In the olden, golden days of football, the right side of the offensive line was referred to as the “Strong Side” – most teams were “right-handed” and their power running plays went to the right. As a result, the best run-blockers resided on that side of the OL – in today’s game, the strong side refers to the side of the formation where the TE lines up, or in the case of an unbalanced line, the side of the center where most of the blockers are located.
Defenses would position their larger and stronger run defenders on the left side of the defensive line (directly across from the offensive lineman on the right) and place their smaller, quicker pass-rushers on the defensive right side. Although not a constant, many teams still adopt this thinking to some extent; therefore, the ROT prospects we will be analyzing are strong, road-grader run blockers.
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Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin (6’7”, 314 lbs) can play LOT – but his mauling, take-no-prisoners attitude lends itself to the right side. His technique is excellent, little slow on his footwork but can protect the flank. The Badger power running game went to the left behind Carimi and John Moffit. The Senior Bowl coaching staff tried him at OG and he excelled – when you have Carimi, Castonzo and Boulder on the same team, you do want to get them all on the field, right? Like I said, he would be a solid pro at LOT, but will be a Pro Bowl ROT.
The first thing that pops off the tape with Carimi is how quick he is right off the snap. It takes him no time to bounce out of his set and engage with a defender. He's very aggressive with his hands and will maintain an excellent hand-punch through the play. While he's not a comfortable second-level blocker, he down-blocks very well -- this is where his power is displayed. Having played LOT, he has an excellent kick-step and ability to fan back in pass protection and because of his excellent technique off the snap, he's less susceptible to inside moves.
Carimi also has good short-area pop when he chips off the line and goes after linebackers in goal-line situations, but his footwork at the second level in other situations leaves something to be desired. He looks like he's on roller skates in short spaces, and it can take him a second to adjust and get his power going at times. He also lunges when asked to perform tackle pulls, but that may be a product of inexperience.
One other technique issue that might affect him is that he plays with more power coming out of the three-point stance than he does when standing up. This is true of most tackles, but in Carimi's case, the difference is more pronounced. With some NFL teams asking their tackles to play out of two-point more often, that may be a problem. Carimi reminds me a bit of Green Bay's Bryan Bulaga (one of Long Ball’s favorites from last year) because of his athleticism and aggressiveness off the snap.
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Marcus Cannon of TCU is a road-grader deluxe at 6’5” and 358 lbs – this young man carries his weight where a good road-grader should, in the lower half of his body. His rear-end and thighs allow him to maintain a low center of gravity on his blocks and maintain leverage (if not just totally engulf) his opponents. Cannon played LOT for the Horned Frogs this last year (has played both OT positions) and their most effective running plays went to that side. His footwork and technique would make him acceptable on the left side in the pros, but he could be dominating on the right side – if he struggles with pass-rushers in space, he could move inside and excel at OG as well.
Cannon is relatively nimble for his size, but there are concerns about his ability to handle speed on the edge; however, it has been difficult (if not downright impossible) for college strong-side ends to get around him, especially when his technique is sound. Well-coached, as he takes short choppy steps off the line (as every good lineman should) and can backpedal when necessary to cut off blitzing linebackers. Exhibits enough lateral movement to jar defensive ends with one hand while blocking down to double-team defensive tackles. Cannon is stout and has a strong first and second punch (takes some time to land the second), but needs to extend his arms better in the lockout position to keep defenders from progressing too far into his body. Has a tendency to push off when opponent tries to disengage, instead of keeping his feet moving to sustain.
Cannon has the prototypical size to drive defenders off the line – uses his size to seal the edge and wall off inside rushing lanes, but does not consistently get his hands up to manhandle smaller players he should dominate. Maintains a strong enough anchor against the bull rush from bigger defensive linemen and turns them out of the hole. Needs to get out of three-point stance more quickly, but might be more explosive when lined up closer to the ball inside.
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Florida’s Marcus Gilbert is another prospect that has played both sides of the OL. Size is not a deficiency for the young man, as he measures 6’6” and 330 lbs. He is a solid pass protector with a quick set, fluid lateral movement and willingness to go out and punch his man off the snap instead of waiting for the rush to come to him. Gilbert keeps his feet active and arms extended while engaged, sustains after initial contact and can anchor against most ends. Demonstrates good balance to protect the inside lane and reacts quickly to late blitzes, escorting them around the pocket with his length; however, he does need to become more consistent picking up linebackers off the edge against 3-4 fronts. He gets down well to cut block on quick throws, but needs to get more of his opponent to take him out. Has a tendency to lunge while recovering from strong initial contact.
In run blocking, Gilbert has effective size and mobility to be an extremely effective positional blocker at the next level, as he anchors against strong defensive ends well, resetting his hands to sustain the block. Marcus moves his feet to wall off backside run support and sustain until the play is away, and has quick feet to the second level, extending his arms to fully negate linebackers (raises them off the ground at times). Good drive-blocker, churns forward after engaging and will usher his man downfield for seven to 10 yards or turn defenders out of the hole. Athletic and long enough to block down on tackles while pushing blitzing linebackers out of the play. Body control and posture must be more consistent; loses his balance when leaning forward against defensive ends or lunging towards linebackers at the second level.
Quick off the snap for his size, strong punch and arm extension to lockout defender, and a fairly quick kick-slide but utilizes his length more in this area. Good character, hustles every play, reliable and durable . . . solid OL prospect with the Long Ball Seal of Approval!
There are a couple of prospects that have name recognition and public reputation, but they don’t meet the Long Ball standard: Lee Ziemba of Auburn and James Brewer of Indiana. Both are huge men but their first move out of their stance is straight up; as a result, they immediately lose leverage and the resulting battle against their opponents. Brewer may be strong enough to overcome this disadvantage but Ziemba is not.
Many of the LOT prospects discussed in my last post (Sherrod, Love, Carpenter, Hairston, et.al.) can play ROT and very well may cut their teeth on that side. Some of the ROT prospects (Derek Hall of Stanford, Joseph Barksdale of LSU, Danny Watkins of Baylor) will probably end up at OG. But there are a couple of “Dark Horse” candidates from small schools old Long Ball sniffed out that you should keep an eye on.
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Derek Newton of Arkansas State (6’6”, 305 lbs) was an outstanding lineman in Sun Belt Conference play. If he catches on with a team, he might be one of those progressive success stories of Practice Squad to Back-up to ROT to LOT, with the benefit of good coaching because he has good footwork.
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There’s also a monster way out west in Old Abilene Town: Trevis Turner (6’7”, 335 lbs) of Abilene Christian. He has overpowered the competition at this small school and would need to be “coached up”, but rumor has it that he was recruited while plowing behind a team of mules. The scout asked him directions to town and his hands never left the plow – he answered by picking up the plow and mules and using them to point the direction.
Well, we’ve covered the flanks – so let’s move inside on the next installment and see what prospects would fit the interior of our OL.