Evaluating Linemen: Nasty

In this series I have talked a lot about technique.  Footwork, core strength and punch are all key ingredients to success, but just like a tool box is great tools for a mechanic, you kind of need to know what the heck to do with those tools in order to be effective.  As a lineman, you can have all the physical tools in the world, but there is one aspect of your personality that will give you an edge, and that is what the pros call ‘nasty’.

In this case, nasty is not describing under cooked salmon or a brown belt with black shoes.  It is referring to a payer’s desire to place one or both of their fists directly through the skull of their opponent. Not ability to, but desire to.

While that is a pretty graphic premise, the reality is that if two linemen of equal skill were to play on the same line, the one that was the most naturally aggressive would win more battles.  Now there is a threshold, where your nasty costs your team more than it helps (see drive killing personal fouls) but there is no denying that players that are more aggressive tend to do a better job.  I put this into three categories as well Motor, Motive and Mojo.

Sometimes in sports, people refer to players as having a ‘High Motor’.  In many cases, this is a nice way to say that the person is not very athletic but seems to compensate by never giving up.  So it is kind of a left handed compliment like being called husky rather than fat or being told you are not as dumb as your brother was.

The problem is that we misuse that term, or at least the connotation.  High motor is an incredibly important aspect of athletics because it is the part of you that forces others to quit. Mostly because you wont.  Having a high motor usually means you are in great condition, because as Doug Bashor used to say, fatigue makes cowards out of everyone.  If you are tired, you are going to cut corners, give up on plays and stop to walk whenever you can.  High motor guys never quit and never stop, so they must be in good shape.

The other thing high motor guys do is fight like hell.

Watch Dylan Wynn for a few series and you will see what a high motor guy does. He punches opponents arms, slaps their heads, pushes, pulls, bull rushes, helmet bashes and basically makes their lives miserable for the whole play.  If you watch him at the beginning of the game, the offensive guys fight back pretty well. It is at the end of the game, when they are just tired of getting pounded that you see guys start to take it easy or give up because they are tired of fighting.

Offensive linemen need to do this too. You fight for hand position, you claw to keep your feet up, you bunch and re-punch and punch again!  Players that do this, wear the defense down, get them to quit. All the sudden they don’t fire out as hard or even just stand up at times.  Being nasty is not about cheating, but more about constantly trying to dominate your opponent so that they start to hate you and then start to hate going back on the field because they are going to get more of the same.

Now in movies and on television, Motive is thrown around on detective shows as being the reason behind a crime.  It is the same for offensive linemen.  Your motive is to accomplish a goal every play, but it is also to establish how this game is going to go.  Nasty motives are not, as the name might appear, glorified moments of cheating where you punch a guy who is not looking or puke on them in  a pile-up a la Brian Bosworth. Nasty motives are making sure you leave an impression on the defender that at any time, they might get popped from any direction.

The nasty modus operandi is not just about being aggressive, but it is about being smart with your aggression and taking your shots when you can so that in the future, defenders are concerned about where you are.  When you get a chance to pull, make sure that you clean up anyone in your way. When you go to the second level, don’t be afraid to blow them up. If someone is not paying attention, remind them that they should by depositing their rears onto the turf.  Not dirty, but a message.

Defenses require speed and aggression.  They require the ability to just go from A to B quickly, without thinking or worry, to try and make the play. A good offensive line can disrupt that mindset by forcing them to look around for you, forcing them to approach an area with caution because they know you might be lurking.  Good defenders don’t worry about that stuff and always have their head on a swivel, but as the game wears on, if you leave your mark enough,t there will be a play or two that a someone will get distracted by your whereabouts.  If you have a motive with your Nasty, a method to your madness, when a linebacker sees a run, they may cheat a bit and look where you are at. That cheating might cost them a tackle and as we all know, sometimes the difference between a win and a loss is one small mistake on just a single play.

This is important. Very important.  Mojo is the manifestation of all your work. It is the confidence you approach games with, it is the feeling of superiority you carry to the line each play and it is what makes the game fun.

It is also fleeting.

Linemen, like running backs, sometimes need a quarter or two to get this, but if you are constantly using good form, being aggressive, playing with a high motor, showing the motive for your assaults and just basically blowing people up every play, pretty soon the defense is going to be wary and you are going to be feeling it. The defense for the Seahawks this last year mentioned that the Denver Broncos looked scared.  The defense fed off that and built up their own mojo. For the offense, the offensive line must have the aggression to set the tone and continue to build on that all game long.

It is easy to ride the wave of Mojo and get pumped up when things are going well. What is rarer and important in evaluating linemen, is guys that can make their own Mojo. Guys that can elevate their play and bring the Nasty even when the team is down or momentum has shifted.

So how does this translate to watching film?  How can you tell if someone is nasty and not just cheap?  Or how can you find the guy that changes the mood of a game when all you are seeing is supposedly their best plays?  It is hard to do, but when you are watching film, watch the opponents.  If they show ten plays from the same game, look at what the reaction of the defender is in the first play and the last play they chose from that game.

In some cases you will see guys just fold because they know they were going to get beaten.  In other cases you will see guys try and start something because they are tired of getting beat on all game long.  Ultimately, you have to make a judgement call on guys, but here are a few tell tale signs that someone has the right kind of nasty:

1. Their film shows special teams clips because they blindside and destroy guys. This indicates that their favorite part of the game is hitting and knocking people down. Very nasty.

2. They never stop fighting.  They don’s just lay their hands on and get the block, they constantly pummel their opponent and drive their feet until they are in the ground. You can make a solid block without driving them to the ground.  Someone with the proper amount of nasty will never do this if they can help it.  They will block you right up to and past the whistle to get that last shot at knocking you down. Very very nasty.

3. If someone tries to out nasty them, they elevate their game mid play.  You can see guys where they are trying to pummel their opponent and their opponent starts fighting back and it is like a switch goes off and the Nasty offensive lineman ups their game mid play to make sure that they establish dominance over a player that dared to try and rise up against them. Very Game of Thrones and very Nasty.

And for your viewing enjoyment, here are some clips of obvious nasty:

Beau Hott

Miki Fifita

Josh Wariboko

Tyler Moore

There are a lot more out there, but these are a few guys that have either committed to the Beavers or are guys I hope we get.  Seeing moments of Nasty is good, seeing sustained Nasty is best.

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