Mike Tomlin's hand-picked offensive line coach Larry Zierlein is new in town and just lost veteran pivot Jeff Hartings to retirement. So, out of the goodness of his heart, former Steelers lineman Craig Wolfley takes Chukky Okobi under his wing and offers the heir apparent at center some timely tutelage.
Chukster! Good to see you! Well, I guess that you’ve heard the news. Jeff Hartings has announced that he’s hanging it up. So with that in mind, I have a couple thoughts that I’d like to share with you.
This off-season is important to you. You’ve had a longer wait to the starting job than Cliff Stoudt, a quarterback that I played with back in the eighties. He had Super Bowl rings and got vested for his pension without ever taking a snap during the regular season. With a new head coach and line coach, you can’t rely on Russ handing you any thing. So here goes.
Let’s start with some positive analysis. You are a good player that knows the game inside and out. Your tough, smart, and can direct the traffic inside very well.
Run blocking is an area where you can improve the most. The part of run blocking that I think holds you back somewhat is your free hand when snapping the ball. You have a time lag between snapping and gripping. Mike Webster was the absolute best at snapping the ball and SIMULTANEOUSLY using his free hand to grab the chest and chest plate of his opponent. Go ask Mac (the Steelers film chief) to get some vintage Webster footage.
Webby had big huge hands, probably got’em while milking all those cows on the family farm back in Wisconsin. But he had very strong hands. Guys that he played against used to pull up their jerseys after a game to show us the “Webby prints.” Those were the black and blue bruises on their chest muscles in the shape of Webby’s fingers. That’s how hard he used to squeeze them. So first thing you need to do is work on your grip strength.
Next in line is your straight blocking. You have good get off pop, but your hip roll isn’t what it could be. Sled dragging is a great way to get your hips rolling while keeping your feet moving. Wear a harness and hook yourself up to a hundred pounds or so, and practice snapping and coming off in a low flat back and climb your imaginary opponent.
You will notice how your feet don’t get real wide apart while doing that. That’s good. Chuck Noll used to say that you run block the way you run. We never used any boards between our feet to practice that Frankenstein lurching back and forth that some coaches do. It makes you try to do something unnatural and that gets you thrown off balance.
The combo blocks are good. You do a nice job of “posting up” the man so either of the guards can whack him as they move to the second level. Remember, the higher you can lift the man over you, the more defenseless he is to fend off the guards. If the nose tackle exposes his hip, it’s a Nantucket sleigh ride to a ground and pound.
One of your strongest attributes are those quick feet of yours. Dirt Dawson had the quickest feet of any lineman I’ve ever seen. He was so fast that he could get outside position on a nose tackle, and do it without hopping. On the stretch plays you have a tendency to jump or hop to get position on the man, rather than taking the short quick steps like Dirt that keep you grinding into the man. Try to use your quickness to drive to the outside position. It helps the cut back if you do.
Pass protection is where you really shine. Those long arms of yours help with your lockout. You have a nice punch when you decide you want to do it. Your in-fighting is pretty good.
One drill that I think would help you is to work with Max Starks. He needs to put on a big heavy jacket and have somebody jerk him around to work on his balance and core.
You, on the other hand need to work on your grip and forearm strength. You should partner up with Max and do bouts where you rag doll him around to work on that. Let’s face it, you won’t find too many beef-a-loes like Max any where else. The two of you could benefit from it. Work on these and we’ll talk later on.
By Craig Wolfley
Posted Feb 2, 2007