The Syracuse offensive line has been among the most injury plagued groups in the country. With even more players out this past week against Duke, a new face saw his first extension action of the season in redshirt freshman Alex Hayes.
Hayes showed many positive signs in his first start. Among the most surprising was his footwork. Hayes rarely took himself out of position or missed a block because of his inability to move. In fact, he showed a lot of athleticism being able to get to the second level, doing so on several occasions. Hayes pulled and took on linebackers on several plays.
His hand placement was strong throughout Saturday’s game, keeping defenders occupied without holding. This allowed him to use his strong legs to drive through his man and push them backwards, thwart their penetration attempt or even knock them to the ground.
In addition, Hayes showed the ability to be a very strong run blocker. It was rare to see his man making the play on a designed run. Hayes often stonewalled opposing defensive tackles and even drove them back at times as well. In pass protection, Hayes recognized extra rushers and stayed true to his assignment. Most of the time he helped give whichever quarterback was dropping back a nice pocket from which to throw. There was very little penetration up the middle.
The first thing that jumps out about Hayes’ performance was his tendency to get too high too fast when coming out of his stance. This causes him to lose leverage and the ability to drive a defender backwards. On a few occasions, this caused him to lose his battle with the opposing tackle.
Additionally, in pass protection, Hayes was beaten by a quick swim move more than once. When more film is out on him, that is something future opponents will be sure to exploit. Keeping his leverage and working on his technique will help him combat that in the future.
The strongest part of Hayes’ game was his run blocking as is often the case for young interior linemen. There was a negative trend that showed itself only on a few plays, but is still worth noting. When the play was designed to go to the outside on the opposite side of the line, his blocking was not as aggressive as when the play was coming towards him. Working on maintaining that aggressiveness throughout the course of a game will be important.
CuseNation.com rewatched every offensive snap from Syracuse’s loss to Due and the results were quite positive for Hayes. Hayes was considered to have won the battle if he read the play correctly, identified the appropriate assignment and blocked his assignment well. He was considered to lose if he was beaten by the defender or did not take on the correct assignment. It was a draw if his assignment was to block a blitzer that never came and he therefore did not engage with a defender.
On 77% of his snaps, Hayes won his individual battle. On 17%, he lost the battle or was beaten by his defender. The remaining 6% were considered draws. Broken out further, Hayes won 85% of running plays and 67% of passing plays.
Given that this was his first start and that he was in a difficult situation with a banged up offensive line, Hayes not only held his own but showed a lot of promise. With his athleticism, continued growth on technique and more time in the strength and conditioning program, there could be a high ceiling for Hayes. While it may be premature to make too much out of one performance, it was certainly a strong one.