Attackers at tackle

Football is a game of constant change. And yet, many of the scheme changes of today are refinements of techniques that were being played in colleges back as far as the 1870s.

Once in a while, you get to see one that’s new. Or perhaps just new to me, in this case. Somewhere, someone’s almost certainly already done it - I just wasn’t there. The changes are made to help a player’s weakness(es).

Last season, Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman was trying to get the best out of his left tackle. Jermon Bushrod has the size for the position, but lacks the functional strength to play as well as he can. It makes him something of an underachiever. He just doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an offensive tackle, from being a bit light in the bubble. That leads to problems anchoring.

Andy Benoit mentioned the approach that the Bears took with Bushrod. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer had worked with Bushrod when both were with the New Orleans Saints, and in Chicago, he came up with an innovative solution to their problem. Kromer developed an aggressive pass blocking approach for his tackles. It’s one that I think might work in Denver, if Chris Clark takes over at RT.

Kromer had his tackles attacking the defenders on pass plays, rather than dropping back. Since Clark, like Bushrod, needs a little more sand in his pants to excel, this could be a nice approach for him. Most linemen love to run-block because it lets them hit back on the guys who've been hammering them. It lets them get aggressive.

It’s also helpful in confusing opposing defenses. If the line has been well coached, you shouldn't be able to tell the run from the pass until the play unfolds. Every microsecond helps the quarterback.

Clark might like that. He spent two years on the Vikings’ practice squad before landing in Denver via waivers in September of 2010. He often saw the field as a blocking tight end in 2011. He’s not your typical starter at right tackle. He still struggles with power and lateral movement at times, and his punch isn’t that strong. He makes his bones on effort, athleticism, and focus.

I’m intrigued with Kromer’s solution. I believe in aggression whenever possible on the gridiron. Forcing your opponent to play your game gives you the best chance to win. Pass protection usually doesn’t permit many aggressive approaches from the OL. This approach would. It will be interesting to see what other teams (if any) take up the same strategy. After all, the NFL is a copycat league.

Peyton Manning plays at his best in the play action game. If the tackles 'shoot out' on both run and pass plays, the D has lost another ‘tell’ for stopping them. I like that as well, although the interior players maintain the traditional approach. As players continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, that tactic might give the OTs some advantages. Play action production could improve for the Broncos.

Denver drafted Orlando Franklin in great part due to his above average ‘mean’ factor. The additions of Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez have increased it even more. Ryan Clady’s return, with Franklin betwixt him and Ramirez, strengthens the line. With Vasquez and Clark/other option at RT, Denver has an even stronger group. Theirs already graded out as the top line in the league last season, even with Clady gone for most of it. It can, and I think it will, be better.

Using the ‘attacking tackles’ option at some point might throw a new wrench into many defensive systems. Anything that gives Clark (if he holds the position) an advantage is interesting. It’s not likely that it will come to Denver. But it’s worth watching a few Chicago games to catch. Fast forward helps for finding that kind of technique without watching the game.

If it worked, smaller tackles could have an option besides zone blocking. That could increase the number of effective tackles available in a couple of drafts. Most ideas - zone read is an example - are good for a short time. But opposing teams have smart coaches too.

One reason that I hadn’t been behind Franklin's move to left guard until recently was the lack of real size and power with Clark. I love how he overcomes it, but I don’t see him as a mauler. Denver has been building a line whose players have been getting bigger. Kromer’s approach could help give an advantage to the 6’5”, 305 lb. Clark, who is still only 28 years old. He could be a good role player for a long time.

Bigger Trenchers

Denver’s biggest change replaces the 6’4”, 305 lb Zane Beadles, who struggled with balance and functional strength, with the 6’7”, 320 lb Franklin. Vasquez, at 6’5”, 335 lb, dwarfs the 6’4”, 303 lb Chris Kuper, whom he replaced. Ramirez is listed at 6’3”, 320 lbs, while his predecessor, J.D. Walton, is 6’3”, but only 305 lb. That’s a total gain of four inches of height and 62 lb in weight just for the interior three players.

Clady is 6’6” and 315 lb, both taller and heavier than the athletic Clark. He’s also got some of the best feet among tackles in the league. Clark is the wild card for me. His work last year was a great performance, and he could well do it again.  

At center, Ramirez will go into camp holding the job that he earned last season. Free agent acquisition Will Montgomery, who like Manny is 31 years old, figures to be backing him up. Ramirez seemed to improve by the game in 2013, a pattern he established at right guard during the latter part of 2012. Montgomery is a good player, but Ramirez was an even better center during his first year at the position. 

Denver’s line for 2014 is likely to be the best the Broncos have had in years. It’s just one more reason to say, TYJE.

Kudos go to Franklin and Magazu as well. The team has changed a weakness to a strength. That says a lot for them.

Bring on the draft!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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