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The OL Masterminds summit is the best experience for the NFL’s least appreciated position

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Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz attended the second annual gathering, where OL shared tips — but the convo wasn’t about which moves can stop Von Miller.

Duke Manyweather

This week at SB Nation, we’re shining the spotlight on the NFL’s most underappreciated — from our favorite underdog stories to the most overlooked players and teams. Now’s the time to give them their due.

The least appreciated position in all of football is offensive line, but we love it that way. Offensive linemen are underappreciated because our position is like none other and so hard to understand. We have to work as a group to accomplish our goals and only linemen know the complexities of the position.

It takes a mentally tough SOB to handle the grind of the offensive line. When we make a mistake, whether it’s our fault or not, we get the blame on television. An average game is 60 plays, give or take. If we screw up one play and allow a sack, our day is ruined. If that sack is a fumble for a turnover — oh, yikes. A wide receiver drops a pass and he can have multiple opportunities to make up for that. A quarterback throws a bad pass or an interception, well he can throw three touchdowns for the game and be praised.

Not us. No mistakes allowed.

This is why offensive linemen are just different cats. We are wired differently. And we embrace being weirdos because it’s almost a job requirement. Our community is small but passionate about offensive line play. We love to talk technique, share our opinions, and grow as a group. This is why OL Masterminds is such a hit.

How some of the NFL’s best OL started their own gathering of the minds

OL Masterminds is the brain child of Eagles All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson and offensive line scouting and development consultant Duke Manyweather (you can find all his work on Twitter @BigDuke50).

Last year, Lane was one of the players discussing the top-100 players list on NFL Network, and he mentioned the offensive line should have a gathering of the minds. That was something Duke had already started while training his offensive linemen.

“We had been doing small mastermind sessions on Saturday mornings with the guys training here the previous two years, but when [Lane] said it, the light bulb clicked on,” Duke recently told me, describing how Masterminds became a reality.

Duke organized the first ever OL Masterminds summit in the summer of 2018, which was successful despite the late start putting it together. Using the momentum from the first seminar, Duke organized the second annual OL Masterminds in Dallas for early July.

It was a smashing success, and I was there to soak it all in.

Who attended this year’s OL summit

The 2019 edition of OL Masterminds featured an amazing group, including veterans like Lane Johnson, Mitchell Schwartz, Terron Armstead, Charles Leno Jr., Brandon Brooks, Ryan Jensen, Shaq Mason, and Trent Brown. The summit also had younger linemen, like Vikings first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury, and four college linemen who could be possible first-rounders.

All told, the players accounted for 1,256 combined NFL starts, eight Super Bowl rings, three All-Pro nods, and four Pro Bowl appearances.

Besides the players, Duke invited mental health experts, physical therapists, and various media members to add to the discussion.

The event was three days of two-hour meetings, followed by about an hour of field work. The main purpose of the summit was getting all these outstanding linemen in a room to discuss how they prepare each week, work through the aches and pains of the profession, and watch film of the best pass rushers in the league.

From the outside, the sexy part of the seminar was watching and breaking down pass rushers like Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and J.J. Watt. We all marveled at their abilities, joked about the few times we got beat, and players gave their ideas on how to stop them.

However, there’s not a single way to stop a pass rusher. I think you should read that again: There’s not a single way to stop a pass rusher. There are preferred methods that work for most, but not all. And when you think about it, it’s actually simple why that’s the case.

Why the conversation wasn’t about which moves can stop Von Miller

The main takeaway from the OL Masterminds weekend was the concept of doing what you do best and preparing to use those techniques. Often as linemen, we try to tailor our game to what the coach wants or what we think works, when we should focus our attention on mastering what we do best and trying to dictate the play on the field.

For example, my brother Mitchell Schwartz is a vertical pass setter. His pass set is unique and not many linemen could execute this style of pass protection all game. But, Mitch excels at it. And he uses it over and over again. Does Mitch mix up his pass sets? Yes, of course. The best linemen do that. But his set is unique to him.

The polar opposite to Mitch might be Trent Brown. Brown is a giant human. He makes me look small, which is tough to pull off. He takes a pass set that works best for his big body. He likes to set more on a flatter angle, commonly referred to as a 45-degree set. Or Trent will start a vertical set, and then go flat. Either way, it’s a much flatter pass set. He wants to get his big body and his hands on the defender now. He knows that he’s so large that defenders won’t try to run around him.

So if Trent and Mitch are discussing how to block Miller, they’d give two different answers.

Instead of the discussion being, “Here’s the exact move I use to stop Miller,” it was centered around questions like:

“How do I efficiently scout Von Miller?”
“How do you chart his tendencies”
“If you attack him in this situation, how might he react?”

What else makes OL Masterminds such a great experience

Only a small portion of the event was watching pass rushers. Most of the other topics all tied back to preparation.

  • How do you prepare to play each week if you disagree with the technique being taught by the coach?
  • At what age in your career can you “do what you want” and get away with it?
  • When you’re having a rough stretch, what are some drills you use to hone back in on your technique?
  • What are some recovery techniques you should be using during the season to keep your body well, as well as prehab exercises?
  • Which techniques are available for the “oh shit” moments, when things aren’t going well but you need to recover? Players and coaches often focus on only practicing technique you should be using, but never practice techniques to use when things don’t go as planned.

We also discussed mental health, positive self talk, how to deal with the press, and the impact of social media on our profession.

After each day, we went outside to work on “drills.” It was less about everyone doing drills together and more about the big dogs showing the younger linemen a thing or two. It was an opportunity to pick the brain of the veteran with a specific question. It was my favorite part of the event.

OL Masterminds was a great opportunity to share our thoughts, processes, and the way we compete. Also, it was a time for fellowship over tacos and steaks. In all, it was an awesome weekend.