Building Blocks

Posted Feb 25, 2010

The Seahawks have a need at left tackle, but do the top-rated prospects have what is needed to play in Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme?

Oklahoma's Trent Williams

INDIANAPOLIS – One by one, the top-rated offensive tackles in this year’s draft class made their way to the podium in the media room at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday.

Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung. Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga. Oklahoma’s Trent Williams. Rutgers’ Anthony Davis. USC’s Charles Brown. Massachusetts’ Vladimir Ducasse. Maryland’s Bruce Campbell.

As many as four could go among the first nine picks in April’s draft, according to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who added that there is a definite drop off at the position after this gang of seven.

“I think you’re going to see some movement with the offensive tackles early in the first round, similar to two years ago where we had eight offensive tackles taken in the first round,” Mayock said.

The Seahawks hold the sixth and 14th picks in the first round and have a definite need. But are any of these tackles – regardless of size, situation and reputation – a good fit for the Seahawks?

Say what? Even Mayock offered, “I think they’re going to end up taking a left tackle with their pick at six, and I think they need to.”

Or maybe not. The need for linemen who were high draft choices hasn’t been a prerequisite to success for veteran line coach Alex Gibbs, who was hired last month by new coach Pete Carroll.

“Alex has a history of bringing along players who maybe weren’t first-round picks and just developing them,” Todd Weiner said this week from Atlanta, where he’s weighing what to do with his post-football life.

“He has a knack for developing players. He’s done a great job with some guys who exceeded their expectations.”

Weiner should know. He played for Gibbs when both were in Atlanta, and the Falcons led the NFL in rushing for three consecutive seasons. Gibbs is, as Weiner put it, “definitely the Godfather of zone blocking.”

It’s a special style of blocking that takes special traits. Gibbs looks for them in special linemen. But that doesn’t mean they need to be high draft choices.

Rutgers' Anthony Davis
On that Falcons’ line of the mid-2000s, Weiner has been a second-round pick by the Seahawks in 1998 who was signed by the Falcons in free agency in 2004 to play right tackle. The rest of that ’04 line: left tackle Kevin Shaffer, a seventh-round pick in 2002; left guard Roberto Garza, a fourth-round pick in 2001; center Todd McClure, a seventh-round pick in 1999; and right guard Kynan Forney, a seventh-round pick in 2001. In 2005, Garza was replaced by Matt Lehr, who was signed in free agency that year after being a fifth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2001. 

“I don’t think he necessarily needs a first-round pick, but he does need a specific player,” Weiner said.

Weiner then shared those qualifications.

“Alex has an ideal athletic build for a player,” said Weiner, who was as heavy as 320 pounds with the Seahawks but got down to 290 when he played for Gibbs. “He has a certain mentality – a toughness – that he expects. He really likes the I.Q. of the player to be high – higher than normal.

“You have to move. You have to be athletic. He has a whole system that he attaches to what he does. If you can’t move, you can’t play in his system. Some NFL offensive line coaches just want a huge, mammoth guy that can just absorb defenders. That’s not what Alex is looking for.”

Of the top-rated tackles – the players the Seahawks could have a shot at with the sixth or 14th picks – only Davis played primarily in a zone-blocking scheme at Rutgers. Brown did some zone blocking for Carroll at USC, and has the feet needed to make the full-time transition because he’s a former tight end. Bulaga played at Iowa, a school that has a history of producing pro-ready blockers.

Davis admitted that he never gave much thought to zone blocking taking any special skills, adding that he was just doing what the coaches ask. But after pondering the question of going down to cut block a defender, he offered, “Once you learn the scheme, it’s just a matter of exploding through their legs when you go to cut them.

“It’s a matter of having the ability to do that, and then being willing to do it.”

Zane Beadles played left tackle at Utah, but many consider him a better fit at guard in the NFL. He also played in a zone-blocking scheme and elaborated on the skills and mindset needed to excel.

“I don’t know if it takes a special person to do it, or if people just aren’t taught that,” he said. “But you’ve got to be willing to get down and throw your body around. You’re going to take some lumps and some bruises here and there, but as long as you’re willing to do that it’s no problem.”

Beadles then shared what the coaches told him during the Senior Bowl practices last month.

“They kind of told me the type player that they’re looking for – an intelligent player that can run a little bit and is willing to get people on the ground,” he said. “I think that I fit that bill very well. I feel like I play intelligently and my quickness is a strength for me.” 

Regardless of which direction the Seahawks go in upgrading their offensive line, Weiner sees Gibbs continuing to have success.

“I know they’re kind of in a rebuilding stage on the offensive line,” he said. “But they’ve got the right guy to do it. Alex has been down that route many times.”