Before becoming one of the top center prospects in this draft, Baylor's Philip Blake played street hockey — or "shinny hockey," as they called it in his hometown of Toronto.
"I was walking down the hallway after class (during my final year of high school)," Blake recalled at the Scouting Combine, "and one of my friends is like, 'You're pretty big. Why don't you come out and play football.' The same day I went out there, and that's where it all started. Our games were played in, like, the fourth period [of classes]. People would get out of class and walk around and check out the game, or not. You come here and it's different."
It turned out to be a wise choice. Blake is right in the middle of the second tier of centers behind Wisconsin's Peter Konz, and a source told Packer Report that the Green Bay Packers think highly of the 26-year-old Blake as the possible replacement for Wells.
In three seasons in Waco, Texas, Blake helped spearhead Baylor's dramatic turnaround.
When you look at the success that Baylor's offense has produced the last three years, most of the attention rightfully centers on Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. When you notice that Baylor went from ranking 108th in the nation in rushing in 2009 (100.58 ypg), to 24th in 2010 (194.32 ypg) to 10th in 2011 (235.62 ypg), the logical choice to credit for that increase was the emergence of tailback Terrance Ganaway.
However, if you ask any player on the team, any coach on the staff, any fan sitting in the stands on game day, all will sound like a chorus in their thoughts on the team's sudden success the last few years – an influx of junior college offensive lineman. Danny Watkins, a former fireman, took advantage of his transfer to the Bears program, parlaying that move into a first-round draft selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
National Football League scouts and coaches who convened in Mobile, Ala., for the week's practices leading up to the prestigious 2012 Senior Bowl walked away from the event greatly impressed by the performance and development of another Baylor junior college find – center Philip Blake.
Blake has taken a different route than most elite offensive lineman in his quest to garner early-round draft attention. Most linemen selected by the league have honed their skills at some prep powerhouse in the United States, following that progression by spending four years maturing physically and developing technique at the major college level.
Blake's journey was far from the norm. He played prep ball at Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he was a teammate of former Baylor linebacker Fred Plesius. Earlier in his career, he attended Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Ontario, and took up the sport during his final year.
With few American major colleges venturing north of the border to recruit talent, Blake, who hoped to play in the NFL, began the first step toward that dream by enrolling at Tyler (Tex.) Junior College in 2008. He earned All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference second-team honors while seeing action at center. The freshman delivered 13 touchdown-resulting blocks for an explosive ground attack that averaged 259.5 yards per game and found the end zone 34 times during a 7-3 campaign.
Before Art Briles left the University of Houston to take over the Baylor program in 2008, the Bears were long the doormat for Big 12 Conference teams to feed off. It had been years since Baylor had any success on the football field and Briles needed a quick fix to revive the program and lure the fans back. With the state of Texas rivaling that of California for unearthing junior college talent, Briles did not have to recruit too far to stack his roster with hungry talent.
Blake followed Danny Watkins to Baylor, where the newcomers would anchor the Bears' front wall as the team's starting offensive tackles in 2009. Blake manned the right side, registering 76 knockdowns while starting all 12 games. While waiting for their ground game to develop, Blake provided excellent pass protection, as the team would average 242.33 passing yards per game (37th in the nation).
In 2010, Blake slid inside to his more natural center position studying Cleveland's Alex Mack extensively to make the transition. Blake received winning grades for blocking consistency in 11 of his 13 starting assignments, recording 82 knockdowns for a unit that improved to 19th in the nation in passing (280.69 ypg), 24th in rushing (194.62 ypg) and went from 85th in total offense in 2010 (342.92 ypg) to 13th in 2010 (475.31 ypg). With Blake calling blocking assignments, the Bears went from giving up 31 sacks in 2009 to allowing just 20 during his junior campaign.
Prior to the 2011 season, Blake graduated from Baylor with a degree in sociology. He could have opted to leave school early and apply for the 2011 NFL Draft, or he could have had a homecoming and head back to Canada, as he was selected 23rd in the 2011 Canadian Football League Draft by the Montreal Alouettes.
"Basically, it was my coaches telling me I have a great opportunity to play at the next level, the NFL, and we'd like you to come back and play another year," Blake said. "So, I talked to my mom, talked to my family and stayed back another year and played college."
Baylor's Philip Blake
Jerome Miron/US Presswire
By returning to school for 2011, Blake played a major part in the team's sudden surge. He led the Big 12 Conference interior linemen with an 85.8 grade for blocking consistency, pacing the Bears with 96 knockdowns. The first-team All-American and All-Big 12 choice guided an offense that finished fourth in the nation in passing (351.46 ypg) and second in total offense (587.08 ypg). His stellar blocking earned him an invitation to play vs. the country's elite draft prospects at the Senior Bowl.
Blake started all 38 games he played in at Baylor – twelve at right offensive tackle and 26 at center…During that time, his total of 254 knockdown blocks and 48 touchdown-resulting blocks were the most for any interior blocker (guard and center) in the big Twelve Conference ranks…Along with Regina defensive tackle Akeem Hicks, Blake might hold the rare distinction among 2012 NFL Draft prospects for being the only players taken in the NFL phase that also were selected in the Canadian Football League Draft (Blake was the 23rd overall choice by the Montreal Alouettes in the 2011 CFL Draft).
All-American first-team selection by The NFL Draft Report and rated the best center prospect eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft by that scouting information service…The two-time Rimington Trophy (nation's best center) Watch List choice added All-Big Twelve Conference first-team honors from the league's coaches, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Waco Tribune-Herald, along with second-team accolades from the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!/Rivals.com, Kansas City Star and San Antonio Express-News...Named to the ESPN All-Bowl Team…Started all thirteen games at center, leading the team with 96 knockdowns, producing 23 touchdown-resulting blocks along with an 85.8% grade for blocking consistency…Played a major role in the team's success, as the Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense (587.08 ypg), fourth in scoring (45.31 ppg) and passing (351.46 ypg) and tenth in rushing (235.62 ypg)…Had at least seven knockdowns and graded out at 86% or higher in each of first three games…Earned a top grade of 91% in two games, both wins, vs. Stephen F. Austin (eight knockdowns) and Texas(season-high ten knockdowns)…Graded out at 88% with eight knockdowns in the Bears' Homecoming win vs. Missouri, adding an 88% mark with seven knockdowns in the Oklahoma clash…Posted an 88% grade with nine knockdowns vs. Texas Tech…Had a mark of 91% to go with ten knockdowns vs. Texas, both season-highs for any Baylor offensive lineman…Earned an 88% grade and had ten knockdowns vs. Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
Blake moved to center from right offensive tackle during spring drills, as the All-Big Twelve Conference honorable mention started all thirteen games in the pivot, replacing graduated J.D. Walton at the pivot…Enjoyed the move back to his more natural position from playing on the edge, responding with 82 knockdowns as the leader of the Baylor offensive line that ranked third in the Big Twelve and 24th nationally in rushing (194.62 ypg) and fourth in the conference in fewest sacks allowed (1.54 per game), as he was credited with fifteen touchdown-resulting blocks…Received a winning grade for blocking consistency in 11-of-13 games…Had a season-high nine knockdowns and earned and 85% grade in the Bears' win over Buffalo…Earned his top grade of 88% in three games, all wins, at Kansas (eight knockdowns), Colorado (season-high nine knockdowns, along with recording a solo tackle) and Kansas State (eight knockdowns).
Blake moved to right offensive tackle during his first season at Baylor, as All-Big Twelve Conference center J.D. Walton manned the pivot position…Started all twelve games, as he graded 82% for blocking consistency, producing 76 knockdowns and ten touchdown-resulting blocks for an emerging aerial attack that finished 37th in the nation with an average of 242.33 yards passing per game.
Blake was an All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference second-team selection as a center for Tyler (Tex.) Junior College…Also saw action at offensive tackle, but mostly performed inside…The freshman delivered thirteen touchdown-resulting blocks for an explosive ground attack that averaged 259.5 yards per game and found the end zone 34 times during a 7-3 campaign.
No injuries reported.
5.25 in the 40-yard dash…1.79 10-yard dash…2.90 20-yard dash…4.65 20-yard shuttle…7.86 three-cone drill…29 ?-inch vertical jump…8'9" broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times…635-pound squat…31 7/8-inch arm length…9 ?-inch hands…78 ?-inch wingspan…16 Wonderlic score.
Blake graduated from Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Ontario in 2005…Later played football as a center at Champlain Regional College in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he was a teammate of former Baylor linebacker Fred Plesius.
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Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. At NFL Scouting, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.