by Ben Muth
It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to sit down and write anything this offseason but I sure picked a good time to come back. We’re just a week removed from a historic draft that saw three offensive tackles chosen in the top four picks and six total offensive linemen in the top eleven. Over the next three weeks (yes, it’s a three-parter) we’ll look at those six players, how they played in college, and how they might transition to the NFL. This week we’re looking at the top two offensive tackles.
Central Michigan/Kansas City Chiefs
Fisher became the first offensive tackle chosen number one overall since Jake Long in 2008. The Central Michigan product started to emerge as a surefire top-10 mock draft pick at the Senior Bowl but didn’t get a lot of first overall hype until early April. In the end, he edged out fellow offensive tackle Luke Joeckel for the top spot, and I have to say that I agree with Kansas City’s decision.
To me, by far the best part of Fisher’s game is his ability to restart his feet. There are going to be a lot of times in a game when your feet die. It can be because a defensive end blunts you off the ball, or maybe you have to really anchor down on a bull rush. Whatever the reason, there are times when your feet get stuck in the dirt and you need to be able to get them going again. Fisher excels at this. Let’s take a look at an example from the Michigan State game.
Fisher is pass-blocking against a defensive end (analysis!). Now, Fisher has a good set in general. I will say he does tend to try to run guys by the quarterback too quickly in his set (before he has to) and shortens the corner on himself at times (not in the picture above, just in general). He got away with it in college because he was strong and athletic but everyone is strong and athletic in the NFL and you can’t just try to essentially drive-block every speed rusher. It’s something he’ll have to work on, but it should be easily coachable.
In the pic above, Fisher does a nice job of staying with his kick throughout the play. He gets a solid punch in the second frame and stops the defensive end's momentum. The problem is he continues to drift a bit as he punches and ends up in a position where he is in danger of getting beat underneath in frames 3 and 4. Honestly, he’s in pretty poor position here. (I know the quarterback has thrown the ball in frame 4 but it doesn’t matter for this column because Fisher doesn’t know that).
Fisher stops all his backwards momentum and gets moving again, towards the defender. The stopping and coming back inside is impressive and is what people are talking about when they discuss change of direction in pass protection. But what Fisher does here is actually more impressive because he doesn’t just come inside and mirror the pass rusher, he restarts his feet completely and drives the defender back towards the line of scrimmage, eventually bending him over a pile (a good example of Fisher’s balleyhooed mean streak).
Yes, a large part of generating the movement is the result of the defender reaching to deflect the pass, but that’s exactly the same principle that generates movement in a zone running game even when the defensive end beats you off the ball. If the defensive end gets a good get-off and shocks you in the backfield, you still have a chance to win as an tackle if you can restart your feet. Because the running back is taking an angle towards the edge defender’s outside shoulder, he’ll start to widen a bit. If you can get your feet going again as he’s widening himself out, you end up creating a big hole just inside of you. Let’s go to the tape again to see what I’m talking about.
This is from the Chiefs' game in Week 16 against the Colts. I want to focus on Eric Winston, who despite being released after the last two seasons, is really good at Outside Zone blocking. Here, Kansas City is running Zone Stretch behind Winston. On the play, the defensive end buckles Winston a bit in the backfield. I know it’s tough to tell in stills, but you can see how how the defensive end's hips are thrusting through the man (giggety) and Winston’s head is snapped back a bit in the first frame.
But as the defensive end reads the play he moves a bit to his outside to prevent Charles from running around him. As he does that, Winston is able to restart his feet and start pushing him further outside. Even after Charles puts his foot in the ground to cut inside, Winston is still driving the defensive end further outside. Eventually the defensive end ends up a couple of yards outside the numbers, way wider than he should have been based on the initial collision.
This ability to restart your feet quickly and with power is vital for any offensive lineman, but particularly one that will be called upon to run a lot of Outside Zone. Not only is Fisher capable of it, he excels at it. It’s why I think he will be a very good fit with Jamaal Charles.
Texas A&M/Jacksonville Jaguars
Joeckel was the presumed number one pick from about three quarters of the way through the season, once Geno Smith and Matt Barkley had faltered, until about a week before the draft. After all, he was the best tackle in college football. There is no doubt in my mind that as a college player, Joeckel was better than Eric Fisher. Eventually, Joeckel ended up “falling” to number two, and while I prefer Fisher as a pro, I still really like Joeckel.
I’m betting that Joeckel is a solid NFL pass blocker on the first day of mini-camp. He’s got a good initial kick, he uses his hands exceptionally well for a college kid, and he can redirect well (he’s not great at restarting his feet like Fisher, but he can redirect). The only concern I have at all is if the Jags move him to the right side and he just happens to be one of the few guys that can only pass block one way. His pass set seems mechanical in a good way at times, but he could struggle to flip it to the other side. But really, I don’t see that being an issue with a whole offseason.
The best part of Joeckel’s pass blocking is his patience. That might not have Jaguars fans (either of them) dancing in the aisles, but it honestly should. Patience is by far the most underrated part of pass blocking, because a patient pass blocker is a well-balanced pass blocker who times his punch well. Those two things go a long way. Here’s a perfect example from the LSU game.
In the picture above, LSU is running a stunt with the defensive end and outside linebacker. What stood out to me is that Joeckel threw a full punch at the defensive end and missed. That sounds bad, especially when you take into account that I just raved about his patience, but how it happened is actually fundamentally sound.
Joeckel and the right guard are in a man scheme here. Joeckel sees the defensive end crashing inside and the linebacker coming over the top, so he knows there is a game going on. That means the defensive end is doing one of two things, either he’s short-sticking and coming into the B gap with hopes of T-boning the guard out of the way to get the quarterback, or he’s long-sticking into the A gap where he hopes he can beat the guard across his face because the guard is kicking wide to the linebacker.
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If the defensive end is long-sticking (which he is) there’s really nothing Joeckel can do about it. If he’s short-sticking however, it’s Joeckel’s job to shock the defensive end with a punch to take the umph out his rush before he gets to the guard. So Joeckel waits till the last moment -- it’s almost impossible to tell in the moment whether a defensive end is going A or B gap as a tackle -- and throws a full punch to blunt the defensive end. But because the defensive end is going A gap, Joeckel comes up with air. And yet it doesn’t affect Joeckel at all.
That may seem mundane, but it’s actually really impressive. Because you’re punching 250-300 pound men, you usually lean into your punches to deliver extra pop/prevent yourself from being humiliated on national TV. Here Joeckel, who delivers plenty of pop with his punch, is fully extended and not off-balance in the slightest. In fact, he keeps kicking deeper and delivers a strong punch to the linebacker a second later. Look at frames 1 and 3 again, it’s like frame 2 never happened.
I love this play. It’s patience, it’s timing, it’s balance, and it’s a strong punch at the end. It really is everything you want in pass protection. O-line coaches run drills where you just have to stand there and punch some sort of bag or dummy that comes at you and sometimes gets pump-faked. It’s hard not get caught leaning too far forward on a dummy that can’t knock you back, so for a college kid to do it in a game setting is awesome.
That does it for this week. Come back next week when we check out the two guards picked early and I probably take a couple shots at Adam Snyder, Levi Brown, Bruce Arians’ ridiculous collection of Kangol hats, or all three.