Freshman Film Breakdown: Offensive Line
by Jack Lido
Editor’s note: The Northwestern Football team begins its season in less than a week, opening the 2018 slate this Thursday against Purdue. Just like any good student of the game, we here at WNUR Sports log plenty of hours in the film room. Over the next two days, one of our broadcasters will analyze some of the high school film of the incoming freshman class. Keep in mind, the plays we’ve selected do not define the players. It’s difficult to get a strong grasp on any player just by some high school film, but this series will help us and you to get familiarized with the latest batch of recruits.
In case you missed the earlier sessions of the Freshman Film Breakdown, click here to read about the incoming defensive linemen and linebackers, here to learn about the incoming defensive backs and here for analysis of the incoming wide receivers and superbacks.
- Wyatt Blake
- Payne He’Bert
- Charlie Schmidt
- Sam Stovall
- Willie Boatman
3★ OL // 6’4”, 299 // Crystal Lake, Illinois
Other notable offers: Missouri, Vanderbilt
Biggest Strength: Power
Here’s an option handoff where the quarterback keeps the ball and takes it to endzone. This is one of the more entertaining plays in Blake’s reel, as he absolutely demolishes the linebacker he’s supposed to block. Starting at right guard, he gets off the line quickly, pulls to the left side and hits the defender like a truck. I’d pleasantly surprised if Blake is able to knock over stronger, power-5 linebackers as easily as he does on this play, but either way this clip shows his raw power.
This play is a little bit of a mixed bag for Blake. On the surface, the pass block looks good, as he keeps his defender to the outside and eventually forces him to the ground. If I were to nitpick though, his technique is not perfect. By the end of the play, Blake is struggling keeping up with the defensive end. He uses his upper body strength to knock down the end and complete the block, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to do the same against Big Ten defensive ends. Fortunately for Blake, this situation is much more common on the outside, and I see him filling in more at guard for the Wildcats.
Summary: Blake looks like a powerful run-blocking specialist. He’s got a lot of size, and if he gains even more weight he can develop into a wall in between tackle and center.
3★ OT // 6’4”, 285 // Pearland, Texas
Other notable offers: Kansas State, Houston
Biggest Strength: Footwork
I think this play shows He’Bert’s biggest strength: his pass blocking ability. As a left tackle who will be tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blind side, this skill is especially important. He sets a really solid base here and shows patience as the play develops. The pass rusher attempts to make a move, but He’Bert stays true and flattens him.
This play shows a potential weakness in He’Bert’s run blocking. While he does a good job recovering and eventually strong arms the defender to the ground, he comes off the line a little bit too high. I’d like to see He’Bert lower his hips a little more to gain stability as he pushes the defender forward. This has been a common theme in this article, but a Big Ten defender will have a lot better technique than the high school defender He’Bert is going up against.
Of course, this isn’t to say He’Bert is a bad run blocker. He doesn’t have an outstanding initial burst here, but he stays low and shoves the defender forward to create a huge hole for his running back. In fact, the ball carrier was originally going to the other side, but He’Bert opens up the left side so well that the back readjusts to follow him.
Summary: He’Bert has some work to do before he gets on the field, but he has great footwork and strength (the later will likely increase with work in the weight room). It takes a lot of talent to play left tackle in the Big Ten, especially with a roster full of right-handed quarterbacks, but that future could be in the cards for this guy who can really bring the Payne…
3★ OL // 6’4”, 280 // Libertyville, Illinois
Other notable offers: Iowa State, Vanderbilt
Biggest Strength: Strength
This is one of Schmidt’s textbook blocks. He does a really good job staying lower than the defender while giving the ball carrier as much space as possible, which is especially important when pinned down within his own five-yard line. He shows off his strength at the end of the play, finishing his block by flattening the defender.
Here’s a very quick block on a swing pass to the left. Since it’s a one-step drop, Schmidt knows he only has to hold his block for about a second. He successfully contains the end and keeps him out of the play by staying glued beyond the initial contact. He may have gotten away with a hold, though, serving as a nice example of a high schooler with a lot of talent but still a some things left to learn.
Here’s another solid run block from the lineman. The combination of the blocking scheme and Schmidt’s power creates a ton of space in the middle of the field, as Schmidt collides into the unsuspecting nose tackle to his left. Northwestern’s coaches had to love seeing how Schmidt’s legs continued to churn like pistons in a car engine.
Summary: Schmidt is a more versatile lineman. He may not have showcased the same ability at guard as Blake or at tackle as He’Bert, but he can play both positions pretty well. I see Schmidt becoming a fill-in, multi-positional lineman with a chance to contribute in more than one spot.
3★ OL // 6’4”, 285 // Chattanooga, TN
Other notable offers: Memphis, Florida Atlantic
Biggest Strength: Speed
This is an off-tackle run where Stovall is pulling from right to left. As football history lovers may recognize, this is a variation of the classic Vince Lombardi power sweep. Stovall plays the crucial role of agile lineman who can seal off one side of the line, much like Packers’ Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer. Stovall is able to get that seal, get up the field at an impressive speed and prevent the defensive back from tackling the ball carrier for at least 25 yards.
In this pass-blocking situation, Stovall goes up against an agile defensive end. he still maintains a solid base and shows impressive hand-checking to shove the end away as he tries to spin. This is a textbook block by Stovall, but he could take this play from great to outstanding if he had taken advantage of the defender’s slow spin move and flattened him to the ground.
Summary: I was really surprised to see Stovall rated as the lowest member of this class by 247Sports. He’s got great technique and footwork, and his speed adds something to his game I didn’t see out of the other recruits. He’s not quite as powerful as the previous three linemen, but I could see him developing into a very successful piece on the line for Coach Fitzgerald.
N/A★ OL // 6’2”, 267 // Denver, CO
Other notable offers: N/A – Preferred Walk-On
Biggest Strength: Run-blocking technique
This is a great example of how leverage and explosiveness are way more important than size. As someone on the lighter side at 267 lbs., Boatman is nonetheless able to not only engage the defender but also drive him back to open a significant hole. He builds up speed while pulling to the outside and gets low enough to shove the bigger defensive lineman out of position.
Boatman again shows the effective of his run-blocking technique against a bigger defender. By staying low, he manages to force the defensive tackle upwards and gain leverage, making a successful push off the line.
Summary: As a preferred walk-on, Boatman is going to have to fight against bigger players his whole career. That said, he has solid film and has likely already put on weight since coming to Evanston. If Boatman can continue developing, we could see him play a major role and prove to be another great underdog story.
That’s all for today’s session. Come back tomorrow for Day Five of the Freshman Film Breakdown from WNUR Sports.