Monthly Archives: July 2014

5 Bold Predictions for 2014

Not long ago, Peter71 made some predictions about the upcoming season. So I thought I’d take my own go at it. Originally, I was going to play off his predictions — in terms of how likely I thought they were to come true. But it’s always good to mix things up, right? Here’s some of my thoughts about the 2014 season.

1. Beavers come out strong. No upset loss to a lesser foe or slow start to the season. Why? New offensive coordinator John Garrett brings a fresh perspective to the offense, and more importantly, a sense of urgency.  The Beavers roll Portland State and use that momentum to enter the USC game undefeated.

2. A new running back. Either Terron Ward or Storm Woods starts the season as the starting back for the Beavers, but not for long. Chris Brown is too good to keep off the field, even if his blocking isn’t quite there. Brown is clearly the best pure runner of the group and provides the kind of explosiveness the Beavers have lacked at the position since Steven Jackson.

3. A TE leads the Beavers in receiving. Despite battling injuries last season, both Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith proved to be not just receiving threats at tight end, but big playmakers with their height and speed. With Brandin Cooks gone, Sean Mannion relies on his two big targets often, and they put up big numbers. In fact, don’t be surprised if Smith is the biggest beneficiary.

4. Mannion is invited to New York. No Cooks, a revamped offensive line, an uncertain running game? No problem. Mannion doesn’t throw for as many yards as he did in 2013, but he throws more TDs, completes a higher percentage of his passes, and cuts down on his interceptions — all of which result in him being a Hesiman contender.

5. Beavers go Holiday Bowling. This is the year for the Beavers. They’ve got experience at key positions, including a proven, senior QB and a deep defense. Coach Riley and his staff know this — and coach every game like it’s their last. The final result? Beavers finish third in the Pac-12 North, and earn their best bowl since the 2001 season.

What do you think? Am I way off base? Share your thoughts below in the comments section, and Go Beavs! (RW)

Evaluating Linemen: Nasty

In this series I have talked a lot about technique.  Footwork, core strength and punch are all key ingredients to success, but just like a tool box is great tools for a mechanic, you kind of need to know what the heck to do with those tools in order to be effective.  As a lineman, you can have all the physical tools in the world, but there is one aspect of your personality that will give you an edge, and that is what the pros call ‘nasty’.

In this case, nasty is not describing under cooked salmon or a brown belt with black shoes.  It is referring to a payer’s desire to place one or both of their fists directly through the skull of their opponent. Not ability to, but desire to.

While that is a pretty graphic premise, the reality is that if two linemen of equal skill were to play on the same line, the one that was the most naturally aggressive would win more battles.  Now there is a threshold, where your nasty costs your team more than it helps (see drive killing personal fouls) but there is no denying that players that are more aggressive tend to do a better job.  I put this into three categories as well Motor, Motive and Mojo.

Sometimes in sports, people refer to players as having a ‘High Motor’.  In many cases, this is a nice way to say that the person is not very athletic but seems to compensate by never giving up.  So it is kind of a left handed compliment like being called husky rather than fat or being told you are not as dumb as your brother was.

The problem is that we misuse that term, or at least the connotation.  High motor is an incredibly important aspect of athletics because it is the part of you that forces others to quit. Mostly because you wont.  Having a high motor usually means you are in great condition, because as Doug Bashor used to say, fatigue makes cowards out of everyone.  If you are tired, you are going to cut corners, give up on plays and stop to walk whenever you can.  High motor guys never quit and never stop, so they must be in good shape.

The other thing high motor guys do is fight like hell.

Watch Dylan Wynn for a few series and you will see what a high motor guy does. He punches opponents arms, slaps their heads, pushes, pulls, bull rushes, helmet bashes and basically makes their lives miserable for the whole play.  If you watch him at the beginning of the game, the offensive guys fight back pretty well. It is at the end of the game, when they are just tired of getting pounded that you see guys start to take it easy or give up because they are tired of fighting.

Offensive linemen need to do this too. You fight for hand position, you claw to keep your feet up, you bunch and re-punch and punch again!  Players that do this, wear the defense down, get them to quit. All the sudden they don’t fire out as hard or even just stand up at times.  Being nasty is not about cheating, but more about constantly trying to dominate your opponent so that they start to hate you and then start to hate going back on the field because they are going to get more of the same.

Now in movies and on television, Motive is thrown around on detective shows as being the reason behind a crime.  It is the same for offensive linemen.  Your motive is to accomplish a goal every play, but it is also to establish how this game is going to go.  Nasty motives are not, as the name might appear, glorified moments of cheating where you punch a guy who is not looking or puke on them in  a pile-up a la Brian Bosworth. Nasty motives are making sure you leave an impression on the defender that at any time, they might get popped from any direction.

The nasty modus operandi is not just about being aggressive, but it is about being smart with your aggression and taking your shots when you can so that in the future, defenders are concerned about where you are.  When you get a chance to pull, make sure that you clean up anyone in your way. When you go to the second level, don’t be afraid to blow them up. If someone is not paying attention, remind them that they should by depositing their rears onto the turf.  Not dirty, but a message.

Defenses require speed and aggression.  They require the ability to just go from A to B quickly, without thinking or worry, to try and make the play. A good offensive line can disrupt that mindset by forcing them to look around for you, forcing them to approach an area with caution because they know you might be lurking.  Good defenders don’t worry about that stuff and always have their head on a swivel, but as the game wears on, if you leave your mark enough,t there will be a play or two that a someone will get distracted by your whereabouts.  If you have a motive with your Nasty, a method to your madness, when a linebacker sees a run, they may cheat a bit and look where you are at. That cheating might cost them a tackle and as we all know, sometimes the difference between a win and a loss is one small mistake on just a single play.

This is important. Very important.  Mojo is the manifestation of all your work. It is the confidence you approach games with, it is the feeling of superiority you carry to the line each play and it is what makes the game fun.

It is also fleeting.

Linemen, like running backs, sometimes need a quarter or two to get this, but if you are constantly using good form, being aggressive, playing with a high motor, showing the motive for your assaults and just basically blowing people up every play, pretty soon the defense is going to be wary and you are going to be feeling it. The defense for the Seahawks this last year mentioned that the Denver Broncos looked scared.  The defense fed off that and built up their own mojo. For the offense, the offensive line must have the aggression to set the tone and continue to build on that all game long.

It is easy to ride the wave of Mojo and get pumped up when things are going well. What is rarer and important in evaluating linemen, is guys that can make their own Mojo. Guys that can elevate their play and bring the Nasty even when the team is down or momentum has shifted.

So how does this translate to watching film?  How can you tell if someone is nasty and not just cheap?  Or how can you find the guy that changes the mood of a game when all you are seeing is supposedly their best plays?  It is hard to do, but when you are watching film, watch the opponents.  If they show ten plays from the same game, look at what the reaction of the defender is in the first play and the last play they chose from that game.

In some cases you will see guys just fold because they know they were going to get beaten.  In other cases you will see guys try and start something because they are tired of getting beat on all game long.  Ultimately, you have to make a judgement call on guys, but here are a few tell tale signs that someone has the right kind of nasty:

1. Their film shows special teams clips because they blindside and destroy guys. This indicates that their favorite part of the game is hitting and knocking people down. Very nasty.

2. They never stop fighting.  They don’s just lay their hands on and get the block, they constantly pummel their opponent and drive their feet until they are in the ground. You can make a solid block without driving them to the ground.  Someone with the proper amount of nasty will never do this if they can help it.  They will block you right up to and past the whistle to get that last shot at knocking you down. Very very nasty.

3. If someone tries to out nasty them, they elevate their game mid play.  You can see guys where they are trying to pummel their opponent and their opponent starts fighting back and it is like a switch goes off and the Nasty offensive lineman ups their game mid play to make sure that they establish dominance over a player that dared to try and rise up against them. Very Game of Thrones and very Nasty.

And for your viewing enjoyment, here are some clips of obvious nasty:

Beau Hott

Miki Fifita

Josh Wariboko

Tyler Moore

There are a lot more out there, but these are a few guys that have either committed to the Beavers or are guys I hope we get.  Seeing moments of Nasty is good, seeing sustained Nasty is best.

Update this week

So many of you may have noticed that we were silent this last week.  I was at a nerd convention in Portland where I learned how to dominate the world and static web applications.  I also finished the last leg of the Gretchen Owens Southern Oregon tour.

This week is going to be busy for The Official Candy Report.  I am going to finish my Riley Era series, as well as the Linemen Evaluation series. I also want to get a Recruit Review of Mifi Fafita, the latest offensive line recruit for the Beavers.

I am also going to start my series on our opponents, trying to break down who they lose, who they have coming back and how they compare with Oregon State.

Finally, with work and playing music, I am going to have a hard time getting to practice. I will try and get some reports when I can and relay some feedback I hear from around the interwebs.

The season is almost here and I cannot wait!

The Three Eras of Mike Riley

I made a post about this on BeaverBlitz, but I wanted to expand upon it a bit, so I am going to write this in three posts.  The first one is about the three era’s of Mike Riley in his second tenure of being a coach at Oregon State.  The second will be about the three eras of the Pac-10/12 in that time.   The third post is going to be one of caution or optimism depending on where you think we will go.

Well, there have been some huge changes in the last few years.  The second Riley era can be split into three sections:

1. The post Erickson Era (2003 – 2006)*
2. The Post Gilstrap era (2007- 2011)*
3. The Modern era (2012+)*

* Years are based on recruiting class signing day and not the season. So the 2011 football season would coincide with the 2012 recruiting class as that is when the work was done to land that class. Also, 2012 would be the first season that that particular class could contribute on the field.

The Post Erickson Era (2003 – 2006)
This is the era that Riley Coached predominantly Erickson players.  It is also an era where they were getting re-acclimated to the college game. In this time they had to salvage the last class of Erickson while also getting their recruiting strategy in.  They followed up the 2003 class with a fantastic 2004 class that, had it stayed in tact, may have gotten Riley to the Rose Bowl.  This class included Jeremy Perry, Sammie Stroughter, Keith Ellison, Keenan Lewis, Andy Levitre, Adam Speer and many others.  The 2006 class was also solid with LaRoque, Kristick, Halahuni, Linnenkohl, Miller, Smith and Dockery to name a few.

The results on the field were not super impressive during this time as the talent of 2003 was squandered a bit in the coaching transition and Riley was still working with Jim Gilstrap to get his style of players for his style of offense in and ready to go.

The Post Gilstrap Era (2007- 2011)
After Gilstrap died, and when Cav and Langsdorf were hired, recruiting took a dip.  This also coincided with the end of Coach Newhouse’s era of recruiting, though he remained on the staff for a few more years. With Cav and Langsdorfs first classes being less than stellar, as well as some other issues on the staff during this year (attrition, firings, etc.), this is when recruiting started to turn for the worse.  2007 was the beginning of classes that underperformed, had players who were reaches academically and physically and saw a lot of turnover.  This went on through the next four years.   We will never know the full role that Gilstrap played in player evaluation, but after his death, the Beavers began to reach on some players and tried to land players that really had no chance of qualifying. In fact, they appeared to feel as if many of the players they were recruiting would work hard with their help, do a year or two in a JC and come back.  They were largely wrong.

For example, outside of 2009, Cav had four recruits out of 18 that saw any stating action and only two were starters for a full year.  2007 and 2011 saw him pull in 0 players that ever started or even finished their careers at OSU.  From 2006 – 2008, only two players started of all of Cav’s recruits.  Coincidentally, those classes were juniors and seniors, the peak of their time to influence the team, during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.  And Cav was not alone as OSU’s classes during this time, according to Rivals, averaged around 53rd nationally. I throw out 2010 because while it was a high ranking class (44) for the time, almost half of the players from that class never finished their careers or played for the Beavers, with five not even qualifying and the tragic loss of Fred Thompson taking one of the rising stars away.

I am also not picking on Cav, I just had that data from another post I did.   None of the coaches outside of Heyward were really nailing it in the recruiting battles.  For example, imagine if the 2009 team had the same caliber of linebacker that we have now across the board.  Picture Doctor and Alexander with Kristick.  That year would have been drastically different.

The Modern Era (2012+)
The 2012 class counts as a huge, almost seismic shift in OSU recruiting.  First, in 2011, Coach Newhouse was fired.  Then coaches Brennan and Brasfield were hired. This ushered in a new era of recruiting focused coaches.  Since that time Coach Cav (to show the change) went from being a sub par recruiter to recruiter of the year in 2012 and having recruited five players with starting experience in three years.  That is more than all of the previous years outside of 2009 combined, and with the recruits of 2012 – 2014, his Rivals ranking average rose .4 points.

Then, with the departure of Keth Heyward, OSU landed Coach Perry, another indicator of a shift in philosophy.  OSU was now “All In” in terms of being a Pro Style, Pro Player factory.  Perry turned out to be a good recruiter, and with the reassignment of Locey to bring on Bray full time coupled with the hiring of Garrett to replace Danny Langsdorf, OSU has changed its identity once again.  A group that tried to hold onto tried and true methods of recruiting and coaching in a rapidly changing era of communication and media coverage got left behind.  Even while they were winning at an unprecedented clip for OSU fans, they were killing their future by not focusing more on recruiting.

Now we are in an era of innovation in recruiting by the Beavers, using planes, In and Out Burger, Satellite Camps, Highlight Film Social Media contest and the like to try and pry kids away from their per-conceived notions about Oregon State. While we may be worried about stars and such, OSU is landing some kids that they have actually coached, actually communicated with and seen first hand.  While I am not sold on all the players they have now in the current recruiting class, they are still in it with some big names and have some solid talent to work with.  Of course, they are going to have to prove it on the field. If they do, like the 2013 class, I think they will poach some talent and land some guys who were on a wait and see mode with them.

Regardless, you cannot look at the whole landscape of the Riley Era and say it is X.  It has distinct sections to it that are marked with good and bad.  The post Glistrap era is the most frustrating because it marked a time of great achievement on the field and total fail on the recruiting trail. This new era is one that is trying to move forward without having to rebuild again.  Last year they avoided a losing season, barely, but need to come out and show that they are back on the path that 2012 set for us.  If so, I think recruiting will end very well.  The farther in the rear view that 2011 and 2010 are, the better off OSU’s future will be.  Those lessons should always be there, and the lessons on the filed of 2013, but the trend recruiting must always be up.

Also, as OSU becomes an NFL centric staff and program, we will see how that effects their future.  With the potential high draft picks of Mannion, Nelson and Seumalo, there is a good chance that the Beavers are going to start turning heads of players that are serious about getting to the NFL.

Players like Stephen Nelson.

Evaluating Linemen: Hands

This is the third post in my series on Evaluating Linemen.  I really hope that part of what you get out of this series is that being an offensive lineman is not just about attempted homicide in six second intervals on the gridiron. There is a lot that goes into it mentally and physically.  Much like a Boxer or an MMA fighter gets tired hitting and getting hit, offensive linemen deal with the same thing every play, while also having to mirror the defender and keep them from hitting the ball carrier. You are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting others and that is VERY difficult to do.

While i think true blocking comes from footwork, and that the mechanics of this comes from a strong core, the part that really just wears you out but is so important is what you do with your hands.  Many times, holding calls come from poor footwork as a player gets caught reaching and grasping for a defender that is running past them.  The other way holding calls happen is due to lazy hand placement.  There is also a boxing type mentality to resetting hand placement to maintain a block.  Knowing when to let go, when to punch, how to punch and where to punch is all part of understanding how to use hands as a lineman. It is probably the most teachable technique, but also the one you have to work on constantly.  I break hand work up into three areas:   Punch, Placement and Activity.

Those that have gone to practices at Oregon State, or anywhere, know that sometimes there are drills where you hear a series of “Pops!” that can be heard across the field.  While the Tacoma resident in me is looking for a drive by, what actually is happening is that linemen are working on their punch.  If they have a good one, you will hear a pop and you will see the head of the person getting hit snap back while the shoulder pads go up and back.

A solid punch is the single best weapon for stopping a bull rush. While I mentioned before that punches come from legs, through hips and out hands, they are also not immune to genetics.  Just like some skinny guy can throw 100 MPH fast pall but a big strong dude can barely throw 60, some guys have a better natural punch than others.  A guy that was a walk-on who i felt was far better than his recruitment status was Grant Johnson.  Grant had a punch you could hear across the field and when he was up in a punch drill, you could see his opponents shoulders rock and head snap back.  He had a fast and powerful punch that was beyond just hard work or strength.

The first thing to know about a punch, is that it is not just hands.  It is a whole body movement, that ends with explosive contact with hands, and helmet many times.  Sometimes in pass blocking it is shrunk down to its core of just punching out an arm, but most of the time it is a violent whole body movement that ends with your hands ripping upwards and forward to blow your opponent up and back.

The key to punches is that they require great timing and one is usually never enough.  In a drive block, that great explosion and punch gets the defender stalled, but it is the ensuing leg drive and continued attack with your hands that drives them back.  In some cases one big punch and leg drive is enough, but against good players, you are going to have to reset your hands periodically and you need to do that with authority.   In pass protection it is especially important because your first punch might stop their rush, but as they move and plan a counter move, you have to be ready.  The ability to punch and reload and punch again quickly and with similar force is one of the techniques that separate good linemen from great.

So what is a solid punch?  Well it is pretty fluid what a good punch is, but there are a few things that you should see. First, it needs to be quick and forceful.  You should notice that the defender slows down, stops or has to change direction.  If you get them solidly, while you may move back a bit, your opponent’s momentum should also lessen.  Secondly, the defender’s pad level should rise.  Whether you are punching on a drive block or a pass block, that motion should move the shoulders up a bit and their head back a bit.  Finally, punching is not just a two hand blast. Punching is just like in boxing, you might start with two hands, but you may have to use one hand to punch out or the defender my knock your hands down so you have to punch again.  The goal is to win the leverage and hand placement battle, and that battle often doesn’t end until either you dominate them, get dominated or the whistle blows.

For a good example of a punch, check out Jalin Barnett at the 3:35 mark of this video. He fires off the line, but when he hits the guy, you see head rock up, shoulders rock back and he just drives him into the secondary basically.  That is the advantage of a good punch.  Often times you see guys that look like they are just laying hands on someone.  They still might get good leg drive and win the battle, but there is definitely a huge advantage to exploding into someone and knocking them off their feet. The punch is a huge part of that.

Placement is important in tandem with punch.  There are two basic reasons for this:

1. If you put your hands inside their shoulders, your opponent has to reach around you to get a hold of you.  Punching to the chest means you most likely are mirroring your opponent and that you are in front of them and by hitting them square in the chest you have the best opportunity to stop their momentum.

2. If you get your hands outside, you lose power and the defender will most likely win the leverage battle and when your hands are outside you will most likely get called for holding.

Holding is a drive killer and the biggest fail a lineman can do next to whiffing on a pass play.  Holding brings back great plays, turns second and short into second and long and basically is the bane of any lineman’s existence.  Most importantly, holding is avoidable.  If you have good, fast hands, placed inside their shoulders and your feet can keep up with you, you can literally grab jersey and pads and you will never get called. The moment your hands get outside their body or your arms get away from being perpendicular to your body, you run the risk of getting called for holding.

Active hands are dangerous hands.
While a great punch and placement are super important for offensive linemen, active hands are what separates the good from the great. Fighting to maintain that positioning is one of the key elements to maintaining your block and driving your opponent where you want them.  It is a constant battle in the trenches and good defenders are not going to let you just grab their jersey and hold on, they are going to attack your arms, head, shoulders and whatever they can to disengage you.

So you have to be able to lose your grip on them and re-punch your hand or hands to get back into the center.  Good linemen are able to maintain position, great linemen are so aggressive with their hands that defenders try and find any other way around them.  You watch Fred Ulu-Perry  take on the defender at the 8:32 point of this film and you can see the defender fighting him to get inside position, but he keeps resetting his hands and maintains position.  There is nothing that defender can do.

Fred’s film is filled with plays where you see all three of the techniques I talk about in play.  Once he realizes that the UCLA depth chart is terrible and he should come to OSU, we will all dance in the street because he has it all. The great foot work to stay with defenders, the great core strength to deliver a blow, the great punch to knock guys around and to stone incoming speed rushers and the discipline of position to keep fighting for his spot.

There is no secret to how you use your hands as a lineman.  Punch, Position and Activity are just three simplistic ways to say you fight like hell for position when you are on the line.  Players need to constantly be the hammer in the relationship with the defensive line, not the nail.  Even in pass protection, you need to have the hands to counter whatever gets thrown at you.  If you get a swim move, you need to punch them in the ribs and redirect them. If you get a spin move, you need to keep your hands and feet moving and spin them like a barrel down a river.  If they bull rush you, you need to stop them cold or redirect them with a punch, recovery and  then more punches.  If they try to do a push pull, you need to get your arms extended and in good position so they cannot grab you and force you to step forward or backwards.

Just like footwork, there is some natural advantages some players will have with their hands, but anyone can learn to be violent and aggressive, even if you just have to make a game of it. Even if you have to challenge yourself to count how many punches you get in during a play.  Set a minimum and use that to motivate you if you are not naturally aggressive.  Whatever it takes, active hands, constant punching and great hand position will win a lot of battles.

TOCR: July Sucks

Personally, July is a great time of year for us at The Official Candy Report.  We get to celebrate the Independence of our country, the Peter71 family usually winds up our annual family ritual of picking up the hay on my In-Law’s fields, Mrs. Peter71 and I celebrate our anniversary and this year I get to rock out at a few fairs.

Unfortunately, in the world of College Football, July sucks rocks.

July is when coaches take vacations, when there are dead periods in recruiting, where about 1/3 of all recruits make poor decisions that they will change in around December when they see what the season has done to the program they committed to, or the coaching defections and transition force recruiting waves. July is when everyone speculates, first for the haves to have again, and then for the have not’s fans to lament what they have and peer at their neighbors enviously.

For us, it is a busy time of planning what we are going to do this fall to not only promote our favorite hobby, but also to make sure that we have content people actually want to read. This fall, family and work obligations are going to keep me from most practices, but I may slide down for one or two before the summer turns to fall and all speculation becomes a weekly affair.

it is also the time for ridiculous predictions that are usually shot by the end of the second week. So here are some of mine that we can look back on and laugh at:

1. The Beavers will rush for over 1500 yards this year

2. Sean Mannion will go to New York for the Heisman ceremony

3. The Beavers will have the fourth best defense in the conference statistically (overall defense)

4. The Beavers will have double digit wins this year

5. One player on offense and one player on defense will be huge keys to our season and we will all be shocked at who they are.

6. OSU will have five representatives on the post season All Conference teams.

7. The Beavers will win their last game.

That Crazy Thing Called Recruiting…

During the dog days of recruiting, my mind often wanders. I start thinking, “How the heck did I get into recruiting?”

The scary thing is that I’ve actually mellowed in recent years. But make no mistake, there was a time when it was my MAIN hobby. (Yeah, yeah, I know, I needed to get a life.)

In today’s world of the 24/7 news cycle, the internet, and more recently, social media (Twitter, I’m looking at you), you can get your recruiting fix easily — and often. It begs the question, at least in my head, how did people follow recruiting before the internet? Before Rivals and Scout?

Maybe the answer is that you really didn’t, until Letter-of-Intent Day, that is.

And in many ways, I wish it had stayed that way. Then maybe I wouldn’t have tied up my parents phone line so much in high school, put off my studies in college, and spent so much money on LOI day fiesta dinners with my roommates.

OK, last part was pretty cool, but no joke, being a recruiting fanatic can be a huge time suck. I am sure wives and girlfriends aren’t a huge fan of January through Feb. 7 . (Ah, the advantages of being single).

So here’s my second question, how did you get sucked into this crazy thing called recruiting?

For me, it started my junior year of high school (1999). I had a marketing teacher who was a huge Washington fan. He’d always brag when the Dawgs got a highly-regarded recruit or be devastated when they lost a player to another school. I spent a lot of time huddled at his computer looking at whatever the UW site was back then.

And before I knew it I was hooked. I loved star-gazing, 40-times, and the offer list. And in true Dennis Erickson-fashion, I became enamored with speed. If a player could fly, I wanted him in Orange and Black. One day, my marketing teacher handed me a post-it note with a website address scrawled on it — it was the OSU Rivals site! That day began my downward spiral.

By my senior year of high school, I was a full-out addict. It didn’t help that two of my high school classmates were being recruited by the Beavers and both ended up signing with them. (Gave you guys a big clue, there). I became known as the guy you went to for OSU information, and I was proud of it. My recruiting knowledge was a bonus, even though I am pretty sure everyone else thought it made me more of nerd.

In college, it got worse. I started referring to LOI Day as my second Christmas, started my LOI Day dinner tradition, and perhaps most telling, just like that former marketing teacher of mine, began taking the recruiting losses way too hard. Not good.

Talk about unhealthy, delusional, and just plain crazy.

Luckily, somewhere along the line I beat the addiction. Becoming a sports reporter and having to be objective will do that you. But it was a good thing. Now I can enjoy recruiting for what it is — entertainment. Sure, I was disappointed when Cleveland Wallace switched to UW at the last minute a couple years ago, and I was stoked when we landed Kenny Delp this this year, but I took it all in stride.

I’d like to think I’m in a good place in terms of how hard I follow OSU recruiting now. But as I become more and more removed from journalism and more and more of a fan again, I could see myself slipping again. Working with Peter also is a huge risk factor, he oozes CHAINSAW!

So that brings me to my last question: what do you guys enjoy the most about following recruiting? If you don’t follow it much, why not?

Evaluating Linemen: Core Strength

This is the second in my series on Evaluating Linemen.  While I love all positions, as a former offensive lineman, and terrible one at that, I feel I have more of an understanding of what they need, as well as where I failed. In most cases, it was never chest strength or leg strength, but rather core control,  technique and natural disposition.

While many people may laugh at the idea of core strength being important for the monsters of the trenches, it is, in my mind, the most important area of strength that a lineman can have.   A solid bench or great squat max is useless (as is maxing in general, but I will talk more on that later) if you are not explosive and able to maintain a strong athletic position for the duration of your combat.  I break down core strength into  Hips/Butt and Back/Abs.

Those that follow defense have probably heard many people mention the need for fluid, loose and quick hips for a solid corner prospect.  You rarely hear it when you are talking about an offensive lineman, yet it is so important.  Your hips are the hinge that bridges the power generated in your legs and into your arms and out your hands.  For those that are familiar with many martial arts styles, a key element of those is getting the power of your whole body into any strike, even with minimal movement.

A prospect may be able to bench 400 pounds, but if he cannot fire off the line and bring his hips and legs into it, he will just be pushing against a wall.  True explosion and drive comes when a player’s hips fire into the opponent.  If you look at the 16:05 point of this film, you will see linemen punching bags.  If you watch at around 16:20 mark, you will see the point where after contact, the linemen fluidly bring their hips through the block. This is what lifts the opponent up and back and allows you to use all of your strength in your legs in tandem with your chest back and triceps.  If you watch the 1:02 mark of Beau Hott’s Hudl film, you will see that the point he starts to drive the defender back is the point his hips get in there and he drives his opponents shoulder pads up and back.

When people talk about pad level, they are really talking about hips and the ability to explode into a defender and raise their pad level. This is why 6’4″ linemen can get leverage on 6’1 defensive tackles even though they start with so much higher of a pad level.

Now for many linemen, this is tough. Especially high school linemen that are in schools without modern weight training help or a system that understands the value of plyometrics and Olympic lifting techniques that improve hip flexibility and explosiveness.  Exercises like cleans, clean and jerk, box jumps, burpees and standing broad jumps are exercises that can be done anywhere, with just a make shift box or towel.  And all of them will make a huge difference.  I had terrible hips so no matter how strong I got in the weight room, I was never able to translate that into force and explosion on the field.  This is one reason I like guys that are wrestlers like Josh Mitchell and Beau Hott, and why I also like players that come from programs like De La Salle, Bellevue or San Clamente who not only have great offensive line programs but also have sophisticated training methods that get the most out of their players.  There are many of these types of programs out there, those are just three that I know of off the top of my head.

When I was playing, one of the worst parts of my stance had nothing to do with athleticism but with abdominal and lower back strength.  In pass blocking, you need to have your back perpendicular to the ground, not a flat back that looks like a table top.  The really solid pass blockers are able to get set up, with their back up ready to move and punch as needed.  This stance is not only more mobile for keeping up with speed rushers, but it also allows you to punch with more of your chest back and legs than just your shoulders and upper pectorals.  Think of how much stronger the average bench press is than the average incline press.  If you are more perpendicular, not only can you use your leg and hip base more effectively, but you are punching with more powerful muscles at your disposal.

Back and abdominal development is not just for pass blocking either. When drive blocking, like in the video, you need to be able bring those hips in. Part of that equation is driving your hands up and bringing those hips along. This requires abdominal and back strength to help support and coordinate the movement.  You don’t need a six pack, but your abs have to be strong enough to support your body and allow a player to easily transfer the power from their legs through the power in their hands.

How do all these items tie in?  Players that have a more developed core tend to be the guys that can really push people around, can keep their balance while trying to change direction and can attack with strength from any position. Some high school kids may not be at schools where they work much on this, so while it is a set back, a year with Coach Miller will straighten them up.  Most likely, the players that work on their core (whether they know that is what they are doing or not) and use solid technique are the ones that stand out the most on film and are generally the most ready for the rigors and demands of Division I Football.

A good example of this is Josh Mitchell.  When he came to OSU, it was as part of a very good offensive line class.  Many thought he was a rough prospect with potentially more upside at defensive tackle than on the offensive side of the ball.  With guys like Seumalo, Gavin Andrews, Gerrett Weinrich in the class, Mitchell seemed to be the odd man out to many in that class.  For me, I thought he was going to be a great player, and I had two reasons.

First, he was a state champion wrestler.  That takes a lot of hard work, a tenacious attitude and generally very good core strength due to having to shoot in on take downs and basically fight with every ounce of their being.  The second thing I saw was a workout video of his from his high school trainer.  The drills he was doing as well as the lifts were all based on explosion and getting the most out of his core.  Clean jerks, plyometric jumps, shuttles, overhead squats and on and on.  Seeing him take  those on and take them on at a high level for a high school athlete was all I needed to see.

Coincidentally, Josh came to OSU and stood out immediately as a freshmen. While he had a lot to learn and was not as big as his peers, he was the most prepared player not named Seumalo that year.  (Well, in Weinreich’s defense, he suffered a terrible injury)  I thought Mitchell might burn his redshirt year, but there was enough depth in 2012 that he didn’t need to.

Players that explode into defenders, that blow up their opponents on contact and are able to change direction in their pass stance without resetting their stance are all players who have extensive core strength and control.

Evaluating linemen: Footwork

A lot of people (OK, one.) have asked me what I look for in offensive linemen when I evaluate them.  There are quite a few things I look for that I will break down in a few posts.

Before I start, some of the terms I use might be new to you.  I will always try and explain terminology as best I can, but please leave a comment if you get lost or have any additional questions.  For basics, I will use the words ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ a lot.  Inside means closest to the ball before the play starts.  Outside is farther from the ball.  So if a receiver lines up the farthest away from the ball of any player, he would be the farthest outside. Similarly, the Center who snaps the ball is the farthest inside at the beginning of a play.

I also use the term ‘up-field’ to mean moving towards the end-zone you are trying to reach,. So a defender would move up-field, meaning towards the QB.  Or an offensive lineman would step up-field meaning they step forward first.

Also, even before I evaluate a player, the first thing I look for when evaluating a player is “Did Oregon State offer them a scholarship?”

The reason for that is that it means they think this person can be a Pac-12 caliber offensive lineman.  It also means that they have scouted him out enough to know what his competition is like and what his skill level is so that any highlight film I watch I can rest assured that they know the environment they are evaluating a player in.  For instance, if you see a guy that is just ridiculously dominant, but also seems to be playing teams filled with Oompa Loompa’s, then the offer shows that they saw this, recognize it and found other means of evaluating that player than just their one game against a team of tiny defenders.

The second thing I look for is footwork. Footwork is the most important part of playing offensive line.  While other topics that I will cover like core strength, hand placement, hip flexibility and aggression are important, all of them are lost if you cannot keep up with or get to the player you are supposed to block.

So what is footwork?  In my mind it is three things: Efficiency, Quickness and Speed.

Before the ball is snapped, most good linemen are taking stock of where the defense is, making calls or responding to other calls and formulating a plan of attack.  Many think they just fire out and blow people up, but for the most part, you have to quickly plan for certain scenarios and know where surprises may come from.  In that planning you have to know where you are going first.  So if I am pulling, or reaching inside, or the back side of a combo block or setting up for a screen, everything starts with your first step.

Pulling linemen want an aggressive first step in the direction they are pulling.  They don’t want a false step, where they lose ground until their second step or, even worse, step with their backside foot first, because they need to get to their responsibility in a hurry. So players that take decisive steps in the direction they are going, tend to be more efficient.  It is not just the first step though.  Being efficient also means not committing until they have to.

If offensive tackle is blocking a speed rushing end, they might start leaning towards the defender and put all their weight on one foot instead of keeping a balanced stance. At that point they are committed to a direction and their momentum will prevent them from being able to change directions quickly. When they do this, there is a good chance the defender will exploit it and cut back to get the QB.

Here is a good example against ASU. If you notice Scott Crichton working up field (towards the QB) and the lineman’s inside eye (in this case the right one) is located in the upfield side of Scott’s body.  This makes him a little too committed to staying in front of Scott.  The QB comes forward, and Scott is able to spin back and get the QB while the lineman blocking him is to committed to one direction to get back.  Now Scott is a very good player, and this tackle for ASU is decent as well.  But if he had been able to stay with Scott and keep his feet, he would have had a better chance of rolling back with Scott when he changed directions.  Once Scott sees Kelly step up, he spins quickly and attacks behind the offensive lineman who had already committed his weight the other direction.  While this is more of a great move by Scott than a fail on the lineman, it gives you a good idea of how important keeping your feet under you and balanced is.  Scott may have still made the play, but this guy would have had a better shot had he not gotten too far ahead of the defender.

In a lot of ways, this is similar to efficiency.  If you take good first steps and are smart with your balance and steps, you are going to appear to be quicker.  Unfortunately, when you are playing against guys like Crichton or Victor Butler, you are going against guys that appear to have been shot out of a cannon.  They are coming out strong and fast and violent.  So you need to be able to have quick feet so that you can keep up with them.

A quick trip to an Oregon State Football practice will introduce you to a phrase “Belly to Belly”.  It is something Garrett says a lot and it is the idea that you keep your belly with the person you are blocking’s midsection.  A lot of people think that this is done by horsing them around with your arms or just knocking them to the ground.

In most cases, knocking people to the ground is rare and often is due as much to the defender tripping as the offensive person hitting them.  The key to the Belly to Belly concept is that your feet will move quick enough laterally that you are able to mirror and stay in front of your opponent.  If your feet lag, you will get blown by, as in this clip of Scott Crichton against Cal.

Not only does this lineman fail in the efficiency department by stepping with his inside foot first to block someone on his outside, but he also doesn’t get much depth and his feet are virtually motionless. If his feet had been quicker, and he had stepped with the correct foot first, he would have had a chance to keep his body in a power stance parallel to Scott’s.  So just like in the previous snap, the player had the quickness of foot to keep up but his efficiency was limited and he got caught with too much weight on one foot, this guy not only has efficiency issues but also just cannot physically keep up with Scott.

Now if you watch the very first clip in this video, look at the left guard at the bottom of the screen.  Juice Andrews not only steps with the correct foot, but is quick enough to basically strafe across the back of the line and then seal his linebacker inside to open a huge hole.  His quickness of foot allows him not only to get there in time, but also to swing around the defender on contact and force him into the pile. Obviously Juice is a strong guy and uses leverage and other things, but that last few seconds of the play where he goes from facing the endzone to pushing the guy 90 towards the pile in a heartbeat is a lot of foot quickness.

People see 40 times for linemen of 5.42 and think who cares, it is a lineman.  The thing is, linemen still have to block in space and be able to move to the second level.  Now, if you are an offensive lineman and you run a 4.4, you will get moved to defense, but you should be able to move comfortably and quickly to be a lineman.  Screen blocks require running out in space and blocking a smaller and faster person.  Most running plays in a zone blocking scheme will end up with one or two linemen moving past the line to pick up some linebackers.  So along with efficient movements and quickness of foot, it is also good if you can be explosive and fast in small bursts.   You may have to run down the line on a pulling situation and then run up the hole like a full back. It is hard to do your job if by the time you get to the hole, you are following the running back.

So should OSU not recruit huge players?  No, not at all.  But we need to make sure that the ones we get are able to move and get to the second level.  Watch the film of Tyler Moore and Brenden Bowen. Both of these guys are huge and are not going to win a lot of foot races, but they are able to reach block defenders, move to the second level and be athletes.  To show how important this is, Tyler Moore knows he was a little heavy and has worked super hard to shed 35 pounds of fat. So this year look for him to be leaner, meaner and faster.

You don’t need track speed, but what the offense can do and do effectively depends on if it has Offensive Linemen that can block effectively in space, at the second level and can get to a spot quick enough to help.  If you want to know what linemen are fast, look who pulls.  Isaac Seumalo will pull.  Grant Enger pulled.  Juice Andrews Pulled. You know who else pulled?  Michael Philipps.  He was a huge man, but was athletic enough that he could pull and make a difference.

Hopefully this is helpful to people.  Footwork, in my mind, is more important than strength or size.  The rest is complimentary and makes you a better player, but if you have bad footwork, the rest doesn’t matter. When I talk about covering people with your feet, I mean being able to mirror them with your body so that even if you didn’t have arms, you would still be able to block guys to a degree.

I did not get super specific in this, just trying to keep it a general overview for anyone interested, but please comment if you have any questions or want to know more or want to disagree with me.  In many cases, like the first clip of Scott, linemen will do everything right but the player they are going against is just as skilled and maybe move athletic.  You cannot win all the battles, but by being efficient and athletic, you will win more than you lose.

Recruit Focus: Beau Hott

All information in this post is courtesy of  BeaverBlitz and Hudl.  Again, I highly recommend both of these sites for the best and latest information on Beaver Football recruiting.

All reviews are just MY OPINION, and need to be taken as such. The coaches know more than me, understand the team’s needs better than I do and most likely differ with my opinions. I am just doing this for fun.

Beau Hott

3 Star (5.6)
HT: 6′ 3″
WT: 270
POS: Offensive Line
HOMETOWN: Plano, Texas
OTHER OFFERS: Air Force, Arkansas St, LA Monroe , Memphis, New Mexico, North Texas

Hudl Profile

Position The Official Candy Report Sees this player at: Offensive Guard
What Beaver this player reminds us of: Roy Schuening, Josh Mitchell

– Super aggressive, violent in his attack
– Tries to punish opponents
– Explosive first step
– Keeps good pad level and uses his hands to get under the shoulder pads of his opponents
– Never quits on a block
– Good hips and leg strength
– Athletic enough to get to the second level and find someone to block
– Covers defenders well with his feet on pass blocks and reach blocks
– Very athletic on pulls, delivers a punishing  blow
– Drives through the defender on cut blocks, doesn’t just dive on the ground.

– Feet can die on contact from time to time
– So aggressive, he can get into penalty situations in college
– Sometimes gets his hands outside the shoulder pads
– Has a tendency to hold in stalemates

Beau Hott is just what the doctors ordered for the Beavers right now.  He is an aggressive, hyper competitive lineman from Plano, Texas that gets the ball rolling in a good way for this recruiting cycle. After only taking two offensive linemen two years ago, and four last year, OSU can probably manage to take three or four this year as well. Beau is a solid interior lineman who has all sorts of nasty in the way he plays.

The biggest strengths i see with Beau is that he is athletic enough to pull and get up field without slowing the play down, while also being incredibly physical at the point of attack.  Time after time you see him pull in a hurry and then blow up the guy he is blocking. Whether it is a lineman that has just come across the line of scrimmage or if he cuts up and acts as lead blocker in the secondary, Beau gets the job done.  Another strength of his is that he covers defenders with his feet in pass protection.  He does a good job of not getting behind them or reaching on plays.  At 270, Hott will probably need to put a few pounds on to play Pac 12 ball, but he has the physical tools and body to hold more weight without losing a ton of quickness.

The real negatives I see with Hott are some of the details of blocking.  He gets his hands outside the pads at times, can lose his leg drive on contact and tends to latch on and hold in stalemates or doesn’t reset his hands when the defender gets away from him.  Many of those items can lead to penalties and will need to be addressed.  They are also all correctable with work, he just needs to continue to work on his technique to see the field early in his career at OSU.

I think Hott has a ton of upside like Mitchell did, and he seems to have the attitude and mindset that Cav covets.  I really think he will end up being like a Roy Schuening for us.  He has room to grow, but he has the attitude and work ethic to make those changes.  He also has the frame to really add muscle to. His first two years will be solid indicators of his ability to shoot up the charts.  He will make practice fun to watch, in the same way Dylan Wynn does.

Silly Shot In The Dark Guess
My silly, shot-in-the dark guess is that when Hott comes to Oregon State, he has the potential to be a 2-year starter at Offensive Guard.  A redshirt year will go a long way for Hott so he can spend time with Coach Miller and Coach Cav refining his technique and improving his hand positioning and leg drive.  I can see him being in the two deep as a redshirt sophomore and with the three interior linemen graduating in the next three years he could see the field far sooner than I am projecting.