By Kip Earlywine
To keep this scouting report from being unreadable, I decided to break it down into 3 parts: 2009 performance, 2008 performance, and overall evaluation. Today I'm going to report on my observations from two 2009 games, the opener against Georgia, and the final game of Russell Okung's college career, a loss in the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss.
(edit- still working on the gif problem.)
September 5th, 2009. Georgia at Oklahoma State
Areas of strength:
Okung has great tools and he knows how to use them to their full advantage. Particularly his long, long arms (36"). When he correctly delivers an inside punch and gets proper arm position, its game over for pass rushers. His lateral steps are fast and allow him to contain edge rushers or push them outside on runs. Okung used this agility to his advantage to expertly angle block defensive ends out of the running lanes.
Now granted, that's the easiest block in the book- the DE runs himself out of the play by charging upfield and Okung simply acts as a chaperon. Still, in full speed (these gifs are about 3/4 speed), I couldn't help but notice how explosive Okung's lateral footwork looked on plays like this.
Okung has strong hips which allow him to win with second effort in drive blocking. His excellent lateral agility allows him to angle block effectively, and allows him to get both inside and (the hard one) outside DEs on off tackle rush attempts.
Okung left the game with injury in the 2nd quarter, but showed good toughness. He only missed two plays, and actually played better the rest of the game after the injury.
Okung is not that great at reaching LBs, but when he does, he's solid at sticking to his 2nd level blocks.
Okung is solid as a rock in pass pro. His footwork moving straight back is textbook. As mentioned earlier, his arms make his job very easy here and on top of that, Okung is explosive laterally which makes him very hard to beat against edge rushers. If Okung is beaten either outside or with an inside move, its always due to a mental error and not for lack of physical ability.
Other than Geno Atkins, Georgia's pass rush wasn't too challenging, but credit Okung, he allowed no sacks, only 1 pressure and had only 1 penalty, a false start from forgetting the snap count.
Areas of weakness:
Okung played most of this game in a two point stance, which both hurt his drive blocking substantially and often served to telegraph "run" when he did enter a 3 point stance. And that leads me to perhaps Okung's biggest shortcoming, he's a stonewall machine when he drive blocks, at least in this game. Repeatedly, OSU turned to Okung in short yardage situations, and repeatedly he failed to drive his man. Through the benefits of some shady ball placement, OSU lucked out, but unless things change, Okung does not look like the kind of guy you want to be running over on 4th and 2. Okung does have good second effort, but its not like its there every play and his initial "thump" on drive blocking was non-existent here.
Another weakness for Okung is that while he has impressive lateral agility, his inline running ability is poor. He's just too slow to be a good pull blocker or second level blocker. Not only that, but he takes bad angles and lacks instincts. The team only had Okung pull block a couple times, and each of them resulted in a line of scrimmage stuff, precisely because Okung failed to pull effectively. Okung had a handful of LB blocks that were successful, but I would guess 70% of them ended in failure. I'm more forgiving in the LB blocking area- because blocking LBs is tough to do and even the best at it still fail to accomplish it every time. LB's are simply faster than offensive linemen are and can only be reached in certain circumstances. Maybe I'm biased in Okung's favor here because when I played, I sucked at this too. Still, there were plenty of times that Okung missed make-able 2nd level blocks or looked confused as to who he was supposed to go for. Here is one such example.
Okung attempted only one cut block, and it was about as ugly as a (just barely) successful cut block can be. Not enough sample size yet, but considering how rare the team had Okung cut-block, I'd say its an area for Gibbs to work on.
Okung's run blocking leverage was pretty bad, and probably had a lot to do with all the stonewalls in the run game. The constant use of a 2 point stance probably didn't help him much here.
Okung has terrible hand placement, and repeatedly got the superstar treatment with holds. He could have been called for holding 5 times in this game, but was never flagged. Any time an offensive linemen places his hands on a defenders shoulders or back, he's eligible to be flagged. Okung did this constantly, and even got away with one play were he grabbed a defender's back shoulder. Okung won't continue to get the superstar treatment in the pros. We saw what happened with Marcus Trufant when officials stopped giving him the treatment. Obviously, this needs to be fixed. Thankfully, its easy to, and I have full confidence that Gibbs can break this habit in no time. Okung is just as effective if not more so when he has his hands inside where they belong. He just needs a tenacious coach to slap his hands down like a catholic school nun when he uses them improperly in practices.
January 2nd, 2010. Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State
Before I begin discussing Okung's 2nd game, let me say that he looked vastly improved compared to his first game against Georgia. For one thing, he stuck to a consistent 3 point stance this time, and wow, and yes I actually said "wow," for such a big man he gets extremely low in that stance and stays low when he fires off. The result was dramatically improved leverage and improved drive blocking overall. He still had a few stonewalls, but when the game was on the line, he did his job this time. Sadly, his RBs didn't reward his effort and Zac Robinson continued to be horrible (Robinson looked really bad in both games, especially the 2nd one). Okung was pumped for this game and showed a higher level of intensity not displayed before. Okung was perhaps too jacked and that led to several ugly mental errors, but overall, I was highly impressed. Also, Jevan Snead was amazingly bad. Its not hard to see how he went undrafted after watching this game.
Areas of strength:
Leverage and drive blocking, as mentioned above.
Okung's knee bend, which was already good, was even better than before. At times Okung was coming close to a 90 degree bend.
On third and goal from inside the 2, OSU moved Okung to RT and ran over him. The play failed to score, but Okung did his job. Okung was uncharacteristically firey and yelled at his teammates to get the job done on 4th down.
Okung stayed at left tackle this time, and had his best drive block of the night, pancaking his man (by using extremely good leverage) and briefly collapsing the defensive line. The hole closed extremely quickly though, and the RB arrived just a hair too late. It was another short yardage failure by OSU, but this time, Okung deserves absolutely no blame for it.
Okung's hand use is improved. He does a much better job of getting his hands inside. He still likes to grab, but if you grab inside with long arms to lock the defender in place, and you won't get called for it usually because it looks honest in real time.
Okung displayed more good angle blocking, including a nice block in which he pinched a defensive end inside.
That's not easy to do and requires ridiculous quickness. 4-3 defensive ends have a few crucial responsibilities, and one of the biggest is outside contain. That's why its so easy to give them the outside and sweep them up-field as I showed in a previous .gif. However, being agile enough to jump outside a DE's shoulder and turn them inside is really hard to do, because a DE is almost always trying specifically to prevent that and has a lot of advantages (positioning, quickness) that usually prevent it from happening. Typically on a running play like this, a tackle will directly engage and try to drive the DE back after failing to turn the corner, but in this case, Okung is lightning quick laterally and successfully turns #40 inside. There were a couple of other nice blocks too, and the result was a nice outside rush for 8 yards on 1st and 15.
Areas of weakness:
Okung played a great game, making fewer mistakes overall. However, he actually made more "impact" mistakes in this game than in the Georgia game.
Okung blows an easy blocking assignment on a screen. Once again, Okung shows he's not very instinctive when he has to find someone to block on the fly, and in this case, it was a very easy block to make that he just doesn't see. If he makes this block, its probably a 20-30 yard play. Instead, it goes for a loss.
Okung did not allow a sack, but made 3 mistakes in pass pro. One resulted in a hurry pass for an incompletion, one resulted in a near sack and tipped pass that should have been intercepted, and the third one resulted in Zac Robinson taking a monster hit, forcing a rushed throw (incompletion).
Robinson is clearly in pain after getting up from the hit. The very next play, a visibly shaken Robinson throws an ugly interception. This play was weird and its appears that Okung may have run the wrong play here.
Overall, from what I've seen so far, Okung is a decent run blocker and great pass blocker. He simply isn't beaten in pass pro- but he is fully capable of beating himself as you can see above. Its noteworthy that Greg Hardy played in this game but basically registered no stats. Through two games, I've been impressed with Okung in pass pro, with mental errors being the only thing holding him back. Other than a handful of mental mistakes, Okung was remarkably consistent and dependable as a blindside protector.