bull rush. Here the bull rush might be a lot more effective but in a game it's not as much. In this drill you've also got an immobile quarterback. With Leinart he would be moving around back there, finding seams, finding holes in the protection to step up into or step out of. This can be a real hard drill. It's harder than a live scrimmage because these guys aren't going any slower than they would be in a game or in a scrimmage. They're going just as hard as they ever were. That's why I was saying it before, if you can take a perfect set in a drill like this, if you can move your feet well like Drew or Kyle or Draper, you're doing pretty good. Just right there, Draper got thrown to the side a little but he was a good athlete and he was able to react to the move the defense gave him. He was able to shuffle his feet and get back in front of his man and keep him away from the quarterback. You've got to move your feet, staying low is important too, it's probably the 2nd most important thing, but most important is to move your feet. If you're trying to get to the quarterback and I'm in front of you you're going to have a heck of a time trying to do it. It doesn't matter if you're stronger than me or whatever. If I'm here and the quarterback is back there it doesn't matter. It's all about lateral movement and keeping you're feet moving as best you can."

The whole team comes together on Kennedy Field for a run drill.

"I hate to sound repetitive but here's another defensive biased drill. They actually do a pretty good job now, this is a team run drill where you have the whole offense and defense and they mix in a little play action to keep the defense honest. It helps out a little bit but for the most part these guys are thinking run, run, run, run. The defense may be set up for third and one thinking it's a run but in our offense during a game we may not be running the ball. We may try to throw a bomb or something like that. That's why it's so different here because in this drill on third and one we're running the ball. Bottom line, we're running the ball."

Norm starts to talk about Ryan Kalil and the importance of line calls for the center. In the middle of talking about Ryan he sees a successful play action pass in the run drill and is quick to comment on the play.

"Ryan has done a great job. It's probably the most difficult position because you have to ID the front and then ID the Mike backer. After that you need to tell everybody where they're going to. Look at that play right there, see what I mean, they went play action and look how wide open he was, 30 yards to Steve Smith. The defensive linemen might come off the ball a little slower this time or maybe they won't since they know the last play was a pass so the next play is definitely a run. OK, so when Ryan is coming to the line he is looking at the front to see if it is over or under depending on where the nose guard or the three technique is lined up. On this play he's seeing an over so he calls that out and he ID's the mike backer #58. It's a zone play to the right so everybody took a step to the right. Everybody thinks it's so simple with the offensive line, that the center lines up and blocks the nose guard but it's so much more complicated than that because he's going to be moving and slanting all over the place."

Part 2 of our look at the offensive line with Norm Katnik will be posted on Monday.

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