Following the line (part 2)

Norm Katnik continues with his thoughts on the Trojan offensive line from a recent spring ball practice. Click below to hear his comments on various drills and the players fighting for positions on the line this spring:

Norm comments on Mike Patterson as Mike gets some work against Ryan Kalil in a drill.

"He's going to make Ryan the best center you'll ever see because Mike is so good. He works so hard, he never quits. There are some guys in a game that you may block and they quit and give up on that play but with Mike it doesn't matter how well you may think you blocked him you better keep moving your feet and keep working because he never gives up. Plus he's so quick and so good with his hands anyways."

So many Trojan fans want to talk about Jeff Byers and his chances to compete early, how hard will that be for him?

"To come in and play anywhere on the offensive line is going to be super, super tough. The college game is so different that it doesn't matter if you've run the same zone scheme or whatever. It's just so much different to play at this level. Physically he may have it already but mentally there are just so many different wrinkles to everything. Within the zone, if this happens you do this, if that happens you do that, there are just so many different things. It's really hard and that's why it's so important that if he were to come in and play center to have the supporting cast at guard and tackle to know the offense that much better because that will help him."

While watching the run drill there was a good block from Matt Spanos.

"That was a really good block. The linebacker thought he filled the hole correctly and it turned out he had a 300 pounder coming at him. That was Mike Brittingham, a fellow Foothill High School alumni. That doesn't happen to Foothill Knights usually."

Talk about Travis Watkins.

"T-Wat. He's been around a long time and it looks like he's been around even longer. He looks about 38. T-Wat is a good guy and he'll be good for this line because he's older. He hasn't played as much but he'll be good just because he has that maturity. He's been around a lot of good o-linemen and he'll be able to keep things on track and get the guys going when things aren't going right. He and Fred will have to be leaders this year."

While watching a drill Alex Holmes catches a pass and Matt Grootegoed tries to make the tackle.

"He's so big. It's gonna be good to have him back. Look at that play, Groots is a big hitter and for him to hit Alex as hard as he can and for Alex to not move at all, that has to strike fear in defensive players. He's such a big son of a gun."

Hershel Dennis makes Greg Farr miss with a nice move at the line.

"Sometimes that's what you need as an o-lineman because it's going to give you so much more faith in that running back. If you don't block the first guy then keep on going and block the 2nd guy because the running back might make that first guy miss. It's so important because you don't ever want to miss the first guy and turn around to look at the running back and he's made that guy miss. If you miss a block just keep going, keep your head upfield and look for the next guy."

Katnik talks about how important it is for the offense to get all 11 guys on the same page.

"That's one of the reasons why offenses are so much harder to install than defenses. On offense it normally takes all 11 guys to play the same way and to do their jobs but on defense there are times when you can have an outstanding play by a d-lineman or a linebacker and that's all it takes. That's why early in spring ball and early in camp you often see the defense ahead of the offense but then all of a sudden one day the clouds clear up and the sun is shining through because you hit that zone and everybody is focused in on the same thing. It's just so different once you get to that point."

The team moves to Howard Jones Field for a team pass drill.

"You can only guess what I'm going to say. This is another defense oriented drill. I mean, it's a pass and they know it's a pass. Look at the defensive linemen, it's just like a pass rush drill. It's a little bit different because now you have all five offensive linemen out there but in the drill you're out there by yourself on an island. In pass rush if you get beat there's nobody there but here if you get beat to the inside Fred is there. Fred may not be helping but at least his body is there so you're not going to get beat as easily. When we were watching the pass rush drill there wasn't any o-linemen who looked like they were doing great but yet you come to this drill when all of them are working together and Leinart has all the time in the world. It's important to remember that all the little drills are just teaching them to come to something like this where they can put it all together. Look at that play, Leinart had all day to throw the ball and he hooked up with Whitney Lewis on a 40 yard play. The past four plays have all been really good plays. Even when I was playing I was super hard on myself and the other o-linemen but those past four plays were four great plays."

Norm explains a common blocking scheme.

"Did you see right there where Sam Baker stepped down and the running back came and blocked the end? That's called a turn protection pass blocking scheme. We'll turn away from where Matt is rolling to and the running back, or the back and tight end, will stay frontside and cut down the end. People see a sack from a defensive end and assume it's the fault of the tackle but a lot of times it could be the back missing the block. There are times when a tackle may vacate too quickly or step down too far so it makes the running back's job a lot harder because the hole is that much bigger. If everything is done correctly though that back should easily cut him down because he's a much better athlete and he should be able to get to his legs. I expect them to do a lot of turn protection blocking this year because it's easier than drop back pass blocking. Drop back was Jake's specialty, he could do that with the best of them. In a turn protection a tackle can take an outside set against a defensive lineman because he knows he's got inside help. In a drop back protection he's got that defensive lineman wherever he goes. Turn protection is just a little easier for the young guys because it gives them some help."

The offense breaks off a couple nice runs in a passing drill.

"See, this was supposed to be a pass drill but Chow put a couple run plays in and they worked big time. The defensive guys were guessing, they were guessing too much. They're always trying to cheat."

Leinart continues to throw the ball well with plenty of time in the pocket.

"They're giving him time, you have to like that. If this group can learn to block this defensive line they'll be fine. There are always breakdowns that are going to happen, we had 14 of them last year, but they're going to be fine."

Team drill begins with offense and defense.

"Now they're starting the team drill and this is fair because the defense doesn't know what's coming. There are times in a team drill where Coach Carroll will throw all his crazy blitzes at us and that's really good for a young line because they'll see more different types of blitzes here than they'll ever see anywhere in a game. He does so many things that just totally mess you up so if you can learn to pick those up you're doing pretty good. When he first got here we went from having eight blitzes total and he was installing eight blitzes a day."

Talk about Sam Baker (on the first play Sam gets pushed back by the defensive end)

"OK, on that play Sam pretty much got bullrushed but the positive you can take from that is that he stayed in front of him. He just has to lower his base and bend his knees to eliminate that bullrush. I like to look at what he did do well and then try to work on the what he didn't do as good as that. He's coming along good. I think the one thing with Sam is that he plays kind of high. He does move pretty good for how big he is and he's doing everything else good so I think that's one thing he can probably work on. Practice makes perfect. He came from a high school system where they didn't pass a lot. Kyle has been in this system a year longer and he's had more experience in this system with taking the correct step and doing the right thing as far as kicking back. Sam has so many physical skills and now it's just trial by fire. He's getting thrown out here against guys who have played in games and it makes you better because you have to be better. Mentally Sam's done a great job. It's a world of difference from last fall when these young guys came in because now they can actually ask intelligent questions when I see them after practice. It's great to see that because it shows they are understanding different concepts and stuff like that."

Matt Spanos

"He reminds me so much of Zach Wilson. He's kind of got that mean streak in him like Zach used to have. That's always something that's good because you want to have that fire on the offensive line to instill a little fear on the d-line."

Tiny Malu

"Tiny put his head down right there. It's one of the things I was saying earlier about Kyle that he's done a good job is keeping his head up. When you have your head down it's that much easier to get beat. When your head's down it's easier to pull by or use a quick swim, something like that. It's just easier to get beat when your head's down. Eventually Tiny will learn to punch with his head back because that makes the quick swim so much harder to do. Before in JC he might have been able to punch people and just knock them off their feet. Here you're going against a different caliber of player and he just needs to learn to get that head up. Once again, practice makes perfect."

Reggie Bush takes off on a long run.

"In the Washington game last year he was amazing. He's just so fast. That's one thing you can't teach is speed and it was just amazing to watch him run. You see other guys on the field who are fast but when they're running next to him it's like "wow". He's just so smooth."

The return of Alex Holmes

"The knowledge he brings is going to help the young tackles so much. He does a great job of talking with them because the tackle and tight end work right next to each other on most of the running plays. It's a great asset plus he's also such a great blocker. He's like another guard in there."

The extra point team comes on for some work.

"One of the big things we talk about is getting a big rush on for an extra point or a field goal. If you go back to the Iowa game in the Orange Bowl that field goal block was just a huge, huge part of the game. The momentum can switch so easily when something like that happens."

The ball is placed on the 35 yard line for a "sudden change" drill.

"The object of this drill is for the offense to take advantage of a sudden change in possession and for the defense to stop them. A great example of this drill is the UCLA game in Carson's senior year. We got the ball right away from a turnover and went for the end zone right away. It's not always the case but a lot of times in a situation like that when you have a sudden change you want to go for the throat and try to score right away. This drill teaches you that mindset. A lot of coaches do drills like this but Coach Carroll does such a great job of emphasizing just how important these situations are. When you get in a game and it's 2nd and long and you need to get that first down in two plays it's nice because you know "we just practiced this on Tuesday". The things you see in these practices are things you'll see in a game."

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