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Muench's Trenches: One player vs. one line

10/25/2013


South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney recorded five tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and was credited with two quarterback hurries in the Gamecocks' 23-21 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 19. The fact that he made a fringe first-round pick in LT Antonio Richardson look bad at times in the process makes the performance that much more notable.

The difference in quickness between the two showed up early and often. Richardson struggled to redirect and counter when Clowney shot inside regardless of the play call. He had a tough time getting his hands on Clowney on running plays in particular. Offensive linemen get into trouble when they are overaggressive at the cost of sound footwork and Richardson got caught lunging too much. Clowney used his quick feet and hands to slip the block when Richardson got caught off balance. Clowney also did a nice job of keeping outside leverage and setting the edge when Richardson tried to seal him inside on perimeter runs.

This tape gives teams reason to hesitate drafting Richardson with the intention of having him protect their quarterback's blind side. But there's a reason Clowney is the top overall prospect on our board and it wasn't all bad for Richardson, who got set quickly and made it tough for Clowney to turn the corner in pass protection. He flashed above-average upper-body strength and sustained when he was able to lock onto Clowney's frame. While Clowney got the better of him this time around, Richardson still has the size, strength and toughness to push for early playing time at the next level. He's just a better fit on the right side than the left unless he plays for a team that starts a left-hander at quarterback.

Here's a look at three trench matchups that jump out at me heading into Week 9. Remember defenders frequently move around. Even though these players won't butt heads on every snap it will be productive to watch when they do.

Ohio State's offensive line vs. Penn State DT DaQuan Jones

The 6-3, 318-pound Jones is listed at defensive tackle on Penn State's depth chart, he sees plenty of time at defensive tackle and he'll likely play there in the NFL. Yet locating him on last week's Michigan tape is like playing a game of "Where's Waldo?" He lined up at defensive tackle, nose tackle and defensive end. Here's how he matches up with an Ohio State offensive line that starts four seniors.

Projected third-round pick left tackle Jack Mewhort and true sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker are capable of getting into position and staying in front of Jones in pass protection. While they may give ground at times they do a nice job of recovering and anchoring against power rushes for the most part. They'll face a much tougher challenge trying to move him off the ball in the run game. If they don't stay low, Jones has the core strength to push them into the backfield and make it a lot harder for the Buckeyes' ball carriers to turn the corner on perimeter runs.

Look for Ohio State to double Jones a fair amount when he lines up on the inside. Center Corey Linsley, left guard Andrew Norwell and right ffensive guard Marcus Hall work to get into sound position on double-teams in the run game and will look to help one another in pass protection when Penn State rushes four or fewer. On the other hand, the whole is better than the sum of the parts and all three will have their hands full if and when they are asked to match up one-on-one. None of them have the power base to drive him off the ball and all tend to lean on defenders. This is a concern because Jones has the quick hands to shed top-heavy offensive linemen.

Finally, Jones can give ground to double-teams when he plays high but he also shows the ability to hold his ground and keep blockers off his linebackers when he stays low, so keep an eye on his pad level when he does get doubled.

Stanford OT Andrus Peat vs. Oregon State DE Scott Crichton

Crichton projects as an early second-round pick and could move into the first round before it's all said and done. He's tied for second in the Pac-12 with 10 tackles for loss and the Cal tape from last week is an excellent example of what he brings to the table. His greatest attribute is his motor. He's relentless whether he's chasing the run or rushing the passer. At 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, he keeps his pads down and has above-average core strength, making it tough to move him off the ball when he isn't shooting gaps and disrupting plays in the backfield. He uses his hands well and flashes above-average speed to power rushing the passer. There's also a lot to like about the way he gets his hands up in passing lanes as he did against the Bears.

As much respect as I have for Crichton's game, it's tough not to give the overall edge to Peat after watching him mix it up with projected first-round pick OLB Anthony Barr and projected Day 3 pick DE Cassius Marsh in the Cardinal's 24-10 win over UCLA. Peat is a true sophomore so he's not draft eligible, and there are aspects of his game he can clean up. He takes the occasional false step, plays a little high and doesn't always play with an edge, though he flashes the ability to put defenders flat on their backs. The foot speed and body control he showed in pass protection working against Barr coupled with the brute strength he showed as a drive-blocker against Marsh was nothing short of impressive. I'm excited to keep tabs on Peat's continued development under offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren during the rest of his time at Stanford.

Virginia OT Morgan Moses vs. Georgia Tech DE/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu

At 6-6 and 335 pounds Moses has all the physical tools NFL teams value in tackle prospects including length, bulk, strength and foot speed. Few players with his size move as well as he does on film. He has the edge when it comes to the ground game because he has close to a 90-pound size advantage and unlike a lot of offensive tackles he's quick enough to reach Attaochu. There are two facets of his run blocking to keep an eye on nonetheless and the first is his ability to sustain. He tends to play high and lean instead of sinking his hips and maintaining a wide base. Attaochu is a decent hand fighter with enough balance and upper-body strength to get off blocks even when he gives ground initially. The second is Moses' aggressiveness and effort. He plays with an edge on some snaps but he's not a four-quarter brawler who blocks through the whistle on every snap.

It shouldn't come as surprise that Moses is capable of sticking with Attaochu in pass protection considering his natural ability. Moses' inconsistent footwork is a concern. He doesn't always get enough width with his kick step and he can stop moving his feet on contact. Attaochu has the burst to take advantage when Moses gives him the edge and Attaochu does a nice job of getting offensive tackles to commit to the outside before quickly redirecting inside.