#CoachesCorner: Tips on building elite offensive and defensive line units

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Today’s #CoachesCorner is courtesy of from former James Madison (FCS – VA) head coach and college coaching veteran Mickey Matthews. Coach Matthews is a three-time National Coach of the Year who helped two programs win national championships. As head coach at James Madison, Matthews won the 2004 FCS National Championship. In 15 seasons as head coach at JMU, Matthews’ teams won 109 games. After serving as defensive coordinator at the FBS level for two seasons, Matthews most recently coached linebackers for the Dallas Renegades of the XFL.

In my early years I had the good fortune to recruit against Oklahoma defensive coordinator / defensive line coach Rex Norris. He often spoke of Barry Switzer's recruiting philosophy on linemen. The Sooners hardly ever signed a high school offensive lineman, and to be willing to do so the prospect had to demonstrate dominating skills as an offensive lineman and have extraordinary size and ability just to get an offer.

Switzer and his staff believed in signing really good defensive linemen and moving them over to the offensive side of the ball

Looking back, Rex would laugh and say offensive line coach Merv Johnson was mad for the first few weeks, but Switzer let the defensive staff have their first pick of guys when camp came around. Doing it that way was easier in those days because the NCAA allowed everyone to bring in the freshmen recruiting class four days early to give staffs time to evaluate the new recruiting class before the veterans arrived.

When I worked for former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jim Donnan at Marshall, we adopted Switzer and Oklahoma's philosophy. We felt like we could build a really good offensive line with good athletes first, and at that time high school coaches almost always played their best lineman on the defensive side of the ball. With that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind to build an elite offensive line unit:

1. In the NFL Draft the biggest mistakes made are made at quarterback and along the offensive line. The same can be said in recruiting classes.

2. Unless you are working at a top 10 program, you are going to have to manufacture your defensive line a bit. Rangy and/or long high school linebackers that can run is a great place to start. Fullback and tight end types will also make for good defensive lineman.

3. When we went to UGA in 1999 we inherited a offensive line room with a lot of huge guys who were poor athletes. Sure, there were some guys in the room that could play, but we didn't have many. We moved several defensive line guys, and particularly the ones who were tough run stoppers but struggled rushing the passer. The strategy was very successful, and looking back on it, we should have moved more.

4. You win with athletes up front. When we won the National Championship at JMU our OL had two former fullbacks, a former linebacker and an former tight end.

5. After all my years in coaching I am confident that the two characteristics to look for in a great offensive lineman are A) being big and strong enough to play, and B) Physical toughness

6. Great defenses always have one thing in common - EVERYONE CAN RUN! 250 at the point of the tackle is better than 300 on the way!

7. As hard as it may be, do not fall in love with size in recruiting offensive lineman. Get as many big ones as you can, but their flexibility and physical toughness will ultimately determine what kind of player they are