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What is a Pancake in Football?

A good-to-great offensive line is a prerequisite to football success.

However, announcers only reference offensive linemen after they commit infractions (holding, false start, etc.) or when defensive linemen beat them for sacks.

Well, to quote the immortal singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, “The Times, They Are A-Changin’.” 

The pancake block is one positive measurement for offensive linemen of which announcers and fans are increasingly aware.

I’m Tracy, a former edge rusher who has been on the business end of far too many pancake blocks.

There’s nothing worse than seeing a 350-lb offensive lineman barrelling toward you with bad intentions.

The worst part is the anticipation of being sent airborne by a behemoth with a 100-lb weight advantage and being powerless to stop it.

In this article, I define the pancake block, delineate the plays on which a pancake block is most likely to occur, introduce #CoachSyrup, and discuss the term’s origins.   

Key Takeaways:

  • “Pancake block,” or “pancake” for short, is a term used by offensive linemen and their coaches to describe a block that leaves a defensive player flat on his back like a pancake.
  • Pancake blocks are most likely to occur on plays where offensive linemen maximize their forward momentum, i.e., get a running start, prior to hitting the defender, such as on running plays with pulling offensive linemen or screen-passing plays.
  • The origins and popularization of the term “pancake block” trace back to Bill Fralic, a star offensive lineman at the University of Pittsburgh from 1981-84, and two-time unanimous All-American left tackle for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and future NFL Hall of Famer, Orlando Pace (1994-1996).

What is a Pancake Block in Football?

Offensive linemen and their coaches use the term “pancake block,” or “pancake” for short, to describe a block that leaves a defensive player flat on his back. Creating a gaping hole for a ball carrier to run through. 

Imagine the bigger, stronger offensive lineman powering through the defender with tremendous energy and momentum, driving the defender backward and ultimately leaving him lying on his back.

For example, in the picture below, Georgia Bulldogs offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson (79) is about to toss LSU Tigers linebacker Ray Thornton (43) flat on his back.

The term “pancake block” arose because, after a pancake block, the defender lies flat on his back like a pancake. [1]


Which Plays are Most Likely to Produce Pancake Blocks?

Certain plays are more conducive to pancake blocks than others.

On downfield passing plays, offensive linemen tend to block passively, retreating backward to form a barrier between the opponent’s defensive line and the quarterback.

Pancake blocks require offensive linemen to drive forward into the defender; hence, fans are unlikely to see pancake blocks on long downfield passes.

Pancake blocks are most likely to occur on plays where the offensive linemen are maximizing their forward momentum, i.e., getting a running start, prior to crashing into the defender: running plays with a pulling offensive lineman or screen-passing plays.

After all, it’s one thing for a 350-lb man to strike you from a nearly stationary position; however, quite another when that 350-lb man is running at you with full steam and bad intentions!

Pancake Block on Running Play by Pulling Guard

The play below shows right guard Jawan Grant (#54) of Northwestern College pulling to the left side on a QB running play.

Notice Grant is attacking the helpless linebacker with a running start, absolutely annihilating him.

Grant’s assault on this defender is actually a felony in sixteen states!

Pancake Block on Screen Pass:

On a screen pass, the offensive linemen let the defense move past them, and the quarterback tosses the football over their heads to the running back.

Several offensive linemen running at full speed serve as lead blockers, and often the defenders they encounter are the much smaller defensive backs. [2]

As these enormous men approach the comparatively tiny defenders, said defenders are entirely helpless.

In the video below, the late, great John Madden analyzes Kansas City Chiefs right guard Trey Smith’s obliteration of a man one-half his size on a screen pass:

#Coach Syrup:

Despite the unmitigated correlation between an excellent offensive line and football success, the offensive line is the least-hyped position group on the gridiron. 

#CoachSyrup, aka Jonesboro (Ga.) High School offensive line coach Darrian Carmicheal, endeavors to alter this unfair narrative by rewarding his offensive line’s pancake blocks with an in-game shot of syrup. 

After all, is there a more perfect complement to pancakes than syrup?

“It’s not for the quarterbacks, it’s not for the running backs, it’s not for the receivers,” Carmicheal said. “It’s just an O-line thing, to make them feel special and know that they are being watched.”

“I believe in coaching, you need to give players an incentive…” he said. “So I also told them that if they can get 15 pancakes between all five of them, which is really three pancakes a person, then I take them to IHOP and I pay for everything. We can go out any time and eat real pancakes. Everything will be on me.” [3]

This is ingenious motivation at work.

Not only are offensive linemen recognized in a manner that is uniquely their own, but every game provides an opportunity for said linemen to secure a complimentary breakfast.

The video below provides a brief summary:

How Did the Term “Pancake Block” Originate?

Bill Fralic, a star offensive lineman at the University of Pittsburgh from 1981-84, first inspired the term “pancake block.” 

The Pitt sports information department created a “pancake block” after seeing Fralic put so many opposing defenders on their backs. [4]

The term “pancake block” gained widespread popularity due to the dominant exploits of two-time unanimous All-American left tackle for the Ohio State Buckeyes and future NFL Hall of Famer Orlando Pace (1994-1996). [5]

Furthermore, to garner support for the 1996 Heisman Award, Pace created this video:

Final Thoughts

While pancake blocks are not an official football statistic, they provide a means for the undervalued and underappreciated men in the offensive trenches to gain recognition for positive contributions.


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