Mailbag: Offensive Line Stuff, Last Shot Takers

Submitted by Brian on June 27th, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Flippin' the line: feasible?


Schofield moved all over

Hi Brian:

How hard is it in mid game or mid season to change from a right handed to a left handed qb? Does the OL switch the guards and tackles etc.?

Dr. Steve

Not particularly hard, because the offense will almost certainly ignore the change and operate just like it was before. If there is a change, it will be flipping the tackles, something that teams occasionally do when guys go down injured. Either of these things are suboptimal, but if we are, say, talking about a potential Devin Gardner injury forcing Shane Morris onto the field, that righty-lefty switch is maybe 5% of the hit.

It might be more when there's a significant pass protection gap between your tackles. I'm projecting 6'7" Michael Schofield to be very good at that, so any blindside/non-blindside pass rush tradeoffs are minor. The run game shouldn't be affected, as QBs have to hand off to both sides of their body on the regular.

A couple years down the road when Morris is the projected starter it'll make sense to flip the right and left tackles over the offseason to give Morris better protection from behind, but that's a minor change when you've been given that much time. Schofield slid from left guard to right tackle, a much more drastic move, with not much ill effect.

Why you gotta be huge to play left tackle?




Quick question that may be obvious: why is height such an important asset in a left (or blindside) tackle? I've always taken it as a given but I'm not sure I've ever heard an explanation. Off the top of my head, I would guess it has to do with arm length and the ability to be massive yet retain a lean and athletic body (i.e. Schofield is 303 lbs but is quite a bit more lean and athletic than Ondre Pipkins).

Some people will tell you it's all about arm length. Most of the data out there is anecdotal—and buried in a slew of WHY RILEY REIFFF GOT T-REX ARMS articles—so here's an anecdote:

OT Adam Terry (Baltimore Ravens) and OT Marcus McNeill (San Diego Chargers) are both former second round picks (Terry in 2005, McNeill in 2006) who both weighed in during their Combine appearances at 6-8 and around 330 pounds. However, the key difference during each player’s weigh-in was the dramatic discrepancy in the length of the two player’s reaches. McNeill measured in at 35½ inches and Terry posted a reach of 32 ¼ inches. Therefore, we have two men who are roughly the exact same size, however, McNeill has the length to match and maximize his 6-8 frame, while Terry’s length forces him to play like a tackle closer to 6-3.

There are other variables that go into a comparison like this, however, the facts are that McNeill has been the Chargers starting left tackle for each of the past five years, while Terry is considered now as nothing more than an NFL journeyman.

The same guy had an article the previous year on the same topic and a notable name jumped out at me: Robert Gallery, former Iowa superstar, top-five pick, and colossal bust. He also has T-Rex arms.

HOWEVA, Iowa pro-bowler Marshall Yanda's arms are 33.5 inches long,  famous left tackle prototype Michael Oher the same. Joe Thomas is at 32.5, Jake Long 33. Arm length is marginal at best… at least when we're talking about guys in a narrow range from enormous to slightly less enormous.

Meanwhile, height is sometimes a… drawback? Again, talking on an NFL level where you can pick the top 1% of players, yeah. After Jake Long in 2008, the NFL didn't take a tackle taller than 6'6" until the 2011 draft, when it was so odd that there were so many huge guys that Mike Tanier wrote an article about it:

One scout I spoke to in Indianapolis said that diminishing returns kick in once an offensive lineman reaches the dimensions of an NBA power forward. “They have to keep working to bend at the knees, to not pop up at the snap,” he said. “They can’t ever let up on their technique.” …

Several of this year’s tall tackles are not just long, but lean. Castonzo has a classic lineman’s build, with a lot of mass in his thighs and butt, but Carimi and Solder have relatively narrow trunks. Their “high cut” bodies create even more leverage issues. Carimi, in particular, gets too narrow when run blocking: defenders can turn him sideways and slide around him. Carimi is so strong and athletic that teams will be willing to work with him to perfect his technique, but his size may never convert to NFL strength.

Giants Nate Solder (Colorado), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) all went in the first round, but so did three 6'5" guys. You'll note that Michigan's recruiting is heavily biased towards 6'5" high school tackles who have half the scouts pegging at tackle, half at guard.

Tanier does note that super long arms are, in general, a help, and that blocking techniques are designed with the assumption you're going up against a guy a couple inches shorter than you.

Here's my take on it: in general, bigger people are just harder to get around. A wider stance and longer arms gives a left tackle a bigger catching radius, as it were, to intercept pass rushers. When it turned out NFL teams were sending players of size X at quarterbacks, most of those guys turned out to be 6'3" or 6'4" and after some experimentation it was determined that guys a couple inches taller than those guys combined catching radius with balance. Balance is absolutely the most important thing for offensive linemen. Bigger guys with traditional lineman builds (ie, bottom heavy) take more force to get off balance than smaller ones, but only as long as they can keep a leverage advantage on their opponents.

Who takes the shot against Kansas and such, other than nobody?


With Trey & Tim leaving, who takes the end of shot clock and end of game shots for us next year?

I think McGary would be the obvious choice, but that can be pretty tough for a big man to create shots outside of the offensive flow.  And it could pull him away from the basket and rebound opportunities.  GRIII hasn't shown a lot in a way of creating his own shot.  Walton would be an obvious choice, but he's a freshmen.  Maybe some end of shot clock looks, but at the end of a close game?  Same goes for Irvin.  That leaves the other options as Stauskas (maybe?), Levert (supposedly a terror 1-on-1 in practice, but late game experience?) and Spike (not as terrifying as I thought a few months ago). 

Who do you think becomes the regular closer out of that group?

Uh… I think they might go closer by committee?

There is no obvious answer there. McGary's usage shot up in the tournament but very little of that was McGary actually creating a shot—basically some jumpers from the elbow, a couple of sweet short-corner turnarounds, and his once-per-game two-dribbles-to-a-layup. Michigan never, ever posts guys up, and I don't think that's going to change. Meanwhile the other returning star had a usage rate of 13% and got virtually all of his baskets from Burke or off rebounds. Neither is a good candidate for late-game or late-clock hero duties.

With Michigan's emphasis on the pick and roll, it'll probably fall onto the point guard again. Derrick Walton isn't going to take step-back jumpers that somehow fall quite a bit; he's more distribution-oriented. Teams overplaying his penetration will find him kicking to Stauskas or Irvin or dishing to Robinson or McGary.

I can see three other guys possibly taking up the banner:

  • STAUSKAS. Showed pretty good ability on the pick and roll, where he showed hints of a Darius Morris-like ability to find passing angles with his length. And you of course cannot go under unless you want punishment. Would take some development both on the bounce and as a distributor, but that's what freshmen do.
  • IRVIN. 6'7" to 6'8" guy with an advanced pull up game already. By midseason will be able to get a midrange jumper whenever he wants. Prefer Michigan to try something else always, but late when refs are clenching their bowels and swallowing the whistle the midrange game is the part of your offense least affected by hacks.
  • LEVERT. Yes, a stretch given his rough numbers and brief tourney cameos where he was unready for the moment. Seemed to be able to get where he wanted most of the year, small sample size, freshman improvement, and he should have buckets since he was both young and skinny.

This question is a "what we do without Burke" Q writ small, and the answer is "I don't know, but spread it around."



June 27th, 2013 at 1:57 PM ^

My guess would be Irvin.  The key thing is being able to get a shot off the dribble and threaten taking a shot at the rim. Haradway could never be that guy and neither could McGary.  Irvin should be better than Hardaway with the ball and his height will buy him some space as well.  Your closer isn't necessarily your best player.

Stauskas hasn't shown he can consistently shake defenders, despite the attention that Burke and Hardaway demanded.  Highlight passes aside, he doesn't have the vision or skillset to be a frequent ball-handler.  When Michigan tried this against OSU and Indiana, it failed badly. Eventually his shooting could be good enough to put him in that role, but he's not there yet.  Same goes for Robinson.  His game would really need to develop.

I agree that multiple people will get a shot at the job but the task will probably fall on one of the primary ball-handlers; Albrecht, Walton, or Irvin.  Obviously, it remains to be seen how Walton and Irvin will transition to college, but it seems more likely to me they have the ball regularly and create shots than some of these other players.

EQ RC Blue

June 27th, 2013 at 2:33 PM ^

It is not true that Michigan "never, ever posts guys up" -- the coaches tried it with Horford and McGary at times.  And they will certainly do it more this year.  Look for Mitch in particular to get more opportunities with the ball in the high post and the low block.  How large a part of the offense it becomes and whether it could emerge as a late-game go-to set are the questions.


June 27th, 2013 at 2:40 PM ^

Loved the discussion of the OL tackle attributes.  The more I come to appreciate the mechanics of football, the more stuff like this fascinates me.

Ron Utah

June 27th, 2013 at 3:17 PM ^

Line play (both offense and defense) is all about control: how can you create an advantage over your opponent so that you can control where he/you goes?  There are lots of ways for defenders to do this, and in high school the most common methods are sheer athleticism (running around the blocker) and pure strength (having such a large strength advantage that you can shove the blocker whereever you want, ala Ndamakong Suh).

For the O-line, your basic defense is to get your arms into the defenders chest and "legally hold" the player by the jersey near the armpits.  This is why you'll almost always see linemen's hands holding the outside of those blue pads when they're going blocking drills.  The goal is to keep the defender "out" of your body and control his lateral movement.  It's great if you can push him backwards, of course, and some plays (esp goal line) demand that, but it's more important to make sure he can't go where you don't want him to go.

A taller person has a number of advantages here: they take-up more space (especially when properly bent at the knees), they can have more size and stay light on their feet (if you lose your base as an O-line player, you're going to lose the block), and they typically have a longer reach.

Height brings disadvantages too.  It's much harder to stay low and roll your hips when you're tall, and if you don't do that and your opponent does then you'll find yourself being moved by sheer force.  It's easier for a shorter player to fire off the line and roll his hips, but it's easier for a taller player to move and get the proper hand placement.

An elite lineman can do all those things well.  It's harder for a shorter person to do all those things well, but that's just a generalization.

Hope I didn't get too nerdy.


June 27th, 2013 at 3:23 PM ^

It'll be interesting to see if that's still the case. Beilein hadn't emphasized ball screensl in the past and I think it's an open question whether he did so the last couple of years because of a change in philosophy or because he happened to have a point guard who was great at running the play.


June 28th, 2013 at 7:43 PM ^

Heroball is actually wildly ineffective.  Despite all the highlight reels of the star going one on one at the end of a game and making a game winner it's actually one of the worst efficient plays in basketball.  However stars' egos wont let them pass the ball and coaches don't want to get reamed by the media over 'why didnt you let Kobe/Lebron/Jordan' take the final shot.  If we have noone to play heroball at the end of games and we have to run a play in our offensive set it can only be a good thing.