Are the requirements of these two offensive positions really that different in today’s NFL?
In an email inquiry from Rupert Barker, he delves into the intriguing dichotomy between left and right tackles in football.
Scouting reports consistently emphasize the need for left tackles to possess athleticism and quick footwork, while fitting kits are expected to be robust and powerful.
For instance, the scouting evaluation of Andrus Peat highlights his unique combination of attributes, stating that he possesses “the play strength and demeanor typical of a right tackle, coupled with the agility required to protect the quarterback’s blind side.”
This dichotomy raises the question of why the right side demands greater physical power while the left prioritizes agility and speed.
Furthermore, this discussion brings to mind a recurring comment often heard in the NFL when a player encounters challenges: “He should consider playing in the CFL, dominate there, and then return to the NFL.” However, the reality rarely aligns with this sentiment.
It is worth noting that this remark seems to underestimate the quality and competitiveness of the Canadian Football League (CFL) and paints it as a secondary league for former NFL players to showcase their skills. In reality, this perception is a gross oversimplification.
Frequently, notable names from the United States sign CFL contracts, only to find themselves without preferential treatment. They must fight for their place on the depth chart and often struggle to return to the NFL.
While there are a few remarkable success stories, such as former linebacker OJ Brigance and special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo, who transitioned from the CFL to the NFL, they are exceptions rather than the norm.
Cameron Wake, the Pro Bowl defensive end for the Miami Dolphins, is a prime contemporary example of a player who leaped from the CFL to the NFL. However, such tales of triumph are indeed rare occurrences in the world of professional football.
The discussion surrounding the misperception of the CFL’s role in the journey of NFL players is not without relevance. A similar misconception seems to exist regarding the proper tackle position in the NFL.
Frequently, in scouting reports, analysts scrutinize a player’s shortcomings while playing left tackle in college and then suggest that they might find tremendous success as a correct tackle in the NFL.
It’s as if the issues they encountered on the left side of the offensive line will miraculously disappear when they transition to the right side.
However, more often than not, this assumption falls short of reality. The challenges a player faces at left tackle typically don’t magically vanish simply by moving to the opposite side of the offensive line.
Why the Distinction?
The perceived divergence in the requirements for left and right tackle positions in football can be attributed to two main factors: blindside protection and the handedness of running plays.
The emphasis on “more athleticism” may not have been the primary concern for left tackles historically; instead, it was a matter of being more well-rounded.
This distinction arises from the fact that most quarterbacks, being right-handed, received snaps from under center, which meant their backs were turned towards the left side of the offensive line where potential pass rushers would approach.
While exceptional quarterbacks possess the ability to anticipate or feel pressure coming from the blindside, it is an undeniable fact that they lack literal eyes in the back of their heads.
Consequently, if you were to compare two players, all other things being equal, and one had a higher likelihood of allowing pressure on an extended passing play, coaches and teams would prefer that pressure to come from the front side of the quarterback – the side that a right-handed quarterback could see.
For many years, NFL offenses exhibited a distinct preference for running plays to the right side instead of the left.
This convention doesn’t appear to have a specific football-related rationale, such as the field being tilted or any inherent advantage to one hash over the other.
To the best of current knowledge, it’s merely a convention that has persisted. In practical terms, if a team had an offensive guard who excelled at run-blocking, it made sense to pair that guard with a tackle who possessed solid run-blocking skills.
This pairing created a more effective overall blocking structure by capitalizing on the strengths of each player.
Distinguishing between the skills required for effective run blocking and those essential for pass protection reveals the intricate nature of offensive line play in football.
Run-blocking proficiency often demands power and brute force, while pass protection demands agility and strength.
Consequently, if a tackle excels at one aspect but not the other, coaches may place them where the quarterback has a more precise line of sight, thus emphasizing pass protection.
This approach, rooted in the belief that a powerful lineman might be better suited on the side of the quarterback’s vision, is one line of thinking in the world of offensive line strategy.
Nonetheless, this strategy comes with its own set of challenges. In today’s NFL, teams meticulously analyze their opponents’ tendencies, game plans, and setups.
If an offense too conspicuously adheres to a “strongside” offensive configuration, opposing defenses can exploit this predictability by directing their pressures and angling their lines towards that side of the field.
Dominant handedness, while common in the NFL, can become a significant handicap when it becomes too apparent.
Balanced and adaptable offensive schemes are more successful, breaking from conventional strongside setups. For inoffensive linemen, the skill set preferences aren’t always neatly assigned to specific positions.
An illustrative example comes to mind from the past: Flozell Adams, who once served as the left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys.
He possessed the attributes more commonly associated with a correct tackle than the so-called “athletic” left tackle. His standout quality was his immense size and mauling strength.
Standing at 6’7″ and weighing 340 pounds, Adams was aptly nicknamed “The Hotel.” His prowess didn’t hinge on athleticism; it stemmed from his sheer power and ability to impede defenders. He was a formidable obstacle on the left side.
During that era, other players like Orlando Brown and James “Big Cat” Williams shared similar characteristics and skill sets with Adams but found their careers on the right side of the offensive line.
Presently, several NFL left tackles defy the conventional image of an “athletic” left tackle and align more closely with the robust proper tackle prototype.
Names such as Andrew Whitworth in Cincinnati, King Dunlap in San Diego, Trent Williams in Washington, and Greg Robinson in St. Louis embody the archetype of formidable maulers typically associated with right tackles.
In contrast, players like the Dallas Cowboys’ All-Pro Tyron Smith and former New York Jets’ D’Brickashaw Ferguson are prime examples of the “athletic” left tackle mold.
These linemen boast physiques reminiscent of blown-up tight ends or defensive ends. They are equipped with lengthy arms, ideally suited for the agility and dexterity required on the left side of the offensive line.
Ultimately, proficiency in both run and pass blocking is imperative for success at any position along the offensive line.
Focusing on versatility and adaptability is crucial, ensuring every lineman can effectively perform both tasks.
Even when a team features players with differing strengths, strategically spreading them across the offensive line can mitigate the risk of predictable tendencies and create a more balanced and effective blocking front.
Why LT vs. RT Shouldn’t Matter Anymore
Beyond the imperative to avoid a predictable run-side tendency, considerations of offensive tackle placement become even more complex for teams employing mobile quarterbacks who execute various pocket movement passing strategies, including boots, dash passes, and roll-out throws.
In these scenarios, the ability of offensive tackles to move with the pocket is paramount. Placing the more athletic tackle strictly at the left position may not align with the strategic needs of teams that frequently shift their bag to capitalize on the mobility of their quarterbacks.
The pocket’s movement necessitates that both tackles possess the agility and quickness required to protect the quarterback effectively.
Furthermore, there’s a distinct aversion to designing pocket movement plays that force a quarterback to make challenging throws across their body, especially for right-handed quarterbacks rolling to their left.
Thus, it is common for offensive schemes to prefer rolling the quarterback to the right to leverage their throwing strength.
In such instances, the correct tackle must be more than just an immovable obstacle; they must handle speed and agility with finesse.
This often leads to the use of tight ends and running backs to provide extra support through chip blocks on the right side to help the tackle reestablish the pocket and thwart quick, disruptive pass rushers.
The same dilemma linked to run tendencies also emerges with pocket movement passing plays.
Even though it is not the ideal scenario for a right-handed quarterback to roll to the left, field positioning sometimes dictates the need to execute plays in both directions.
To avoid being one-dimensional, teams may even employ movement passing plays into the short side of the field, which involves placing the ball on the hash and then rolling out toward the boundary, ensuring that their offensive tendencies remain unpredictable.
In football, the traditional distinctions between left and right tackles have lost much relevance, especially for teams with dynamic quarterbacks who thrive outside the pocket, such as Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III.
Relying on an offensive line that can only reset a moving pocket to one side would be counterproductive in such scenarios. In this context, the age-old categorizations of left and right tackles become obsolete.
An additional factor challenging the notion of the correct tackle as solely a power-run blocker is the presence of highly athletic or more petite defensive ends who often line up on the left side of the defensive front.
Players like Cameron Wake, Von Miller, Michael Bennett, and Rob Ninkovich would pose a significant challenge for any correct tackle if they weren’t equipped with a degree of athleticism.
The New England Patriots provide a notable example of a team with Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, whose similar attributes at both tackle positions reflect the necessity for balance and versatility to combat the challenges of versatile defenders on both ends.
Moreover, when considering whether a college tackle can seamlessly transition to either side, it’s less about their innate attributes and more about their handedness and footwork.
Playing on one side or the other is akin to a preference for writing with one’s dominant hand or scissors, with the ability to flip sides linked to ambidexterity.
Many players are more comfortable with their feet oriented in a specific way, similar to a basketball player favoring one direction. While it’s possible to adapt to the non-preferred side, there’s an intrinsic aspect to this orientation.
Although some players may successfully break from their natural tendencies, the struggle to perform on one side over the other often stems from a comfort level and body orientation rather than specific attributes associated with each side.
In today’s NFL, the left tackle versus correct tackle discrepancy is significantly exaggerated.
Teams that overly adhere to these rigid distinctions may find themselves with an inherent imbalance, inviting relentless attacks from opposing defenses.
In reality, there is no sanctuary on either side of the offensive line for a player who struggles with a particular aspect of the game, and the concept of left tackle versus right tackle has become increasingly outmoded.