Lars Hanson, OT
College: Sacramento State
Height: 6-foot-8 Weight: 308 Age: 23
40-yard: 5.2 Bench: 28 (225lbs)
The Denver Broncos have strong roots in Sacramento. Offensive line coach Clancy Barone, quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, and inside linebacker Todd Davis are all former Sacramento State Hornets. And now, offensive tackle Lars Hanson will make the transition from stingers to hooves.
Just a cursory glance at Hanson shows that he fits the mold of a solid pass-protecting swing tackle in the NFL. He has great length and a solid frame, but doesn't rely on it. As a four-year starter at left tackle with Sac State, Hanson learned how to effectively use his hands, set up quickly, and win the leverage battle at the point of attack. As an offensive lineman in a zone-blocking scheme, those skills are just as important as raw size and strength.
Hanson also does the little things that make a difference as a pass blocker like bending his knees and staying square with his man. He exhibits good situational awareness; details like knowing that if the quarterback is only making a three-step drop that it's better to let your rusher over-pursue and loop too far outside rather than get beat inside.
Watch the play at 4:52 from their 2014 game against UC Davis. Davis is running a three-man front. Hanson (76, playing left tackle) is matched up against the right end (Brandon Weaver, 96). The ball is snapped, and Weaver loops around to the strong side while the will linebacker (Xavier Griggs, 57) blitzes on the weak side. Hanson is essentially dead to rights. He's waiting for Weaver, and when he doesn't come, he's already a step behind the speedy Griggs. But instead of reaching out with his arms and losing balance, he slides his feet and recovers well enough to uses Griggs' momentum against him and nudge him away from the pocket, allowing his quarterback to get the pass off and throw a touchdown. If Hanson doesn't recover, that's an easy sack (and perhaps a forced fumble from the blind side) for Griggs. It's not a play that jumps off the screen, but it illustrates Hanson's exceptional technique and footwork to prevent a well-designed blitz from getting home.
The major flaw in Hanson's game is that he's not someone who will necessarily bull over linebackers and defensive ends in the run game. It might be his height working against him, but for whatever reason, he just doesn't get the same leverage in run blocking. Too many times, Hanson will use his arms to essentially push downwards on his man rather than get low and keep his legs churning to create a lane for the back.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s... Hanson also struggles in space. He's just not quite aggressive enough when he's in the second level trying to clear out a linebacker or a safety. When he gets into the open, it's almost as if Hanson takes a pass-blocking approach to a run play, waiting for the defender to come to him rather than taking advantage of his size advantage and flattening guys. Unfortunately, that will stick out during training camp.
There's a case to be made for Hanson to survive roster cuts. It's going to be an uphill battle adjusting from the Big Sky Conference to the NFL, but when he inevitably gets beat in practice (like all rookie offensive lineman), it won't be a result of poor technique. Of course, he's not going to ever be the strongest guy in the world, but he puts himself in very good position to win at the point of attack. In Gary Kubiak's system, you don't need to be Orlando Pace to be effective. You won't see him swallowing up defenders, but staying balanced in pass protection and showing athleticism in the run game will put him ahead of the curve.
While it's a long shot that he's on the active roster come September, there's a good chance we see him on the practice squad. Beating out Michael Schofield to be the designated swing tackle will be a tall order (Schofield figured things out in the playoffs despite his struggles against guys like Khalil Mack and Melvin Ingram), but after him, Darrion Weems, and Kyle Roberts are his only real competition at tackle. Hanson appeared to suffer a lower body injury during OTAs, but as of now, there's no word that it'll keep him off the field in camp.
If indeed he does make the practice squad, a full season would give him ample time to add about 15-20 pounds to his frame and develop as a run blocker. Should that happen, there's no reason Hanson wouldn't be a favorite to make the active roster and even get significant playing time in 2017.
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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.