Continuing with our discussion of offensive tackles, today we have one player who didn’t even make it onto the field for the 2012 season, and two of the top tackles in this year’s draft. Let’s get right into it:
Many NFL fans aren't familiar with Chris Faulk, but there’s good reason: going into his junior year, he suffered a knee injury last August, but he decided to declare for the draft after last season regardless of his age, level of experience, and the handicap of not having played during the 2012 season.
You can see why he might make that decision. Not only is Faulk huge, but he shows some nice footwork and seems to have some athleticism that you don’t always see in a man of his size. He showed a noticeable lack of technique when playing the left tackle slot as a sophomore, though. He is as raw as you would expect from a player with only two seasons of college ball under his belt, no matter how big that belt might be. Both his footwork and his hand technique are in need of work. He hasn't shown that he really understands how to get into a defender and keep them away from the quarterback, or drive him downfield in the run game.
With Ryan Clady locked up on a franchise tag and Orlando Franklin having taken a giant step upward last season, why spend time, money, or a draft choice on an offensive tackle?
Denver has a backup blocking TE/OT in RFA Chris Clark, who’s a decent lineman on run plays but who is not capable of handling any prolonged starting snaps. Since Clady’s cost may have to again be dealt with next season, Denver is still short one viable OT - the guy who can cover if Franklin or Clady go down. There are options on the roster, but it’s not a stretch to say that with Clady potentially playing on a one-year franchise tender and Franklin still being talked about as a guard, bringing in a top OT might be wise.
How would that work? I think it’s pretty simple. If Denver does move Franklin, it’s likely to be at the position he usually played in college - left guard. They didn’t pay right guard Louis Vasquez, with his pass protection skills, to sit out. With Zane Beadles making the Pro Bowl as an alternate (and earning it), though, how would that work? Here’s an option:
San Diego has countered Denver's signing of Louis Vasquez with an offensive line signing of their own - former Eagles tackle King Dunlap. Since I watched very little of the Eagles this past season, I did a quick and dirty check of PFF's ratings on each player. Here's what I found:
Vasquez was on the field for 1,057 snaps in 2012. His combined rating was +12.8. That includes a +8.6 rating on his pass blocking, and a -2.0 on his run blocking. He was charged with two sacks and 22 total pressures, but did not commit a single penalty.
Everyone knew that when Peyton Freaking Manning decided to spend his last seasons in Denver, the blocking scheme was going to be a big priority. Manning’s lightning assessments of the defense and his quick release makes that job easier for the O-line, but the Broncos also took a step towards improving his safety and his target environment by luring to the team former two-time All-Mountain West Conference selection from Colorado State University, tight end Joel Dreessen.
Pro Football Focus has made positive mentions of Dreessen a few times since the end of the season. Since some of the information is in their premium section, I thought I’d cover it for you. In short, Dreessen was the #10 TE in the league in terms of pass blocking snaps for the three seasons prior to joining Denver (2009-2011). On 260 pass protection snaps over those three years, he gave up only eight total pressures for a 97.31 Pass Blocking Efficiency, good for fifth among all TEs.
1. It’s not everyday that you see an offensive lineman run a 4.71 official 40. Very impressive, Terron Armstead! It’s not just the speed, either. This kid knows how to play the game. Lane Johnson also had an excellent time - 4.76.
While the size of the average American has leveled off, for the most part (although a lot are still growing sideways), the size, weight, and speed of offensive linemen continue to increase. The number of reps on the 225 bench didn’t go up, but their overall power was impressive. There were six sub-4.9 forty times, with 10-yard splits to match. I haven’t looked up each year, but I don’t recall that offhand in combine history.
2. Watching one of the drills: the player lies on his back, arms spread, has to leap to his feet, turn, and the coach holds a football that shows him the direction he should take, changing it several times with no pattern.
Braxston Cave did it, and not badly. Emmett Cleary followed - better - and then Jonathan Cooper took his turn. His feet were wide, his steps short and choppy, and his hips dropped properly - it was like watching a video of how to do the drill. No offense is meant to Cleary or Cave, but Cooper was letter-perfect. If you wondered why he’s one of the top two guards this year, check the film of that drill. That’s a big part of why - and he’s not just athletic, he’s also knowledgeable and talented.
A recent re-reading of Football’s Eagle and Stack Defenses, written by longtime Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, turned up some information on the attacking 4-3 single gap and its versatility, as far as rolling the responsibilities of the players to match up with different downs, distances and probable plays.
It had me thinking about Jack Del Rio and his approach, which has some overlaps with my earlier musings. Vanderlinden’s discussion of the use of linebackers and reads was a perfect next step to reading Complete Linebacking, a book I also recommend highly, and which was written by Lou Tepper, under whom Vanderlinden coached with the CU Buffs in the 1980s.
I’ll get into eagle and stack defenses at another time, but there are some specifics here that can be adapted into many formations and schemes.
As free agency lurks, we’re already seeing some big names linked to the Broncos. There will be more, but here are a few somewhat lesser names that have stood out for me:
The player who I like best so far in free agency is 26-year-old offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, formerly of the Panthers and Vikings. I’ll be talking more about him in a two-part series on the middle of the Denver roster, but he has a history with John Fox in Carolina and has played both right guard and right tackle successfully.
He’s likely to be more of a cap-friendly acquisition and potentially fills a need that’s literally bigger than safety, wideout, or situational pass rusher. He’s a mauler who uses his 6-6, 334-lb body to his best advantage. I’d love to see him after another year or two under line coach Dave Magazu. He may not an be elite talent, but he’s very good. I see him as a potential upgrade over Manny Ramirez or Chris Kuper who would allow Denver to leave Orlando Franklin at right tackle.
As Doug pointed out, plenty of big players are going to be linked to the Broncos. With the team coming off a 13-3 record, and their limited time frame with Peyton Manning at QB, Denver is again a highly desirable place to come play.
Woodson will turn 37 in October, but he’s been one of the top players at safety in the league. Is he worth a look?
Collie is 27 and has been released after a year of only 12 catches due to a series of concussions. He’s been a good target for Manning in the past, and Brandon Stokley is probably looking at his final season, so he’s interesting on that basis.
Last but not least, Freeney might be reduced to being a situational pass rusher, but he bagged five sacks last year in only 768 snaps (including playoffs). Is he worth bringing on board for that role?
Going into draft season, it’s worth considering that Denver’s interior line remains one quality guard away from their starting five being a seriously dangerous group. Although Manny Ramirez developed some over the last season, he's just average when he’s playing his best, while Chris Kuper has become a big question mark.
I believe Denver needs more than that at right guard. I like Ramirez, but right now he doesn’t scare anyone. If Denver thinks he can become better than he was last year, they might want to take a chance on him.
However, what I’m looking for is the ability to add ferocity to the line, and I love the players who do that. Orlando Franklin was drafted on both his skill and his mean streak. The whole line responded to that toughness. That’s the power of a serious lineman - when he makes the players he’s with better, it changes the entire dynamic of the OL (or DL). That’s what I envision for Denver.
With the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl in the bag, I thought this might be a good time to review what’s been happening with the players who stood out for one reason or another. There’s still a long way to go before the draft, and anything can happen with these players between now and then, but these are the things that registered with me from the Senior Bowl.
For starters, the Broncos reportedly met with the following prospects. I just chose whichever site seemed to offer the best information on the player to link to them - most sites don’t have all their info together yet. I also noted whether they got attention from the Shrine (EW) game or the Senior Bowl (SR):