To answer the question on whether guard is a need — I don’t think so.
Not a crucial need, anyway.
But I know a lot of people disagree.
I think J.R. Sweezy gets a rough deal from fans, much in the way Breno Giacomini became a bit of a scapegoat last season. Every mistake is accented.
“This guy isn’t good enough”
We want our offensive linemen to be flawless, when really very few are.
I still maintain that every time you don’t notice a particular linemen, it’s probably because they’re doing their jobs. Everyone likes a key block to break off a run, everyone likes to see top-tier pass rushers getting shut out.
But it’s the little plays that are the most important. When all they do is follow the script. And for the most part Sweezy appears to be getting the job done.
Sure, there are mistakes. What do you expect though?
This is his first year as a full time starter. We’re only a year removed from his original switch from defense to offense.
I doubt even Tom Cable and Pete Carroll expected the finished product by 2013. Their faith in Sweezy appears to be intact. And because of that I have no reason to think they’ll target a new right guard early in the 2014 draft.
On the left side, I’ve actually been impressed with James Carpenter.
It can’t have been easy playing next to Paul McQuistan (himself a guard) at left tackle. McQuistan did his best, but when you’re consistently giving up pressure on the left edge, it’ll always leave your guard exposed.
Pass protection isn’t Carpenter’s superior attribute at the best of times, mainly because he is a massive human being. I think he’s also lost a step with all the injury issues he’s had.
But as we saw at Alabama and now in Seattle, he is a terrific run blocker. And for a team that wants to run all day every day, it’s no bad thing that he’s stayed healthy and got some time on the field this year.
He too is making a transition from tackle to guard. Let’s not forget that.
And here’s the thing — the line has still performed. The running game has been incredibly productive despite all of the injuries.
The pass-pro problems can be placed squarely at the absence of the two starting tackles. For me, the success of the running game can be largely pinned on Cable’s running schemes and the performance of the two guards.
I haven’t charted specific plays to give you examples here, but over and over again during games I’ve noticed Carpenter and Sweezy making a big block to spring Marshawn Lynch for a nice gain.
You can’t argue with the stats. Seattle runs the ball frequently and productively. They average 148 yards a game — good for #3 in the NFL. Despite the laundry list of absentees.
When Russell Okung and Giacomini returned against Minnesota, we also saw a substantial improvement in pass-protection.
With Alvin Bailey also capable of playing guard and the general success of finding both Sweezy and Bailey on the cheap, I’m not sure an interior lineman will be considered a priority next year. Even if McQuistan — a free agent — is likely to depart due to necessary cap savings.
The biggest problem for me will be the right tackle position. Michael Bowie flashed in some games and struggled in others. I’m not sure whether we’ve seen enough to feel completely comfortable about him being the full time starter. Cable and co may have more faith there, I guess we’ll find out in due course.
But if Giacomini has to depart in free agency to save money, the right tackle position becomes something of a priority on a loaded team. Getting someone who can also cover at left tackle — as we’ve discussed — could also be needed to avoid another situation like we’ve seen this season.
To add to this, there are many good tackle prospects likely to be part of the 2014 draft. Enough that one or two good ones might just hang around until the late first round.
All of this is kind of reassuring, because I’m not a big fan of the eligible guards.
Of the group I’m probably most excited by UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo and Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio. Neither is expected to be a first round talent. Su’a-Filo is athletic enough to maybe work into that area, but seems more likely to fall in the rounds 2-3 range. He’s a big time athlete but needs to become more technically adept.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see Su’a-Filo battle Arizona State this weekend, including defensive tackle Will Sutton.
Kouandjio lacks his brothers upside but would be a solid mid-round selection.
Of the others, the hype factor is in over-drive. There may not be a position in football that gets hyped as much as guard. Every year someone will identify “the next Steve Hutchinson”. Very rarely does that prove to be the case.
The thing is, it’s a tough position to judge. Tackles can mostly be measured by athleticism and watching them go 1v1 against the big-time speed rushers. It’s hard to make the same judgements on guards.
In some cases it can be easy. Last year was unique because we genuinely saw two players who were worthy of the hype in Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack. They deserved to go as early as they did.
But this year I fear we’re going back to old habits and overrating a couple of guys.
Baylor’s Cyril Richardson looks heavy and I’m scared to death of the scheme he plays in. It’s the ultimate spread and usually the ball gets out very quickly. How can you judge pass protection properly? And the way the prolific passing game dominates, it doesn’t half open up a defense inside for the running game.
Guys like Jason Smith and Danny Watkins looked great at Baylor, then flopped as first round picks. It doesn’t mean Richardson will go down the same route, but you have to be a little suspicious.
He’s massive at around 335lbs and might have some of the same issues we’re seeing with James Carpenter. In terms of body type they look incredibly similar. In terms of lateral agility he looks slow. This is a problem when any pass rusher stunts inside. When he’s not squared up with a guy, he’s sluggish. And more and more NFL teams are using stunts and big time athletes to collapse the interior.
I like him against a bull rush or standard straight up block. He absorbs defensive linemen and is rarely beaten in that situation. But as I say, it’s different in the NFL. And he has an obvious weakness when he needs to move around off the spot.
He’s a former left tackle. I’m always a little concerned when a guy is considered a better fit inside in college and they aren’t fantastic athletes (like Su’a-Filo). Tackles converting to guards in the NFL I get. Tackles who move inside in college because they’re too big — that’s when the alarm bell goes off.
Richardson is tough and appears to love the game a lot more than Watkins, but he might be most effective in the running game where his size and toughness are most effective.
If you’re looking for an upgrade on Carpenter in pass protection, I’m not sure this is your guy.
Stanford guard David Yankey is another player getting pumped up in the media. I went back and watched the USC tape this week and wasn’t quite as impressed as I was after the first viewing.
He pulls well, that’s to be expected. It’s integral to the scheme. David DeCastro did it, Yankey does it. The next guard who comes in at Stanford will be good at it too. It’s bread and butter Cardinal football.
I don’t like seeing Yankey pull as often as he does because he’s not going to do it in the NFL. I want to see him lining up 1v1 at left guard, driving people away to open up running lanes and sitting in pass pro. He’s a lighter guy (around 6-4 and 305lbs I’d estimate) so his body type is ideal for protection.
Yet when he does go 1v1, he looks inconsistent. He hasn’t got the sheer power to dominate versus the run and he’s far from unbeatable looking after the quarterback. I’d say he’s a pretty good player. But I’d struggle to invest a first round pick in him.
He looks like a prospect who could get stronger in the upper body and develop into a decent starter. But if you’re taking a guard early — you want someone who can dominate. Someone who is going to take your line to the next level. Few guys can do that.
So right now, I prefer the idea of Xavier Su’a-Filo or Arie Kouandjio in the middle rounds. Either that or I’d consider drafting Notre Dame’s Zack Martin — who I like as a tackle — and move him inside.
But I’m not blown away by this guard class on the whole, even if it’ll almost certainly get big licks from the internet draft community — just like every year.
I don’t mind the idea of Bailey or Carpenter starting at left guard, with Sweezy continuing on the right side in 2014. There are probably bigger needs and better players out there for Seattle.
It’s still early though…