There are millions of things that come in pairs: testicles, shoes, bicycle tires, and guards on the offensive line. At the moment the Texans employ only one guard, Brandon Brooks, and in a metaphorical sense the team is Lance Armstrong, a homeless man, or a unicycle when it comes to their offensive line situation. Winter is dead, free agency is over, and the Texans either failed or decided not to address the guard position this offseason.
Here's who the Texans did sign during free agency:
|Garrett Graham||TE||Texans||3 years, $11.25M ($4.5M guaranteed)|
|Jerrell Powe||DT||Texans||Terms undisclosed|
|Ryan Fitzpatrick||QB||Texans||2 years, $7.5M ($4M guaranteed)|
|Kendrick Lewis||FS||Texans||1 year, $795k ($100k guaranteed)|
|Chris Clemons||S||Texans||2 years, $2.7M ($450k guaranteed)|
|Elbert Mack||CB||Texans||Terms undisclosed|
|Andre Brown||RB||Texans||1 year, $645k|
|Ricardo Mathews||NT/DE||Texans||1 year, $730k|
During free agency, the Texans did not sign an offensive guard to play in between Duane Brown and Chris Myers. When the draft comes and goes, and a fresh wave of players arrive into the league optimistic and idealistic, I do not know who the Texans will take at #1 (even though I'm starting to think they will end up taking Jadeveon clowney Clowney). Despite this, I guarantee, cross-my-heart-hope-to-die, and pinky promise that the Texans will draft an offensive guard somewhere between the second and fourth rounds in this year's draft.
When Thursday at 7 p.m. hits, the Texans have a plethora of holes that could use young talent. They need an outside linebacker who can rush the passer, which would allow Brooks Reed to play inside linebacker. They need a defensive end who can stop the run and eat up blockers as a five technique. They need a cornerback to groom at the nickle spot who can take over Johnathan Joseph's position when he gets cut next offseason to free up $8.5 million in cap space (1). They need one more running back for insurance in case Arian Foster is not himself or if Andre Brown gets injured. They need a quarterback who could start this year or one they can let ferment until he's ready. Lastly, they need an offensive guard.
The guard position is a more pertinent position than most assume because when they hear "offensive guard" they think, "It's just a guard. They can find any human being who pushes the needle past 315 to play this position." Heading into the draft, the Texans need a stout, road-paving guard just as much, if not more, than they need a defensive end who can eat up blockers or a cornerback. This is because of two reasons. First, the Texans might change their run blocking scheme and second, they had major issues dealing with interior protection last season.
Duane Brown and Chris Myers have started on the offensive line since 2008 when each arrived in Houston. While others like Mike Brisiel, Eric Winston, and now Wade Smith have come and gone, these two continue to remain the focal points on Houston's offensive line. Over the past six years, they perfected the ability to move guys horizontally, cut backside defenders, and quickly get to the next level to devour linebackers. However, this all came under the zone blocking scheme. With a new coach, they may not run the zone scheme ever again. They may run a traditional zone, they may bludgeon opponents with counter, power and trap plays, or they may sprinkle it all together like a junkie trying to take his high to the next level. Nobody knows, other than those who are employed under Bill O'Brien's shroud of mystery.
Despite the uncertainty, I believe Houston will move away from the zone we all have grown to love and will utilize a variety different scheme in 2014 and beyond. My reasoning is simple. O'Brien is going to transform and mold the passing game into his own and will not allow the offense to be chained to a system. With Kubiak, the run and pass game went hand in hand; once you stop running an offense based on short passes and play action, the zone run game loses its luster. No team has been able to run the zone like Houston has the past few years, and it's because they did not have a pass game that mimicked the zone. Once O'Brien brings in a new pass scheme, the zone run will become brittle and will not be executed with the same effectiveness. Consequently, a variety of new issues will arise if this prophecy comes true.
The conundrum is this--the other schemes O'Brien will most likely use will need their offensive linemen to move defenders vertically and create a new line of scrimmage. Brown and Myers lack the ability to do this after years of mastering the flowing of guys towards the direction of the play. The focus then was making sure you put a hat on every defender and took him in the direction of the play rather than driving him backwards. It was a different type of physicality. The addition of a new, defensive tackle mauling guard can make up for their deficiencies in this area by being the driving force on Ace (double team with guard and center) and Deuce (double team with the guard and tackle) blocks to be the flame on a powder keg to knock opposing players backwards. Additionally, if the team chooses to run more power plays and pull more often, a top guard from this year's class will allow Houston to run these plays in both directions instead of being hamstrung to running to one side more than the other. Last season Houston finished 24th in run DVOA, but a new mauling guard who can make every block and the return of Arian Foster should lead to Houston making a leap back into the top ten of the league.
Furthermore, this same player has the opportunity to shut down interior pressure, the most troublesome of all the pressures, and one that plagued the Texans the most in 2013. The reason why interior pressure is such an issue is because a player rushing closer to the snap of the football can get to the quarterback quicker.
A defensive tackle takes a five-six yard route to the pampered diva of the NFL, compared to an outside rusher who may need to move nine or ten yards to get to the same destination. When defenses get pressure up the middle, everything becomes rushed. The quarterback's thinking process speeds up and makes it nearly impossible for him to release the football with any type of efficiency or rhythm. After this happens, the quarterback spends his time watching the line rather than his receivers crossing the open field.
The other reason why interior pressure is such a burden is because the quarterback has nowhere to move. If a rusher comes from the outside, the quarterback can step up into the pocket, keep his eyes up the field and deliver the football. Below is an example that portrays this perfectly. Here John Abraham beats Ryan Harris around the edge almost instantaneously with the snap of the ball. Abraham's pressure still does not disrupt the play, though. Case Keenum is still able to calmly step up into the pocket away from him and deliver a pass to Ben Tate.
In 2013, we saw the slothy Peyton Manning post the lowest sack rate of any quarterback last season because he could consistently step up into the pocket and get away from outside pressure. The offense still managed to hum along, despite the Broncos starting two backup tackles for the better part of the season, because they had Zane Beadles, Manuel Ramirez, and Louis Vasquez protecting the inside. When the disruption comes from up the middle, the quarterback has nowhere to go. He's in a Saw-ish death trap where the walls are closing in from each side to squish his eyeballs out of his head. The only option here is to sidestep the defender or try to outrun him. Some quarterbacks, like Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, have the ability to do this, but the Texans have a stable of backup quarterbacks who lack the ability and know-how to deal with this kind of pressure.
So, yeah, offensive guard is a fairly critical need to fix in 2014.
At the moment, we still have-checks calendar...man I need to hurry this up-three days until the draft, so I will try to cram as much NFL draft related work in as I can like my friends who are guzzling Monster in preparation for final exams. First, let's start off with the guards now that we have a better idea of their importance. We will begin with the highest rated guard on many boards, David Yankey.
A late bloomer on the offensive line, Yankey, who was born in Australia, weighed just 240-pounds as a junior in high school and has worked hard to put on weight the last few years. He became the first true freshman offensive lineman to see action for Stanford since 2000, but was lost for the season due to injury. Yankey returned and started all but one game the past three seasons (40 starts), seeing time at both left guard and left tackle, earning numerous awards and accolades including becoming the eighth unanimous All-American in school history. Yankey replaced Jonathan Martin at left tackle in 2012 - allowing just one sack - before kicking back inside as a junior, and projects best as a guard in the NFL, where scouts feel his lateral agility, balance and toughness are best suited. He was a unanimous All-American and named First Team All-Pac-12 by the league's coaches in 2013. As a unit, the Stanford offensive line committed just three holding penalties during the 2013 season and Yankey helped pave the way for running back Tyler Gaffney to rush for 1,709 yards.Yankey was particularly impressive during Stanford's victory over Oregon, putting his own athleticism on display in the run game against the Ducks' fast and talented defense."The decision was not easy," Yankey said in announcing he would enter the 2014 NFL Draft. "I have loved my time at Stanford and am a proud member of Nerd Nation. I am humbled at the prospect of joining a long list of Stanford alumni currently playing in the NFL.
|Drill||Measure||Rank Out of 15|
|40 Yard Dash||5.48||13|
|3 Cone Drill||7.81||6|
The Run Game
Stanford utilizes a power scheme that most of you are familiar with after watching the Colts this past season. When it comes to Yankey, this meant there were four things he had to excel at to play at a high level: be able to drive defenders on double teams, block down on three and one techniques so the backside guard can pull, pull with consistency, and block the man in front of him in one vs one situations.
There are two things that must occur for a double team to have success. The lineman must get hip to hip, take on half of the opponent, and then peel off correctly to get to the linebacker. Yankey displayed this ability his sophomore year when he played left tackle at Stanford.
Here Stanford is running their power play to the right side. On most power plays, the backside tackle hinges (2) to cut off the backside end, so he cannot pursue the running back in the backfield. In this case, Yankey has a tight end in a wing position next to him. So rather than trying to protect the outside, they can double the defensive end and take out the safety who would usually be out wide covering the receiver.
As soon as Yankey makes contact, he scoots the defensive end backwards. His helmet is placed underneath the defender's and his hands are inside on the numbers. He's in perfect driving position. He'll stay on this block until he can feel the tight end's presence. Once this occurs, either he or the tight end will peel off to the safety, depending on which gap he commits to.
Yankey rolls his hips to generate power into the defensive end. He's a player with a strong lower body that uses his legs to cover up his lack of upper body strength. His punch is not strong enough to move the defender, so he rolls his hips upward to generate the power needed to create movement that his arms were unable to generate. This has its downside, and we'll get to those later. By the time the running back has the ball, Yankey has driven the defender three yards backwards before the tight end even arrives.
He readjusts and drops back down to get lower than the defensive player. The tight end is about to make contact.
The safety commits to the inside and Yankey begins to peel off, now that the tight end has arrived. Yankey is low and uses his momentum from the previous block to take him to the safety. He does not have to re-accelerate whatsoever. Additionally, when he heads to the safety, he does not bounce. David takes short crisp steps that allow him to keep his balance and square up the man wearing the wrong color.
The trey block knocks the defensive end five yards backwards and extinguishes the safety in the box. It's a perfect display of a trey block. Yankey makes first contact and jars the defender off the line; he and the tight end get hip to hip and work together, Yankey does not leave until the tight end covers up the defender; once he leaves the block, he's balanced and under control (3).
To gain a better idea of Yankey's fit on the double team, watch the GIF below. It exemplifies his ability to get hip to hip on double teams on a play-action screen pass.
The following play against Notre Dame is another example of how he drives the double team and gets to the next level.
Stanford is running power in a two back formation against a 3-4. As a result, the blocking scheme changes some. Usually when Stanford runs this play, Yankey (#54, left guard) and the center would block down and the playside guard would deuce to the backside linebacker. Since the backside guard is uncovered, there is no need to block down. As a result, Yankey has an Ace block with the center to the weakside inside linebacker. Like the previous play, the goal is to get movement on the nose, and then move off the block once the linebacker picks his gap and becomes even with the down lineman.
The center has already engaged with the nose and Yankey has taken his zone step over to get hip to hip.
Yankey punches and leaves for the linebacker. He should have spent more time with the center to get movement on the nose. There is plenty of time until the middle linebacker could make a play. What he should have done was stay engaged on the Ace block until the linebacker's toes became even with the down lineman's heels.
He makes up for leaving the double team early by how he comes off the block. Just like the play before, he's low, square, and balanced. The issue that plagues most lineman when they get to the second level is they overextend their feet to increase their speed. They become too worried about the linebacker running past them. This zaps the lineman of all of his power, making him unbalanced and easy to shed. Yankey has perfect form and is even lower than the smaller linebacker when they butt heads. Also it's worth noting he does not begin driving the defender automatically. His first stage of contact allows him to get his hands in the correct position to put the defender underneath his control. The lack of arm strength hinders him from delivering a strong punch and instantly creating movement.
What Yankey does is make sure he is low and in control when he makes contact. His punch gives him great head and hand placement, so that once his legs begin pumping like cylinders in an engine, the defender begins to scatter backwards.
Now he knocks him backwards a few more yards before finishing his blocking and piledriving the linebacker into the ground.
In the full motion of the play, you gain a clear understanding of his blocking style. His arms act as place holders, not as weapons. They are used as a steering wheel and as a strong hold to make sure the defensive lineman can't escape. The legs are the force that drives and punishes defenders.
On each playside double team, Yankey works well with his teammate. He is the hammer that spurs the movement to drive the down lineman backwards. Additionally, he comes off his blocks perfectly and is low, square and under perfect balance when he makes contact.
The previous plays were examples of playside double teams where the goal is to get movement on the down lineman first and a hat on the linebacker second. On backside double teams, the key is the opposite. The covered man punches the outside shoulder of the down lineman to turn his shoulder and then heads to the second level to engage the linebacker. The uncovered man takes a read step (4) and hauls over to replace the covered offensive lineman. They are not trying to drive hip to hip, but deliver a one-two punch and cover two players as quickly as possible.
On this play, Yankey embarks on a backside double team, also called a scoop. Here Stanford is running a zone play to the right that's similar to what the Texans ran in the Kubiak era. Everyone is taking zone steps toward the play side and moving their man horizontally.
Michigan State is in a 3-4 and Stanford is running a zone to the right. On the backside, Yankey and the left tackle are running a kind of sort of double team. They need to account for the defensive end and the outside linebacker. Since the end is a five technique there is a miniscule chance he slants that far inside. So David's goal on this play will be to cut off the weakside inside linebacker. What he has to do is take a read step right, aim for the inside shoulder, and cut him off from the play side.
His eyes are locked onto the outside linebacker and he takes a perfect read step that gives him the depth necessary to get to the linebacker. Yankey is not the fastest or the quickest lineman of this class, but he takes impeccable angles to put himself in the best possible situation to make his blocks.
The angle Yankey took on his first step is already paying off for him. His head is even with the linebacker's inside shoulder even though the linebacker was head up with him pre-snap.
Because of the linebacker's speed he is able to beat Yankey to the gap. The guard has overextended himself to try and make contact, and his lack of speed rains over his first two flawless steps.
When the running back cuts to the backside, the linebacker has to squat in the hole to attempt to make a play. This gives Yankey new life to make his block.
The linebacker buckles down and gets squashed.
Yankey's ability to take the correct angle benefits him regardless of the play type. He can attack outside shoulders and reach defensive tackles on stretch plays, he can quickly get up to the next level, and he can cut off linebackers when he pulls. The only issue is his lack of speed hinders him at times. Like his upper body strength, Yankey will need to improve his speed as he develops over the next few years.
Even though Stanford is running a stretch play towards Yankey's side, they are using the same scoop technique. Except here there is one key difference. The defensive end is playing on the tackle's inside shoulder as a 4i and they are blocking to the strongside middle linebacker since the fullback is sealing the edge. As a result, Stanford is running a power scoop.
Both Yankey and the tackle take read steps. Yankey has more depth though because he is the one who will be overtaking the block. The left tackle will punch the outside shoulder of the defensive end, and stay on the block until Yankey arrives. Once he feels him creep over, he'll storm up to the middle linebacker, who should be flowing outside.
In this still, you can see how the blocking technique differs between a power and weak scoop block. The tackle has his hands on Stephon Tuitt's outside shoulder and his eyes on the linebacker. Again, David's footwork is incredible and Yankey is still keeping the depth necessary for him to wrap his helmet around the defensive end.
When Yankey first makes contact, his head is on the inside shoulder, but his hands are outside and his feet are driving. Also the guard and tackle pull this block off quickly. By the time the running back gets the ball, the tackle is heading for the second level and Yankey is cutting off the end. Make sure to pay attention to the speed of the block when you watch it in motion.
Yankey is able to overcome his head being in the wrong position when he makes contact thanks to his feet. David keeps his feet chopping quickly, which allows him to overtake Stephon Tuitt and get to the outside shoulder.
Now Yankey is exactly where he wants to be. He's driving and using his body to shield the end from the running back. Both him and the tackle have taken control of the edge and created a seam for the running back. Everything here is perfect except for his pad level (fancy term for how high or low a player is). He is standing straight up because of his need to explode up with his hips to generate force. If his upper body was stronger, this movement would be unnecessary. He could stay low and deliver enough power to drive the end without compromising his knee bend.
His loss of knee bend due to his lack of upper body strength leads to Tuitt escaping his grasp.
The running back zips past Tuitt, but the key here is the process not the results. On this play, Yankey shows off his quick feet, hand placement and explosion, but again his upper body strength hurts him.
Here is another play showing off Yankey's feet when he reaches the backside defensive tackle. P.S.: He is #54 and is playing left guard on this one.
The down block is one that's rarely praised or ogled. This is because all the action is flowing the other way, the puller, the back, the double teams, and the party are on the other side while the backside tackle and center stand outside and gaze at the fun through a cracked, musty window. Its detrimental to the play's success because the down block cuts off penetration and allows the puller to release freely. If the defender is able to knock him off his line and get into the backfield the play has two giant X's across its eyes immediately. If a team wants to run power, counter, or a slew of others it needs two guards who can not only pull, but be quick enough to block down.
Yankey has moved inside from left tackle to left guard and is blocking down on the one technique covering the center. The center is the next domino in line who is blocking down on the three tech who's covering the guard who's pulling to the play-side linebacker. Hopefully, you caught all of that. If the center blows his block the pulling guard becomes tangled and the defender play-side escapes freely. If the guard screws up then the tackle will trip up the center, which allows the backside defensive tackle to scurry into the backfield. Its a Rube Goldberg play where everything has to work in successive steps for the play to be executed.
The key to the down block are the first two steps. The offensive lineman takes a slide step (one step parallel and one step forward) to get into the sternum of the defender. As we can see here Yankey has his head on the outside shoulder of the tackle. This is not an end all though because the defender is feeling the center not the guard. If Yankey can come with enough force and surprise him, it will make up for his head placement.
In the ball of bodies, Yankey is there with his head plowed into the shoulder of the tackle. Since he is hitting him low enough and hard enough he should be able to wash him down and away from the play. The center opted to cut the backside tackle and both players do their job correctly. The backside guard is able to pull cleanly.
What I detailed in the previous play comes to fruition. He does not cover enough of the tackle, but he comes with enough force and ferocity to blow the tackle over.
Now the tackle is picking his teeth up off the turf. When I watched film on Yankey I can't reacall one time when he blocked down and allowed the defender to get into the backfield or taunt the puller. On nearly every play, he surprises the inside man and washes him across the formation and out of the play.
Out of everything outlined so far, this is probably Yankey's best asset to a team at the next level. Like the previous plays, pulling is highly dependent on the player's feet. The lineman has to take a quick pull step that gains depth and ground (5). After he takes his first step he needs to keep his knees bent and stay low rather than just running at the target. When he runs the lineman morphs into a toddler and trips and falls easily. Also when he pulls he must not get sucked into the horde of bodies being pushed and pulled in every direction. He needs to keep his eyes on his assignment. Finally when he gets to his target he must be in control and still have enough momentum to deliver a powerful blow. Minus the pull step, because of Stanford's scheme, Yankey does all of these things over and over again with success.
The playside double team is taking the defensive end to the inside linebacker and the center is blocking down for Yankey to pull without a scratch.
As I alluded to earlier, Stanford uses a different technique when it comes to pulling. Stanford has its players take two steps backwards to gain depth and then explode off their back foot through the hole towards the defender. They do this for two reasons. It allows the play to develop some so the lineman does not block the wrong player and it let's the player get the depth necessary to get around the play-side double team. In the NFL this is used only on draws where the center blocks down and the guard pulls around it up to the second level. NFL teams can't use the Stanford technique when they run power because defenses are too fast and the linebacker would already be in the hole by the time the guard pulls.
Yankey now steps off his back foot and drives forward.
Even though this image is fuzzy it truly represents the difficulty of finding the correct defender after pulling through a mishmash of bodies.
I love how tight Yankey comes around the double team. He fits right off the hip of his teammate and does not waste any steps en route to the defender.
This is one of the rare plays where Yankey delivers a meek attack. When he makes contact with the linebacker the defender is lower than him and Yankey can't get his hands on his pads. The two end up butting heads like two Big Horn Sheep battling for companionship in Glacier National Park. However, this block is the exception not the rule. The key to this play is the pull step Yankey takes, how he comes off the edge of the double team, and the ability to move through the clutter.
Here's another example of Yankey's ability to pull and maneuver through the traffic like he's Tracy McGrady.
Yankey completes his first two steps and gets the proper depth.
Here he comes at an angle so tight that he actually grazes off the center when he enters the hole. He gets bumped, but his wide base and quick feet allow this contact to not trip him up.
Play-side did an incredible job driving the defense and moving them out of the play. Yankey pulls through his hole and sees his target is already covered up.
So he looks back inside and finds the first uncovered man who happens to be a safety seeing his life flash before his eyes.
Yankey takes a step and checks the safety into the boards... ugh wrong sport.
Here's another example of Yankey pulling, but on a trap play where he kicks out the defensive end.
Yankey pulls with perfect form and makes it count when he gets to the defender when he pulls. The only thing he will have to change at the next level is learn how to pull with a pull step that is flatter and takes less time. NFL offenses don't have the offensive lineman take such a deep step. The game is too fast and plays that take too long to develop end up with the carrier being squashed in the backfield. After drooling over his footwork for a while, this should not be an issue at the next level and he should learn the correct footwork once minicamps are completed.
One vs. One
Here lies the biggest issue in Yankey's game. His lack of upper body strength makes it hard for him to drive guys one vs. one in the open field.
Let's imagine Yankey is a car for a second and break this type of run block down to its simplest form. The snap of the ball is the turn of the key, his first two steps put the car in gear, the punch is the tap on gas pedal to get it moving, hand placement is the steering wheel and the foot pressing down on the gas is the driving of the legs. The problem that arises is when Yankey goes to get the car moving his punch is not strong enough and he slips right off. He does not deliver a strong enough force to jar the defender off him to gain separation and take control of the block.
Stanford is running a lead play. The double team is on the backside and goes to the back-side linebacker because the fullback is going to lead through the hole and take on the play-side linebacker. So Yankey is left alone and will not receive a handful of help on this play.
Yankey takes a slide step to cover the defender (7-slide step is one parallel step followed with a short step forward).
Yankey and the defensive tackle collide into each other. The guard has taken two great steps that allowed him to put his head on the defender's sternum. The issue here is poor hand placement: rather than having his hands on the defender's chest he is holding the outside of him.
After the initial blow the tackle gets into Yankey's pads. David was unable to deliver a strong enough punch to gain the separation needed.
When he begins pumping his legs he does get movement, but because of a poor punch and hand placement the tackle is able to knock Yankey's hands off him and shed himself into the hole.
Here is another example of Yankey falling off a block.
This block is the rarest one that occurs in offensive line play. Run games are built on double teams and when a player has to make a one one block on the line of scrimmage it usually comes on the back-side of the play not the play-side. However, the punch and arm strength is a real concern and bleeds into other aspects of Yankey's game like pass protection.
Additionally, Yankey is an excellent cut blocker thanks to the exquisite angles he takes and foot work. He is really good at taking a short, crisp read step to put him in great position. After the first two steps are made Yankey will throw his head into the defender's upper hip and leave him sprawling on the ground. Most guys just flail at the defender's legs, but Yankey makes a calculated decision when he cuts defensive players. This block is hard to describe with images so the below gifs depict Yankey's cut block ability better than any screen shot and word ensemble can.
The last aspect of the run game we will look at is short yardage. Stanford loved to to use heavy formations in short yardage and on the goal line. On these plays specifically, Yankey's lower body strength is exemplified.
Short yardage plays use a completely different technique. Yankey is accountable for the inside gap, so he takes a short slide step inside and then gets as low as possible and drives his feet. He's trying to become so low that he becomes a ninety degree angle and parallel with the ground. This lets him get under the defender's pads and allows his legs to do all the work from there.
Yankey hits the defensive end right in the guts. He's nearly, but not quite, parallel with the ground. He's in perfect position and will now just drive his legs as the defender slips backwards.
Once Yankey starts driving, he overpowers the defender and knocks him three yards backwards onto the goal line.
When Yankey was a sophomore, he played left tackle and allowed only one sack. He was able to protect the blindside and stifle edge rushers because of his quick feet that put him in perfect position. Against USC in 2012, we see an example of his pass pro set as a left tackle.
USC is in their basic dime set and is only rushing four, so Yankey is blocking the defensive end on an island.
In this image, we see the prototypical pass set for a tackle. The lineman has a foot he posts with that anchors him and he uses his other foot to slide with. I also really enjoy how he snaps up with his hands ready to punch instead of keeping them at his side.
He keeps a stable base, his feet never cross over, and he stays low. As I described earlier, when he heads to the next level, he does not rush his feet and overextend. He is confident in his feet and knows if he keeps kick sliding, the defender will be in front of his face when they make contract.
Before contact is made, Yankey has his arms at a right angle and ready to punch. Again, he's low, square, and balanced.
The defensive end laughs at Yankey's weak punch and explodes into his chest, leaving him unbalanced.
The weak punch is merely a nuisance because of his lower body strength. He is able to quickly buckle down, regain his balance, and shut down the defender. Yankey is now sitting on the block and has his hands on the defender's numbers. It's rare to see a college player at left tackle who allows one sack all year. It's even rarer to see it from a player who is going to play guard in the NFL. It's just another testament to his extraordinary feet.
There's an enormous difference between how a guard and tackle pass protect. As a tackle, space and speed control the game. The pass set is the most vital part of the tackle's game. He must be able to quickly get to the spot of contact and be head up with the end when they engage. With guards, the set is not as important. The key is the ability to quickly snap out of the snap and be ready for contact. The goal is to squeeze the space and initiate it quicker because of how much closer the guard plays to the quarterback.
In the play below, we see an example of Yankey's pass set as a guard when his footwork is spot on. Yankey steps and snaps out of his stance all in one motion. The tackle is trying to get to his outside shoulder, but he takes short lateral steps to keep the tackle in front of him. The punch lacks force again, but his feet make up for it.
Now let's take a look at Yankey pass blocking poorly.
At the snap, Yankey explodes out of his stance like a cobra. His knees are bent, his head is slightly in front of his toes, and his hands are up.
He takes one more extra, unneeded step backwards before contact is made. This step is detrimental to him because he is increasing the space between him and the tackle.
When he goes to punch, he overextends and leans forward, which is a consequence of his extra step.
His punch is weak and he is not into the tackle's chest. The defender easily knocks his hands away and swims into the gap.
This is what happens when Yankey's footwork is not perfect. When you add poor footwork with a feeble punch, disaster ensues. When the feet are there, Yankey can get away with his punch, but when the footwork goes awry this is what occurs.
Even though his legs make up for his upper body strength, I'm still a little hesitant when it comes to Yankey's pass protection. In the run game, he's able to make up for it by placing his hands on the chest and allowing his feet to drive. This changes some in the pass game. The punch allows the lineman to gain separation from the defender to keep him off his chest and gain control of him. When the defender can get inside the o-lineman, he can quickly shed and knock his hands off him and get to the quarterback. The buckling down works, but it's hard to expect long term success in the NFL if the punch is not there in the pass game.
The intelligence to play the game is seen here and in the previous plays. Every time, Yankey pulls without getting sucked into players he should not be blocking, finds the correct linebacker, and makes the correct blitz pickup. Here is just one of the many examples of Yankey's knowledge of the game and what his job is.
Stanford is running a stunt where the defensive end slants inside and the tackle loops around him. The offensive line is shifting one gap over, so the center has the A, the guard has the B, and Yankey, who is playing left tackle, has the C gap.
Yankey slides one gap over and the end comes directly into the B gap.
Yankey knows the end is the only one who is a threat outside at the moment, so he gets hip to hip and helps the guard while keeping his head up.
When the tackle comes around the edge, Yankey is ready for him.
Pass blocking is 70% actual blocking. 30% is making the calls and right decisions to pick everyone up. It does not matter how great of a job you do blocking if you constantly allow free defenders because of poor decision making. Yankey always seems to block the right man and should be ready for the mental part of the game when he is selected in the draft this weekend.
Nasty, Just Nasty
The last intangible aspect an offensive lineman needs is a killer instinct. The player needs a special type of ruthlessness and toughness that's needed to play the most physical position in the NFL. Everyone sees the tackles defensive players make, but most don't understand that unlike defense, an offensive lineman hits someone on every play. At every snap of the ball, they're attacking someone; it takes a different type of person to enjoy and excel at this. Yankey has nastiness, continuously finishes his blocks, and drives defenders into the ground.
An example of this intangible came against Notre Dame in 2013. With a 7-3 lead Stanford found themselves at the goal line looking to separate themselves from Notre Dame. The offensive coordinator found his bell cow and ran three consecutive plays behind Yankey. A coordinator only does this when he knows he has a special player who can deliver the blocks necessary to spurn the ball carrier.
Plays start at the 2:55 mark.
Over the past four months, every football fan has been bombarded by various exclamations, reasonings, and statements over why they like Player X. Most use one example, either a play or a Combine score, as to why he will be a bust or a future All-Pro. This type of thinking is hogwash. It's extremely difficult to predict a player's future performance in the NFL, so the key is to use every piece of information to filter the murky lake water of uncertainty and turn it into something drinkable. One is trying to turn the unknown into the best educated guess possible. One must not solely look at a player's film, pro day, resume, numbers, combine results. Instead, throw them all together into a draft ratatouille to decipher what is going on.
Yankey is a little bit of a maddening player. His film portrays a top prospect. He can make every block. He can pull to the playside and knock out linebackers, cut down the three technique, plow threw guys in a one vs. one battle on the goal line after taking a power step, block down on the one technique, reach the outside shade, and he excels in pass protection. However, this same player posted horrendous Combine numbers on his 40 yard dash, shuttle, bench and routinely fails to deliver any type of power with his upper body. So what do we make of him?
When we choose not to look at Yankey based on specific drills and aspects of the draft process and instead add every square inch of the painting together and look at the overall body of work, his game is better understood. He has quick feet and plays with a perfect wide base which allows him to pull to linebackers without being tripped up mid route. We see this on display with the film and how his three cone drill time was better than the rest of his running measurements. When he makes contact after pulling, he blows guys up by using his hips and lower body to explode up into defenders. All of those pancakes were because of insane lower body strength that would allow him to squat the Big Show if given the chance. Even though his lower body strength was phenomenal, he ran into issues with his lack of upper body strength. Remember the plays where he was beat in the pass game and fell off blocks in the run game? Those were a case of his weak upper body. When he had to punch a defender to gain control of him and turn him, he could not deliver a hit with enough force. His punch in the run game turned his hands into flippers and he would spin meekly to the ground. His punch in the pass game led to defenders getting into his body and ripping over the top. We see both of these numerically by his third ranked vertical, broad jump ability that measure his lower body explosiveness, and his 22 reps of 225 was the 13th best out of a total of 15 in this year's guard class.
After tossing it all together, Yankey's career will depend on if he can improve his upper body strength. I believe he can.
A late bloomer on the offensive line, Yankey, who was born in Australia, weighed just 240 pounds as a junior in high school and has worked hard to put on weight the last few years.
He is younger than I am; he just turned 22 years old this past January. He is described as a late bloomer who put on 75 pounds over the course of four years, catapulting him into a college prospect. Yankey should continue to grow and get stronger. If he can add the weight of a small child to his bench press, it should resolve this egregious issue. Add this thought with his performance in college, and we should be seeing a mauler for years to come. This is wonderful, but if I'm running a NFL team, I would not use a second round pick on a player who must improve at such a critical trait. It's a risk I would pass on early in the draft; I'd use the selection to take someone who is ready to start from the moment he is selected.
Yankey is not that guy. He will need some strength training and a year watching before he can be an everyday player in the NFL. I can't see Houston taking him because they are in need of a guard who can play once he steps into the locker room. Yankey, on the other hand, is a NFL strength and conditioning program or two away from being a viable starter. Look for him to be taken in the third or fourth round by a team looking to replace their crusty, old, Wade Smithian guard in 2015. After this occurs, he should be an everyday starter in the NFL who should see success for years to come.
1. Additionally, this will lead to Houston never having to let Brandon Harris cover a slot receiver
2. The hinge block is fairly simple. The offensive lineman will step hard into the inside gap, rotate off his inside step, and swing his outside leg. This technique cuts off any potential stunt inside and gives the offensive lineman the leverage needed to cut the defensive player off and keep him in front of him.
3. After every series of pictures, there will be a GIF below. It's linked to another site because the GIFs are 15-20 MBs long and I don't want you to feel like you are reading something on AOL in 1998.
4. The read step is a six inch step at a forty-five degree angle and a forward step with the other foot. It's used to attack the outside shoulder of the defender. It's letter D on the below image, despite the change in terminology.
5. A pull step is the bucket step here (E). The lineman takes a 90 degree step to where he is pulling. This first step opens up the gate and the next ninety degree step down the line of scrimmage makes him parallel with the line of scrimmage.