For most teams in today's pass-happy NFL, the left tackle position along the offensive line is one of the most important.
At the NFL Combine, offensive line prospects have the ability to defend a pass rush coming around the edge tested in the kick-slide drill. A video from NFL.com (found under the "position drills" tab) paints the picture of this oft-used move in protecting a quarterback from defensive ends or corner blitzes.
The drill is done beginning from both a two- and three-point stance, as the "kick-slide" refers to an offensive lineman's backward shuffling of the feet in response to an oncoming rush and his subsequent ability to keep the defender out of the pocket and away from the quarterback.
With a defensive lineman lined up across from them, the offensive linemen begin the drill with a cone standing about 12 yards behind and slightly on the inside, similar to a quarterback's position in the pocket. From either stance, the goal for the offensive lineman is to pop up quickly and begin to kick-slide back. A good position in this drill looks similar to a defensive stance in basketball, with bent knees and lowered hips for better leverage.
The offensive linemen use their hands to keep the defender at bay until they even out on the field. Then, the key is to turn the defensive player outside, forcing his past the cone and effectively out of the play. Doing this greatly increases the chances of keeping a pocket clean.
NFL scouts look for a player's skill in first getting out of his stance quick, then transitioning into the kick-slide and finishing off the drill by guiding the opposition to the outside and away from the play.
The offensive linemen are all either in Group 1 or Group 2, the first groups to arrive in Indianapolis. The group arrives on Wednesday to go through orientation as well as a pre-exam, X-rays and some interviews. On Thursday, the group will go through media interviews, team interviews and their scheduled medical evaluations. On Friday, the offensive linemen will go through an NFLPA meeting, psychological tests and perform the bench press. Saturday is set aside for the on-field drills outlined above.
Players to watch:
The offensive line group is somewhat top heavy. Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma are the top three offensive tackles in the class and all figure to come off the board in the first half of round one. Alabama's Chance Warmack and UNC's Jonathan Cooper, meanwhile, are the two best guards in this class by a long shot. Both have a shot at the first round:
Other offensive linemen to watch:
- Menelik Watson, Offensive Tackle, Florida State
- Kyle Long, Guard/Tackle, Oregon
- Travis Frederick, Center, Wisonsin
- Justin Pugh, Offensive Tackle, Syracuse
More and more teams are looking for athletic players at all positions on the offensive line. This year's crop has plenty of solid athletes, especially inside. After the first round, the offensive line class becomes tough to project, but there is plenty of talent deep into the late rounds.