Saturday, 21 November 2009

Russell Okung vs Colorado

I've just finished watching the tape of Thursday's game between Colorado and Oklahoma State. My main focus was watching Cowboys left tackle Russell Okung, a guy who regularly appears as a top ten in most mock drafts and was placed with the Seahawks in Rob Rang's latest 2010 prediction. I saw Okung in week one and wasn't all that impressed, so this was a chance to form a better opinion. Oklahoma State were missing their starting quarterback and had to run the ball a lot in this game, making them completely predictable and for that reason it might be easy to be too harsh on Okung. However, nothing in this game made me re-think my original diagnosis.

Let me start with what he did well. On the very few times Oklahoma State threw the ball, Okung was above average in pass protection. He has ideal size and tone (6'6", 305lbs) and certainly looks the part on the field. When Colorado rushed the passer, Okung got into position quickly and knew which guy he had to block. Once the two engaged, he flashed good upper body strength at the point of attack and seemed to dominate because of that. In the running game, he was nowhere near as good - but I did want to mention that I at least saw in this game a greater willingness to get to the second level.

Now on to the not so good stuff. Before the game, Okung was bouncing around on the sidelines screaming at his teammates. If only he showed even half that effort on the field. At times, he was a complete liability in the running game. Ok - Colorado knew that they were going to run, run and run some more with the QB situation. But Oklahoma State were flat out awful in short yardage situations and Okung has to shoulder his share of the blame.

On 4th and 1 with 4:02 left in the first quarter, the Cowboys ran left behind their star left tackle. I'm not sure if it was a communication error or a blown assignment, but on the snap Okung jogs into the second level and stands lost in the open field as three Colorado players run straight past him and hammer the running back for a loss. Okung turns round almost in shock as he stands alone, blocking nobody. He really should have picked up the linebacker who made the original tackle. If he's running to the second level, who is he actually trying to block if it isn't that linebacker? It's almost like he was expecting the guy to stand still and wait to be pushed over. As the OLB hits the runner, the MLB also runs straight past Okung to join in the action. Again, who is Okung trying to block if it isn't the two linebackers on his side considering he's moved into the second level? Even if that's a blown assignment, surely he's got to get his hands on somebody? Just jogging into the second level and watching three guys run past you isn't good enough.

This wasn't the only example of an assignment mistake or simply a lack of effort. Frequently he didn't finish blocks, he's happy to engage but doesn't drive until the whistle and I want to see that from any lineman starting their career who are heading to the NFL to be top picks. Sometimes he was pushed back when trying to run block. I saw little evidence of an ability to handle complicated blocking assignments where he'll be forced to block off and pass guys off to a guard. He seemed to concentrate on blocking his man, which suggests to me he's a much better fit for a man scheme than one that uses zone.

I know that pass protection is the crown jewels when it comes to the NFL. No doubt that Okung is good in that area and for that reason, he's going to be drafted in round one. However, as a complete package I am in no way convinced he is a top ten pick. Maybe he will be, enough people are talking about him going in that area. Left tackle is second only to quarterback when it comes to premium positions in the pro's and in a weak class, Okung might get over drafted to a team badly needing to protect an expensive QB (Detroit? Tampa Bay?).

In a team with a solid O-line already, he should fit in nicely as a senior with some experience in the college game who pass protects quite well. That's the situation Michael Oher walked into with Baltimore and that would be an ideal kind of situation for Okung too. But if I had to predict where he should go in the draft, I'd say he's only a late first round pick at best. I still prefer Charles Brown (OT, USC) if he can add an extra 15lbs of bulk before the combine as my #1 senior tackle prospect.

To read resident scout Kyle Rota's thoughts on Okung, click here.


ivotuk said...

I have only caught glimpses of Okung but your description of him on the sidelines sounds like it matches Kipers description of "Fiery Blind side pass protector."

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out with the OTs but from what I have seen in Iowas games I am starting to like Bulaga. I've seen a bit of Charles Brown and liked what I saw there but very little of Okung, certainly not enough to formulate an opinion.

I've been reading and listening all over too for some diamond in the rough LT but they haven't materialized yet.

I saw the one mock with us taking somebody from Maryland but I think Rob mentioned that he had an injury history. I can't find anything on him at all.

You've got me all enthused now though! I was getting ready to go to bed because I have to get up for work at 05:00AM but now I'm going to watch the Iowa game I recorded and get my fill of Beluga, Beligerent, Balaga, whatever his name is :)

Rob Staton said...

Hi Ivotuk - hope you got to work OK! You'll have to take a nap in your lunch hour or something.

Bryan Bulaga is your man at Iowa. I've written about him on the blog a few times, because there was a four week stretch when Iowa were featured. Here's what I thought, let me know if you agree from what you saw.

I think in the college game he over powers a lot of his opponents. He's able to dominate a lot of the time because of his superior upper body strength. My concern is that whilst that can make him look good on Saturday's, is he going to be able to do the same against the bigger, faster lineman in the NFL and have any kind of success? He has struggled sometimes against the better pass rushers (Brandon Graham). I think his run blocking is very good though, so from a Seahawks perspective he'd make a very good option at right tackle.

However, I do think teams using a man scheme (Seattle use a zone blocking scheme) could target him quite early. Jake Long had similar question marks but ended up going first overall. I always thought he'd be an all-pro right tackle and a pretty average blind side guy. I haven't seen anything to change my mind on that one.

I think the same could be true of Bulaga.

As for Okung - the only 'fiery blind side pass protector' I saw was pre-game on the sidelines. There was none of that on the field.

1stHill said...

If you think Bulaga could be a perennial Pro Bowl player as a RT, where in the 1st round would you draft him?

Rob Staton said...

That was more a reference to Jake Long. I wouldn't necessarily label Bulaga as a 'perennial Pro Bowl player' at right tackle, but certainly (like Long) I think he's better suited to that side and will have greater success there. I'd probably grade him from Seattle's perspective (with the idea of playing him at RT) in the 20's at best.