There’s been a lot of talk in the last year or so about the offensive tackle position, largely because Michigan has seemingly struggled to recruit elite tackles. Devery Hamilton flipped to Stanford, Isaiah Wilson brushed aside Michigan for greener pastures in Georgia, and Kai-Leon Herbert stayed home in Florida. That’s not to say the Wolverines have whiffed entirely on tackle prospects – Grant Newsome, Ben Bredeson, Chuck Filiaga, Joel Honigford, Andrew Stueber, and others all would disagree – but those surefire left tackle prospects have been fleeting.
There are certain things I look for when evaluating offensive tackle prospects – not only their skill level, but whether they will have to move to an interior position. The three main categories I look for are below:
- Height: Michigan’s offensive tackles are almost guaranteed to be 6’5″ or taller. The last Michigan player to start at offensive tackle who was shorter than 6’5″ was Rueben Riley, who was 6’4″ and started 13 games in 2006. Jake Long (6’7″), Taylor Lewan (6’7″), Michael Schofield (6’6″), Perry Dorrestein (6’7″), Mark Ortmann (6’7″), Mark Huyge (6’6″), Erik Magnuson (6’6″), Ben Braden (6’6″), etc., the list goes on. There have been a couple 6’5″ tackles in recent years, such as Steve Schilling and Mason Cole, but they eventually moved inside to guard and center, respectively.
- Length: This is closely related to height, of course, but how long are his arms? Tall/long players with large wingspans can a) match up with tall defensive ends like Michigan’s own Taco Charlton and b) be more difficult for quick edge rushers to run around. Circumnavigating a guy with a 6’10” wingspan takes a little longer than maneuvering around a tackle with a 6’6″ wingspan, and that can be the difference between a QB hurry and a forced fumble, or an incomplete pass and a completed one.
- Body proportions: I like high school prospects to have skinny legs and a more developed upper body. Fat legs can be cumbersome and usually are a sign that a guy wasn’t necessarily a great all-around athlete all along (more on this later). Since tackles play in more space than any other offensive line position, they need to be nimble and quick-footed. Strength can be developed in a college S&C program.
- Finishing blocks: This trait can be applied to almost any position on the offensive line, but does he finish blocks? Does he play to the whistle? Is he a little bit nasty? The guys who play hard through the whistle not only can demoralize the opponent and create additional yards for your offense, but they also probably work hard in practice and in the weight room. They can’t go 100% on the field for 60 minutes (or 48 minutes in high school) if they haven’t worked to get in shape before the game began.
- Foot movement: This may seem more like a physical skill, but I like to see whether a guy moves his feet or just tries to overpower defenders with his upper body. It’s not necessarily about foot quickness, but about whether the guy is making an attempt to move his feet. Every football player is taught to move his feet and about the importance of moving his lower body, but some players are too lazy to do so in games.
I looked for Taylor Lewan’s senior highlights at Scottsdale (AZ) Chaparral for a good example of attitude, but they seem to have disappeared from the internet. Here’s a pretty good substitute, which is 2017 signee Joel Honigford from Sugarcreek (OH) Garaway. Watch how he moves his feet, blocks to the whistle, and finds multiple defenders to block on the same play:
- Balance/flexibility: It’s paramount that an offensive lineman is able to bend at the knees to get leverage, especially against shorter players. Players who bend at the knees can move better laterally (see above) and stay more balanced than stiff players who bend at the waist. I liken it to playing defense in basketball. If a point guard can’t stay low, his opponent is probably going to be able to get in the lane at will. A few years ago, I went back through the Rivals database to watch highlights of players from before I began following recruiting, and I was appalled at what I saw from Brett Gallimore. Gallimore was a class of 2004 recruit and a 4-star to Rivals, and everywhere he moved on film, he was standing straight up. He beat opponents to a pulp because he was 6’4″ or 6’5″ and 298 lbs., but he rarely saw the field at Michigan.
- Hand punch: Shoulder blocking works fine in high school at times, but a lineman headed for a pro-style college offense needs to be able to use his hands. An offensive tackle needs to use his hands to ward off defensive ends, stun a pass rusher, and develop leverage against defenders. This isn’t taught well in high school, but an awareness of how to use one’s hands shows some advancement in technique and football awareness.
- Intelligence: Intelligence is difficult to gauge from film only, but there are a few ways to identify this. Linemen should be scanning the defense and keeping their eyes up, not eyeing their target during the cadence. They also should be able to handle stunts, looping defensive linemen, blitzing linebackers, etc. Additionally, with all of the combination blocks in today’s zone blocking and power offenses, they should be able to work double-teams up to the second level while taking good angles.
- Lateral foot speed: A tackle needs to be able to move side to side and mirror defensive ends, outside linebackers, or even blitzing defensive backs. Players who can’t move laterally should move inside to guard. Left tackles generally need to be more nimble than right-side guys.
- Leg drive: How quickly does a guy pick up his feet and put them down? Does he lean on people, or does he act like a piece of heavy machinery and root them out? Does he stop his feet on contact before trying to restart his feet?
- Technique: For simplicity’s sake, this is a bit of a catch-all. Technique can be taught, but it helps to indicate how quickly a player might play. Michigan’s two most recent freshmen to contribute heavily have been Mason Cole and Ben Bredeson; Cole started at left tackle as a freshman, and Bredeson competed at left tackle before settling in as the starter at left guard. Both of them had advanced technique as high schoolers. From their stance to the angles they take to the footwork they use and more, some players are clearly more polished than others.
Tarpon Springs (FL) East Lake’s Mason Cole, who played left tackle in high school and for his first two years at Michigan, is probably Michigan’s most technically sound left tackle signee in recent years:
Here’s a video of Michigan’s best tackle combination in recent years, Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, playing against Nebraska in 2013:
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