It’s not often that a fan of the NFL witnesses a schematic evolution. The league, in general, is pretty bland when it comes to scheming but as of late, we’ve seen a shift on the offensive side of the ball. The indoctrination of the zone read-option and further implementation of spread formations has helped teams win games, as most recently witnessed by the Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers, and will alter the way defenses will prioritize positions.
It’s my belief that interior defensive linemen are going to take precedence over exterior linemen, thus also placing more emphasis on the interior offensive line positions. Both are becoming more important than ever before because of the evolution of the base running game and short passing game. Quarterbacks are getting the ball out in a hurry with three step drops while ball-carriers are taking handoffs from quarterbacks on read-options that leave defensive ends and linebackers unblocked.
If a defense is going to slow down either of the above, they’re going to have to push the pocket from the inside. Quarterbacks are poor passers when they face pressure from the inside, and if a defense is going to slow down the read-option, they’re going to have to have interior defensive linemen that can reset the line of scrimmage.
Because of the importance that is or will be placed on interior linemen on both sides of the ball, I will be taking a hard look at the positions in the Senior Bowl. The game has a lot of talented blockers and the ones that interest me are as follows:
Dallas Thomas – OT/OG – Tennessee – The Volunteers blocker is probably not the top offensive lineman for most but he’s not short on talent. Thomas has spent time at left tackle and guard during his four year collegiate career and impressed in both areas. He does not have great flexibility but it’s good enough to play at the next level. He moves his feet well, showing the ability to slide and mirror pass-rushers on the edge. Most importantly, Thomas does an exceptional job of anchoring against the bulrush, as he plays with a wide base and good technique. This is one area that he’ll be able to show off during the Senior Bowl because there are a couple of power rushers he’ll take on, namely BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and Clemson’s Malliciah Goodman.
Larry Warford – OG – Kentucky – A right guard at Kentucky, Larry Warford dominated opponents with quick hands, bone crushing power and surprisingly light feet. He is somewhat of a squatty blocker, checking in at 6’3”, 333 pounds, and does an exceptional job of anchoring against defensive tackles. He also is mobile, possessing the quickness and athleticism to execute reach blocks as well as get out into space and take down moving targets. Furthermore, he does a good job of sliding his feet when mirroring rushers. If or when Warford tightens up his technique and extends his arms consistently, he’ll be a very good guard at the next level.
Ezekiel Ansah – DE/OLB – BYU – Switching to the defensive side of the ball, Ezekiel Ansah was unknown going into the college football season by most but now most are familiar with him. The man who calls himself a “delicate flower” is inexperienced but very powerful, with the bulrush being his signature pass rush move. He’s also instinctive, as he recognizes when to get his hands up to deflect a pass or get off a block to locate the ball-carrier. Moreover, he moves well and can make plays down the line of scrimmage. He’s still learning how to play the game however, but he has the tools to be a good player at the next level. In some ways, he reminds me of Justin Tuck of the New York Giants.
Kawann Short – DT/NT – Purdue – Defensive tackle Kawann Short has had some critics the last couple of seasons, namely my colleague Josh Norris, but it’s hard to deny his talent. He’s one of the most talented prospects at the Senior Bowl because he has very good initial quickness, overwhelming power and an impressive burst. He’s known for penetrating into the backfield whenever he wants – that is, whenever he wants. He has a tendency to run hot and cold during games, which I hope he won’t do this week as he has a chance to make himself a grand sum of money.
Datone Jones – DE/DT – UCLA – Last of the bunch, UCLA’s Datone Jones has flown under the radar but is going to be a riser when it’s all set and done. He’s 6’4”, 280 pounds and exceptionally quick off the line of scrimmage. He is frequently playing with low pad level and a dangerous forward lean that is truly on display when he boosts it with a sudden burst. He has played various techniques during his time at UCLA, ranging from the zero technique to the five. If there’s one major concern with Jones’ game, it’s that he tends to fall on the ground too much. This is partly due to his discussed forward lean and not to be mistaken for a lack of balance.
Overall, the five trench players above are some of the top athletes in the entire draft class. They all move very well, are versatile, athletic and possess a lot of power. It’s these traits that personnel men will look to add to their team come April because they’re necessary to execute and stop the newly implemented schemes by coaches.