During his playing days, Joe Thomas referred to himself as “one of the weakest linemen in the NFL.”
That statement seems at odds with his status as a 10-time Pro Bowler and a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it’s true. Thomas was a technician, and his ability to dominate defensive linemen always had more to do with precise positioning than it did brute strength. Thomas once told SI.com that simply overpowering an opponent is something he could “practically never” do.
In a recent sit-down with Brian Baldinger of NFL Network, Thomas pointed out one way he consistently generated movement on particular guard-tackle double teams:
“If you hit the hip, the hip’s going to move. I’m trying to wait until that defensive tackle gets into the guard, because then, I’m able to work on the hip,” Thomas tells Baldinger. “I knew that was the difference between winning and losing, because if I’m not able to get low enough to get onto his hip, he’s not going to move. That guy’s way bigger than I am. Even with two bodies on him, you’re not going to move him out of that gap. He’s not going to move out of that gap unless you’re able to get down on that hip, because the hip is the only thing that’s going to move him.”
By aiming for the defensive tackle’s hip, Thomas put himself at a huge biomechanical advantage. He’s not trying to shatter the guys’ hip into a hundred pieces, he’s just looking to deliver a precise blow that will clear the opponent out and allow him to work to the second level. If you don’t believe him, grab a couple teammates and try it yourself—you’d be amazed at what a well-timed, well-placed strike to the hip can do.
The first priority should still be keeping your inside hip and shoulder close to your teammate so the defender can’t split your double, but staying low and looking to deliver a strike around the hip area can really create displacement before you move up to the second level and execute your next assignment.
It’s just a small look at how Thomas was able to exist as such an effective NFL lineman for so many years despite him having less-than-great strength for his position. “If you have good feet and you’re constantly in the right positions, you’re using leverage, you’re using angles, you’re winning the science of your position,” Thomas said in a 2015 press conference. “It’s really not about weight-room strength. It’s more about the positions you can get your body in to be strong.”
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