by Colin Lindsay
Offensive line: Normally in an all-star game setting the defensive line tends to have something of a competitive advantage over the offensive line which usually takes some time to jell as a unit. However, somebody forgot to tell the OL group at this year’s Senior Bowl game in Mobile who went out and pretty much dominated their defensive counterparts on both teams. The game statistics certainly tended to bear that out. There was just one sack in the game – and that was largely a coverage sack – while the two offenses cranked out a total of over 300 yards on the ground while averaging 5.4 yards per rush.
While there were mostly positives for the offensive line at this year’s Senior Bowl game, arguably the biggest individual storyline at the position last week in Mobile was just how poorly Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings played. Clemmings came to Mobile as one of if not THE hottest prospect in the entire 2015 draft class with the potential to slide into the top half of the opening round with a solid Senior Bowl performance. However, he looked lost at sea during the week’s practice sessions and it didn’t get much better during the actual game on Saturday; indeed, Clemmings hardly looked like he belonged on the same field with the rest of the players. For a guy with supposedly very athletic feet, for example, Clemmings wasn’t able to cut off the outside edge; wasn’t able to maintain any leverage on cutbacks rushes; and literally got picked up and deposited in the pocket when bull-rushed. As well, by our unofficial count, there were at least four plays on which Clemmings appeared to whiff completely and he could have been called for at least a half dozen blatant holds. And yes, while it was mostly a coverage sack, it was Clemmings’ guy that recorded the game’s only sack.
Clemmings has always been considered somewhat raw as he is relatively new to both football and the position – he just switched to OT from DE two years ago – and that his technique needed refining. In particular, Clemmings appeared to come off the snap and almost stand straight upright with almost no knee bend or hip flexibility that clearly limited his mobility and ability to react to what was happening in front of him; he also appeared to have little in the way of hand or upper body strength as he had his hands simply slapped aside by the opposing pass rusher on several plays. Bottom line its hard to imagine any team investing all that high a pick this year on a player who looks to be a real project.
In contrast, LSU OT La’el Collins, the Senior Bowl’s other offensive lineman with a first-round grade coming in, didn’t do anything to hurt his grade in any significant fashion. Collins really popped off the line of scrimmage and locked on while drive blocking; he also showed nice balance, good hand strength and an excellent punch, and the ability to re-anchor after absorbing the initial contact in pass protection. At the same time, though, Collins’ technique wasn’t necessarily all that clean, especially in pass protection. His backpedal was a little choppy and he tended to set up too deep in pocket, while he also didn’t get text book arm extension and tended to let opposing pass rushers get into pads. All of that is going to continue to lead to speculation that Collins may ultimately be a better fit at OG at the next level which in turn may ultimately cost him a few spots in his final grade.
Meanwhile, veteran Alabama OG Arie Kouandjio hasn’t gotten many plugs for his play in Mobile from the national draft guru community, however, in our humble opinion he may have been the best offensive lineman on the field in the actual game. Kouandjio is a big guy who used his size and length to effective advantage; he showed nice pop off the line of scrimmage, kept his pads low and his feet driving in the run game; and while he wasn’t asked to get out and make a block in space, he did show good agility and balance when asked to pull and trap and always got a hat on somebody and drove them back. Kouandjio also showed active feet in pass protection where he stayed square and consistently controlled his man with his long reach.
Kouandjio, though, was not the only interior offensive lineman to shine in the actual Senior Bowl game. Duke OG Laken Tomlinson, who had drawn raves during the week’s practice sessions when he battled star Washington DT Danny Shelton to a standstill, was just as solid in the game. Like Kouandjio, Tomlinson pitched a shutout in the game as he showed textbook technique; he set up quickly and played with a wide base, stayed square, used his hands effectively and re-anchored nicely after absorbing the initial contact. Meanwhile, Ali Marpet of DIII Hobart also continued to show he could play with the big guys from the national powers. Marpet still looks like he could add some strength, but he showed really active feet and hands and nice balance as he was constantly moving and mirroring the guy in front of him.
On the other hand, there wasn’t much pretty about Florida State’s Tre Jackson who could do a better job bending his knees and setting his feet, but he just mauled people to a standstill with upper-body strength. At the same time, Arizona State’s Jamil Douglas and Shaq Mason of Georgia Tech had pretty good games. Douglas showed good strength at the point of attack and decent pass blocking skills, but lunged at his man a couple of times and lost contain after dropping his head. Meanwhile, like Hobart’s Marpet, Mason was all movement all the time and also did a nice job just getting in the way, although he struggled at time to hold his ground when bull-rushed. Somewhat surprisingly, too for someone who appeared to be pretty light on his feet, Mason wasn’t all that effective blocking in space.
There was more of a mixed bag of results among the OTs at this year’s Senior Bowl game. Ty Sambrailo of Colorado State, the second-ranked player at the position at the Senior Bowl, for example, was very physical at the point of attack as he showed good initial quickness off the snap, got nice arm extension and kept his feet driving forward. At the same time, though, Sambrailo looked a little stiff and mechanical when protecting the pocket and got caught reaching on more than one occasion when people either ran by him to the outside or cut back inside. In contrast, while Sambrailo’s stock may have taken something of a nit in Mobile, Penn State junior Donovan Smith was able to generate some buzz during the week and looked dominating at times during the game, especially when he got some knee bend and kept his feet alive. Smith also showed good strength and got nice arm extension. However, Smith also looks a little top heavy and struggled with his balance at times during the game; the biggest issue for Smith, though, was that he tended to plant his feet too early and tried to get by with just his strength and reach and ended up doing too much clutching ad grabbing when opposing pass rushers were able to slip off and continue up field. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Rob Havenstein was what he is; that is a big, honest hard-working RT prospect with solid technique who lacks much in the way of special athleticism. Havenstein, who set up well with good balance and nice arm extension, was one of those proverbial $10 cab fares to get around when protecting the pocket, but struggled when he had to move his feet. In the end, the OT that may have had the best game in Mobile was Darryl Williams of Oklahoma, another RT candidate who wasn’t overly flashy or physical, but consistently got great positioning to seal off defenders using his reach and decent agility, although like several other OT candidates got caught sitting too early on a couple of outside pass rushes and had to do a lot of stretching and clutching to avoid giving up a pressure.