Shortly after I joined Seahawks Draft Blog, I did a three part series which explored the meaning of a zone blocking running game and a zone offensive line at large.
This time, I'd like to share some more specific details about the kind of things Alex Gibbs looks for when building his offensive lines and running games. I found a very informative article on zone blocking posted last year at Tomahawk Nation. I won't rehash the whole thing, but there are some important Alex Gibbs quotes I'd like to share with everyone:
Gibbs on the running game in general:
"WE WANT NO NEGATIVES! We look at pass as yes/ no, big/ little, big plays and zero plays (w/ negatives). Out of a certain number of passes, we expect a certain number of failures. That is the nature of the passing game.Gibbs' specific requirements for his linemen:
But the run game the exact opposite. We want NO negatives. We do not want to run plays that are big/ little, even at the expense of big plays, we do not want it. We want the system where even the "bad" play gains something. The entire objective is to stay out of 3rd and long. We throw out the run plays with which we cannot consistently avoid negatives.
Screw averages. We want medians. The back might average 7 yards per carry, but how often did he get stuffed and put us in 3rd and 10, causing a turnover.
And we do this by eliminating penetration and running a limited number of plays to perfection."
Gibbs on intangibles:
"Above all, we want guys who want play so bad they could die. We want guys who can run, who are athletic, who have "recoverability", but who maybe lacks bulk and strength. Maybe doesn't know what his body is about yet. We want guys who are going to take advantage of that redshirt year.
TACKLES: Tall, length, maybe no basic strength, but he can run, and we're willing to let him add that power. 6'5 1/2" is usually the max we want.
GUARDS & CENTERS: height and length doesn't mean ****. Marginal height, but plays with great leverage. "LOW WAISTED" (long torso short legs), with leverage under our bodies. Healthier by not being heavy. RARE for them to play early. Nobody over 6'3". My center must be football brilliant.
Very intelligent on the inside. The "test score limit would SCARE YOU." We make calls from the inside out (centers call guards, guards tell tackles what to do, tackles tell tight ends what to do. Thus, there's a chain of decreasing responsibility)
No introverts for any position (communication. Low power-distance culture guys between each other and the coach).
All of them must have the ability to step laterally while keeping their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage (or risk allowing penetration).
Injury history is very important. don't want guys who miss games, because of the importance of continuity. 4 of the 5 usually get offseason surgery. NO EGO. INSIDE 3 must be brilliant. Huge amount of time is spent on these guys making decisions. Guards must be able to decipher intricate details from the opponent's stance.
But, there is a minimum threshold of strength that a guy must have. Cannot have guys who get driven back."
"Your group and your chemistry is more important then your plays. The ability to get the guys to function as a unit is paramount and is often not achieved. I don't get Christmas cards, but I do get handshakes and head nods. Been to a lot of topless bars with my guys. I did whatever it took to get these guys comfortable with each other and with me. My guys talk all the time. They are closer with the guy next to them than they are with their wives.
Experience is absolutely crucial. Even in the NFL, I'll take our draft picks and put them on our scout team for two years before they can play for us, and these are guys we drafted because we think they fit our system!"
Well, that's a lot to take in, with my first thought being... Alex Gibbs took his guys out to topless bars? Awesome.
Quotes 1 and 3 are fairly in line with conventional wisdom. The running game is not usually a weapon- its a tool to help open up the passing game and set up favorable down and distance. Chemistry is obviously a big part of any line, especially a zone system which is so interdependent and places a higher emphasis on interior line success (which bolsters the all important inside running game).
However, the 2nd quote on offensive line measurables is pretty eye opening. Lets review:
High desire for the game: Among first round tackles, you could safely put Brian Bulaga and Charles Brown on this list. (As a guard, Mike Iupati would qualify as well). Trent Williams, Russell Okung, and Bruce Campbell may or may not qualify. Anthony Davis probably doesn't qualify given his work ethic and weight issues.
Size? No more than 6'5 1/2." Actually, all of the 1st round Tackles meet this requirement. Bruce Campbell is 6'6," but that's pretty close. However, after the first round this causes some conflicts. Jason Fox is 6'7." Sam Young and Jared Veldheer are 6'8." My favorite late round option, Chris Marinelli, is 6'7." After the first round, if the Seahawks stay true to this requirement, it will significantly limit some of their best mid-late round options. Though Gibbs teams tend to shy away from 1st round linemen, its going to be extremely difficult to find a starting left tackle after the 1st with these constraints.
Size? No more than 6'3." If strictly enforced, this eliminates Mike Iupati (6'5") and Mike Johnson (6'6") right there- arguably the two best zone guards in the draft. Only 1 guard projected to go in the first 4 rounds fits this requirement- Mitch Petrus of Arkansas (6'3"). The next best guard to fit this requirement? Shawn Lauvao (6'2"). Petrus is a probable mid rounder and Lauvao could potentially go undrafted. Among existing G/C's, Sims, Spencer, and Gibson are all 6'3," but Max Unger is 6'5." Hmm...
Rookie starter? "RARE." Expect any guard drafted by Seattle to be unlikely to start right away. The team will likely explore veteran options first and plug in a rookie as a last resort or if they put in a highly impressive preseason.
Intelligence? "My center must be football brilliant." This would seem to put Chris Spencer at a perceived disadvantage given his errors and occasional snap count and adjustment issues (although, just my 2 cents, I think those issues are overblown by some fans). Max Unger seems to fit his qualification, but he's also only a 2nd year player and struggled as a rookie.
All offensive line positions:
"No introverts. No EGOS." This probably explains why Gibbs teams take 1st round offensive lineman so rarely, because of the sense of entitlement and ego that inevitably accompanies a huge contract with many millions guaranteed.
Lateral step. A basic requirement. All of the 1st round tackles, except perhaps Anthony Davis, get a passing grade on this one, IMO.
Injury history. Durability is a huge deal. This probably eliminates Bruce Campbell, and maybe Jason Fox depending on the status of his knee and heart condition.
"Inside 3 must be brilliant." If we retain Sims, we actually have a pretty good interior right now. Still, I expect the team to add a veteran RG and probably add a guard either late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent.
Strength. It doesn't matter, until it becomes a liability.
After taking all of this in, I can't escape the fact that the Seahawks almost have to select a 1st round tackle in this draft. The options that fit all of these criteria, while also having the ability to contribute right away are few and far between. Charles Brown could be considered at #14 and Brian Bulaga could be considered even at #6.
This also probably rules out Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell.
As far as interior linemen go, don't expect us to take one before the 4th round, and don't expect them to start as rookies. That seeming display of apathy is ironic given that interior linemen play such a crucial role in a zone system, but if Gibbs stays true to his principles, that's the kind of approach we can expect.