Like many, I see the option of grabbing a center as a prime goal for the Broncos. Matt Paradis might have come to the point where he’s ready. On the other hand, John Elway has spoken repeatedly on their happiness with OT Michael Schofield. He’s been far less effusive about Paradis, although says that they still have faith in him.
That situation has left me combing through the various centers available this year. Will Montgomery went to the Bears, so an additional change is needed. Who?
A couple of necessities arise. Denver’s moving to a full stretch zone-blocking scheme for 2015. That means that they’re going to need players that can move their feet sufficiently from the center position. The center needs a strong punch and to get his man moving in the direction of the entire line. Combo blocks are often used. Two linemen shut down a defender and one slides off intentionally to move to the second level. He tries to block anyone there.
One of the misunderstandings of this blocking system is that it’s often said to be aimed at lighter players. That’s not the case. The lineman can weigh 330 lb, as long has he has quick, light feet. Ryan Clady has been up to about 320 and his footwork is perhaps his best trait. The best possible outcome is a group of light-footed dancing bears, big but agile. T.J. Clemmings of Pitt might become one of those.
Strength is essential, whether the player is lighter than the norm or not. That strength can be from taking good angles. It can come from long hours of physical training. Included might be weights, Pilates, core work, etc. What’s important isn’t how they produce power, but that they do. Very good hand-fighting linemen often don’t need to be as strong.
Try a simple trick. Extend your arm, keep it straight with all your strength. Now, have a person your size or bigger bend it. You’ll find it’s nearly impossible to prevent him. Next, extend your arm again. This time, concentrate on the picture of a fire hose. ‘Feel’ energy pouring through from your shoulder to the fingers. Now have your friend try again. It’s nearly impossible to bend it.
What this demonstrates is that there are different ways to create functional strength. Angles and leverage are among the most efficient. They require less calories to control the defender. That means more energy later in the game.
The Broncos have obtained Gino Gradkowski, whom Kubiak is familiar with. Gino was with Baltimore from 2012-2014 and is a classic West Coast Offense center. He’s somewhat smaller than average, at 6’3” and 300. His footwork is good. He uses leverage well and maintains a tenacity against defenders. He started every game for Baltimore in 2013. For what it’s worth, PFF had him as the lowest ranked center in the league that year. He had his knee scoped at the end of 2013. In 2014, he lost his job to Jeremy Zuttah and only played 10 snaps.
A few comments, then, on three center prospects I haven’t covered yet:
Andy Gallik, Boston College
Gallik is a 6’2”, 306 lb. tough guy. He’s going to be a starter with a power system. But, he’s nearly useless for Denver. He’s scrappy, tenacious, and mean - in a phone booth radius. Asking him to be in a system where he’ll have to pull would be counterproductive. He isn’t much at pulling and he’s not that good on the second level. I happen to love the guy, but not for Gary Kubiak’s system.
Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Grasu is listed as one of the top centers on nearly everyone’s board. He’d fit with Denver’s system if they chose him. He’s got nice footwork. He’s 6’4” and only 297 lb - hardly a midget, but smaller for today’s game. However, he drops his pads well. He leans and lunges only rarely. He’s good at moving to the second level and finding a target. He’s able to match much larger and stronger defensive linemen. His leverage is usually very good, which makes him dangerous. He’ll continue to grow stronger, too.
The best thing about Hroniss is how much he loves playing the game. It really shows. He’s equally happy mixing it up with monster two-gapping nose guards or undersized tackles. He showed skill in attacking linebackers on the second level. With some linebackers, he mirrors them until he sees his angle opening before attacking.
He’s an interesting candidate who matches up well with Denver’s needs.
A.J. Cann, South Carolina
Cann is on the positional top-five lists of many of the draftniks. He’s powerful, and at 6’3” and 313 lb he’s happy mixing it up. Some coaches prefer their left guards - his best position - to be taller. I doubt that will play heavily into Cann’s draft experience. He’s strong and fairly quick coming off the snap. Nice pulling skills.
A reader recently asked me about him, and I’d like to emphasize that I like this kid. He’s going to do well in the league. However, I don’t like him for Denver. He tends to lean too much. When you’re in a full stretch zone, leaning will get you thrown to the ground. He’s a natural power blocker, and should be placed in such a scheme to maximize his career. It’s likely to be long and successful.