Crowdsourcing the Longhorns: Offensive Line

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Some blocking surfaced for the Horns in 2012, but in some respects we were still treading water. Let's see if the 2013 bunch can turn this offense into a speedboat Sonny Crockett would be proud of.

Welcome back, Barkers! As we continue Crowdsourcing the Horns (all articles here), we're keeping our focus on the offensive side of the ball and evaluating the skill sets of our 2013 contributors.

I'm breaking the offense up into two sections, with this first piece focusing on the offensive line. When it comes to evaluating players at these (or any other) positions, there are a ton of different physical/mental attributes and technique elements we could talk about. Ultimately, though, all those attributes are only interesting insofar as they enable a player to more effectively execute the key requirements of their position. For that reason, I'm shooting for a manageable list of 3-4 key requirements at each position and evaluating players with respect to how well they can execute those requirements.

For the offensive line, let's look at:

IN-LINE BLOCKING

I'm defining in-line blocking as as executing any block where the OL has to take less than one full step before engaging and locking on to his target. This could be a down block (blocking "down" on a guy who's aligned/shaded somewhat inside you when the ball is going outside you, i.e. you have an angle advantage), blocking a guy who's lined up directly over you or firing out to engage a guy who's shaded a bit outside you when the ball is going outside you (i.e. you have an angle disadvantage, and either need to do a really strong job of semi-reaching and controlling the guy, or else drive him in the direction he's going to present a cutback lane for the back).

Functional strength, power and technique are the keys to winning here - things like agility and flexibility matter, but they're less of a factor than they are in move blocking.

MOVE BLOCKING

I'm defining move blocking as executing any block where the OL has to take at least one full step before reaching and engaging his target. This could involve "reaching" a guy who's at least two "techniques" away from you (i.e. if playing head up over the guard is a 2 technique, shading the guard's outside shoulder is a three technique, and shading the tackle's inside shoulder is a four technique, a guard who had to "reach" and cut off someone playing in a four would be move blocking in this definition). It also encompasses any block where the OL is pulling out (turning his shoulders perpendicular to the LOS at some point) and moves to engage a DL on a trap block at the line or turns upfield to block at the second level.

Agility and flexibility become bigger players here, particularly on reach-type blocks where you not only need the feet to get tenable position on your target but also the core strength and flexibility to work into a position where you can control him once you're engaged. Feet and good decision-making are key to picking, hitting and eliminating a linebacker or safety, and while most OL will have a strength advantage in those engagements they'll still need their power and technique to make a quality, sustained block.

PASS BLOCKING

This one's pretty obvious - keeping your quarterback clean until he has time to throw. This involves not only winning one on one matchups with the guy across from you, but also having the awareness to know what protection has been called and pick up blitzers or react to stunts (which our guys at least have a lot of practice reps against).

Feet and agility are key physical attributes here - pass blocking has been the bane of many a 'phone booth' guard or mauling right tackle that owns in the run game. Long arms and the ability to get a good initial "punch" that jars the rusher and keeps him at a distance are also big factors in pass-blocking success.

To give us a common reference point for evaluating and discussing our guys, I'm using a numerical rating for each skill:

5 - Wins most battles against good-to-elite competition. Provides a consistent and decisive advantage that can key gameplans and make things easier for his teammates. A level of play you'd expect from a legitimate All-Conference/All-America type performer.

4 - Consistently wins battles against quality competition but can occasionally struggle against elite players. Does the job at a consistently plus level and can be counted on to execute in key moments. A level of play you'd expect from a legitimate contender for All-Conference honors.

3 - An average player against quality (Top 25-35) competition who is lacking in some combination of talent, technique or experience and can be exploited by elite opposition. Can be counted on to execute on the majority of plays.

2 - A below-average player against quality (Top 25-35) competition who consistently struggles with some combination of talent or technique. Needs help to complete some assignments, and must be game planned around to some extent.

1 - A player whose level of play is not acceptable on a Top 25-caliber team. Consistently beaten by average-to-good competition and destroyed by elite opponents. A consistent handicap to the unit who requires considerable help and game-plan attention in order for the unit to function.

The rating I'm giving each player is my best guess as to the level of execution that we can expect from him in 2013. Obviously that's strongly informed by what we've seen from each player on the field to date, with some expectations about natural progression thrown in. In the cases of guys we haven't seen much (or any) of in orange and white, there's more guesswork at play. I re-watched and charted almost all of our games from 2012 (with the exception of OU), and I'm happy to provide examples of play from each player that drove my assessments (although I'm not sure of an easy resource for everyone to view the plays I reference unless you've got the games DVR'd or they happen to have escaped IMG's notice on YouTube).

There's plenty of good discussion to be had about whether you agree or disagree with my assessment on these guys, but I'd encourage us not to get TOO hung up on whether a guy is a 2.5 or a 3.0. Instead, let's focus on the real strengths that can help drive our offensive strategy, as well as major weaknesses that will either require some strategic mitigation or depth chart adjustments.

TACKLES

T - Donald Hawkins

In-Line Blocking: 3.5

Move Blocking: 3

Pass Blocking: 3

Hawkins was solid/average player in 2012 who was a boon to a thin OL, but who struggled to maintain his level of play as the season went on. He apparently dealt with at least one injury over the course of the season, which could help explain a fall-off in play. At his best he was a strong in-line blocker who showed solid mobility on the move (though he was used a lot less in that capacity as the season went on) and was dependable in pass protection. At his worst he let guys cross his face in the run game with regularity, and got worn out in the run and pass game by multiple freshman DL against TCU. With another year of high-caliber coaching and S&C work he should be able to raise his level of play somewhat at LT, although a potential move inside has been speculated with the signing of JUCO tackle Desmond Harrison.

T - Josh Cochran

In-Line Blocking: 3.5

Move Blocking: 4

Pass Blocking: 3.5

Josh Cochran is a physically talented tackle with the athleticism to do a lot of things well, but who also had an alarming number of blown blocks/assignments over the course of the year. He was at his best on the move on our Pin n' Pull play, locating and wiping out linebackers while having the agility to navigate around frequently sub-par pin blocks from the TE next to him. Josh had good moments at the point of attack, but many an Inside Zone play was wrecked when he let the DE work inside of him (a real problem against WVU and TCU in particular). He had some pass-pro struggles against top-tier DE's, but shows a lot of promise here and might not be out of place at LT if some position shuffling takes place this offseason.

T - Desmond Harrison (JUCO Transfer)

In-Line Blocking: 2.5

Move Blocking: 3.5

Pass Blocking: 3

From the Contra Costa Community College film I've seen on Harrison (which isn't a ton), you can tell he's got very good feet and athleticism for his size, that he runs well, and that he's every bit of 6'8". Unfortunately, it's easy to gauge his height because he stands damn near straight up on many of his run blocks, which will get him blow'd up the first time he crosses paths with Devonte Fields. The sky may well be the limit with his frame and athletic gifts, but I'm from Missouri on him being an upgrade at either tackle spot in 2013 until he's at least gone head to head with Jeffcoat and company a few times this summer. He could very likely benefit from a redshirt next season (he'll have three years to play two after two JUCO seasons), but after some of the unforgiveable shirt torchings we saw this season it's hard to imagine the Mack Brown 2013 Legacy Tour passing on a potential asset just to gift Texas' 2015 head coach with a polished senior tackle.

T - Kennedy Estelle

In-Line Blocking: 2.5

Move Blocking: 3

Pass Blocking: 2.5

Did someone say shirt torchings? Healthy programs don't have to throw true freshman OL into the fire, and it's particularly heartbreaking that Estelle only got about three partial games' worth of action before being lost to a shoulder injury. He didn't look completely out of place when he took the field and he's got a prototype frame, but he's not likely to be a key piece in 2013 unless injury strikes or Hawkins ends up kicking inside. It wouldn't be the worst thing to get him the redshirt year he was denied in 2012 unless injuries force our hand, but Legacy Tour.

I'm willing to listen to arguments as to whether guys like Garrett Greenlea, Tanner Doyle or Camron Hughes should factor into our tackle plans for 2013, but I'm envisioning mop-up/blowout duty only.

INTERIOR OL

G/C - Trey Hopkins

In-Line Blocking: 3.5

Move Blocking: 4

Pass Blocking: 4

Trey Hopkins probably had the best all-around season of any Texas OL in 2012, and he'll be a key piece of the 2013 attack whether he's back at left guard or makes a speculated move to center. His signature play was pulling into the hole and annihilating a LB on our Power O play, and while he had a couple of whiffs here he was typically somewhere between effective and destructive on the move. He wouldn't be as mobile as Espinosa if he shifted to center, but would be far stronger at the point of attack where he was generally successful last year despite some problems with quicker DTs beating him to the spot.

G - Mason Walters

In-Line Blocking: 3.5

Move Blocking: 2.5

Pass Blocking: 3.5

Mason Walters was generally solid in 2012, though his 5-star ceiling is probably a thing of the past. He was at his best as a devastating down blocker on the Pin n' Pull play, and tended to exploit angle advantage very well to deliver some crushing blocks that moved his man by a couple of yards. His lack of quickness was a hindrance in gaining and keeping good position when making blocks head-up against good competition, and his TCU tape in particular was a real mix of highs and lows. He and Espinosa usually did a solid job of coordinating combo blocks, but their combined inability to execute them and get to the second level against good DTs was a problem (and allowed Arthur Brown to run riot on us in Manhattan). Was part of a generally effective pass-blocking front.

C - Dominic Espinosa

In-Line Blocking: 2.5

Move Blocking: 4

Pass Blocking: 3

Espinosa made tremendous strides in 2012 after a freshman season where he never had a real chance to succeed. His work on the move was often a thing of beauty, as he may have been the most mobile lineman in the Big XII and consistently helped Jonathan Gray and company turn the Pin n' Pull play into a moneymaker. The downside was a still-evident deficit in functional strength on in-line blocks. He was light years ahead of 2011 in that regard and made particularly good showings against Ole Miss and WVU, but was still beaten head-up by opposing DTs all too frequently. Another year of S&C and technique development could certainly help, but the potential of swapping him out for a more physical player will be a major offseason storyline.

G - Sedrick Flowers

In-Line Blocking: 3.5

Move Blocking: 2.5

Pass Blocking: 3.5

A rare quality OL prospect who actually got to enjoy a redshirt season, Flowers made it on to the field for limited action in 2012. His high school highlights showed a great combination of power and tenacity in finishing blocks, but while good reports have filtered up from practice there's not a ton of tape of him taking on quality D1 opposition. He's perhaps the top candidate to take over at left guard should Hopkins slide over to center, but his 2013 potential is a question mark.

Senior G/C Garrett Porter and redshirt freshman G Curtis Riser could also be in the mix for playing time in 2013, but it's not clear if they've got the juice to displace the guys ahead of them on the depth chart.

What do you think about this approach to evaluating our candidates for 2013 playing time? Do these assessments of what we can expect out of our OL this season generally jive with your perceptions, and what do your perceptions tell you about the kind of offensive strategies we should consider?

NEXT UP: We'll do the same drill for our skill position players, and from there start checking out some of the programs that best exemplify some different offensive strategies.

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