The Texans have a lot of offensive linemen on their roster: Senio Kelemete, Seantrel Henderson, Zach Fulton, Jeff Allen, Julien Davenport, Greg Mancz, Nick Martin, David Quessenberry, Kyle Fuller, and Chad Slade, as of the date of this post. What they don’t have is a potential starting right tackle. Sure, they can move Davenport over to the right side and take him out of his natural position so they can see what an entire season of ‘Jeff Allen, starting left tackle’ looks like. They could move up in the 2018 NFL Draft and find someone, or maybe someone will fall to them in the third round, and Brian Gaine can start his tenure off by doing something his predecessor often failed to do.
None of these seem like the best option. These all sound like tales with disastrous endings. Tales that end with Kendall Lamm starting at left tackle. The best option Houston had to fix their right tackle predicament was signing Cameron Fleming. Instead Fleming signed with the Dallas Cowboys for an unknown amount. Because of the jiggering Dallas had to do and the cap troubles they are in, it’s reasonable to guess it’s a modest deal. It’s a deal Houston, without a starting right tackle, should have been all over.
Fleming took over at right tackle once Marcus Cannon was lost to injury and was tossed back into the right tackle spot once LaAdrian Waddle injured his knee in the divisional round against Tennessee. Despite not being the starting right tackle at the onset of the postseason, Fleming more than held up against pass rushers like Chris Long, Derrick Morgan, and Calais Campbell.
Dallas’ newest right tackle isn’t the quickest player on the field. He’s a little too lumbering to consistently meet the defensive end at the point of attack. Without a change in technique, the majority of pass rushes began with him making contact second, turning his shoulders, and shoving at an edge defender ripping around the corner. A shove past Tom Brady would often be the best possible outcome for Fleming.
With coaching and ingenuity, Fleming makes up for these sticky feet with footwork. Quicker edge rushers struggle to get around this wall despite having an athletic advantage. A little drop step is what makes Fleming a capable pass protector.
Dante Fowler Jr. is lined up here as a wide ‘5’ technique against Fleming. Unless Rob Gronkowski comes down and chips, it’s going to be one-on-one clash.
Fowler comes out of his stance, low and sprinting, springing and lunging. Fleming does what offensive tackles do: Take one 45 degree step with the outside foot and slide the inside foot over.
Gronk goes wide, and so does Fowler.
Fleming is squared up with the edge defender. But Fowler still intends to use his quickness to his advantage. It’s his only option. So he expands his pass rush.
Fleming is able to keep up until his feet get too narrow. He’s worried. He doesn’t want to give up his outside shoulder. So he gets deep into the pocket to counter this expansive rush. Fleming takes a short backwards step with his left foot, and another with his right.
At the conclusion of his second step, he pivots and turns to wait for the wide rushing Fowler.
There is no edge to get around. The pocket is yanked back like a sunscreen bottle. Fleming is there. All Fowler can do is bull rush him unsuccessfully, use one of those stretchy long arm counter moves, or sit and play the throw.
He chooses the last option. He leaps like a floppy bellied house cat and doesn’t influence the pass.
This is the same concept, also against Fowler. The edge rusher tries to go wide. Fleming counters with a drop step, and this time he’s able to run him past the quarterback. Again, Fowler doesn’t influence the pass.
This drop step is crucial for Fleming. Without it, he couldn’t be a starting NFL tackle. But with it, he can do more than hold his own. He can excel in pass protection. Because of his strength, size, and feet that work well laterally, he’s nearly impossible to rush through or inside of.
Even monstrous players like Calais Campbell have difficulty and rarely are able to get by Fleming in this manner. This is a quick pass set and rush. Campbell tries to knock Fleming’s punch away to win immediately. It doesn’t work. Fleming holds off for a split second and delays his punch. Consequently, his fists land right into Campbell’s chest. After this, the block is over. Campbell is done.
Even on inside counter moves, the results were about the same. Fleming times his punch perfectly and washes Campbell inside. His hands are too strong and his body is too wide for Campbell to get around. If you watched last year’s AFC Championship Game and wondered where Campbell’s interior rush was, now you know. It was diffused by Fleming.
This size and strength allowed New England to use aggressive pass sets similar to what they did with Nate Solder. This changed up the timing of rushes and sold the play-action even more.
Fleming has more than just strength. He has great lateral movement, even if his kick-slides aren’t the best. In the Super Bowl, he was able to consistently scamper over and take out wide ‘9’ edge rushers thanks to a combination of the two. Because of his upper body strength, as long as he’s square on impact, the pass rush is quenched.
Like everything, it’s not perfect. In both the pass and run game, Fleming can be a little sloppy and loopy with his feet. These troubles occasionally lead to nothing bad happening. Sometimes he misses a second level block because of them, or lunges at nothing. On this occasion, he crosses his feet over to aggressively set against Erik Walden. It works, because it’s against Walden, but better rushers will time their punch to knock Fleming during these miscues to open up a lane to get to the quarterback.
Like Nate Solder, there isn’t much to see here in the run game. The majority of Fleming’s blocks were one-on-one blocks where his goal was to prevent the defensive end from chasing backside to make a play. New England utilized a brutal inside run attack focused on the guards, center, and fullback. The tackles were just kind of there. Overall, Fleming was fine in the run game; it was simply sloppy feet that prevented him from hitting his landmarks and making blocks in space.
Fleming will probably never be a great second level blocker. The potential is there for him to be a great first level blocker, though. He has the size, the lateral quickness, and the hands to do it. It’s going to be up to Dallas’ coaching staff to get him more comfortable with combo run blocks and to fix his feet. If they do this and allow him to keep drop-stepping, the Cowboys just made one of the best acquisitions of the offseason.
Texans fans were upset when the team didn’t sign Nate Solder at an average of $15 million a year. Yet a mediocre player at that price, no matter the need, isn’t worth it. Overpaying for average talent and because of need is how teams throw away their cap space and end up in Osweilerish situations. Houston was better off not signing Solder and rummaging through the second level of free agency to find help at offensive tackle. Fleming was the best secondary option for the Texans. He was a winning lotto ticket someone tossed on the ground because they didn’t know how to spell B-I-N-G-O, and the Texans simply walked past it.
UPDATE: The terms of Fleming’s deal with the Cowboys are now public.