SAN DIEGO — In between shouts of play calls and clashes on the line of scrimmage, offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris shouted constantly to his lineman to get their hands up against the onrushing defenders.
Crouched in a three-point stance, tackle King Dunlap has only seconds to try and get into position to stop a rushing linebacker from hitting the quarterback – his tools of the trade: his hands and feet.
“As offensive lineman, that’s all we have — hands and feet,” Dunlap said. “If you don’t have any one of those you know you’re in trouble.”
Usually the defenders Dunlap and the other offensive linemen are going up against are quicker than they are, so they need to make up for that somehow.
“It’s hard enough being a tackle as it is, but it helps to have hands and feet,” he said.
Dunlap, a veteran tackle who spent the previous five seasons in the Philadelphia Eagles organization, has taken to using boxing drills to help improve his hand quickness.
It wasn’t something he’d done early on in his career, but about two years ago, he started using the speed bag that boxers use and hitting the heavy bag, which he said helps him keep up as far as developing more hand speed.
Rookie tackle D.J. Fluker has incorporated a form of martial arts into his training routine when coaches told him he needed more hand quickness to be able to gain advantage over defensive ends coming off the speed rush.
At right tackle, Fluker said he still has a long way to go, but that he was progressing.
“Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time, getting better at my fundamentals and being coachable,” he said.
He’s also getting some mentoring from Dunlap and from veteran outside linebacker Larry English, who, Fluker said, has been his toughest matchup during training camp so far.
It’s been good going against Fluker, English said. “I think he’s getting better and better every day; he’s working hard and brings intensity every day and he has a great attitude and a great willingness to improve.”
English had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season, but he can spot the offensive linemen who use their hands well or not.
“It’s one of those things that you get a feel for with an offensive lineman, what his hand game is like,” English said.
“It definitely keeps you on your heels when (an offensive lineman) has really good hands. An O-lineman that gives you his hands and you can time it up and you know when you’re going to get his hands, it’s easier to beat those hands.
“But if he gives them to you or flashes them and takes them away and things like that, then it basically makes you have to find a plan B.”
Still, being able to see the guys that don’t quite have the hand quickness is like ringing the dinner bells for defenders.
“I would say that you can spot the guys that give their hands on a rhythm,” said English. “When you know in your steps, when you know at what point when you get to them that he’s going to give you his hands, then you can defeat him — you can come inside, you can come outside. But if he’s flashing them at you or if he’s sometimes not giving them to you at all, then you don’t know exactly what he’s going to do.”
And what can happen when an offensive lineman doesn’t have the quickest hands?
“You get beat,” Dunlap said. “You get beat real bad and you get embarrassed especially with guys like Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram…Von Miller guys like that. If you don’t use your hands quick enough or effectively enough they’ll beat you and it’ll end up getting the quarterback hurt or the running back hurt and it’s a bad feeling.”
Not only that, but then penalties can happen.
“Holding, getting beat, giving up sacks, giving up big plays — as a tackle, that’s not what you want,” Dunlap said.