The San Francisco 49ers are going through their strength and conditioning work, and on Monday, offensive tackle Trenton Brown tweeted out this picture:
Former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley has developed a post-playing career as a trainer for offensive linemen. 49ers fans likely remember him as being Alex Boone's main guy in the offseason. Recently, Bentley decided to take this a step further and start designing training equipment for offensive linemen.
I had a chance to speak with Bentley this week. We discussed how he got into the business, and some of the nuances of the offensive line. We have some ideas of how things operate, but it is nice to speak with an expert in the field to get a better handle on how it all works
Bentley decided to move into the equipment side of things because he has always enjoyed building things. He talked about loving Legos and blocks as a kid, and his interest in building carried into adulthood. He used his own experiences and knowledge to come up with LB Design. You can view some of the products here. That link does not include the sled Trent Brown tweeted out.
Bentley's products are now with the 49ers, Bears, Buccaneers, and Cardinals. He has established his business through word-of-mouth. Given his standing in the coaching community, this is not a surprise. I asked him specifically how he connected with the 49ers, and it is no surprise that it was through Alex Boone. In working with Boone, Bentley got to know the 49ers strength coach, Mark Uyeyama. Bentley described Uyeyama as, "probably one of the most forward-thinking strength coaches in the National Football League." He said he was one of the first coaches to express interest in the tools Bentley was developing.
Here is the full transcript
On starting his own equipment brand:
Something I've always enjoyed doing is tinkering with things. Growing up I was always a big Lego kid and blocks type kid. I always liked building stuff and trying new things out. But obviously with athletics and football, in order to be your best, you really have to focus in on what you're doing. I finished playing and got into this world dealing with professional athletes, and the world of building players, you just begin to realize the limitations of the tools that you can work with in order to be able to get the most out of the players, and make the learning process that much more efficient and effective.
And considering that offensive line play is a highly refined and highly learned skill set, you need the proper tools in order to be able to go through the that learning process. So, being in this world, and always having been somewhat of a builder, so to speak, that's where it led me to today.
On how he connected with 49ers:
Word of mouth, pretty much. Their strength coach, I'm very familiar with. Coach Uyeyama, who's a very forward-thinking individual, he's probably one of the most forward-thinking strength coaches in the National Football League. With that being said, him and I have known each other, casually through Alex Boone, and professionally through Alex as well, he's obviously been out here to O-line performance. And on the strength and conditioning side, sharing ideas between one another. Then once I got into this aspect, and started developing tools, obviously he was one of the first coaches that immediately understood the value of having these type of tools for developing offensive linemen.
One of the key things with this position, especially at that level, you don't have a lot of time as a strength coach to get guys ready to play. You're dealing with a very small number of opportunities to engrain movement patterns, and to engrain what it is you want the players to be able to execute as football players at a high level. You need to be able to engrain those movement patterns. There's only so much you can do in the weight room before there's going to be a level of disconnect. And from the offensive line perspective, the more you can do the things and understand the body, and understand how your body is supposed to move from a mechanical perspective, the much smoother that transition from the weight room to the field is going to be.
On if skill differences between zone- and gap-blocking are as large as commonly perceived:
No, they're not. When you're dealing with the body, and the body's going to move the way the body is designed to move. Anytime you're dealing with movement, and particularly, there's only so many rules and laws that you can apply to movement. Because movement patterns are just movement patterns. That's just what the laws of physics are gonna be, as I just outlined. And the laws of bio-mechanics that have all been outlined.
When you start getting into the different skill sets required to play in a gap-scheme or a zone-scheme, OK, you may look for a different type of body or a different type of mentality, but at the end of the day, you always get back to movement. And that's what the root of offensive line play has always been, and will always be. It's bio-mechanics, and how the body is supposed to work.
On how to watch OL play on film as an outsider:
Well, it all depends on what it is that you're looking for. And that's where it gets a little bit tricky. It comes down to, what I said, what are you trying to evaluate. Are you trying to evaluate just how effective a player is on any given play? That's pretty easy. It's usually black or white, you either win or you lose. And that's not a very complex world to live in. Even when coaches give out grading sheets, it's a plus or it's a minus. And there isn't any half, .23, and fractions involved. Either you did or you didn't, and that's the great thing about offensive line play. When it comes down to the evaluation standpoint, it really comes down to what exactly are you looking for? Is it a template to truly evaluate holistically an offensive lineman? It all comes down to, what is it that you want to know about that player. But it always goes back to, whatever it is you want to know about a player, look at the film. The film will tell you what you need to know.
On college offenses leading to issues with OL development at NFL level:
I totally agree. It's the truth. You go back to what I said about the movement aspect. The movement patterns you're asked to learn at the collegiate level don't marry with the movement patterns you have to know at the NFL level. So there's that disconnect. And when you transition from the collegiate level of the spread offense, and you make that transition to the NFL, there's a learning curve, and a gap that has to be closed.
Now you're in a bit of quandary as a coach, because you don't have a lot of time to close that gap. And opportunities to close that gap. And that's where the equipment comes into play, because I can put you in the world, from a training aspect and an on-the-field aspect, that it's going to get you as close as possible to replicating the movement patterns you're asked to do at the pro level. And then not just the pro level, but movement itself as far as the offensive line play holistically. So now, when I get you on to the field as a coach, you're much more primed to move the way that you need to move.
We can get as deep as we wanna get with this, because it goes down into the nervous system. And people call it muscle memory. Being able to do what you need to do as an offensive lineman, it isn't just going out and doing freaking drills. It's much more involvement in it than that. There's unlearning that has to take place, and learning that has to be engrained as well. And that takes time, it takes volume, it takes reps.
And unfortunately, this game isn't the type of game where you can just go out and have batting practice, or golf swing lessons, and you're gonna be OK. You wanna get better as an offensive lineman, the old adage is, you need reps. Well, unfortunately, there's only so many bull rushes my body can handle. There's only so many trap blocks my body can deal with before something gives. So it comes down to, what are we going to do as coaches, what are we going to do as players to get ourselves as close to that line as possible, without sacrificing our bodies.
And that's where these tools have come into play, and why so many teams now, at institutions like Nike, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Chicago Bears, and the 49ers, and major division 1 programs, they get it. And more and more people are getting it. But this game is evolving, and this position is evolving, and we need to be able to evolve with it.