The Saints began their Organized Team Activities or “OTAs” and I want to take this opportunity to speak about the importance of these practices. To the general public, I would venture to say OTAs are one of the least exciting aspects of the football offseason. Media availability is generally pretty limited and the practices are in helmets and shorts, which would lead many to question just how much work you can actually accomplish. Barring a major injury like the one a Dallas LB recently suffered, OTA’s are very rarely headline news, however, I would contend this time period is critical to a team’s success.
I believe one of the main separating factors between good and great teams is their overall roster depth. Every team is going to have their headline superstars, who will be the main factor as to whether or not a team makes the playoffs, but what separates two division winners? Many times it comes down to the little things like special teams and perhaps more importantly, which team is best able to cope with injuries and setbacks due to having a strong 53 man roster.
Right now the Saints have around 80 to 90 guys competing in OTAs; this number will eventually be whittled all the way down to just 53 members, after the final preseason game. Obviously the Brees, Grahams, and Striefs of the world know they have a roster spot, so they aren’t really stressing about the day to day OTA, however, for the majority of younger guys trying to make the team, these practices are the best chance to show the coaches what they can do.
Also, it is not just the Saints coaches these players are trying to impress; rather (as my Oline coach in St. Louis was very fond of saying) every practice is another opportunity to try out for all 32 NFL teams. The eye in the sky doesn’t lie and being able to put good practice film together is critical to a borderline player’s success.
Obviously, the general public isn’t going to care who wins the interior oline swing position (the back up for both Guards and Center), but that doesn’t mean that’s not important. They are the players who will have to step up when someone gets hurt and will be required to be ready at all times. So, while OTAs don’t make for the sexiest headlines, it is many times the seemingly insignificant moves and adjustments during this period that will decide just how far a team can go.
It took a bit longer than expected, but the LSU train got rolling again in the 5th round, when the AFC Champions Denver Broncos selected Lamin Barrow with the 156th pick of the draft.
Barrow is a player who waited his turn through 2009, 2010, and 2011 before having a breakout year in 2012 that saw him top the 100 tackle mark for the season including 7.5 tackles for a loss. Barrow followed up his stellar Jr campaign with a solid senior outing that saw him lead LSU in tackles with 91 including 5.5 tackles for loss. Barrow also stepped up and displayed previously unseen leadership skills anchoring one of the top 20 defenses in the nation. I love a guy like Barrow because he didn’t transfer when times were tough. He kept his head down, kept grinding, kept working, and was rewarded with two great starting seasons, and now the chance to play on Sundays.
The next Tiger off the board didn’t come until the second pick of round six, when the Tennessee Titans traded up to snag stellar LSU QB Zach Mettenberger. Zach had an excellent senior season under the tutelage of QB guru Cam Cameron and perhaps would have gone much higher in the draft, if not for a torn ACL suffered in the final game of LSU’s regular season vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Physically, Mett is the prototypical NFL pocket passer standing 6’5 inches tall and weighing in at a healthy 225. Although Mett and I never got to share significant field time together, I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the 2011 season. First, I love his attitude. He is extremely confident in himself and his ability to make plays and will remain composed if he makes a mistake. This self-belief is critical for a quarterback especially because if a QB gets rattled and starts to doubt himself, it will just lead to more mistakes.
Mett has also proven to be extremely tough and is willing to wait to the last second to deliver a strike knowing he is going to get lit up. As an O-lineman, you respect a QB that isn’t afraid to get dusted up. At the end of the day perhaps the sexiest part about Mett is that cannon he calls an arm. He is not unlike Kenny Powers in that he is 'the man' because he can throw the ball farther than… anyone else ;D.
Just three picks after Mettenberger, the next former Tiger was scooped up when Houston took running back Alfred Blue. Blue showed signs of greatness at times during his years at LSU; however, it would seem that bad luck kept him from reaching his full potential. After being a key contributor on the 2011 SEC championship team, Blue was all set to be the number one option coming out of the backfield in 2012. Unfortunately, an ACL tear in week three would force him to miss the rest of the year. In Blue’s absence, LSU fans witnessed the rise of Jeremy Hill, and I guess you could say the rest is history. Blue’s touches were limited in 2013 due to the success of Hill, however, that is not to say that Blue doesn’t have the ability to excel in the NFL. Alfred was a great teammate and is a very hard worker. In Blue the Texans have grabbed a hungry player who is extremely fast and is eager to prove that he can be a feature back in the League.
Last, but certainly not least, the Cincinnati Bengals, in what many would consider a surprise move, took WR James Wright in the 7th round. Wright doesn’t have an excellent stat line to show off, but I can say from experience that James has some of the best hands I have ever seen. I always wondered why Wright didn’t have more of an impact on Saturdays as he consistently made circus catches in practice that seemed almost impossible until you noticed he came up with the ball. Wright is supremely athletic, and I believe this to be the reason the Bengals decided to snatch him up before the free agent signings begin.
At the LSU Pro Day, Wright ran back-to-back 4.43 forties and displayed a vertical jump of 38.5 inches. He also banged out 16 reps of 225, which is extremely impressive considering Wright weighs just 201 pounds. Wright has all the physical tools to succeed and I am intrigued to watch and see if he can translate success on the practice field to Sundays. Wright marked the 9th LSU player taken in this year’s draft, which ties the record set just last season.
LSU saw three of the underclassmen that left early get taken in the second round of the NFL draft. It all started at pick #51 when the Chicago Bears drafted Ego Ferguson. Ego is a player that has improved dramatically since he arrived at LSU and really made a name for himself with a standout season in 2014.
It is funny, because I remember Ego grinding away on the scout team trying to get better each and every day and it seems to have paid off. He is a good example of why guys shouldn’t get too discouraged if you have to spend a couple years in a back up role, you just have to make the most of your opportunities just like Ego did. Ego had more tackles last season than any other DT at LSU since Glenn Dorsey. Remember that means he beat out the likes of Michael Brockers and Benny Logan for that stat and both of those players have excelled on Sundays.
Hot off the heels of Ego, the Cincinnati Bengals selected standout running back Jeremy Hill with the 55th pick of the draft. In my opinion, Hill is a first-round talent that would have been a premier pick in any other era of the NFL. With the current devalued RB market, however, Hill represented an excellent value pick, as he was just the second RB taken off the board. The Bengals already have a speedster in Giovanni Bernard and now they have strengthened their backfield with the addition of the 6’1 230 pound Hill. Jeremy proved he could do it all during his time at LSU whether it was running between the tackles or taking it outside. Perhaps most impressively Hill posted an eye popping 6.9 yards per carry despite having over 200 carries on the year.
The run on LSU guys culminated with one of my favorite teammates getting picked up when the Miami Dolphins took Jarvis Landry with the 63rd pick overall. I love everything about Jarvis Landry’s game both on and off the field. One of the toughest receivers I’ve played with, Landry was never scared to go over the middle and make a play. Has excellent hands combined with the ability to make insane circus catches (think the last two Arkansas games). Landry put up excellent stats in 2013 grabbing 77 catches for 1193 yards and 10 TDs.
Jarvis is a 3rd down nightmare that will present matchup problems in the slot for NFL teams. My favorite part of Landry’s game, however, has to be his work ethic. No one ever told Jarvis to get extra work he does it all on his own. He used to be in the indoor facility early in the morning and late at night constantly working on his routes and hands on the jugs machine. Bottom line, you can’t teach ambition and Jarvis Landry has it in spades.
In the last part of my offensive line draft preview, I’ll profile arguably the most important position in the trenches, the offensive tackles. Without a doubt, tackle is the most physically demanding position on the offensive line. I always liken tackle to a fat man’s cornerback.
The tackle must react to a world-class athlete who can do any multitude of rush moves. The tackle has to have great footwork and the ability to stay balanced while passing off twists or dealing with slants and speed rushes. They must also be strong enough to sit down and stop a bull-rush in its tracks, while not opening themselves up to a push-pull or any other bull-rush initiated move. The tackle must have the ability to read and react in a split second as even the slightest of missteps can lead to giving up a sack.
If a tackle can perform at a high level, they get paid some of the best money in the NFL, as they also are the protectors of the quarterback’s blindside. Think about how much Drew Brees means to the Saints, and then you understand the importance of having a great tackle. One interesting thing to note as well is that tackles are the most genetically exclusive group on the O-line. While centers and guards average around 6’3, tackles average out around 6’5 or 6’6 with plenty of them reaching 6’7. The top two tackles in this years draft seem to match these requirements.
Greg Robinson from Auburn is an absolute monster. Clocking a 4.92 forty yard dash at 6’5 and 330 lbs is absolutely freakish. He also jumped 28.5 inches and pumped out 32 reps of 225. Obviously, this guy passes the eyeball test, but I also love the way Robinson plays. He is an excellent run blocker and plays angry. He consistently finishes guys by putting them in the dirt at the end of plays, which beyond just being painful for the victim is also mentally detrimental.
The obvious minus in Robinson’s game is that he isn’t the most polished of pass blockers. He isn’t bad, but just needs more work, because he didn’t get a lot of it at Auburn due to their scheme putting such heavy emphasis on running the ball. I believe that because Robinson is such a physical freak, his pass blocking will improve quickly once he works with an NFL coach each and every day. Fun fact: Robinson went to Thibodaux High School!
If Robinson is number 1, then Jake Matthews is 1b. You have probably heard the last name Matthews dominate on the O-line before, as his father Bruce Matthews is an NFL Hall of Famer. Jake is a two time All-American, who weighs in at 310 pounds while standing 6’5 inches tall. Matthews also shows elite athleticism as he ran a 5.07 forty, had a 30.5 inch vert, and threw up 24 reps of 225 at the NFL combine.
Matthews’ strongest attribute is his technical ability. He has great body control and excellent hands. He immediately latches on to the D-linemen and dictates the pace. He excels in both pass and run blocking at the fundamental level. If you were to find a weakness with Matthews, it would be that he could get a bit stronger in order to deal with some of the elite bull-rushers in the NFL.
These are the top two tackles in this year’s class, but it is far from the only good tackles available. 2014 features many names that will have huge impacts on their team even if those impacts aren’t always felt like a player who will score 10+ touchdowns. It will be extremely interesting to see where each guy falls when the draft gets underway tonight! I can’t wait!
I absolutely cannot wait for Thursday’s NFL Draft. This is easily the most excited I have ever been for a draft, because this is the closest I’ve ever followed the draft build up. Full disclosure, before I worked for WWL & 3WL in sports talk radio, I never really paid any attention to the draft. I would have it on as background noise or as a sleep aid. I figured it didn’t really matter who was picked, because at the end of the day we would find out if they could play or not come Sundays during Fall football. While there is still a kernel of truth to this statement, it no longer represents how I feel. It took me investigating the past to appreciate the future.
Throughout the last few weeks of “Double Coverage,” we have been covering past drafts through the years and it’s taught me anticipation is a big part of the excitement about Thursday’s draft…then results are part two. It’s not unlike gambling in that you never really know how good or bad a player will be. Will you end up with a Payton Manning or a Ryan Leaf? Drafting players is not unlike opening a pack of cards in Blizzard Entertainments new TCG Hearthstone except that it takes a bit longer to find out if you got a common, rare, epic, or even the ever elusive LEGENDARY. The best part about the NFL Draft is that since you never know if a player will ever meet their potential, you can celebrate the day with unrivaled enthusiasm.
Which player will be the next Jahri Evans or Marques Colston? Which player will become Drew Brees’ next big weapon? Which player could possibly be the key to the Saints hoisting another Lombardi? No one knows for sure, but I do know I can’t wait to find out.
'Twas the night before Draft-mas, and all through the league
Not a GM was talking, not even a peep;
The draft boards were hung in the war rooms with care,
In hopes that Rookie saviors soon would be there;
The prospects were nestled all snug in their beds;
With visions of touchdown dances in their heads;
While Loomis in his office, looking at the cap
Had just settled his brain for a short hours nap,
When out on the field there arose such a clatter,
Mickey sprang from his chair to see…what’s the matter,
From end zone to end zone they flew like a flash,
Their speed unrivaled in the 40 yard dash,
The lights on the field, green, black and gold,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to his wondering eyes did appear,
But a gaggle of rookies quick as a deer,
There stood a big man imposing and tense,
He knew in a moment it must be St. Vince.
More rapid than eagles his Rookies they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Beckham! Now, Evans! Now Watkins and Lee!
On, Clowney! On, Mack! On, CJ Mosley!
To the top of the board! To the top of the draft!
Who shall be first? Who shall be last?
Some big as a house, some strong as an ox,
some quick as a cat, some keen as a fox;
How could you possibly know who to choose
With a crop full of talent, intelligence too—
And then, in a twinkling, Mickey heard on the roof
The whistling of air as if drawn through a tooth.
As he shook out his head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Vince came with a bound.
He was dressed to impress, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all perfect from fedora to suit;
A bundle of trophies he had flung on his back,
All won with the help of the NFL draft
His eyes—how they glare! His jowls, how scary!
His cheeks colored olive, his nose was quite hairy!
His droll little mouth cemented in a frown,
With a gap in his teeth and glasses on his brow;
He fixed Mickey with a stare as he glanced around the office,
He pointed towards the starters both on defense and offense;
St. Vince lingered on receiver and corner back too,
Now Mickey Loomis knew what he must do.
He adjusted the names and put them in place,
Talent should be at the head of this race;
Vince spoke not a word, but approved of his work,
He nodded his head; then turned with a jerk,
And tapping his finger to the side of his hat,
And giving a nod, he flew away like a bat;
As he soared through the air, to his team gave a yell,
To New York they went to see where they fell.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he flew out of sight—
“Happy Draftmas to all, and to all a good night!”
In Part 2 of my 2014 Offensive Line NFL Draft Preview I will take a look at the top 2 Guard prospects. First, however, I would like to talk about the importance of the guard. Guards are the key to your running game. They pull more than the other positions on the O-line and are expected be strong at the point of attack in one-on-one running plays. Guards must be able to process information quickly and react on the fly. Many times a guard will have multiple possible assignments that will only be decided once the ball is snapped and the defense is in motion. Having a pair of great guards dramatically increase the line’s overall production as they will be used to help both the center and the tackles. Guards are like the glue that binds the line together. There is a reason that two of the Saints highest paid players are guards.
Zack Martin seems to be the consensus number one rated guard in this year’s class despite never having played the position. Martin certainly has the size for guard, clocking in at a beastly 6 feet 4 inches while tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. One trait I love about Martin is that he has a nasty streak and you can’t coach that. He is willing to put guys in the dirt at the end of a play and get in little shots here or there that some might frown upon. Zack Martin has the ability to stay low while bending at the knee as opposed to the waist. This is critical for an offensive lineman, as getting top heavy out over your toes is one of the quickest ways to get beat and end up on the ground, whether pass or run blocking.
One of the biggest knocks against Martin--is what I mentioned earlier, the fact that he has never played Guard in a game. While you would imagine he would translate well on the next level in the interior line, there is no guarantee. Martin turned in an extremely strong performance at Senior bowl, however, which points toward him perhaps having the ability the play either G or T in the NFL. I give Martin a ton of credit for performing so well at said bowl without ever really playing that position. I think Zack Martin is a proven competitor who has all the physical tools to be successful at the next level.
I am relieved that I do not have to pronounce the next top prospect’s name, because it is almost a surety that I would butcher it. Xavier Su’a Filo is a 6’4 307 pound monster of a man from UCLA. Despite being a Junior coming out early, Filo is a proven veteran on the gridiron. Xavier started 40 games at UCLA. Perhaps more importantly he started at all different positions. Filo is credited with 19 starts at LT and 21 starts at LG. This versatility is coveted in NFL prospects, because in a league where the slightest advantages can mean the difference between being cut or being kept, the more you can do the better. Filo is another guy who plays with a mean streak that he freely acknowledges. Xavier Su’a Filo said he believes the game is meant to be tough, mean, and physical especially on the interior of the line, and I’m inclined to agree with him. If it is going to get nasty, you want someone lined up next to you who isn’t afraid and is willing to dish the pain right back to the opponents. He excels in stopping penetration on pass plays due to his natural athleticism. If there is one thing Filo could improve on it would be his leverage. Sometimes when contact is made, Xavier can tend to get high and allow the D-lineman to get underneath him.