Word of Muth: Justin Pugh and Kyle Long

Word of Muth: Justin Pugh and Kyle Long
Word of Muth: Justin Pugh and Kyle Long
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Welcome back to the fourth and final part of the 2013 Word of Muth draft breakdown. It’s been a long journey, but one of great discovery. I was reminded how awful most college defensive linemen are: hey guys, you’re allowed to use your hands to do more than bullrush. Secondly, and more pertinent to my NFL-favoring audience, is that this was a really bad draft. I know a lot of draftniks reframed this as "it wasn’t a star-studded class," but every lineman I looked at after Luke Joeckel was a definite reach for where he was drafted. That includes the last two featured linemen we're looking at: Justin Pugh and Kyle Long.

Justin Pugh
Syracuse/New York Giants

I'm assuming the Giants drafted Justin Pugh thinking he can be a good guard and perhaps a serviceable right tackle. If you work me over long enough, you could talk me into him becoming a good guard, but I can’t see how he plays tackle in the NFL. I love his feet in his pass set, and everything before his initial punch is good. But at the end of the day he plays short-armed, high, and soft in the passing game. Not the combination you want to see from a first-round tackle.

Pugh’s short arms were discussed frequently leading up to the draft, but more disturbing than their length is his refusal to use the length he does have. Pugh alternates between throwing looping punches to the outside edges of his man's shoulder pads and simply waiting to clamp down on a rusher who has run directly into his chest. Joe Thomas, famously, has short arms. Thomas also throws a straight and accurate punch that keeps defenders away from his body. Pugh plays like a T-Rex in a straitjacket.

This problem is compounded by the fact that he tends to raise up as he gets deeper into his pass set. This isn't an uncommon problem among tackles, but Pugh is worse than most. The Syracuse product often becomes completely straight-legged (though he does typically keep a good base width-wise) when he engages a defender.

The result of those two problems is that Pugh plays soft in pass protection. I don’t consider Pugh a soft player, but when you play straight up and don’t punch, you’re going to get knocked around. Guys that get shoved around that easily look soft out there. Here’s what I’m talking about:

This is from Syracuse's game against Pittsburgh. You can see at the point of contact in the first frame that Pugh is almost completely straight-legged. Also, note that his arms are at 90 degrees and not extended at all. Fat, dumb, and stupid is no way to go through life. Straight-legged and bent-armed is no way to pass protect.

In the second frame you can see why. The Pitt player is directly into Pugh’s chest and lifting him off the ground. Pugh is 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, but is barely able to keep a toe on the ground when the defender unloads into his chest. I can’t see someone with arms this short and technique this bad playing tackle in the NFL. Obviously, this is an extreme case showcasing Pugh’s worst habits, but the flaws are on the tape, and that Pitt guy ain’t exactly Justin Smith.

After watching the Rutgers game and the first three quarters of the Pitt game, I was ready to write Pugh completely off. It wasn’t that he was a bad college player -- in fact he was a good one -- I just couldn’t see him at a position in the NFL. He had good feet, and he was a fluid athlete, but he played with terrible pad level and didn’t use his hands. Late in the Pitt game in the four-minute drill, though, Syracuse went to a goal-line formation and ran right behind Pugh five straight times. Pugh kicked the absolute dog crap out of the guy lined up over top of him.

I don’t care how many times you get bullrushed, when you continually dominate on drive blocks, you are not a soft player. Everyone in the stadium knew what was coming, Syracuse was running straight-ahead blocking, and Pugh was just firing out and knocking his man three-to-six yards off the line of scrimmage every time. It’s the kind of series that’s so impressive it made me re-evaluate and re-watch the tape for things I may have missed.

And sure enough, there are a couple more plays where he gets great movement in the running game, including knocking his man four yards into the end zone on a touchdown run. I also noticed that he looks much better in pass protection when he’s got a guy lined up right over top of him and doesn’t have to kick out wide. He’s able to get into them and mirror them before they can get the momentum to really rock him. He still plays high, but I don’t think it’s an athleticism issue. Taking him out of a two-point stance will do wonders on that front.

Kyle Long
Oregon/Chicago Bears

I’ll be honest, I really struggled to write about Kyle Long. He does most things pretty well, nothing great, and nothing truly awful. If he was going to a team like the Patriots or 49ers, who could put a solid offensive line around him immediately, I think he could have come in and immediately play solid football with limited mistakes. The added name value could have eventually "Jermon Bushrod"-ed him to a couple of Pro Bowls.

I'll explain. To "Jermon Bushrod" means to play with a really good quarterback and guard next to you, so that instead of looking like the merely above-average tackle you are, you make the Pro Bowl. (Hmm ... starting to realize Bears fans aren’t going to love this article.) Long is not going to a strong unit. He’s going to an offensive line that has been bad for a while and could very well be bad again. I don’t think fans account for how much it helps an offensive lineman to play next to other good offensive linemen.

I see Long as more of a tackle than a guard. I think he has naturally good feet, and while his initial set isn’t smooth, it’s efficient. He may not be a great puncher, but he uses his hands well and is above-average at replacing them when they get knocked down. Long is at his best when he’s trying to out-leverage defensive linemen as opposed to trying to move them off a spot in the running game. I could see him turning into a solid offensive tackle, particularly in a zone-based scheme.

When I first watched Long, I thought he could be a dominant pass-blocking guard in the Andy Levitre mold. Then, as I continued to watch, I realized a large portion of this was fool’s gold. Defensive tackles weren’t actually rushing to get to the quarterback against him, they were just trying to push the pocket and shadow Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to contain his running ability. Defensive linemen will not be rushing to contain against Jay Cutler, they will be rushing to maim him.

It’s not Long’s pass-blocking I’m most worried about, however; it’s his run blocking. I thought there were too many instances where Long got stood up at the line of scrimmage and was unable to generate even late movement. Once again, it’s best to show and not tell.

This clip is from the best college football game of last season. It’s third-and-6 in the red zone and the Ducks are running an inside zone (read) concept right behind Long. At the snap, Long and defensive lineman Ben Gardner stalemate at the line. Long wants to get his helmet to Gardner’s outside shoulder, and he kind of does, but he still leaves a lot of color (the area of the defender that the running back can see) showing to his outside, which scares the back into an immediate cutback.

[ad placeholder 3]

When Gardner sees the running back cut, he goes to shed Long to attempt to make the play inside. This is where you have to win as a lineman: as soon as the defender isn’t using all his strength to stay stalemated with you, you have to restart your feet and drive him as he tries to escape. This is something that fellow rookie Eric Fisher excelled at in college. If you’re great at it, you end up driving your man off the line of scrimmage and creating a late cutback or bounce opportunity, depending on where the running back is.

Long can’t restart his feet though, and Gardner comes down and makes the tackle a couple of yards short of the first down. Watching your man make a tackle a couple of yards short of the imaginary yellow line is about as bad a feeling as you can have as an offensive lineman. I hate to pile on Long, but that image is just begging for the X of Great Shame. In Oregon yellow no less.

I realize that both Long and Pugh are starting training camp at the positions I said that they shouldn’t play. but anyone who makes playing-time predictions before guys play a single game is going to be wrong frequently. Also, remember that the Super Bowl champions got a lot of mediocre games from Kelechi Osemele at tackle before moving him inside at guard where he excelled. NFL teams can engage in wishcasting prospects at times.


27 comments, Last at 12 Jul 2013, 8:04pm

#1 by Mbw (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 1:12pm

Regarding Pugh, I also think lack of upper body strength may go into his problems with pass protection. He did not bench in the combine so I have no idea how strong he his. But if he lacks the strength to get press the defender he may fall into him as a way to compensate for it. Those two images look like something you would see from a HS lineman.

Points: 0

#2 by Tyler (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 1:31pm

I was really hoping you'd take a look at T. Fredrick out of Wisconsin. There's been so much debate over whether or not he was worth the reach. After seeing Costa get hurt so often and the replacements play so up and down, I thought he was worth it, but I'd like to see your point of view on him.

Keep up the great work!

Points: 0

#3 by Jim C. (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 2:28pm

I believe it's "fat, drunk and stupid", not "fat, dumb and stupid".

Otherwise, an excellent article as we've come to expect.

Points: 0

#4 by Jimmy // May 29, 2013 - 2:41pm

I may not like what you wrote but still glad to get an article on Long. Cheers Ben.

Points: 0

#5 by The Ancient Mariner (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 3:54pm

How much of that on Pugh is bad coaching? It makes me wonder how Doug Marrone got an NFL head-coaching job.

Points: 0

#6 by thendcomes // May 29, 2013 - 4:03pm

Ouch. I was hoping to hear something good about Pugh but you made him sound worse than his third round projections. Hopefully it's just that the Giants think his faults are fixable.

Thanks for the insight Ben.

Points: 0

#7 by Harris // May 29, 2013 - 5:02pm

I don’t think fans account for how much it helps an offensive lineman to play next to other good offensive linemen

This is why there is no one in the NFL more concerned about Jason Peters' health than Evan Mathis.

Points: 0

#8 by Will Allen // May 29, 2013 - 5:12pm

Once you try to factor qb dependency and o-line interdependence, you begin to appreciate how much work you have to do to really accurately identify who the best o-linemen are. A large reason I was so favorable to Kalil's rookie performance was because Christian Ponder at qb, and Charlie Johnson at left guard doesn't put a shine on any left tackle's performance. Then again, the reason why Phil Loadholdt got a decent new contract was pretty much only due to 28, so who knows how much that burnishes the job Kalil does.

I know why I try to not have a strong opinion on who the All-Pro and Pro Bowl offensive linemen should be.

Points: 0

#9 by theslothook // May 29, 2013 - 6:27pm

Ah but will, this isn't just for offensive linemen is it? You could make the same philosophical argument to ANY Position in the nfl, aside from maybe kicker. Seriously, you could even argue qb is the most interdependent position in football - relying on circumstances related to scheme, field position, game conditions, opposing defenses - to say nothing of the dependence he shares with other 10 offensive players.

I suppose we need to be be thankful when natural experiments happen to accurately gauge a player's true value. Its why I hold jared allen is SUCH high esteem. Beyond his perenial consistency, two other mitigating facts. The chiefs pass rush fell of a cliff when he left and the bookend opposite him always seems to produce.

Points: 0

#10 by TacticalSledgehammer // May 29, 2013 - 7:28pm

"Pugh plays like a T-Rex in a straitjacket."
That is a fantastic mental image.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

Points: 0

#12 by Sifter // May 30, 2013 - 12:52am

Comparing players to dinosaurs - doesn't get better! There was a great comment years ago from someone in a draft chat about Donald Brown (2009 presumably): that Brown was an instinctive, one cut runner - like a velociraptor.

Points: 0

#13 by Kevin from Philly // May 30, 2013 - 7:50am

Maybe the next "Word of Muth" will be a review of Jurassic Park? I can see the velociraptor that got eaten by T. Rex getting the X of great shame.

Points: 0

#18 by Independent George // May 30, 2013 - 10:54pm

I was thinking more along the lines of reviewing GOB's technique when Ann Veal pancaked him. True, she's got that low center of gravity - you can't knock her down - but he just got obliterated. If anyone deserves the X of Great Shame, it's him.

Points: 0

#11 by mehllageman56 (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 8:27pm

Great article again. Just had a question; so you felt Warmack was a reach as well as all the others? I'm also assuming the guys drafted in the later rounds are not included too.

Points: 0

#14 by Steve375 (not verified) // May 30, 2013 - 8:55am

The one sentence description of the article calls them both Justin.............
Word of Muth finishes up its report on first-round offensive linemen in this year's draft with New York's Justin Pugh and Chicago's Justin Long.

Points: 0

#15 by CBPodge // May 30, 2013 - 9:18am

You mean the Bears didn't draft the kid out of Dodgeball to fix their offensive line?

Points: 0

#16 by BeteRouge (not verified) // May 30, 2013 - 3:58pm

Go Stanford! Broke the Duck fans' soggy little hearts. IF ONLY Long had made his block.

Points: 0

#17 by Dan // May 30, 2013 - 9:30pm

That's interesting - I've been thinking of Long as more of a high-upside boom-or-bust pick, the type that's an athletic but raw project who needs some work but could emerge as a star. But this article makes him sound like a boring low-ceiling guy, who doesn't really stand out and will fall somewhere in the range from pretty good to averageish.

I wouldn't expect a guard of either description to go at pick 20; perhaps the Bears think that he's decentish now and has the athleticism to be high-upside with some more work on his technique? I'm worried about the Bears' decision to use their first two picks on athletes who didn't especially stand out as special football players in college.

Points: 0

#19 by DA (not verified) // May 31, 2013 - 5:30am

I don't see how Orgeon vs Stanford can be called the best College Football game of Last season. The game definitely did not have tons of lead changes that one usually associates with that claim.

Northwestern for exampe had tons of games with many lead changes/last second deciding plays, especially their 29-28 L vs MICH and their 38-31 OT win vs Mich.

If you want to dismiss those Big 10 teams from discussion for not being as talented as ORE/STAN then I offer ALA/Tex AM and ALA/Georgia in the SEC title games as 2 games off the top of my head better than ORE/STAN.

Points: 0

#20 by InTheBoilerRoom // May 31, 2013 - 12:51pm

To understand Ben's opinion, you must recognize that he is a Stanford alumnus. He's very vocal about his Stanford fandom. Combine that with the fact that Oregon had been the main barrier between Stanford and the Pac-10/12 title for the past few years, and I think you'll understand why he would consider that game the best of the year. He's slightly biased, and I'm sure he'd be the first to admit it.

Points: 0

#21 by Danny Tuccitto // Jun 01, 2013 - 4:57pm

A pictorial representation of Muth's Pugh analysis, everyone:

Syracuse LT(-Rex)

Points: 0

#22 by Kevin from Philly // Jun 02, 2013 - 12:58pm

That's awesome! Question though: If the T. Rex bites a defender, picks him up and spits him out, is that considered a personal foul or offensive holding?

Points: 0

#24 by Karl Cuba // Jun 04, 2013 - 5:17pm

Great videos of Alex Gibbs talking about his zone run attack with some tape (some of the cut blocks are just brutal).

Also, Terrell Davis looks awesome (Marcus Lattimore really reminds me of him).


Points: 0

#26 by CuseFanInSoCal // Jun 10, 2013 - 6:45pm

I can't comment on the details of his blocking, but I know the Orange played a lot better (especially in the run game) when Pugh was healthy ...

Points: 0

#27 by Jcut666 (not verified) // Jul 12, 2013 - 8:04pm

Sounds like the worst prospect we picked up in the draft. I've heard more positives about Jordan Mills.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Ben
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Ben Muth. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Ben.