Combine Notes: Offensive Linemen

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.

3. David Bakhtiari out of CU looks interesting - not top tier, perhaps, but very ripped and strong. Runs a bit high - only transferred to OL from TE last year and is still making the conversion. He’s fast and strong.  He needs to learn pad level and some technical pointers, but he’s great raw material and should stick with someone. Kyle Long has a very nasty demeanor - comes with the genetics (Kyle's the son of Howie, brother of Chris), but he’s also got a very nice natural bend. Unusually so, in fact.

4. D.J. Fluker wasn’t much for some drills. He doesn’t drop his hips well and his footwork is suspect, at best. It was the same during the season. However - that’s not going to hurt him in the draft. He’s a mauling beast if you put him at RT. Not many teams draft for RT, but there are several out there this year and in Fluker’s case, it’s the way to go.

5. There was a nice drill on combination blocking - two guys hold pads, one in front of the OL on the left and one standing out from the line (on the right and in front of the right side player as if he’s in the position of a stack linebacker. The two OL come off the line and ‘switch’ - one OL is responsible to block down (it means what it sounds like - he blocks on the next guy down the line, not straight ahead) to the left. That clears the path for the second OL, who steps out and around and attacks the other guy (playing linebacker) with the pad. He has to get his hands on it, lock out the elbows for separation, and create leverage, keeping the feet behind the shoulders, a good angle to the body and drive the feet forward in short, choppy steps. That’s as real as you can get without pads. Fluker isn’t used to pulling and was out of sync on the drill. However, in the kick-slide drill, he was excellent, cutting off the speed rusher. His RT skills are very much in view.

6. Braxston Cave and Travis Frederick are centers - both very powerful. Frederick is the classic Wisconsin center - powerful, smart (double major, computers and computer sciences). He also wins the combine award for best beard - it’s a beauty. Cave has a nice toughness, but might struggle in the NFL - his technique just isn’t quite there, at least for now. Brian Schwenke isn’t quite in their league, but he should find a home.

7. Classic centers, talented tackles, gritty guards - it’s a brilliant OL class, and one of the best in recent history. Here’s hoping that Denver gets in on it.

8. Lane Johnson wasn’t shy about saying that he’s the best athlete in the tackle class. ‘Best’ is an impressive boast, but hard to quantify. Still - there’s no question that he’s one solid technical guy with a decent anchor and excellent coordination.

9. One thing that came out for the class in general comes from a drill that I picked up years ago. When you want your men - OL or DL - to keep their hands together in front of them during drills (knowing that the inside hands wins the battle 90% of the time), you teach them to pretend that they’re rolling meatballs between them as they drill. It keeps the hands in the middle, ready to snap out and lock onto your opponent. Quite a few of the lower end players didn’t help themselves by keeping their hands out front, letting them fall to their sides and opening up their torso for the DL to take advantage of it.

10. Overall impression - This is an amazing bunch of players. It’s a very deep class, particularly in OL, DL, TE and safety, and there will be some All-Pros that will come out of the late rounds. The question, of course, is always ‘Which ones?’ That part’s not so easy. Go for it, Broncos!

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