Over the past few weeks I have highlighted several offensive guards that I would hope are standing out on the Cowboys radar. Before I started my research and began watching these guys I had to educate myself on what makes a top notch player in the trenches because I did not want to base things entirely on just casual observation. While this is nothing compared to the type of insight that Birddog and Longball could give, here is what i have learned about what real scouts look for when evaluating guard prospects.
The ideal size for a guard will be in the 6'3" to 6'4" range, and he typically will weigh somewhere between 305 and 315 pounds. A prospect that is taller than that height will generally have trouble playing with his pads low, and will lose the leverage battle due to not being able to play at a low enough level to get underneath his opponents pads. Typically a taller man will be forced to compensate for the additional height by bending his back as he blocks and this is a no no. Once again, this has a negative effect on his leverage, and it also impacts his ability to maintain the balance he needs to remain effective in his blocks.
Strength is an obvious necessity for any player, but for the guys in the trenches it is the backbone of what they do. Once an offensive lineman can gain the leverage advantage, he must exploit this by dominating his man using his core body strength. In run blocking he must be able to drive his man, and when pass blocking he needs to establish a strong base to anchor himself and not be driven back toward the quarterback.
A guard must be agile enough to move laterally with coordinated movements. In short, he really should look like he is moving with fluid and controlled motion. He has to maintain control of his body during changes of direction. The ideal prospect should look athletic as he goes through the various movements that he is required to make. A high level prospect makes these movements seem effortless.
In his natural blocking stance, the ideal guard will bend from his knees rather than in his back. Among other things, this allows him to build a solid base from which to execute his blocks and it allows him to bring the stronger muscles in his legs into his effort. We have all heard to lift with our legs instead of our back, and this is essentially what a lineman does as he drives up and into his opponent. In addition, as was mentioned above, bending at the knees also aids the guard in maintaining his balance throughout his block; while bending in his back causes him to struggle with balance since it forces his weight forward and out in front of his feet. Failure to maintain balance is catastrophic for a lineman, and if he struggles frequently he will find himself spending the majority of his time on the ground looking up as his man makes play after play.
In run blocking the guard must play with a low pad level. Quite simply, the logic in this is simply that the low man should win every match up. It allows him to block up and through his man by gaining leverage and using his leg strength to drive the defender. He has to maintain his advantages throughout the block to successfully execute his responsibility. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a lineman establish initial control and then allowing his man to counter him and get in on the tackle.
When in pass protection, a top notch guard sets himself quickly in his pass blocking stance with his feet solidly underneath him. Keeping his butt low he sets a solid anchor and makes himself more difficult to push backward. He will demonstrate the ability to quickly move to counter the pass rusher, mirroring his mans every move, and keep himself between the defender and the quarterback.
A guard must react quickly and automatically to pick up blitzers and stunts. He does not have time to think about his next action, so it must come from instict. This also applies when leading a running back down field, and when pulling. He must react without going through the thought process to pick off the most immediate threat. He must also react and adjust on the move to make contact with a moving target; while he himself is running at full speed.
The ideal guard has quick and coordinated feet and hands. His foot movements must get him in proper position without getting himself crossed up. He must also insticntively step off using the correct foot to explode into his blocks to insure that effective leverage is established. A guard needs to have quick hands to make the first initial contact with his opponent. A general rule is that the first man to establish contact usually wins. Obviously having longer arms assists him greatly in making first contact. He needs to contact his man with a solid punch, squarely in his mans breastplate area, and maintain contact throughout the block. Naturally the defender will counter this, so the guard must also have the ability to quickly regain proper hand position on his man.
There are many areas to look at when evaluating prospects at guard. I have recorded each of the guys that I have reviewed, and looked the film over watching different area each time. I have found that the more I look at things, the easier it has become to pick up on both the good and bad things each man does on an individual play, and I am now finding that I see more and more as I watch a game live. For me, learning a little bit more about offensive line play has made me a better fan, and I would encourage everyone to try to pick up more about what the guys in the know look for. I'm sure our resident scouts can add a lot more to this, and that they will correct me where I am wrong. I certainly hope they do, because I am beginning to see a different and more educated way to watch the game.