Scouting the Combine: Offensive linemen

I had a lot of fun this weekend pulling game tape out of the library, watching Combine film, reading, and writing about the offensive line candidates. Although I’m mentioning Mike Kalil first, the following list isn’t in any particular order. Neither will any of my subsequent prospect columns; some will get attention later for one reason or another.

A couple of general comments to consider: last year’s vertical leap average was 28.5 inches; for interior linemen it was 27.5. The average broad jump last year for OL was 8.5 feet or 102 inches. Last year’s fastest 10-yard split was 1.74 - this year it was in the mid 1.60's. The players continue to get bigger and faster. I offer these marks simply as a sort of loose basis for comparison. That said, let’s move on to some of the OL candidates:

Matt Kalil out of USC was pretty much as expected - fast and smooth on his 4.99-second 40. He came in at NFL weight (6’7”, 306 lb), measured adequately, and he did very well in the tests and drills. In particular you can see his silky smoothness and skill on the kickstep drill. He’s the complete package, and I’ll mention him from time to time in illustrating why certain players are and aren’t as desirable. Kalil pretty much has it all.

A note on that particular drill - the function of it is to watch how smoothly and quickly the lineman can kick-slide (or kick-step, depending on which coach you have) backwards while boxing a ‘rusher’ away from the imaginary QB. The drill is performed with the hips starting out parallel to the LOS. You begin with one foot back - they tell you which - and you kick and slide it backward while keeping a rusher - one of the LB/DE candidates - from gaining an angle on you. He’ll start out well to your right, so you’re kick-sliding back with the right foot. The goal is to maintain your hips in an LOS-parallel posture as long as possible while still intercepting the rusher’s angle. The players who open their hips to the rusher quickly won’t be able to keep that rusher from either looping to the outside or rolling inside - either route gets them quickly to the QB, and you won’t be able to stop them if they have a chance to juke you because the LBs/DEs have faster feet.

I liked Mitchell Schwartz out of Cal in that drill, and while he’s not a top candidate due to a lack of athleticism, he’s a guy you can move to guard and he’ll play well for you - he makes his bones on smarts and hard work. Both help a lot on a team, and his focus was noticeable. Kelechi Osemele from Iowa also did well - very quick, very smooth. At 6’6” and 333 lb, running a 5.15 40 was impressive. His history is erratic - he disappears during games at times, but when he’s on, he’s a very fine player. I worry about his mindset, but I adore his physical skills, so a team that’s willing to develop him will get an eventual starter IF he can conquer the consistency of focus issue. He may develop as a guard or a tackle - it’s hard to say. He probably has the tools to play RT or G.

Boise State's Nate Potter is a guy I’m pretty interested in (I’m high on about eight of them - don’t read too much into that) and showed the kind of skills that got him noticed in the first place in the drills, but struggled somewhat in the standard tests. He is 303 lb, ran the 40 in 5.36 and had 22 reps on the bench press. A 28.5-inch vertical and a 100-inch broad jump suggest his lower body strength, which is his forte - he doesn’t have great explosion, but does drive from the lower body well when locked up. He doesn’t have the quickest feet, though, and that’s going to limit him until he can develop there. He’s probably an eventual starter at guard, but other scouts suggest that since he took over the left tackle slot as a sophomore and held it until he graduated that he’s got more skills than might be immediately apparent. I watch a lot of the Broncos, and on film, he protected Kellen Moore very well for nearly three years. That has to count for a lot, and his game film often looks better than his Combine. Can he make the jump? That’s for someone else to decide.

David DeCastro of Stanford stood out on every drill, but had minor issues with his 40, a misleading 5.43 average, and his 98-inch broad jump. It’s a great case of measurables not always mattering - his don’t. One that does - he had a 7.30 three-cone drill, which led the OL group and suggests his short area speed, balance and ability to cut if needed to (Matt Kalil was second with a 7.33 three-cone, showing his own athleticism). Denver won’t have a shot at DeCastro but he’s so far head and shoulders above the other guard candidates in terms of skill and technique that I enjoyed watching him. His film was very good, and I had the the good fortune of catching him playing - I was very impressed with the games that I saw. He’s already graduated, has the smarts as well as the physical skills and technique, and he’s one powerful player. This autumn was a good one for catching college games for me, and David DeCastro is one of the best guards that I had the fortune to watch. Although Kalil will almost certainly come off the board first, DeCastro could be the best OL candidate in the draft.

I watched Iowa Hawkeye Riley Reiff do well in the drills. He’s a heck of a talent, but I was surprised at how sloppy his weight is and how bad his posture is - that gut he’s carrying is pulling his lumbar spine (low back) visibly to the anterior (front) and it’s putting a ‘C’ in his low back that creates a lot of tension and stress on the lumbar discs. He’s got a powerful bubble, which is great, but he’s going to have to consider some postural changes and a lot of core training would serve him well unless he wants to experience a lot of back problems. A good conditioning program will be essential for him - he has a lot of natural talent, a sub-average vertical (my only interest is lower body explosion on this), 23 reps on the bench and a very acceptable 5.23 40. That’s telling me two things - if you can motivate him to really hit the conditioning, the drills showed that he can have a great career. If not - the NFL isn’t college. Coming to Combine with that kind of sloppy weight isn’t something that I like seeing regardless of how high he’s drafted, but he’s had an excellent college career and will still be a first-round pick; although he may (or not) drop slightly, he’s been too good to pass on. He’s a top tackle candidate in terms of his skill and although the guard group is deep, the tackle list really isn’t. He’ll do well in the draft, but the team that gets him has to get him into the right program or he’s at risk for unnecessary injuries.

For those who care about measurables, Adam Gettis, another OL from Iowa, was something to watch. He had an official time of 5.00 in the 40 (Donald Stephenson from Oklahoma lead the field with a 4.94 and also led with a 114-inch broad jump), nailed the broad jump at 112 inches and had a vertical leap of 31.5, tied for the lead there. He’s quick out of the gate but doesn’t generate a lot of explosive power despite that quickness, which is a bit surprising. Gettis is a good example of what those tests don’t cover, but the physical we don’t see does. He has a good but limited bubble (better thighs than hips, thinner lower legs), doesn’t look powerful in the lower body, and has to use finesse to block, which he does fairly well. He has a good upper frame and is highly athletic. His problem is that if 293 lb is all he has, then that weight isn’t there in his lower legs, thighs, hips and butt, which suggests a potential problem in anchoring that does show up on film. For a top zone-blocking group, you want to have a balance of athleticism and power - the best of them excel in both. Still, he’s very athletic and some teams will like that.

The other side issue is that a very tall OL player - some tackles run 6’8” plus - may have a tendency to stand erect or to bend at the waist. Guys over 6’5” often struggle there (as do some that are shorter), and it gets harder as you’re taller. You might be able to coach them out of it, but it’s worth being cautious on that - what does the film say, and what does the trainer, the athletic director, his HS coach, position coach, coordinator and head coach say? You’re going to get a certain amount of understandable prejudice, but overall the coaches want to have the scouts trust their judgment, and that works in the favor of the team that does the best background work. Keep in mind exactly what you want. Some teams prefer a slightly shorter player, some like the length, but all want a guy who can drop his bubble and anchor. Check the film and talk to the scouts. In general, the group did a decent job of keeping their hips and pad level low.

Back to the OL prospects: Mike Adams from Ohio State had a somewhat disappointing 5.40 time in the 40. I’m not huge on the importance of the 40 for an OL but anything over 5.35 is a matter of some level of concern, depending on the 10- and 20-yard splits and, of course, the film on him. Is it a lack of speed, or a lack of conditioning? Adams has had a very up-and-down career and carried it to the postseason - his work at the Senior Bowl was erratic, and his work in the Combine drills was somewhat better. He also has a history if injury issues (shoulder surgery in '08, knee surgery in '09) and a suspension on his record, so he needed to show how strong his case is to overlook those concerns.

He hasn’t shown a lot of aggression on the field, and although I’ve looked at him as a potential candidate for RT, I’m rethinking that at the moment (I noted some inconsistency in watching him, too). I care more about film than Combine, but there are weaknesses that Combine is there to expose, and on him that was important - the film either hinted or showed the same problems. He had some inconsistency as a player against top talent, which would also worry me a bit. He plays too high and has trouble anchoring due to a lack of lower body strength. Adams also only had 19 reps in the bench, but he is long armed, and that does matter. Nate Solder last year only had 21 reps, so it’s not a big deal. Adams did have a 28.5 vertical, which doesn’t really say much either way, being about average. It’s really his attitude, technique, and his willingness to step up that I question the most. He has some history to overcome, on and off the field. This was his shot to step up and show people, and he didn’t show that much.

Cordy Glenn is a huge specimen out of Georgia who has a history of playing both guard and tackle and showed the agility to do so at the NFL level. Watching him propel his 345 lb body (with not a lot of fat, considering his overall size) down the 40-yard dash lane at 5.15 was impressive. In some ways, he reminds me of Orlando Franklin - he’s a huge, polite, well-spoken young man, and he knows that his history of playing multiple positions is in his favor. Like Big O, he doesn’t have the world’s fastest feet right now, and that’s something that he acknowledges and says that he’s working on daily. Obviously, he feels that it’s improving and that he will be able to handle the left tackle spot at the next level. I’d like to see him lose some weight and see if he can handle the move to RT. I see him more as a guard/possible RT just based on what I saw in the drills, but he could well develop and move to LT later in his career, and perhaps not that much later - he has very good hands, great size, good speed, and his issue will be the development of his feet and technique. He could drop some weight to play tackle or keep most of it and play guard, which is where most people see him. I’ve seen him mocked from the first to the third round - if he’s there in the third I’d trust Denver to pull that trigger, but it will never happen. I doubt he makes it past the first half of the second round, and he could go even earlier. I did think that he lumbered a bit in the drills - he’s a little heavy footed at times, but at other times surprised me with his movement skills. If he’s working on it, he’ll overcome it.

One concern with him is that a single year at tackle isn’t usually considered an optimal preparation for the NFL. That’s why a player like Matt Kalil is so sought after - Kalil is athletic, can move to either RT or LT, and he came into Combine at NFL weight, up from college, but is making the drills look easy - so the pounds aren’t hampering his technique. He looks fairly taut and well put together - he’s prepared perfectly for this job interview and is likely to earn being the first lineman off the board in Round 1 as a result. I admire that. Living down the road in Carlsbad, CA, I’ve seen a lot of him over the past few years. There’s not much to criticize, and there’s a lot to like.

David Molk, a 6’1” 300 lb center out of Michigan led in the bench press with 41 reps. That’s this year’s mark to shoot at for the DEs and DTs. Molk’s an interesting candidate in a weak year for centers - he’s got a 22-inch neck that’s essentially a small stump that his head rests on. In addition to being a Rimington Trophy finalist at the beginning of 2011, he was named the recipient of the Big Ten's inaugural Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award in 2011 as well as winning the national Rimington Trophy in 2011. Strong and quick with excellent footwork, he struggles at times with his hand placement and at 298 lb, might have to put on some muscle weight to anchor better against NFL talent. He seems to have the smarts for the job, though, and a team willing to develop him for a year or two will see substantial benefits down the pike.

Zebrie Sanders from FSU is a player that I’ve been watching for two years now. On first viewings I was somewhat-to-very impressed with him; He’s 6’6”, 320 lb, has 35-inch arms and runs the 10-yard split in 1.76 on a 5.41 40. Now I’m coming to wonder about him, and not all of that was just due to Combine. He had an absolutely terrible week in Mobile for the Senior Bowl - DEs were blowing him off the line consistently and he didn’t handle the one-on-one drills well at all. His functional strength failed him at times, and he seems just too lumbering at times for the LT position as the competition improved, which happened during the season as well. Several of the times that I watched him, it looked like handling the college level was about all he could do (at LT, at least), and he didn’t seem to dominate what I thought was lesser competition.

My interest in him was/is mostly as a potential right tackle and even there I’m not so sure at this point. One of my concerns now that his Combine numbers are in is that his 8.55 three-cone drill is very slow. By itself - it’s nothing.  When that matches the weaknesses in his agility that showed up in games, it’s different. It’s possible that he’ll make a good RT over time, but he needs to get stronger and work on his hand punch and placement. He’s smart and he excels in pass protection, but I have concerns about him being overdrafted. If he goes in the late first round as several have him, I can’t see it at all. As a developmental RT, late second to early third round, I think that he’s a good shot even though I’d rather not see him in orange. I know that has him as the #4 OT in the draft, but I still have doubts. And, that shows me that the tackle class, while they may be different once they’re getting pro training, may not be quite as strong as one would hope. Guard is deep and strong. There are few TEs and fewer centers, which is pretty common - both classes are week. But there are some guards that may be good right or even left tackles. Cordy Glenn is one. Here are some others:

The pride of Midwestern State, OG Amini Silatolu had an extremely good day in the drills. A 6’4” 311 lb specimen, he was another example of what is different between tests and drills - he had a 5.43 40, 28 reps on the bench, which is good given his arm length. He also had a 31.5 vertical and a 4.87 20-yard shuttle, but what stood out was that he mirrored perfectly, kept his pad level low, knees bent and opened far enough, and he showed how smoothly he can change directions for such a big player. He’s got excellent balance, gets a lot of drive from his legs when he engages a defender, and doesn’t let go until the whistle. He is somewhat raw and needs some time and better competition to develop with, but it would be very well spent. When you see a 6’4”, 311 lb. man who has a vertical leap of 31.5 inches and a broad jump of 107 inches, you know that he has a lot of lower body strength and explosion. Coming from that level of competition, you’d also expect a lag time before he’s ready to start. It probably won’t be long - he’d be a solid second-round pick if he falls to Denver, and would come there to spend a year developing before competing to start. In the meantime, he could back up along the line.

As you probably know, my concern is that current LT Ryan Clady hasn’t been quite right for two seasons, and Franklin may or may not conquer his own footwork issues, so a starting quality tackle is just good sense to me this year. I know that the team is talking about only needing interior line depth, but this is the season of lies, damned lies, evasions and smokescreens. Anything the front office people and the coaches say at this point is moot, and I’m hoping they aren’t reading their own clippings on the tackles. Pro Bowl or not, it wasn’t Clady’s best year by a long way. I love the player, but at this time of year, I don’t really let that interfere with how I try to see the team - I want to step back and get a good, fair look. It’s a sort of clinical detachment perspective. They’ll have to pay Clady well to stay on after this year, but sunk costs might be a part of life. He has to play better and I’m somewhat concerned with both his knees and Franklin’s foot agility.  Competition is good.

Tom Compton out of South Dakota started at tackle for four years and has the physical tools to take the next step. You always have concerns about the level of competition with a small school player, but Compton has put in good games against both Minnesota and Wisconsin - Wisconsin in particular has excellent line players - take a look around this draft if you didn’t know. Compton’s a 6’5” 312 lb specimen with 34-inch arms and beautiful footwork which is probably the best aspect of his game. That’s not a bad best aspect to have, either. He put in a 5.11 40, 20 reps on the bench with a 30-inch vertical and a 107-inch broad jump - decent marks at the least, bordering on very good. He added a 4.60 20-yard shuttle but only a 7.95 three-cone drill, which was interesting after seeing his footwork in games. On the other hand, he hasn’t been spending four years running around little cones on the ground, either. He’s a better pass protector than a run mauler - made for the zone-blocking game with quick feet and a skill at redirecting defenders rather than running over them make him intriguing as a swing backup tackle and a possible starter down the road. He may drop on the small school issue, and if so is a serious option in the fourth or even fifth round. I’m suspecting that a run on tackles may emerge at some point since it’s not as deep a class as you’d like. There are several G/T players that I’d rate pretty highly, though. Amini is clearly one. Compton is another.

On Wednesday I’ll touch base on a note or two, update some other positions, and hope to talk a little about the center from Baylor, Philip Blake. Blake did a nice job of getting noticed on Saturday, and his story is one worth catching. See you then.

Go Broncos!

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