In hopes of adding more color to the recruiting process, I've (with the help of the fearless Billy Gomilla) set out to analyze the prototype for each position LSU recruits. By examining past recruits, current players, as well as general scheme-fit ideals and modern football characteristics, we'll attempt to paint a picture of exactly what type of player Les Miles is looking for when he hits the recruiting trail. That being said...
Les Miles is an offensive line coach. Sure, he's the head coach, but almost any coach will tell you, that sort of positional flavor never leaves you. Miles played OL at Michigan. He coached it at Colorado and Michigan. His preference for a power-rushing attack is quite clearly, self-evident. Debate the merits of his philosophy all you'd like, but at a nuts and bolts level he prefers a grinding, wear-em-down style with an over-the-top passing attack.
We'll pick up the fried chicken and the discussion after the jump.
The idea is simple: beat the snot out of the other guy for three quarters, using all your depth, and your guys will be doing push-ups for joy in the 4th while their guys are hanging on for dear life.This is easier said than done. Beyond the array of skill position guys required to run the offense, the old cliche, "it all starts up front," comes to mind. To run a ground n pound you need a specific style of offensive lineman. Let's take a look at what Miles has done throughout his tenure thus far:
Ciron Black - 6'5, 315
Matt Allen - 6'3, 285
Steven Singleton - 6'3, 285
Mark Synder - 6'7, 270
Zhamal Thomas - 6'5, 335
Josh Dworaczyk - 6'5, 256
T-Bob Hebert, 6'3, 256
Jarvis Jones - 6'7, 250
Ernest McCoy - 6'5, 330
Cordian Hagans - 6'5, 300
Alex Hurst - 6'6, 312
P.J. Lonergan - 6'4, 288
Thomas Parson - 6'6, 270
Greg Shaw - 6'5, 267
Clay Spencer - 6'5, 285
Carneal Ainsworth - 6'4, 296
Chris Faulk - 6'6, 310
Stavion Lowe - 6'5, 294
Josh Williford - 6'7, 345
Elliot Porter - 6'4, 280
Evan Washington - 6'5, 290
Jonah Austin - 6'7, 305
La'El Colllins - 6'5, 285
Trai Turner - 6'5, 340
Corey White - 6'5, 280
Vadal Alexander - 6'6, 310
Derek Edinburgh - 6'8, 320
Fehoko Fanaika - 6'6, 340
Jerald Hawkins - 6'7, 285
The first thing that stands out is the height. No one listed under 6'3 (to be sure, T-Bob, amongst others actually is more 6'2, but even then the shorter guys are mostly C prospects).
Billy, judging by past results, when you are talking a prototypical Les Miles offensive lineman, based on size alone, what is Miles looking for?
While utilitarianism is still in play, Miles has shown a clear preference towards taller, longer-armed players at the offensive line positions. Honestly, that might be a trend nation-wide -- if you look at the recruiting rankings you see more and more interior linemen north of the 6-4 mark. Mostly, though, that's about long arms and the reach. Helps you get a good punch on a defensive lineman and keep them farther away from you as they go through their rush moves and counters. Think about palming your brother's forehead at arm's length while he took a swing at you. Same principle.
LSU hasn't been afraid to take players that have more of the prototypical tackle body type -- players like Herman Johnson, Josh Dworaczyk, Josh Williford or even La'El Collins, and move them inside, with a true center recruit every couple of years (which is a far more specialized position, for obvious reasons). Most likely, this is because Miles and Greg Studrawa see that as the best way to ensure the five best and most talented linemen are out there at all times, rather than a group that slopes from the bookends inward, which is the way a classic offensive line looks. The 2012 class features guys like Derek Edinburgh, Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Fehoko Fanaika, all of whom are listed at 6'6 or taller -- they won't all play tackle.
Height/length is definitely an attribute I see they value as well. Recruiting sites don't mention it, but I do wonder how often Miles and Stud measure and take into account arm length. It's a really, really important part of the position, as you mentioned. If a guy is 6'4, but has a 6'9 wingspan, he can probably play LT, though that's generally shorter than your typical "prototype." I think Miles loves that height on the outside. Every LT we've had under his watch has measured 6'4+. That's not just a Miles trend, though.
One thing to note is the evolution of entire linemen. Historically, your guards were big, powerful, plodding types that weren't athletic enough to play outside. But football is changing. DTs are becoming increasingly more athletic and capable of generating interior pass rush. To combat that, OL have to evolve into more athletic guys that can handle the speed these guys throw at teams. Further, and this is more NFL at this point, the really great QBs can generally avoid outside rush pretty well. But an interior guy pushing the pocket will give them fits. You now see offensive guards getting bigger contracts, because they have to be able to handle these interior defenders.
If you look at LSU's current roster, every player currently listed at guard is 6'5 or taller. Add that to the incoming guys you mentioned and it's a lot of height at a position where the old position was to take shorter, squattier types for leverage purposes. We've taken a couple tall, thin guys and added bulk to their frames (Josh D., . But, we've mostly taken some tall, thick guys and reformed them to better weight (Hurst, Williford, Turner, etc.). It seems this is the preferred approach and I would guess because it's probably easier to cut bad weight and add muscle than it is for someone to add 35 pounds of muscle and be ready to play in a year or two.
I'm pretty sure arm-length is a factor as much as anything. Neither Chris Faulk nor Collins are quite as tall as what we've come to think of as the ideal left tackle, and neither was Ciron Black. But they all had very long arms -- and in Faulk's case massive hands as well.
So we're on the same page with the physical attributes now, I want to delve into the second thing you mentioned: demeanor.
Does Les Miles have a Nastiness Quiz? He should get it as a licensed exam. It seems to be his major pre-requisite. When I watch tape of the guys we recruit, rarely do we pursue guys that get the label "soft." That's not to say we only recruit strong "finishers" (Joe Barksdale was never really a "put his ass in the dirt" type of player), but we typically hone in on those guys that love to grind. This can be exceptionally difficult to evaluate. Let's face it, most of the OL we recruit are gonna be the biggest, baddest ass dude at their high school, if not in their district. It's a lot easier to be a "tough guy" when you have 40 pounds on everyone and loads of natural strength. But what about when you get to LSU and realize the other guy across from you is the same size... except it ain't fat, it's muscle and he's a bigger, bad asser player? Can you still grind? Do you still have that edge? I'd be curious to see how (or even if) this is something they attempt to evaluate. I would guess you just have to gamble by what's on tape.
I think that while athleticism is obviously a key, Miles and Stud want to see nasty, mean motherfuckers. It's no secret that great offensive linemen are never afraid to skirt the rules, if not openly break them, to do their job, and don't consider a block finished until a defender is on the ground. That's a big reason LSU recruited lesser-known prospects like Alex Hurst and Williford (neither of whom had scholarship offers from their home-state schools), and part of why players like Lyle Hitt and Carnell Stewart started.
As far as evaluation, its probably as multifaceted as anything else. Film, talking to the kid, seeing him at camp, talking to his coach. Honestly as much as the word is stigmatized I think the staff probably looks to see if a linemen has a bit of "bully" in him. That, coupled with the typically obvious "good teammate" traits you want in your linemen, are probably the biggest mental keys you look for.
So we've got the size, we've got the demeanor, what about athletic traits. One thing we're seeing which is interesting is that Miles uses a hodge-podge of offensive styles and blocking schemes. We deployed a bajillion running backs last year, and none of them specifically to one formation or play. With that comes flexible and different blocking schemes. We've run zone blocking schemes, we've run man, we run traps and pulls and we run student body rights and lefts and classic down blocking techniques too.
On tape, a lot of the guys we look at can and do pull quite a bit in HS. I think it's important to Miles that his guys have that ability. He wants them big and strong, but he wants them mobile too. Conversely, I'm not sure Miles worries as much about knee bend as some others might. What do you think?
I think it starts with feet (Rex Ryan agrees with me) -- the coaches want players that can keep them on the move, and move quickly with the athletic defensive linemen the SEC is known for. The timing that zone blocking is known for starts there -- it's all about a line stepping together and in-time. And if a player has quick enough feet you can develop some of the other qualities, at least to some extent. Players can get bigger and stronger in the weight room, but a player with good footwork and leg drive will have a lot more functional strength on the field. Knee bend is one of those flexibility things that I have no doubt the coaches look for, but just be tough to find. It's kind of like size in a cornerback -- every coach wants that 6-6, 330-pounder that can really get low, but they don't grow on trees. If a guy has the footwork though, you can work with the rest.
It's all about balancing that with the need for big bodies. A guy like Williford is a great example -- I'm not so sure he dominates in agility drills, but up close and personal, he can push anybody around. And that's what offensive line play is all about.
This really gets to the heart of the difficulties of recruiting. At any level of evaluation, most every prospect comes with distinct sets of strengths and weaknesses. Quite obviously you want to recruit/evaluate to best scheme fit. For example, Rich Rodriguez wouldn't have near the interest in a big, plodding OT as say, Alabama, because his scheme requires more agility/movement than pure man-on-man power blocking. But this also ties back to the multi-scheme approach Les has taken. Obviously every coach, as you mentioned, wants the huge guy that can move like a LB but is as strong as 0-tech DT. Trouble is, there's like 3 of those... in the world.
So, if you had to guess, what would be the closest to the ideal for Les? To me, it's a guy like Josh Boutte. Tall, on the leaner side, natural strength, but can really move around too.
Another point worth mentioning, but another reason why coaches like Rodriguez or Chip Kelly tend to favor slightly undersized linemen is that they also want to play an up-tempo offense and that puts a premium on conditioning. It's a whole lot easier for a 285-to-300-pound guy to pick himself up and sprint to the line for a play every 10-15 seconds than it is for a 330-pounder. One could argue that has been something of an issue for some spread teams when they've run into bigger, stronger defensive lines. Oregon, in particular, entered the LSU game last season thinking they'd be able to out-condition the bigger, stronger Tigers, and that just wasn't the case.
I think that's a good point on Boutte, and at a glance in his highlights, he shows a lot of the traits LSU has sought out in the past. It's probably no coincidence that he's been performing well on the camp circuit, and is likely to get a bump in the recruiting rankings.
Boutte was a nobody when we offered, but after watching his tape I knew he was a great get. Kids just don't dominate the competition like he did without having a ton of ability. And he really moves well for his size.
When you really measure it up, Boutte is pretty similar to La'El Collins. Not sure on arm length, but both are taller, leaner, naturally strong and relentless. The difference right now is that most everyone projects Boutte to the inside while Collins was always considered a top-flight LT prospect.It should be interesting to see how opinions morph on Boutte (more importantly what the coaches think when he gets here) as the season wears on.
On tape, there's a lot to look for. Size is estimable at best, as most legit D1 OL recruits tower above their competition. From there, I attempt to evaluate what they look like athletically. Do they bend their knees to get into a stance or their waist? Can they get out of their stance explosively? How well do they move on pulls and traps (or do their coaches even let them do that at all)? How do they use their hands? Can they latch on and drive? Do they "catch" or "punch" in pass protection? Do they play with good leverage or too high (too high is pretty much expected from taller HS OL prospects)? And, perhaps most importantly, do they put asses in dirt? That's what I look for.
What do you guys think Les Miles and Studrawa value in OL prospects?