Why understanding scheme and technique is essential in player evaluation

04/08/2019
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Scouts and draft analysts should possess a certain level of understanding of common schemes and techniques in order to fully engage in player evaluation. Without it, they could be incorrectly identifying traits. I examine this through the lens of Washington Huskies right tackle Kaleb McGary.


Player evaluation can sometimes be dull. As much as I love breaking down film, some prospects’ film just isn’t gripping, and sometimes it can be downright boring, especially this late in the draft cycle. Typically, in the weeks leading up to the draft, I am trying to tie up loose ends by peeking at a few games of a prospect. Rather than watching his entire season, I will scout 4-6 games versus the best competition. Well, I tried that with Washington Huskies right tackle Kaleb McGary, and it didn’t work. His film left me wanting more . . .

McGary’s technique is so nuanced that if you don’t understand what he is being taught or you’re asleep at the wheel like I was, you may incorrectly identify strengths or weaknesses.

For example, as I was trying to speed through his film, I noticed McGary had a tendency of turning his shoulders in his pass sets. You will see him aggressively set to meet the edge rusher with his shoulders turned.


While the main issue with the prior clip is that he over-sets, throwing off the half-man relationship, universally, turning the shoulders is a big no-no. Offensive line coaches preach to players to keep their shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage and to stay square.

Powerpoint from Howard Mudd’s COOL clinic.

So as I continually saw McGary turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, I ignorantly dinged him for it on his grade sheet. But as I watched more tape, rather than focus on his play, I backed away from my focus on McGary and watched some of his teammates. I noticed they also suffered from the same ‘affliction,’ and that’s when it hit me; it was actually something that McGary was being taught. This discovery took my evaluation from a cram session to more of a refresher on the teachings of Howard Mudd that he shared at the 2017 COOL clinic.

But then it dawned on me, what about those evaluators who may not be familiar with common scheme, techniques or assignments (STA) — how does it affect their grade on McGary?

McGary was coached early on in his career by Mudd, known as one of the Godfathers of offensive line play. You may remember Mudd as the offensive line coach for the Colts during the Peyton Manning years. Mudd lives in Seattle and was a consultant at the University of Washington spending time with former offensive line coach Chris Strausser (2014-16), therefore, working closely with McGary.


Mudd’s philosophies are some of the best in the game. His core tenet is aggressiveness. He loves aggressive pass sets, and every time I saw an aggressive set from McGary on film, Mudd’s famous line of “go jump the SOB and distort his line” echoed in my brain. Notice the shoulders of the tackle?

https://vimeo.com/328790354

He wants his linemen to meet the pass rusher as close to the line of scrimmage as possible and to close the space between them and the rusher. Rather than vertical-setting, gaining depth and meeting them at a point, he wants linemen to “start at the end point”, then do their work.

He explains that here. Pay attention to what he says about the right tackle, #58 — yep, that’s McGary.

While Mudd is one of the premier offensive line gurus, some of his methods are unconventional, so it can fool some evaluators when watching prospects who are taught similar principles. Mudd challenges offensive line coaches to be different; he wants his players to think outside of the box and to be problem solvers. Offensive line play is technique-driven, and the good players have long careers because of their technical savvy, but there is also an element of just getting the job done. The process of securing the block may not always be pretty, but the most important thing is to use the entire toolbox to get the defender blocked.

Mudd wears his unconventional ways like a badge of honor.

So when I returned to several of my notes on McGary turning his shoulders, or the depth of his kick slide, it all made sense. They weren’t flaws; it actually was technique driven, just not conventional technique.

McGary was consistently meeting wide rushers with his shoulders to the sideline because of the aggressive techniques being asked of him. In the next clip, you will hear Mudd talk about his linemen “working the line” — aggressively setting, turning their shoulders, then blocking down the imaginary line and ultimately helping maintain what Mudd refers to as the “contour of the pocket.” Then you will see a few clips of McGary executing the drills in practice and in the game.

https://vimeo.com/328980439

A lot of analysts will say that McGary lacks the athleticism to hang with speed rushers in the NFL. To some degree, they may be correct, but it isn’t because he isn’t athletic. He posted an elite 9.83 Relative Athletic Score, so he definitely has an athletic profile. His “questionable range” in his kick slide conclusions were drawn from watching his footwork and foot speed. At times it looks like he struggles to cover a lot of ground because when he kick slides wide, he executes what Mudd refers to as “stepping over the pencil.” They are short steps taken by the pass protector to maintain balance and their center of gravity. Listen to Mudd explain it, followed by some film of McGary executing it.

https://vimeo.com/328796860

I think when people watch his film they equate these aggressive sets to the lack of athletic ability, which I believe is not true. Look at the “fast, slow, fast” tempo, the angle, and ground he has to cover. To me, that takes a certain level of athleticism.

One of my biggest worries with McGary was his arm length. The 6-foot-7 plus, 324-pound tackle possesses 32 7/8-inch arms, which is well below the average tackle, so having a plan or the ability to process on the fly will be important.

Aggressive sets often force pass rushers to make their moves sooner than they want, or it can force them to go to their counter even when it’s not needed. Here, the rusher expects McGary to shoot his hands, so McGary makes them disappear by using a “circle punch”, making the pass rushers’ long arm counter ineffective; McGary wins the rep.

In my opinion, jump, angle and chase down sets minimize the below par arm length of McGary. By “jumping” defenders, he not only may catch them off guard, but in the event he does lose, it isn’t at the feet of the quarterback. Here his angle on the first couple of “chase down” steps are too shallow. So as he goes to “shake hands,” the rusher is able to dip below his hands.

He then has to make up for it as the rusher flattens to the QB, but the key to this rep, which he arguably lost, is how far from the QB that rusher still is. Although his set was bad, he “distorted the line” of the rusher and kept him far from the QB. He wasn’t beaten due to the lack of athleticism.

McGary possesses an enormous amount of competitiveness to go along with his technique. He is always looking to find work, and offense reaps the benefits.

He is a technician, but he also is a mean SOB whose strong grip and understanding of how to use rotational force make it easy to pry open holes for his running backs.


When the Huskies asked the Fife, Washington native to execute feed blocks to help his teammates gain leverage, he created massive holes.


His football IQ is through the roof. On this play, there is no way that McGary can reach block the edge defender, so he just has to “pry open” the hole, which means simply torquing the defender towards the sideline as much as he can. He does that, hands the defender off to his teammate, then replaces him to seal the entry point. This is the best blocking sequence I have seen this draft season.


The NFL probably likes McGary more than most online evaluators because they know Washington’s STA. But they also know that he has a large toolbox, a toolbox that contains a lot of Mudd’s unconventional and downright hilarious teachings. His belief in problem-solving has led him to tag some blocks as “ass blocks.”


Here McGary is blocking on the back side of an outside zone run, and on the snap, he hooks the defender and runs. The defender isn’t really in pursuit mode, so McGary is taught to fight resistance with resistance, and it ends up being an “ass block.”

McGary even made Mudd proud at the Senior Bowl.


Another Mudd belief is “blocking a defender on the angle you found him.” Rather than wasting time trying to get the proper angle and leverage to drive block a defender, block them on the angle that you found them. McGary possesses the athleticism and processing to fit up a defender on the angle he found them and move them.


Overall, I believe that McGary is one of the better technicians in this class and a late second-round pick. His best fit will be on a run-heavy team. He will quickly become the identity of the offensive line. When the offense needs a yard, they can run behind him. In the passing game, McGary’s skillset favors aggressive pass pro schemes, especially teams that use a lot of play-action to allow McGary to jump pass rushers and get in their faces early.  Over the course of his career, he has only surrendered six QB sacks and four QB hits, per Pro Football Focus, and it’s because of those kinds of sets. I believe he is a lot more athletic than many people realize, and the foundation that Mudd has instilled has shown me that his ceiling is also much higher than many people realize. McGary has a large toolbox thanks to some tremendous coaching from Howard Mudd and offensive line coach Scott Huff, and I think the NFL will covet that.

A toolbox that a lot of Draft Twitter may not be aware of because they don’t know common schemes, techniques or assignments. The understanding of STA is critical to evaluation. What you know and don’t know will be reflected in your evaluation, and I think McGary is a great test subject for this.

If you are interested in player evaluation, I highly recommend attending The Scouting Academy. It will teach you a lot about these schemes, techniques and assignments in order to help you properly evaluate prospects.


 

More Film

I urge you to take a look at all of the film I cut up of McGary. I firmly believe he isn’t getting enough buzz, and I think a lot of that has to do with the average fans’ and analysts’ lack of understanding when it comes to offensive line techniques. For the entire Howard Mudd Cool Clinic, click here.

 

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