*bear with me for through my bit of drunken non-creativity
"It all starts up front," the old man bristled, taking a long, slow drag from his Winston and a thick, gulpy swig off his Miller Genuine Draft, a combination that could only be palatable to the most insatiable of football fans.
"Well, if you have Tom Brady..." I start to challenge, before he cuts me off.
"Rubbish. The media talks up Tom. Just like they talk up Bill. But guess who has been there longer than both of 'em. Dante Scarnecchia. Never heard of 'em? Sounds about rite. OL coach. All guts and gristle and accomplishment, no praise and trophies and awards," he says, dragging out the last of his Winston before butting it out in the ash tray in front of him.
"So you think Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are nothing without Dante Scarface-e-ah?" I stammer.
"Bullet points on a resume. That's all they are," he bellows, confident, un-mistaken.
He's old and smart enough to know an obscure NFL assistant, so the deferential part of my personality takes over and I concede, rather than arguing.
It's a refrain you've either heard, argued, or argued against before. "It all starts up front."
Much like, "Defense wins championships;" it's the sorta of bland saying that is so overly generalized as that can't be argued against... "Yeah, but..." only falls on deaf ears. As if every team that's ever won any game features a stout offensive line. It's also the least quantifiable position on the entire field. Even as we seek to add numbers and analysis, it's still frustratingly difficult to place in proper context for pretty much everyone. A successful block isn't always a good block. Your star QB goes down and you are absolutely sure the LG blew it. Turns out the center called the assignment wrong and the LG blocked it right anyway. LG under the bus for all to see, when in reality it's zero fault of his.
In reality, it's a big, complicated mess that, much like virtually everything in modern media, is inadequately summarized, "It all starts up front." Because it all starts up front until you have a QB that is mobile enough to dodge pass rushers and keep big plays alive. Because it all starts up front until you have a superstar genius QB that can get rid of the ball in less than three seconds and turn your left tackles into Pro Bowlers routinely.
It all starts up front is the sort of myth-building dialogue that carries as much weight as, "You can't win without a quarterback," and "Defense wins championships."
But... it certainly doesn't help.
LSU makes it's living on the fertile recruiting grounds of the Southeast. There's really no two ways about it. I haven't run the numbers, but I'd be willing to wager my dog on the fact that at least 85% of LSU's recruiting classes from the past 10 years are comprised of players from the Southeast. Of course, the bulk of those are Louisianans, but the point is, they aren't ones to venture out, much. We are not Michigan or Tennessee, who extend national recruiting landscapes to reel in the very best.
Yet, in recent years the borders are extending. Players from the Midwest, West Coast, and even Northeast keep finding themselves in Baton Rouge, something we can most directly attribute to the abundance of nationally televised games we've earned the right to play on a week-to-week basis.
In that extended group would be Ethan Pocic, from Lemont, Illinois. My unresearched guess is that Pocic is the very first player from Lemont, Illinois in LSU history. It's early yet to suggest a trend, but worth noting that the much-maligned Greg Studrawa continues to do recruiting work in the Midwest, landing Spencer Ware and now Ethan Pocic. Superstar recruit Clifton Garrett waits in the wings as well (the obvious thought here is that we have some sort of a connection to someone in the Core 6 training family).
Back to Pocic. He's a 6'7, 300-pound wildebeast. Pocic committed in May of last year and never wavered, despite boasting offers from college football's elite across the country. He said no to local favorites like Michigan and Ohio State, spurned Alabama and Oregon and Oklahoma to come to LSU. In an age when recruits milk the process for all the attention they can, Pocic ended it early, enrolled in January and never made much of a hullabaloo. In short, he acted like an offensive lineman.
For many of the above reasons, evaluating HS offensive line tape is difficult. I usually spend more time looking at raw abilities than things such as technique. The reason being is that most HS kids aren't taught adequately and they'll receive a much higher level of coaching in college, so I don't find it useful to hold it against a player. Much like a job interview, I'm looking for the relevant skills here with the understanding that I can and will teach the person the job specifics.
What I Like
Now, there's a few skills I love to see from prospective offensive linemen. First and foremost are finishers. Blocking, in its simplest sense, is effort and angles. Guys that release blocks early, fail to finish off inferior opponents, or just generally exhibit laziness won't do well in my film room. It's one of the things that made/makes La'El Collins so special. He put people into the ground... over and over and over again. I see that same quality in Ethan Pocic. The film starts with his pancakes, so you can check the :18 mark to get a full dose of what I'm saying. Pocic blocks his man until either the play is over or his man is defeated. I especially love that he has the wherewithal to peel off his blocked foes and pick up others, such as at the :30 mark. Sure he didn't wind up doing much other damage, but the effort and mindset are there.
His finishing ability also illustrates the unusual upper body strength Pocic brings to the table. At 6'7" most kids come in long but not overly strong. Typically we're talking about a year of adding weight and strength before most tall OL prospects are ready to play college football. Pocic is one of the rare cases where his frame and strength are already college ready. Of course he won't be as strong as 5th year senior, but he's well above average for his age. The fact that he enrolled early is only all the more promising (more on this later). Watch his block at the 3:50 mark to see an example of the strength. After engaging and driving the defender with his legs, he finishes off the block by tossing the guy aside.
All of this combined turns into a level of nastiness that can really take him to the next level. But he's not just a "muddy blocker" (a term I just came up with to describe OL with a lot of grit and effort but lack of physical talent). Pocic is a pretty outstanding athlete. Check the 7:03 mark. That's a fine example of his strength, balance and footwork as he completely stabilizes the oncoming pass rusher. On his pass blocking reel you can also see his long arms, and these characteristics make him a potential left tackle of the future, which makes him a unique asset for LSU, because he's at least one year away from even learning LT. LT tackle skills in an interior lineman is a deadly combination.
What I Dislike
There's not a ton here. Pocic brings with him many of the issues that tall OL bring. He plays too upright. He's going to need to learn how to properly anchor in pass pro. Watch the clips at 7:19, 7:25, and 7:40. He's able to sustain those blocks in HS, but you'll notice his upper body gets out in front of his lower body fairly regularly. In college, that's a face plant waiting to happen. Bigger, stronger, more athletic DL will use that forward lean to propel him out of sight and out of mind. The correction to make here is for him to learn to sink his hips and ass to the ground (to "anchor").
Ditto with his general leverage in the run game. He fires off quickly, but often a little high. Again, this is a pretty common malady with taller OL.
What I Don't Know
There's only a couple examples of Pocic getting out on screens, 6:46, and he doesn't look the most comfortable in that aspect of the game. Some guys are very natural and smooth when it comes to pulling or getting out into space. I don't see that in Pocic, but I do think he's an above average athlete that can acquire the trade skills necessary to be proficient.
One thing that gives me optimism in this regard is that he's strong with his feet chop in pass blocking. Sounds silly, but the fact that he's not "heavy footed" shows he's probably a bit more nimble than we see on the HS tape.
Pocic getting on campus early bodes well for LSU. As I mentioned before, he's already got a college ready body, and the extra months of working out with the team will only build upon that. Just take a look at this video to get an idea of how big this kid is. He looks more like an upperclassmen than a true freshman.
The interesting thing thus far is that Pocic is being trained as a center. Now, there's a few things we can take away from this. Perhaps the staff doesn't have a ton of confidence in Elliott Porter, the assumed starter. Porter has been around LSU for a while, but he's battled injuries and he's not played significant minutes due to the presence of P.J. Lonergan. Pocic is without a doubt, more physically talented, but Porter profiles much more like your class center (shorter, stockier). The other issue here is that there's not great depth behind Porter. In fact, Pocic is already the back-up center. This could merely be an issue of trying to support depth across the line, since we're already strong at tackle (Pocic's presumed eventual landing place) and guard (another option for him).
The other thing is that the interior line is even more of a low man's game than tackle and by forcing Pocic to learn there, they are correcting some of his bad habits I discussed above.
No matter the scenario or explanation, it's abundantly clear that Pocic is being prepared to play in 2013. The odds of him getting a redshirt are extremely slim. He's not the type of talent that will be around for four years, so no reason to waste a year with him watching.
I think Pocic will be seeing meaningful snaps perhaps as early as TCU. My personal ideal is that he grows into the LG position. I'm not in love with Josh Williford. I think Pocic is likely already the back-up OC and OG, and at the moment may be that swing lineman role we saw T-Bob Hebert play in years past.... but I think it's only a matter of time before talent wins out. The coaches may not feel comfortable trotting him out there as a starter against TCU, and opt for the experience of Williford (or some re-configuration of the OL), but don't be surprised at all if he's playing in that game.
High End: All-American. I think he's that good.
Low End: Solid two-year starter. This assumes he never takes a starting job this season, but grows into one by 2014, then starts again in 2015 before leaving for the draft. Again, I have very high expectations.
Realistic End: I really don't see Pocic sticking around LSU for four years. Not only does he bring the recruiting hype, he's impressed the coaches through the Spring and Summer workouts. We have something special here on our hands. I see him easing into a starting role this season, then potentially shifting right away to LT or transitioning to LG while Jerald Hawkins assumes the LT position. Pocic has all the makings of a multi-year starter at LSU.