Friday, 12 June 2015

Looking at the Oline

Potential might be the worst word EVER in football.  The “P” word gets all those involved so excited about a situation or person, while at the very same time, setting everyone up for immense disappointment.  
As of this point in the training camp, the Riders have progressed to the point where “potential” has become a common phrase, especially when the topic of conversation is the Offense.
It isn’t unfair to be excited about this year’s offense either; the players themselves are excited about the way things are developing, and the coaches speak highly of the overall progression.  What people need to understand is that the reason the word “potential” is being used, is that there’s so much that has to run smoothly in order to score points in this league.  
Today we get to take a look at the Offensive Line, and one of the main reasons why this offence is potentially remarkable.  Next to DD4 (who touches the ball on every offensive possession) it’s this unit that will make this Offence tick.  Can’t throw without ‘em, can’t run without ‘em, can’t WIN without ‘em. 

For what's it's worth, the stalwarts of the Offensive Line have looked great and we've talked about how refreshing it's been to see the leaders like Blue and Best come out each day and work with a hunger and passion for the game.

After that however, there is a slight transition going on here.  It's nothing to be worried about although it's definitely something that will be watched throughout the course of the season.
Much has been made of the battle going on at the Centre position, and the fact that there is a new left tackle has also been a hot topic in camp.  There’s even a new position coach! 
Despite the fresh look, this group remains as cohesive as ever.  The fun-loving crew rolls into practice like the Hells Angels pulling up to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
One of the major differences for the Hoggies this year is the level of conditioning that their job requires.  At times, the way the plays are being called in and ran resemble a track meet for the Oline, and the guys have responded nicely.  Olinemen are a different breed these days.  The days of sitting in a phone booth and slugging it every rep are gone.  Nowadays, one has to be as athletic as ever and able to run out and find someone to put a hat on.
So without further ado, let’s go to work and check out the development of some of the key familiar faces, and some key ideas pertaining to issues that the coaching staff may have here.
Levy Adcock (#64)
• #64 spent his rookie year in Saskatchewan working in at Left Tackle when Xavier Fulton was being rested, and performed well.  Even though he was a Right Tackle in college, what allowed him to make the switch to left without a problem was the fact that he has great feet for a big fella.  The first thing that one noticed about Adcock at the start of camp is that he looked like he was in a lot better shape than last year, and he’s moving around so much more efficiently.  For a guy who is 6’6 and 300+ lbs, he’s very compact in his initial stance.  Mix that with his footwork and Levy is able to get off the ball with quickness and power, as well as kick back into his pass set with swift fluidity.  Last year he had a tendency to lean into edge rushers once engaged, which opened him up to inside moves and counters.  It may have been a point of emphasis this off season because he has gotten a lot better at keeping his head out of the mix when in pass pro.  Adcock is going to solid at that LT spot.  He plays with a chip on his shoulder but his aggressiveness doesn’t turn him into a mauler.  Whether it’s run or pass, his hand placement and punch are effective and accurate and he replaces them quickly if he feels like he’s losing initial positioning.  
One gets the feeling that there will be no drop-off in production with Adcock plugging in to the spot that Ben Heenan vacated when he moved on to the NFL
Dan Clark (#67)
• If there would be a word to describe the way Dan has handled the duties of the Centre spot, one could label it as “cerebral”.   Clark has bossed all of the vocal and physical responsibilities that come along with being the centre of a veteran Offensive Line.  It sounds like he’s been getting his call-outs right on the money, and now that the Defense has started to infuse blitz looks and Dline stunts into the mix he’s transferring his eyes and hands onto oncoming threats well.  The last thing a team wants is their Centre becoming glued to the first thing he sees when he lines up in passing downs. With Angus Reid in camp during the first week to help coach Watman and Clark up, #67 seems to have picked up a few pointers on how to use his stature to his advantage.  Clark wasn’t blessed with long arms which hampers him against rangy athletic pass rushers, however, Dan has discovered ways to get up and under guys pad levels in order to even the playing field.  He works well with his guards in the run game as well, and has the quick feet and football IQ in order to get to the 2nd level LBs and block them up.  
Dan Clark is quite the story for homegrown talent in SK.  Nothing in the CFL has come easy to him, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.  Clark is having a solid camp, and Saturday will be a good test, as Edmontons interior Defensive Line boasts a couple of the better guys in the league.  Put your money on Clark handling everything with ease.
Corey Watman (#69)
• As the 2nd contender for the Centre position at camp, Watman has followed the same progression as the rest of the guys, and now he is beginning to come into his own as a baller.  One can see the improvement in technique, but it’s his confidence that is becoming evident.  With every passing day, Watman becomes more poised with his designations and call-outs and has been impressively authoritative with the command of his Oline.  Dan Clark wasn’t the only beneficiary of Angus Reids short visit, Watman looks like he sees everything happening on the defense this year.  Last year he did well, but at times he looked like he was keeping his views on the front 4 and the designated “mike” LB.  Offensive linemen have such great football IQs, and one can really see that phase of the Pro game has improved for the 2nd year player out of Eastern Michigan.
Like a typical D1 player, Watman loves the physicality of the whole deal.  He plays mean, runs his feet well on contact and finishes every play that he can.  Coaches love that type of intensity in their Olinemen, especially on the interior.  You want guys like that with you in the trenches.  
Coreys greatest asset right now is his strength and he uses it well.  He’s a nightmare to deal with if he manages to get his guy locked out, and there have been times during 1 on 1s where he’s clamped down on guys to the point they’ve looked like helpless flys in a spider web. 
Although it’s an advantage, his strength isn’t all he’s about.  Watman plays with such a good base, and rarely over-extends his feet.  He’ll always have a chance at success is he remains as stout as possible.  I can't wait to watch this guy in Fort Mac.
The battle at Centre is a good one, however all is not lost for whomever doesn’t get that spot after camp.  This isn’t a very deep group, and Dan Dorazio will have to lean on both Clark and Watman in some way, shape, or form all year.  The team is definitely going to employ an extra Offensive Linemen on some situations (as do all CFL clubs) and if anyone goes down, the first reaction will probably be to insert whoever is not playing centre, in at that spot.  That's how good both these guys have become.
Matt Vonk (#53)
• Vonk saw limited playing time last year, and has continued to develop his skills this year.  The team is going to need Vonk to be ready to contribute some significant reps in a crunch this year, and the coaching staff is giving him all the chances in the world to get ready for that.  Without saying too much Vonk has been inserted in various packages, and formations all camp, he’ll be a presence in a lot of phases on Saturday.  
Vonk’s biggest improvement has been in his pass pro technique.  He has gotten better athletically, and his hands and feet work in unison with the rest of his intentions.  He has continue to work to be a knee bender, but his punch has gotten better, and he is able to drop his hips and anchor himself if he’s faced with a bull rush from the DT spot.  Vonk’s also improving on the way he sees DLine movement.  Like the Centre spot, one can’t get glued to a guy over top of him because most of the time on passing downs, there will be a linebacker coming from depth, or a Defensive Linemen that’s looping into one’s vision.  When the defense first implemented some of their blitzes and stunts, Vonk struggled a bit; but he’s worked at it, and has gotten better.
In the run game, Vonk gets to the 2nd level as well as anyone.  Pad level is imperativce in his case, and Saturday will be a good test for Matt.  Right now he uses his frame to position block guys a lot, meaning shield them off from the gap they’re trying to defend, it’s effective, but he’s also capable of lowering his helmet and digging guys out and moving them back.
It’s so crucial to find some depth at the Oline position here.  It’s actually a problem throughout the league.  Check out #53 in Fort Mac.  That group will be heavily scrutinized all game, and Vonkhas a chance to show that his improvement is getting to the point where he can contribute.
Randy Richards (#59) and Michael Phillip (#68)
• The reason I’ve grouped these guys together is because at this point they’re one in the same, and we’ve talked about them a fair bit.  
Both of these guys are athletic and can get out in space and move well.  They’re still going through the learning process, but they’ve both continued their strong play into Week 2.  If the Riders choose to go with 2 American Tackles, then they are going to need at least 1, if not both of these new rookies, so there is some sense of urgency in the things that coaches need to see out of their exhibition game and during team reps.  The coaching staff may have already decided how the team will travel at specific groups, so this is another battle in camp worth watching.  
Their footwork is comparable.  Both do well in Pass Pro, and have a strong punch.  Richards and Phillip are also good at using a Defensive Ends momentum against him, and running them by the QB at depth, in order to provide an escape lane, or just more time in the pocket.  
Hopefully Edmonton twists a little bit up front during Saturdays clash.  That will be the quickest way for us to diagnose their communication ability and pick up loopers.
As long as they aren’t lunging at guys during the run-game phase of the play calling on Saturday both can create great room for any one of the RBs in camp.
Because these two seem so evenly matched, the decision here might be based on grade-sheet alone.  Both tackles will get a ton of reps in Fort Mac, and hopefully one of the two start taking the lead in the race for a roster spot.
Other than the rest of the pencilled-in starters (Blue, Best, and X), there are still some question marks as to how the rest of this unit fills out.  Gord Hinse (#61) has come in and looked serviceable in the crunch, while Saskatchewan based guys like Kyle Patterson (#54) and Brad Nehring (#63) have done some good things but are still developing.  They’ll be ready at some point, but right now their focus is on the technical side of the game and getting in as much of the playbook as possible.  

Depth is key.  And Saturday will be a chance for some of the depth questions to get answered.  The offense will only go as far as this group takes them and the coaching staff needs EVERYONE that they keep on this roster to be ready to go at the drop of a hat.

Hope this helps your notes! Check in tomorrow where we take a look at the DBs and a couple of the lesser know guys in that RB group. 

Talk soon 


1 comment:

  1. I have been impressed by the speed and coverage of Jeremt Gray but I can't seem to find ant info on what he has been doing the last couple of years. Do you have any background info? Thanks. Love your blog!