Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
30 May 2014
by Ben Muth
After an extended post-Super Bowl Spring Break I’m happy to announce that I’ll be back in these parts for about the next six weeks before taking one last vacation ahead of the season. Since I always have a tough time coming up with offseason content, I’d love for you guys to make suggestions in the comment section about what you’d like to see in this space over the next several weeks.
This week, I’m going to ease back into the column by doing a scouting report on Greg Robinson.
There’s a lot to like about Greg Robinson. In fact there’s so much to like that I’m going to gloss right over two things that are important. He’s very quick and strong. He moves well, and when he hits people he really thumps them. You always hear boxers described as heavy-handed, well, Greg Robinson is heavy-bodied. He’s a freak athlete that plays that plays like a freak athlete.
Robinson’s general physical ability is so apparent that spending too much time on it would be dull. It would be like reading a college scouting report on Randy Moss that spent 1000 words on how tall and fast he is. Pertinent to his future as an NFL player, but obvious.
What I want to talk about are Greg Robinson’s hips. (This is how I start most of my dates.) Robinson shoots his hips on contact better than any college offensive lineman I’ve seen in the past few years. When you’re run blocking, you want to start out low because you always want to be underneath the guy you’re blocking for leverage. But, as you make contact, you want to pop your hips into your defender. Popping your hips basically is just giving a pelvic thrust at the guy you are blocking. This is how you generate power while you play, and why strength coaches love power cleans.
This isn’t easy. If you are in the privacy of your own home, feel free to bend over, lean against the wall, and then try to roll your hips towards it. Make sure no one is around, because it looks as awkward as it feels. (Actually, please don’t try this.) Here’s a video of a bunch of Wisconsin offensive linemen working on a blocking sled designed to help with this movement. Notice how the sled is designed to raise up to encourage the blocker to bring his hips through contact.
Robinson does this consistently and naturally. I can’t count the number of times Robinson would come down on a three-technique, engage and pop his hips. Now that 300-pound defensive tackle is a yard further inside despite Robinson not moving his feet after contact. The power and consistency of it remind me of Reggie White clubbing offensive tackles two feet inside on seemingly every play. All good offensive linemen will show this kind of technique throughout the course of a game. What makes Robinson stand out is how common it seems to be for him.
Sometimes he actually moves a defender so much with that initial pop that he puts himself in bad position. Once he knocks the defender back, his feet won’t move as quickly, and there will be a little too much separation. As a result Robinson will start to lean forward too far and defenders will be able to throw him late, because he’s off-balance. This will happen three-to-four yards down the field, but you never want to get thrown. It can lead to holding calls late in the play.
I like Robinson’s hands. Robinson showed a great ability to play with inside hands in both the passing and running game. I once had an offensive line coach say roughly 80 percent of blocking a guy is getting your hands inside his. This is a terrible estimate, but it goes to show how important it can be for leverage.
Robinson has the reputation of a mauler, but his hands are too precise and accurate to be those of a brute. He’s an absolute technician in the run game. There are some causes for concern in the passing game, but his initial punch and hand placement are as good as there was in the draft this year.
The big knock on Robinson seems to be that he never had to pass block at Auburn. And as insane as that is, it’s kind of true. Auburn threw the ball some. (When you run 85 offensive plays a game you’re bound to mix in a pass out of curiosity.) But not in a way that gave you a clear idea of what Robinson will look like as a pass protector in the NFL. When Auburn did pass it seemed like it was mostly play-action or full slide protection, where Robinson was just helping inside.
During the times he was asked to traditionally pass block defensive ends, he did okay. As I said before, he has a very good initial punch and he’s athletic as hell. His biggest issue is that he leans too far forward once he engages defenders. (He gave up a sack against Alabama because of this.) He plays on his toes a bit too much. You'd rather him be on his insoles. But playing too far forward should probably be expected when you run the ball 50 times a game.
The other issue in his pass protection is that he seems to get freaked out by wide rushers. Robinson’s pass set is okay when defensive ends are lined up as five- or seven-techniques. Once he sees that his man is lined up out wide, whether as a defensive end in a nine-technique or a stand-up blitzer walked out wide, Robinson’s footwork gets funky. There was a play in the Florida State game that really stood out due to this.
This is actually more common than you would think it is for young tackles. For some reason, all the space they have freaks them out and they end up kick stepping like one of those terrifying DirectTV marionettes. Feet going all over the place without rhyme or reason. Eventually most guys realize that no matter how far a defender lines up, he eventually has to come to you if you get to your spot. The Rams are rumored to be starting Robinson at guard, so it won’t be an issue this year. But if he’s going to be the franchise tackle he’s supposed to be, he’s going to need to get over fear of space.
One other cause for concern with Robinson is that I don’t think he was particularly great in combination blocks. He’s great at blocking both defensive linemen and linebackers individually, but I thought he looked a little slow coming off of linemen and onto linebackers in the same play. My guess is that this was more coaching style than personal deficiency. Auburn runs a lot of backfield action and misdirection. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they, more than most teams, coach their offensive linemen to stay on the down linemen until the last possible second.
If you follow me on Twitter you may have come away with the impression that I was down on Robinson leading up to the draft. That’s not really the case. I really like Robinson as a player. I thought he was a very good college player, and I think he has the potential to be a very good professional. And when I say he has the potential to be very good, I don’t mean it in the way people say Logan Thomas has the potential to be a good pro. I mean that I would actually bet on Robinson becoming a good pro as opposed to not.
At the same time, I do not think I would draft an offensive tackle second overall when I have no idea if he can pass block or not. He has all the tools to be a good pass blocker, but there are a lot of guys physically capable of being bookend tackles that are not. It took some cajones from the Rams to take him that high and I’m anxious to see how it turns out. I can’t wait to see him catching two-yard crossing patterns in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.
27 comments, Last at 02 Jul 2014, 12:37pm by Jamey