Senio Kelemete displays everything needed to be a (really good) offensive lineman, but he displays different aspects of what’s required to meet this threshold across a cornucopia of different plays. He’s inconsistent. He doesn’t fully get it. Crucial mistakes derail his block. Kelemete could be a Pro Bowl level player, but he isn’t. Instead he’s up and down like a bouncing red rubber ball. He never fully locked down a starting position in New Orleans and was signed by Houston to a perfectly acceptable four-year, $16 million contract.
The New Orleans Saints were primarily an outside zone team last year, flowing one way and letting Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram read, cut, or bounce things wide. Kelemete is stout and barbarous. Looking at him, you wouldn’t expect him to be this sly and fox-footed with an ability to slide up to the second level and dismantle linebackers, but Kelemete has the athleticism to do it when the rest of his technique is perfect.
Sometimes Kelemete makes blocks like this. New Orleans is running the outside zone to the left. Kelemete is the left guard. He has an ‘ace’ block with center Max Unger. Together they need to take care of the monstrous ‘1’ technique Kyle Love (#99) and get to Luke Kuechly (#59).
At the snap, Kelemete doesn’t offer a breath of help. He’s been coached and told to get to the second level. The Saints schemed for both their guards in this game to ensure they put a hat on Kuechly. A jab at the first is all Kuechly needs to diagnose this play, get around the block, and get to the ball. Kelemete takes a wide and deep read step rather than a slight one.
He takes his second step. He crosses over. He’s running parallel to the line of scrimmage. The goal is to get his head on Kuechly’s outside shoulder.
Movement towards the second level starts. Kelemete doesn’t move vertically. Instead he continues at an angle. Blocking Kuechly is like catching a fish with soapy hands.
Once he has creeped forward enough and reaches an angle to hit his landmark, Kelemete begins his descent. But first, look at Unger and Love. This is the issue with this coaching decision and having a guard that doesn’t have the ability to help at the first level and make this block. This dramatic need to block Kuechly has left Unger all alone to move this piano in the center of the line of scrimmage. He stands no chance. All Kamara can do is cut back.
Kamara plants and cuts. Kelemete aims for his head to be on the outside shoulder. He still ends up hitting Kuechly vertically.
From there he keeps his hands inside and overwhelms Kuechly with this strength. They tussle around in a whirling manner until Kelemete craters him into the turf.
This is the same play. Except this time, Kelemete has no pre-snap ability to block the first level. He’s in between a defender in the ‘B’ gap and an outside shade on the center. With the splits the Saints are utilizing, there isn’t an opportunity for him to help. He correctly goes straight to the linebacker. The angle isn’t perfect. He ends up on the inside shoulder. But Kelemete is still able to use his strength to drive Thomas Davis wide, allowing Kamara to cut around him.
However, most plays aren’t like these two. Kelemete usually doesn’t devour the second level. The acute angle utilized previously usually leads to him missing the block entirely. Whether it’s the outside zone or coming off a strong double team to the linebacker, poor angles hurt him as a blocker.
This is almost the same block as the first one on Kuechly. Kelemete has a scoop (backside quick double team) against Love with left tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
Here Kelemete doesn’t get as deep with this first step. On this go, Kelemete is taking a 45 degree step and offers an arm of help inside.
Kelemete doesn’t stay around. He heard the sirens wailing. Rather than punch Love and wait for Ramczyk, he bolts to Kuechly. With the unblocked defensive end, this is the right move. The problem here is the angle. Kelemete isn’t flat enough. He isn’t trying to hit a spot. He starts off running at Kuechly. As with the previous play, he should be almost horizontal with the line of scrimmage to get there.
This 45 degree step is the last breath. After this step, Kuechly is gone.
All Kelemete can do is shove Kuechly’s back as he sprints past to tackle the running back in the backfield. Additionally, since he is unable to help Ramczyk, Love is able to go berserk and get inside the left tackle’s block attempt.
Both targets of the scoop block end up making a tackle in the backfield. This failure was the result of Kelemete not having the speed to help and block Kuechly and then not taking the correct angle after that quick realization.
This is the same block as the previous one. There is a ‘3’ technique. Kelemete has a quick backside double team with the left tackle. Again, his angle is terrible. He comes too vertical past the defensive end. After two steps, he’s spilled his water in the Mojave. With Anthony Barr (#55) reacting instantly and flowing inside, Kelemete has no chance. Kelemete doesn’t have quick enough feet to make up for this mistake. He ends up stumbling over himself.
Even when the correct angle is taken, it’s not always perfect. There’s usually something wrong. If the engine isn’t clanging, the dome light is out. If the dome light bright enough to read under, the cruise control doesn’t stick. With an exacerbated angle to the linebacker, Kelemete runs parallel to the line of scrimmage and gets to the linebacker, Eric Kendricks. But the hands aren’t here. His hands are outside and slide up around the linebacker’s helmet. Kendricks is able to shove Kelemete in the chest, plant, and make the tackle. This is a minimum of ten yards turned into four yards.
Every once in awhile, that golden light shines through. Every once in a while, Kelemete does everything exactly right and makes a great block.
This is an outside zone play to the right. There’s a ‘3’ technique on his inside shoulder. He flows right to his gap and offers a hand in case the defensive tackle slants inside. The tackle doesn’t, so Kelemete correctly steps past him. He then takes a correct angle to the linebacker, pops him in the chest, gets his hands inside, and drives him upfield.
If the majority of his blocks were like this, Kelemete would be a slam dunk starting guard in the NFL. These blocks are the exception, though. They are an occasion. Instead, Kelemete’s blocks are like rolling the dice and trying to hit a multiple of three.
What saves Kelemete is his strength. It’s his best attribute. Those powerful arms give him a greater margin of error. They allow him to be slightly late or have imperfect head placement and still make the block.
Here the Vikings are running a loop between the nose tackle Tom Johnson (#92) and Barr (#55). The Saints are sliding their protection to the left towards Everson Griffen. Kelemete has the ‘B’ gap.
The ball is snapped. Kelemete slides over towards Barr; Barr starts the play lined head up with the left tackle. Even alignments are an indication the stunt is coming.
Johnson crashes the ‘A’ gap. Barr begins his loop around.
Kelemete realizes he’s been Houdini’d. He sees it late, though. Johnson is already on his inside half.
Both Barr and Johnson are in great position to provide pressure. Johnson is on Kelemete’s inside half. Barr has a beach that was once a great sea to run through.
Here’s where Kelemete’s power comes in. Johnson tries to get around Kelemete and disengage on the way to the quarterback by swimming over the top.
With his chest exposed, Kelemete drops a bomb into his side. The swing of his bat breaks ribs, busts the pinata, and leaves Johnson aching on the ground.
Kelemete’s strength makes up for the poor decisions and inadequacies he has. It also allows him to make a variety of different blocks. He can stifle blitzers who have a free release, move monstrous splintered trees in the center of the trail without a rock bar, slide over to stop inside rushes, and turn momentum into crushing power when pulling. These are all examples of things Kelemete can accomplish thanks to his greatest attribute.
This strength can’t make up for everything. Sometimes the lack of faith in his feet dig and poor decision-making cut off his fingers past the point of attachment.
Aside from the wrong angles taken, Kelemete has good footwork. His steps are precise. He usually takes the correct ones. His step isn’t vertical when it shouldn’t be. He doesn’t cross his feet when he’s not supposed to. But his feet are a little slow. He has some tape on the bottoms of his feet. Reacting is what Kelemete struggles most with. On most plays, he’s Calvinistic and predetermines what he’s going to do at the line of scrimmage. If the defender goes inside, he’s blocking with untied shoe laces. If someone shoots his gap, he’s going to continue with his plan.
Here the Saints are running an inside zone play with eight blockers on the line of scrimmage. Kelemete has an ‘ace’ with Unger. They are supposed to take the ‘2i’ to the inside linebacker.
Kelemete takes a slide step right in an attempt to get hip to hip with Unger.
Kelemete now takes a power step towards the down lineman. He ducks his head, though.
The defensive lineman moves around his vertical step. Kelemete’s head is down, and he’s unable to readjust his second step.
The point of attack lands on the tackle’s inside shoulder. This play is dead.
Kelemete gets extension. It doesn’t matter. The tackle is running through the turnstile.
Luckily, it’s a zone play. Ramcyzk sees the defender in his gap, and the Saints have enough blockers to make up for this error.
The trouble is Kelemete made up his mind before the ball was snapped. He had his steps in his head. He knew what he had to do, but he didn’t know what to do once there was a change in the immediate future he imagined. There are self-help books written about this stuff.
Here, the Saints are running a dive play. New Orleans is blocking man to man on the backside. Kelemete is focused on the defensive tackle. He doesn’t keep his head up. The left tackle and him don’t get together to audible to change up their assignments. Kelemete is determined to block the tackle, so that’s what he’s going to do no matter what. The safety blitzes and makes the tackle in the backfield.
This is a goal line run where Kelemete has a ‘deuce’ block with the left tackle. Pre-snap, he’s focused on getting to and moving the linebacker. Kelemete doesn’t help at the first level and he pauses before moving to the second level. The defensive lineman reacts to this. He comes inside to pop Kelemete. He drives Kelemete inside and takes on both blockers. This allows the linebacker to loop around and make the tackle. Kelemete doesn’t help on the first level, having decided what he’s going to do pre-snap, and he’s unable to react to the play as it unfolds.
This integral error affects Kelemete in the pass game as well. Almost always, Kelemete slides aggressively towards his assignment. If the defender is a ‘3’ technique, he’ll immediately slide left. If he’s a ‘2i’, he’ll immediately slide right. There isn’t patience here. He’s unable to react to the play. By doing this, he’s susceptible to rushes that go against the grain.
On this play, he’s matched up with Linval Joseph (#98). Joseph is a brutal brute. Even if the offensive lineman takes him on square, low and ready for it, Joseph can go through him like a damp salad stored in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch. Since Joseph is a ‘3’ technique, Kelemete slides over. He takes three steps in this direction. After the second one, Joseph pauses and opts to bull rush. Joseph ends up getting half of Kelemete. He takes him all the way back to the quarterback.
When Kelemete guesses right, things go well. He has the strength to control blocks once everything else is there. If he slides into the defender and gets his hands on him, he almost always wins the block.
This is a great pass set. The defender is a ‘3’. Kelemete slides over and slathers him. All the defender can do is hand fight enough to give the illusion of a rush. The play is over once he attacks the ‘B’ gap and tries to get wide. If a defender falls into Kelemete’s fetid cave, never again will he feel the warmth from that dying star.
There are also plays where Kelemete just blocks the wrong guy entirely. Here he’s pulling. He chooses to kick out the jams and the edge defender. He should be pulling up on the linebacker. The back is tackled for a loss. The Saints punt.
In a way, Kelemete is similar to one of the men he may replace. He’s Xavier Su’a-Filoish. The skills are there. So are the size, the strength, and the feet. But for whatever reason, the strings in the brain don’t connect all the way. Important aspects of the block are forgotten. Blocks that should be made are missed. Consistency is lost because of forced aggression, sticky feet that can’t react, and predetermination.
Now, let me be clear: Kelemete is better than Xavier Su’a-Filo. He’s better than Jeff Allen has been during his time in Houston. He’s a better pass blocker than Su’a-Filo. He’s strong and actually has tenacity, unlike Allen. He’s a fringe starter in the NFL. He’s worth the contract he was given by the Texans. He’s better than what was in Houston previously and what else is currently here at guard. But more often than not, Kelemete is going to miss blocks and leave yards on the table.
It’s easy to say, yes, Kelemete can learn and that he can improve. He just needs more time to develop. Make him the initial starter. Have him work in an offense for an entire year to scrub the inconsistencies out. The reality is some guys just never take that next step. Some guys stay decent and pretty good forever. It’s not impossible that Kelemete makes the leap in development. It’s just improbable. Some players never fully get it. My guess is that Kelemete is one of those players.