By Bill Conley,
The worth of an offensive lineman is best determined by both his physical and mental abilities. In other words, strength, power, foot quickness, mobility and fundamentals are the foundation for being a solid offensive lineman. What separates the good from the great are the intangibles.
It takes a special person to be an offensive lineman: someone who places personal pride above glory in terms of his attitude toward the game. Physical skills are important but it’s the “fight” and the effort put forth that make the difference. The very best at the position are tough and aggressive to the point where they do whatever it takes within the rules of the game to finish the play and win their one-on-one battles.
To be perfectly honest, very few high school offensive linemen enter a collegiate program possessing all the tools both physically and mentally. More than with any other position, an offensive lineman can develop over time as long as he has the grit, determination and personal drive to excel. Eleven different states are represented among the nation’s top 20 prospects. Clearly, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s how you play the game up front.
Here’s a look at which prospects at the position have the best skills:
What Scouts Inc. looks for: Good run-blockers must come off the ball with a flat back and deliver a solid first punch into the frame of the defensive lineman across the line of scrimmage. Fast hands and quick feet allow the offensive lineman to control the defender and get movement at the point of attack. Coaches want a lineman who can lock on to the opponent and maintain control until the whistle blows as well as a guy who will give great effort from the backside and seek out a defender to block downfield.
Luke Joeckel (Arlington, Texas/Arlington)
Committed to Texas A&M
Joeckel is from the old school of offensive-line play in terms of toughness. He has powerful hands that lock into the frame of the defender like meat hooks and works hard to maintain control throughout the block. Joeckel also has excellent feet to go along with his hands and can wash a slanting defensive lineman down the line. His quick feet also allow him to gain outside pad control on perimeter runs.
Cam Feldt (Pilot Point, Texas/Pilot Point)
Committed to Arkansas
Feldt fires off the football aggressively with a good flat back and jarring initial punch. He maintains proper leverage and drives his legs while getting great knock-back off the line of scrimmage and is especially impressive in short-yardage situations. Feldt is a very good trapper who often de-cleats the defender on contact.
Andrew Rodriguez (Aurora, Neb..Aurora)
Committed to Nebraska
Rodriguez is a human bulldozer who pushes guys off the line of scrimmage. He has a thick frame with powerful legs and hips that makes it impossible for defensive linemen to play base technique. As good as he is at the point of attack, Rodriguez is also effective chipping off the combination block and picking up second-level linebackers.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: The initial kick step is the foundation of solid pass protection. The pass setter must get back and anchor down without hesitation on the snap of the ball. From that position it becomes a matter of stopping the initial charge of the pass-rusher with a jarring blow delivery without getting overextended followed by shuffling and sliding his feet in order to maintain an inside relationship on the defender. Good offensive linemen will wash the rusher to the inside if he crosses the face or run the defender past the pocket if he tries to speed rush the outside edge. Offensive linemen with long arms have a distinct advantage in keeping pass-rushers off their body.
Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall)
Henderson is very athletic for such a big man, standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 295 pounds. He uses his long arms in pass protection to keep defenders off his frame once he kicks back and anchors down. He has the fast feet to maintain inside positioning and can run a speed rusher off the edge past the pocket. Henderson does a great job sliding his feet in order to keep his body between the rusher and the quarterback.
Chaz Green (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic)
Green has an excellent combination of size and agility. He is quick in his pass set and uses his hands to stalemate the initial charge of the pass-rusher, forcing the defender to restart, which buys time for his quarterback to get the pass off. Green displays impressive hand and foot coordination in sustaining power angles throughout the pass block.
Robert Crisp (Cedar Ridge, N.C./Hillsborough)
Committed to North Carolina State
Crisp is a massive offensive lineman. His huge wingspan is a major asset in pass protection in terms of locking the pass-rusher out and keeping him off his body. Crisp is surprisingly light on his feet and can shuffle his feet and change direction in order to keep control of the defender. His overall size and strength make him impossible to power rush.
Best in space
What Scouts Inc. looks for: One of the big assets that set the very best offensive linemen apart from the others is how they operate when on the move. Whether it is pulling and trapping or leading upfield on level-two linebackers or level-three defensive backs, the big man who has body control and balance in wide-open spaces is indeed a special player. It takes a lineman with good foot agility, hand-eye coordination and overall athleticism to be an effective blocker in space.
Ian Silberman (Orange Park, Fla./Fleming Island)
Committed to Florida
Silberman is a very versatile offensive lineman who is tall, lean and agile. He runs like a skilled athlete and is very effective when on the move. He is quick out of his stance on the counter and can turn upfield with ease to pick up linebackers and defensive backs in space. Silberman gives exceptional effort from the backside in order to pick up crucial downfield blocks.
Chad Lindsay (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands)
Committed to Alabama
Lindsay has been schooled well in the fundamentals of pulling and trapping. He is quick out of his stance and explodes into the defender when trapping or kicking out. He snaps his hips and drives his legs to finish the block. Lindsay also adjusts when on the move and can lock into the frame of skilled defenders at the second and third levels.
Brent Benedict (Jacksonville, Fla./Bolles)
Committed to Georgia
Benedict is one of the more mobile offensive linemen in the 2010 class. He can slip under a defensive lineman to linebacker depth and is fluid enough to pick up opponents in the open field. He is very impressive on the perimeter in securing the edge and hustles to get a second or even third hit on defenders in space.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: Offensive linemen make huge strides as they mature. Sometimes it’s a matter of gaining strength, improving foot quickness and agility, or just becoming more fundamentally sound in terms of techniques. Often the young lineman may be a better run-blocker than pass-protector or the other way around; the important thing is that a player improves his weaknesses in order to be a complete offensive lineman. These are some of the guys we think can be exceptional linemen at the next level with some refinement.
Ja’Wuan James (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett)
Committed to Tennessee
It is tough to find a more physical football player than James. He has strong and powerful hands along with tremendous upper- and lower-body strength. He is a raw talent who will be a very special player once he grows into his body and plays with better pad level.
Eric Mack (Saint Matthews, S.C./Calhoun County)
Committed to South Carolina
Mack is already a very physical offensive lineman who gets great movement at the point of attack and can knock a defensive lineman into the lap of second-level linebackers. He has very good feet for such a big man and can pull, trap and lead effectively. As his pass protection becomes more consistent with his maturity, he will be a dynamic and complete lineman.
Jake Matthews (Missouri City, Texas/Elkins)
Committed to Texas A&M
This son of an NFL great is one tough guy in the trenches. He is a tenacious blocker who stays after the defender until the whistle blows. He displays excellent knee bend and plays with leverage throughout the block. Matthews has a great work ethic and will continue to gain both strength and bulk to make him an even more devastating blocker.