Joe Alt Details The Finer Points Of Line Play, Technique, And The Constant Pursuit Of Getting Better

Joe Alt has only played offensive line for three years, but the Notre Dame star left tackle was born for the position. His father, John, played tackle for the Chiefs for more than a decade, so while he let his son enjoy being a quarterback and tight end growing up, everyone, including Joe, knew where his future would eventually take him as he grew into his 6’9 frame.

“I kinda knew about how my body was shaping up and how it was looking,” Alt said this week over Zoom. “Like, I’m probably gonna play offensive line if I get to the next level. So [my dad was] like, get the glory now because that’s where we’re headed next.”

Offensive line can be a thankless job at times, but it’s one NFL teams covet, so while glory might not have come after every game, he’s set to reap the rewards of his work in South Bend when he’s a likely top-10 pick in Detroit at the 2024 NFL Draft. Talking with Alt, it’s easy to see why teams love him. He is dedicated to his craft, thoughtful about his work, and has a true understanding of what it takes to be a successful lineman both physically and mentally.

We got a chance to speak with Alt on Wednesday afternoon on behalf of P&G and Meijer, discussing the growth of his technique, using his length and quickness to dictate the action, how playing basketball helped with his footwork, and more as he gave us a quick lesson in all that goes into being a great offensive tackle.

You’re now a day away now from Draft night. Where’s the excitement level for finally getting to find out where you’re headed?

Yeah, I think the excitement it’s at the all-time high right now. You know as these weeks have progressed, I thought I had a feeling of where I might be going and now kind of recently it’s a lot more possibilities and options in the air. So really, I’m not going to know ’til tomorrow night when I get the phone call. So the excitement’s really there and a little bit of the nerves too, but I’m really forward to it.

Yeah, there’s so much noise in that kind of early first round about trades, about who might move up and a lot of chatter about this tackle class. How are you handling all of that and kind of trying to make sure you’re not too locked in on one spot or another because it could change a lot come Thursday night?

Yeah, a lot can change. And the way I kind of settle myself at the end of the day is, I’ve put all I can really put forward. I played three seasons at Notre Dame. I put my best foot forward at the Combine, in my interviews post-Combine. And now it’s just like, I put all I can for all these teams, you know, I’m hoping some team likes me and I can continue on to the next level. And wherever that’d be, I’m thrilled to be there and couldn’t be more excited to play the next level.

And for Thursday night you’ve got this partnership with Tide and how are they helping you get ready for draft night?

With the new city and new team and new things, I partnered with Meijer and P&G for the essentials because they’re really ready for anything. I grew up being a Tide kid. My mom had it on top of the laundry machine and I was always throwing in my sweaty basketball jersey or my sweaty football jersey that hadn’t been washed in a week, and I get it back the next day smelling great. So Tide has always been important to me. And then more recently with Meijer being at Notre Dame, there was a Meijer down the street. Being from Minnesota, there wasn’t many there, so I kind of got to experience it for the first time and was able to head down there and really enjoyed it. And then a little perk for all my Notre Dame fans and people who are close to me, it’s Meijer shoppers can use M perks to save $15 on purchases of $50 or more on P&G products. And I think it’s a little nice little plug for those who like me are shopping at Meijer for Notre Dame.

As an offensive lineman, it’s such a unique position in terms of how you have to approach it mentally. What did you learn about that from your father growing up and seeing how he approached it, and as you started to emerge in your career, talking with him about how to deal with, you know, you’re not going to get quite as much attention and when you do a lot of times it’s for the mistakes you make. How do you handle that and what have you been able to lean on him for advice there?

Yeah, my dad allowed me to play quarterback and tight end throughout high school. But I kinda knew about how my body was shaping up and how it was looking, like I’m probably gonna play offensive line if I get to the next level. So he’s like, get the glory now because that’s where we’re headed next. And you know, once I got to offensive line, I think he’s really … he always starts with, at the end of the day, it’s refusing to lose. That’s what you’re trying to do. Whatever it takes, whatever you gotta do at the end of the day to not let your guy hit the running back and not hit the quarterback.

But you know, there’s a competition involved and every once in a while, you’re gonna lose and that’s gonna happen. You’re obviously trying to prevent it at all costs. You want to win everything and be the most reliable player you can be on your team. But when you do have something like that happen, you got to stay level headed where you don’t let one play turn into 2, 3, 4, 5. You gotta let it be like, yep, that happened. I learned from it. Maybe if I did something in that play I knew I did wrong, you learn from it and you move on. Or if not, you leave it ’til after the game and you go back, clear your head, and play the next play. Because if you let those things build, that’s when it really can sort of snowball on you. You want it to be a one-and-done. You can have them here and there every once in a while, but not something where you just have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and it’s just a roll on you.

Where do you feel like you grew the most as a player over the last couple years in South Bend?

Starting with just the basics, I think. I played tight end in high school. I played one game at tackle. Being able to go and actually get snaps at left tackle, you know, set out of a two-point stance, things like that in-game and get those reps. And I think the biggest thing I got over those three years is confidence. I’d put in the work, but it’s not the same because you work by yourself — you’re out setting, punching a bag, it’s not a live person. So through three years of game experience, you get the confidence, alright I can do this. I know how to play. I played with some of the best in college. I can do this and that’s how I know I can, because I have the repetitions. I’ve seen myself do it. So the big thing over that has been confidence and me just slowly building my technique each and every day.

When I watch your tape, I think one thing that stands out for me is your arm extension and hand placement is always really good. And you seem to really want to dictate the terms of engagement with the defensive lineman. You want to be first to him. What’s the work that goes into that, and everything that you’ve put into making sure that you’re getting those hands in the right place and winning that battle first?

Yeah, the hands part is a lot of punching drills post-practice. I like to do drills at the end of the practice when you’re most tired because that’s really when you have to fight to get it done right. So I do a lot of drills with placement on hands, you know, punching bags, punching mitts, things like that to just work on the placement of my hands. I think that’s very important. And then with the length thing and the jump setting, I think the biggest thing you’ve got to start with is, if you’re gonna be that aggressive on somebody, you gotta know where you’re vulnerable at and you got to make sure you protect that. And when you go to try to get somebody, the inside move is where you’re most vulnerable position. Because if you miss, that’s the fastest way to the quarterback. So understanding how to set their alignment where they’re at, making sure you don’t give them that inside move is really important. And then just making sure you get a strike on. Because if you can get on ’em quick and get a strike, it really is gonna take them a second to process their next move with a recovery move. And I think that’s the biggest thing with changing up and bringing the stretch to them.

And then also, I mean with passing off, it obviously helps on twists and stunts when you can get that hand on first when they’re coming around and not square you can kind of bump them off, right?

Yeah, 100 percent. Length is huge in twist games. Being able to direct them and not let them go pick your guard or me getting picked by the D-tackle, things like that. So the strike and using length is the most important when it comes to twist games.

And as a tall guy, with your footwork and balance. Obviously balance is everything as an offensive lineman. What did you have to do to drill not over-striding and letting your legs get outside your shoulders? Cause you’ve obviously got long legs and that can happen pretty easily if you’re not careful.

I attest a lot of that my basketball playing in high school and growing up. I think just that natural base defense on basketball. Yeah, you have a bit more of a stagger on football and how you position it, but the basics are kind of there. You know, feet under your hips. You want to have a strong base to be able to move quickly. So I attest a lot of that to my basketball playing days and just kind of working on my defense in basketball. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar and that’s the kind of thing where my body naturally goes to, that position with my feet, making sure they don’t get too wide, too narrow, things like that.

What are the things that you’ve been working on in your technique? Obviously, you’re still working, you’re still building that foundation. What are the things you’ve been working on to get ready for this next step into the NFL?

What we were talking about with the strike, I think the strike can always be improved and is a really big weapon if used properly and if you really have a jump on a defensive end with the strikes. So that’s something I’m always working on there. I think understanding different kinds of sets of players — understanding in preparation, hey, is this more of a power player and maybe I don’t have to be so light on my feet, so quick. Maybe he’s more of a power player. Maybe, alright I could be more rooted to ground, stronger so when I strike, it’s got to be a stop there instead of taking that one or two steps. And in the run game, I think always just trying to be a little bit lower. Because if I have the ability to get underneath someone’s pads and use my leverage and when I do explode my hips, I’m moving a guy that much more and have that much more height on them that then really I can get some movement off the ball. So things like that.

I wanted to ask about that because, as a tall guy, everybody’s gonna talk about do you bend at the waist. Can you get the knee bend? And there’s a certain point where you can’t get any lower. So, how do you balance that of not trying to lose your ability to have a strong base, but also trying to get low and what’s that process been like for you?

There’s a happy medium there, for sure. And I think the biggest thing is repetitions. Understanding, alright, that one felt good, why did that feel good? What did that look like? Did it look like I was that lower? Maybe I was a little bit higher, but my hands and my feet were under me and I had a good base. Maybe I can’t get there if I’m that low. So I think it’s a lot of repetitions and there’s really that happy medium where if you get too low you’re gonna be out of control. You’re gonna be over heavy and you end up bending at the waist too much. And there’s that perfect where maybe you don’t look as low as you possibly could be, but you’re as strong as you can be. And that’s kind of the perfect medium you want to find. So it’s really through repetition and practicing kind of getting your body stronger in those positions.