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Old 03-31-2005   #1
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Default Article on Building an Offensive Line

No-Names Move To The front Of The Line

March 28, 2005

Dan Pompei
Sporting News

There might not be an offensive tackle worth taking in the first round of the draft, including Florida State's Alex Barron. And now, there isn't a reason to reach for one, either.

NFL teams can pass-block, run-block and win games without premium talent at the offensive line position. The Patriots proved this lesson. They won the Super Bowl with a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick and three scrapheap pickups. The Falcons reinforced it. They led the league in rushing with three seventh-round picks, a fourth-round pick and a 2002 veteran free-agent pickup.

The lesson was driven home by the Chargers, who were third in the NFL in points per game playing two rookies, a journeyman with his fourth team, a guard who had been considered a bust until last year and a 2004 veteran free-agent signee.

Just because Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, the NFL's best left tackles, recently signed long-term deals with the Seahawks and Rams is not a reason for teams to panic and overpay free-agent tackles with Frankenstein feet. One of the most questionable signings of the free-agent period was the 49ers' giving $36 million to Jonas Jennings. The left tackle will make the 49ers better, but they could have used their money more prudently.

Falcons offensive line consultant Alex Gibbs prefers lower-round picks and undrafted free agents because he believes offensive linemen need to be developed and that high-round draft choices aren't afforded time or patience for development. It's an efficient philosophy on more than one front, enabling teams such as the Falcons to appropriate more salary cap space and cash to skill position players such as quarterback Michael Vick and tight end Alge Crumpler, both of whom recently signed lucrative extensions.

Now, some teams are emphasizing offensive line coaches more than linemen. The Dolphins were happy to recently sign line coach Hudson Houck, who coached the Chargers' line last season, to a deal worth $850,000 per year.

"The offensive line might be the position where coaching is more of a significant factor than any position," Bills general manager Tom Donahoe says. "I think you need a premium offensive line coach, the guy who can take down-the-line guys and free agents and develop them into pretty good pros."

A superior offensive line coach certainly can improve players' techniques. But the way he can help his team most is by implementing a blocker-friendly scheme.

"You can take pressure off the blocker by running the ball, using the play-action pass," Falcons general manager Rich McKay says. "If you are a team that has to throw 65 percent of the time and you're a dropback team, you're putting a lot of stress on your tackles. You better be able to protect."

In part because of how the Patriots' offense is set up, the team got away with using Brandon Gorin at right tackle this season after Tom Ashworth was injured. It's not that difficult to block for the Patriots' skill position players.

"Corey Dillon is a back who sees the holes and gets into those holes quickly," Patriots line coach Dante Scarnecchia says. "Tom Brady gets the ball out on rhythm, and we have receivers who can get in a pattern fast. That demands a lot less of your offensive line and makes it easier for them."

Continuity and understanding also allow offensive linemen to play more effectively than their skills might suggest. "The ability of the players to react in a coordinated manner is what makes a good offensive line," Browns line coach Jeff Davidson says.

Scarnecchia and the Patriots are able to live with a tough offensive lineman who lacks ideal foot quickness, or one whose arms aren't quite long enough, or one who doesn't have as solid a base as they'd prefer.

It is a lesson other teams would be wise to absorb.
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Old 03-31-2005   #2
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Good article, it reminds me of everyone's impatience with Seth Wand. Hopefully things come together this next season for us too.

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Old 03-31-2005   #3
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This article gives me a little hope for the next season, but I still think we take at least two O-Linemen this draft...Maybe not immediate starters, but definitely a few guys for depth...I hope our patience with Wand and Pitts pays off and we don't have to blow the line up and start over next offseason...
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Old 03-31-2005   #4
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http://mb9.scout.com/fravensinsiderf...ID=29251.topic
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Old 03-31-2005   #5
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I think we fall into the problem of not having the best scheme for our linemen.

I just have never liked the Zone blocking scheme. Especially with big non mobile linemen.
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Old 03-31-2005   #6
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I think they should be trying more 3-step drop passess to put the pressure on the DL instead of the 7-step drop that pressures the OL. Mix in some more boots and Play-action and we should be able to get the defense on their heals. I may have a bad memory, but the Titans are the only defense that I remember the Texans really getting on the ropes.
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Old 03-31-2005   #7
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Reminds me of this article from two years ago:

HOUSTON CHRONICLE ARCHIVES

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: FRI 01/17/03
Section: SPORTS
Page: 3
Edition: 3 STAR

Texans don't have to use their top pick on lineman

By JOHN McCLAIN
Staff

The Texans have the third overall pick in the NFL draft. If everything goes according to plan, April 26 will be the last time they have a draft choice this high. Obviously, they do not want to waste it.

There are two schools of thought concerning their No. 1 draft choice and what general manager Charley Casserly might do with it.

One, the Texans are so desperate up front, how can they possibly pass up a left tackle who can protect quarterback David Carr's blind side and fortify the most important position on the line?

Two, one reason the Texans had the worst offense in the NFL is because they lacked playmakers, so how can they possibly pass up prospects who can score touchdowns?

In a perfect world, left tackle Tony Boselli would recover from the shoulder injury that cost him his first season in Houston, and right tackle Ryan Young would sign a new contract rather than leave as an unrestricted free agent.

With Boselli and Young playing tackle together for the first time, the Texans could use their No. 1 pick on a big-play receiver like Michigan State's Charles Rogers or Miami's Andre Thompson. Or they could trade down for extra picks and take the best offensive player available.

But this isn't a perfect world. Just ask Willis McGahee and Steve Mariucci.

McGahee, the University of Miami running back who suffered torn knee ligaments in the Fiesta Bowl but came out as a third-year sophomore, anyway, would have been the perfect fit in the third spot. But that's a moot point because of McGahee's surgery. He still might end up with the Texans, who have additional picks beginning in the third round, but not with the third choice in the first round.

Let's assume the Bengals use the top pick on Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer and the Lions use the second pick to keep Rogers close to home to become quarterback Joey Harrington's favorite target.

If Boselli never plays again and Young signs with a team like the Cowboys and coach Bill Parcells, who drafted him with the Jets, the Texans' desperation at tackle might turn into panic. They would have no choice but to use their No. 1 pick on Utah offensive tackle Jordan Gross, the best player at a mediocre position, right?

Wrong.

Research shows it's not necessary for teams to use No. 1 picks on offensive linemen. They can make the playoffs, win in the playoffs and advance to the Super Bowl without devoting a lot of first-round attention to the line.

(NFL fan) Alan Burge has provided information on the offensive lines of the eight teams that played in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Of the 40 starters on those eight teams, only seven were taken in the first round by their current team.

Of those seven, only four - Philadelphia's Tra Thomas, Tennessee's Brad Hopkins, Atlanta's Bob Whitfield and Tampa Bay's Kenyatta Walker - play tackle. Of those four, Thomas, Hopkins and Whitfield play the left side.

The 49ers and Jets had no first-round picks in their offensive lines. The Titans, Bucs and Falcons had one. The Eagles and Raiders had two and the Steelers four.

Although Pittsburgh had four starters drafted in the first round, only guards Alan Faneca and Kendall Simmons were selected by the Steelers.

Let's look at the four survivors who will play Sunday.

The AFC Championship Game features the Raiders and Titans.

Oakland drafted guard Mo Collins in the first round and center Barret Robbins in the second. Left tackle Barry Sims was signed as a free agent. Right tackle Lincoln Kennedy was a No. 1 pick by Atlanta who resurrected his career with the Raiders. Guard Frank Middleton was taken in the third round by the Bucs and was signed by the Raiders.

Tennessee drafted Hopkins in the first round in 1993. The Titans don't have another starting offensive lineman drafted higher than the third round, yet Tennessee and Pittsburgh tied for first in average time of possession.

Guard Zach Piller was a No. 3 pick. Center Gennaro DiNapoli was drafted in the fourth round, guard Benji Olson in the fifth and tackle Fred Miller in the fifth.

In the NFC Championship Game, Philadelphia hosts Tampa Bay.

The Eagles have two No. 1 picks in their line - Thomas and right guard Jermane Mayberry. Right tackle Jon Runyan was drafted in the fourth round by the Titans and got a $10 million signing bonus to leave for Philadelphia. Guard John Welbourn was a fourth-round pick. Center Hank Fraley was signed as a free agent.

The Bucs' offensive line is considered mediocre. Walker and right guard Cosey Coleman (second round) are the only starters Tampa Bay drafted. Left tackle Roman Oben, left guard Kerry Jenkins and center Jeff Christy were signed as free agents.

Of the four remaining teams, eight of the 20 starting linemen (40 percent) entered the NFL as first- or second-round draft choices. The rest were taken in the third round or later or signed as undrafted free agents.

Because of the salary cap, offensive lines can no longer remain intact for years.

In an area where intelligence, work ethic, teamwork and communication are paramount, effective lines can be put together in a relatively short period.

Look at the Buccaneers. Their running game is average, and their pass protection is nothing special, but they won a franchise-record 12 games, then blew out San Francisco in the divisional round.

Look at the Titans. Hopkins and Piller, starters on the left side, have been in and out of the lineup since late in the season, but Tennessee has continued to control the ball and win. Tackle Jason Mathews and guard Tom Ackerman have filled in admirably.

What the Texans do with their first pick depends on Boselli and Young, who is available in free agency, and what kind of prospects emerge in the draft. But it's clear from Burge 's analysis of the eight playoff teams that the Texans won't be doomed if they don't use their No. 1 draft choice on a lineman.

This link will only work if you have access to Chronicle archives

Last edited by aj.; 03-31-2005 at 06:44 AM.
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Old 03-31-2005   #8
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"NFL teams can pass-block, run-block and win games without premium talent at the offensive line position. The Patriots proved this lesson. They won the Super Bowl with a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick and three scrapheap pickups."
******************
I have to take exception with the author on this point because I think he's
confusing "premium talent" with "premium" draft picks". Perhaps the problem
lies in identifying the premium talent at the collegete level. Its well known
that the Pats have "premium scounting talent" so maybe its paying off in the success they have thru the draft.
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Old 03-31-2005   #9
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When we have some history we can tell what we have done in the draft in regard to talent and you have to look at the context of the quality of the players in it. So far, our oldest drafted players (2002) are just now getting to the age where they can be considered Veterans. This year will start to define us in all honesty. I have thought it was really too early to grade out the 2002 class until now. Looking back it was a really weak draft, especially one to start a franchise with when you have absoulte need picks and had to force them. Just browsing the draft I am not impressed with that entire draft class, and it gets worse each year I look at it.
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Old 03-31-2005   #10
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1) The Pats protect the QB. The Texans do not. Other than that obvious fact, the offenses aren’t much different. Both teams run slightly more than they pass. Both complete 60% of the passes. Both average over 7.5 yards/pass attempt. And the Texans do run plays with 3 step drops (and 1 step drops for that matter). The difference is that the Texans still see pressure on the 3 step drops. I don’t know how much the offense can change at this point. Isn’t this the year the entire Palmer playbook is in effect? Throwing out that and installing an offense that even closer resembles the Pats’ (whatever that would be) doesn’t seem like a reasonable alternative.

2) The Falcons allowed 50 sacks last season. That’s one more than the Texans with 76 fewer attempts. Take away Michaels Vick’s runs to avoid the rush, and the Falcons have around the 20th ranked rushing attack. I don’t know how anyone could watch the NFC championship game and not come to the conclusion that the Falcons need to improve their offensive line. Rich McKay doling out advice on pass protection is a joke.

3) The Texans reshuffled the offensive line coaching staff last season. They’re not going to do it again for this season. These are the coaches they have. So if this is as good as they can get this group of players to play, maybe they need better players.

Draft breakdown of 2004 NFL playoff LTs

1st round – 5 (O. Pace, W. Jones, T. Thomas, McKinnie, T. Glenn)
2nd round – 3 (M. Light, M. Smith, C. Clifton)
3rd round – 1(R. Oben)
4th Round – 1 (J. Fabini)
7th round – 1 (K. Shaffer)
College FA – 1 (M. Lepsis)

A case can be made where a team can go cheap at some spots on the O-line. LT is not one of those spots.
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Old 03-31-2005   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aj.
Reminds me of this article from two years ago:



...With Boselli and Young playing tackle together for the first time, the Texans could use their No. 1 pick on a big-play receiver like Michigan State's Charles Rogers or Miami's Andre Thompson. Or they could trade down for extra picks and take the best offensive player available.

[/url]
Wonder how this Andre Thompson guy is been doing now...maybe we should have drafted him
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Old 03-31-2005   #12
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I think the Charles Hill pick can go down as a "bust". Are there any other draft picks (including compensatory but not expansion drafts) that could be labeled that definitely?
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Old 03-31-2005   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexVanderpool
Wonder how this Andre Thompson guy is been doing now...maybe we should have drafted him
I noticed that too... ha.
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Old 03-31-2005   #14
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Schemes and effective coaching. Teams like the Patriots find ways for
their players to succeed. No team had to make more changes to their
line-up, including criss crossing from offense to defense and vice versa,
than the Pats and they still won. Belecichk(sp) has said many times 2
recurring schemes--- whatever it takes to win 'this' game and 'no excuses.'
It's called a 'philosophy.'
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Old 03-31-2005   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rhc564
Schemes and effective coaching. Teams like the Patriots find ways for
their players to succeed. No team had to make more changes to their
line-up, including criss crossing from offense to defense and vice versa,
than the Pats and they still won. Belecichk(sp) has said many times 2
recurring schemes--- whatever it takes to win 'this' game and 'no excuses.'
It's called a 'philosophy.'
I'm anxious to see the 05 Patriots. Belichick has definitely had the magic going his way for the last four years. Just have a feeling it has been tweaked too much this year to continue, even for his genius mind.
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