When asked about this year’s fifth round draft selection Christian Westerman, offensive line coach Paul Alexander said he knew he was in the presence of a good prospect just from shaking his hand. Toughness and physicality are the two principles that Alexander looks for the most in his players, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a good lineman who doesn’t possess these qualities. With Westerman’s first two preseason games in the books, it looks like Alexander’s evaluation has been pretty accurate so far.
Westerman has taken all of his 45 snaps at right guard, coming onto the field as soon as starter Kevin Zeitler comes off at the position. Along with being physical, Westerman has shown great awareness and recognition for a rookie playing his first snaps.
On two occasions versus the Lions, Westerman negated stunts that opened up possibilities for quarterback AJ McCarron:
One of the more useful pass rushing tactics, the stunt is designed for the edge rusher to attack the presumed opening of the A-gap between the guard and center after selling the rush outside, where in this case, the 3 technique takes on the double team that is ensued by the stunt. The best way to counter the stunt is by recognizing the stunt is happening, very quickly, so the guard can disengage the 3 tech and slide to counter the edge rusher. Both times, Westerman blocks the 3 tech into the right tackle, giving him inside leverage, and regains positioning after realizing the stunt is under way.
Both times, the entirety of Detroit’s pass rush disrupts the pocket and McCarron forces himself out of it, but when analyzing Westerman only, he does his best to give him a throwing/running lane, and takes his man out of the play. It’s up to the rest of the line to hold up their parts.
In the few chances that Westerman has gotten to pull, he looked like a natural in a concept that’s used quite a lot in this scheme.
Pulling is not for passive blockers, they have to have purpose and provide power on the move. You need to explode out of your stance and release as fast as you can into the second level with no wasted movement. But once you’re there, you need to find a target.
The thing that stands out the most here is Westerman’s path to his target. He knows exactly where he’s going, and what he’s going to do when he gets there. Credit running back Tra Carson for having the vision to see this block developing and have the patience to cut back inside, but this is beautiful work by Westerman, even though the play was called back due to left guard Alex Redmond holding. Too many times we see young lineman have no problem getting to the second level, but once they’re there, there’s no direction, no target, and defenders go unimpeded toward the ball carrier. In not a lot of playing time, Westerman has already shown to be very cerebral in two phases of blocking.
It hasn’t all been perfect, Westerman has great core strength and hand placement, but there’s been some dull moments thus far as well.
This is a classic example of over aggression. The 3 technique does a great job of reading Westerman’s first step, and easily penetrates the gap he left wide open. This is always an issue when you’re blocking gaps, not men. If you’re first step is wrong, you’re odds of recovering are very slim, because you’re not attacking the lineman, you’re attacking a space.
For the defensive line, you may think they’re pretty slow off the line, but this is what is known as a tackle read, where your get off the line of scrimmage won’t be as fast because you don’t start the rush when you see the snap, you start the rush when you see the opposing lineman make his first step, which is typically preferred on running downs. This type of read is what really screwed Westerman over here, and his over aggressiveness at the point of attack really made the disruption that much easier for the 3 technique. So, Westerman has to be smarter on zone concepts like these.
In this play against Minnesota, it goes to show why you can never really trust raw stats to evaluate offensive line performance.
I know, the run went for six solid yards, but could it have gone for more? Yes. The beautiful perk of having a good nose tackle is that linebackers are typically operating with less congestion because the nose is effectively withstanding blockers. Westerman’s job here is to seal, and go. Seal the nose, and engage the linebacker. Because he had issues with the first part, he couldn’t make contact with the linebacker, who was free to make an easy tackle. In a way, this is similar to the over aggression he showed on the last play; his combination of drive and hands need to be controlled and efficient. His hands are locked with the nose, who's also engaged with the right tackle as well, and Westerman can’t move into the second level. It’s a minor miscue, but it can make a difference.
Westerman’s last snap against the Lions was a very mixed one. The quickness in his feet and his recovery to anchor his base are solid, but there’s a good reason why this ball is tipped by Westerman’s assignment. Quarterback Keith Wenning’s first read is clearly the intended receiver Alex Erickson, and Westerman doesn’t give Wenning a lane to throw the ball on a play that clearly was designed to Erickson. You want to see a powerful blocker like Westerman redirect the 3 technique in some way, instead of swallowing the bull rush straight backward. Granted, the 3 technique is Detroit’s second round pick A’Shawn Robinson, who has plenty of strength in his upper body, but, Westerman needs to be more assertive in this scenario, to make sure that the throw is untouched.
This is a lot of analysis for just the few plays that Westerman has been apart of, but he’s doing a fine job, for the most part, of making first impressions on the field, and backing up pre-draft praise. Sure, he’s got a few technical things to round out, but that’s what preseason games are for. Like his teammate in Zeitler, he has the necessary traits that make a good guard, and even a good center if we’d be so lucky to see him get snaps there. The next two games are huge for rookies like Westerman, but this kind of play will have him on the 53-man roster without issue, even the active 46 depending on the roster construction.