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The Weekly Lineman: Clarke improves, Ogbuehi struggles in preseason opener

In the first edition of The Weekly Lineman, where we break down a few of the good and bad moments from the past week’s line play, power running lives on after Hue Jackson, Will Clarke and Margus Hunt make their initial 2016 impressions, and Cedric Ogbuehi still has a lot to work on.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Lineman have it weird. They are front and center for every snap on your screen, but your attention draws away from them as soon as the ball is in the quarterback’s hands. They are literally on the front lines, and are the least noticeable of the 22 players on the gridiron. I’ve often found this unfair from an evaluator’s perspective, because so much generalization is used in characterizing a team’s offensive and defensive line play based on volume stats that have nothing to do with individual reps.

That’s why each week this season, I’ll be breaking down a couple of snaps for both the offensive and defensive lines, and trying to engage the true context of what a good and bad rep looks like for the big guys up front. For these preseason games however, you’re going to have to bear with me as these broadcast angles aren’t preferable for our breakdowns. But don’t fret, all-22 angles are only a month away.

Boling and Zeitler lead the way

Not much has changed since last year as the Bengals’ offense is still based around the scheme of using power out of both the I-formation and the shotgun based on personnel. Here is a staple of this scheme. This is commonly referred to as a pin and pull sweep. Basically, the lineman with guys in their face pin their assignments back toward the field side (the opposite side of the play or the side with the most space) and the lineman who pull around to the play side are the ones with no one in front of them at the snap.

This is all determined pre-snap when the defense aligns up front. In this case, guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler are the ones who pull and try to get to the second level as quickly as possible to find a man to block. While this is happening, tight end C.J. Uzomah, right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and center Russell Bodine, attempt to execute down blocks to take away any backside danger. Boling is one of the best pulling blockers in the game today and Zeitler isn’t too shabby either, as both take out second level defenders for running back Giovani Bernard to gain extra yards outside as he picks up nine long yards.

Left tackle Jake Fisher is the lone man out of this play, but I’d like to see him more decisive in his pursuit into the second level. He’s shown to have the drive, now we need to see some precision.

Clarke negates the stretch run

Linebacker Nick Vigil did a superb job here of having vision of the ball-carrier and knifing his way through traffic, but this stop was setup by Will Clarke. This is how you set an edge. A base end’s duty on stretch runs is to take away the running backs first read, the outside edge, so he’s forced to look into his secondary gaps and cutback into should be traffic. In this task, nothing is more imperative than leverage. It isn’t easy for a 6’6” end like Clarke to stay low off the snap, but this allows him to drive the tight end outside, and gain an inside advantage. To finish the play, you must disengage as well, which Clarke does seamlessly.

This play had potential for the Vikings; left tackle Matt Kalil does a good job of locking onto his target in the second level, but the fullback on this play who was motioned into the backfield was unaware of a charging Vigil. A lot of variables on a simple play call, but, if Clarke continues to set edges like this, he’ll get more than a single tight end to counter him.

Ogbuehi’s bad mechanics

Life as an offensive lineman can be great when you have Ogbuehi’s tremendous 35 78” arm length, but it’s a useless measurable when you can’t use it correctly. One of the most basic types of blocks is the reach block, which Ogbuehi attempts to perform here against Minnesota’s 3 technique defensive tackle. What you’re looking for here is extension and drive; one is useless without the other. A perfectly placed punch is a perfect punch regardless of the player’s wingspan, and if it isn’t there, you’re giving the opposing player an upper hand at the point of attack. Please note, that this is more relevant in pass protection, but it can also be applied to here.

Ogbuehi is late at the point of attack and is met with the defender already countering against his block, as he completely obliterates the gap, and greets running back Cedric Peerman for a two yard loss. Timing off the snap is a big part of run blocking, and you have to credit the 3 technique for winning off the snap, but Ogbuehi has to make sure he utilizes his length better in these situations. Back at Texas A&M, Ogbuehi was a much better zone blocker than a power blocker because it made use of his length and athleticism better, and was a better pass protector as well. So this is the type of play that Ogbuehi needs to improve upon the most.

Would be safety turns into much more

Despite the headline, I’m going to take the liberty of ignoring the fact that there was a blatant hold in the endzone that should’ve gave the Bengals two points here, and look at what exactly went wrong on the other side of the field.

When Clarke got a great jump off the snap and set another imposing edge that stopped the ball carrier’s momentum, the other three defensive lineman not only couldn’t get off blocks, they couldn’t maintain backside containment. All three linebackers over pursued and left the second level as wide open as it could get. Push is one thing for a front four player, but it is rendered useless if it doesn’t trap the ball carrier in the backfield.

The main culprit here is the ever so incompetent Margus Hunt, who was taken for a ride and completely out of the play, without showing any sign of resistance. Hunt’s main issue has always been what happens if he doesn’t win off the snap; he has no viable counter moves at his disposal. Hunt provides no containment on this play, and is taken out mainly by a tight end above all else.

So, the offensive line play was mixed, and for the most part, key contributors on the defensive line stood out. Going into Thursday’s second preseason game against a lesser force in Detroit, we shall see how these two units build off this first performance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Ogbuehi will be playing in the game.