With the changes taking place, the guard position will have to evolve. In the West Coast formation, teams relied upon guards that excelled in trap blocking, pulling on sweeps and getting out quickly to the second level to angle block the linebackers. With so much emphasis on the short-area passing game, it was necessary to have guards with excellent foot quickness, sacrificing bulk in their blockers for lateral agility.
While the smaller, quicker angle blockers are not a dying breed, more teams are starting to convert large tackles into offensive guards. In a conventional 4-3 defense, the offensive line is usually matched up against a defense that features two mammoth tackles that come on relentlessly from the interior. To combat these defenders, teams are looking for guards who are big, physical pass protectors.
Strength is a premium over quickness. Suddenness off the snap and a punishing hand jolt have replaced the small trap blockers. Despite the change to bigger interior blockers, lateral agility remains a big priority, for without that sideline-to-sideline acceleration, cutting off the defensive tackles would be extremely difficult.
In the 2012 draft, some of the more known offensive tackles likely to shift inside to guard at the next level are Cordy Glenn of Georgia, Brandon Brooks of Miami (Oh.), Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State (Tex.), Brandon Washington of Miami, Senio Kelemete of Washington, Tony Bergstrom of Utah and Rokevious Watkins of South Carolina.
Teams on the prowl for pure guard types have one of the best to come down the pike in the last few years in Stanford's aggressive pass protector David DeCastro. Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler is another sensational trap blocker, but he was working out as a center during Senior Bowl practices and pre-draft visits. After the players mentioned above, the talent level dips considerably, so teams will have to hope and pray they can find that needle in the haystack to develop.
Most consider DeCastro to be head and shoulders above the rest of this class. Technique wise, he is, but Cordy Glenn, Zeitler and possibly Silatolu will follow DeCastro to the podium when their names are called no later than the end of the second round.
DeCastro has a wide frame with a barrel chest, good bubble, wide hips, thick thighs and calves, but lacks the foot quickness the massive Glenn displays. Known for his toughness and aggression, he has excellent and ankle knee bend. He shows good functional speed on pulls and traps, along with no problems with learning football, as he is quick to diagnose plays. He also shows very good field vision and alertness.
DeCastro has excellent athletic ability, displaying good initial explosion off the line. He is nimble for a lineman, and while he has just adequate timed speed, he gets out on traps and pulls in a hurry, maintaining balance throughout his stride. He has the physical tools to be a productive starting right guard at the next level, due to his quick feet to get into position to make the blocks on the edge.
The junior is an exceptional hand puncher with the arm quickness to possibly find a home at center. He demonstrates good balance and agility for the position to perform capably as a pulling guard. He shows good explosion off the snap, the ability to outmuscle and wall off his man in isolated coverage, and the upper-body power to lean into the defender and use his size to sustain.
DeCastro is nimble working in space and does a good job of locating and neutralizing second-level defenders. He is a natural knee bender who does a nice job of keeping his pads down due to his lateral agility and loose hips. With his arm strength, he is capable of pushing and controlling his man in the short area.
DeCastro plays with excellent leverage, as he uses his upper-body strength well to get into the defender's jersey coming off the snap. He stays on his feet with run blocks and plays flat-footed with good balance and a low pad level to widen and sustain the rush lanes. When he brings his hips and strikes on contact, he is effective on screens, showing good finishing ability to wall off.
The guard likes using his mauler's mentality to move out or latch on to defenders while using his solid upper-body strength and hand placement to control. He has the kick slide, balance and nimble feet to latch on and ride the edge rushers away from the pocket with good consistency. He takes good sets in pass protection and plays under control, keeping a wide base and his head on a swivel to pick up stunts.
The Cardinal blocker has the ability to get in front to neutralize the wide edge rusher and the knee bend needed by a guard when moving out to dominate in isolated coverage. He has a strong pass setup and the size to occupy space, but can sit and anchor to shut down the bull rush. On the rare times that he does get a bit straight-legged, he manages to generate a good base and anchor to maintain position.
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Glenn has an explosive initial step coming off the ball. He has some hip stiffness when trying to redirect and needs to keep his pads down in order to maintain position. He does show good body control working in space and has improved his change-of-direction agility on sweeps and pulls. When he keeps his pad level down, he can leverage, redirect and shift his weight properly in his kick slide. It is rare to see him overextend in pass protection and he has the straight-line speed and hand punch to neutralize second-level defenders.
The versatile lineman is a power-oriented drive blocker with a powerful punch. He will sometimes fall off blocks late when he fails to bend at the knees, but has the body control to recover. When he fails to sink his hips, he will overextend a bit, but he is quick to recoil and get back on his assignment.
Glenn is a solid mauler with some road grader to him. He can drive the man off the ball due to his lower-body strength and hand punch, despite not sinking his hips regularly. He is consistent using his hands to lock on and steer. He understands positioning well and excels at neutralizing second-level defenders. When he moves his feet on contact, he does a better job of wheeling his hips in attempts to control.
The Bulldog has the quickness to make reach blocks and knows how to use his size and power to create space and finish blocks. In 2011, he seemed to be much better at walling off and screening his man from the play. He did have some inconsistency finishing blocks in the past, but Glenn shows great pop on contact and is learning to keep his base wider in order to prevent the defender from shedding. He has greatly improved his lateral kick slide, more from being isolated as a tackle during his senior year.
Glenn has the foot speed to get back and defeat edge rushers, and even though he bends at the waist at times, he has the balance to adjust on the move. In the past, he would sometimes play on his toes and drop his head, but he now keeps his base wider, and with his foot quickness, he has no trouble mirroring the opponent. With his punch and anchor skills, he simply mauls his opponent once he gets into the defender's jersey.
Glenn does a good job of extending his arms and sliding his feet to maintain protection on the pocket. When he gets too high in his stance, he can be walked back, though, even for a player of his massive size. He is an aggressive cut blocker when working in space and has the short-area slide to beat his man on stunts. While he continues to work on improving his hip snap, he does an excellent job of locking out vs. the power rush.
Zeitler has a thick frame but could carry at least another 15 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness. He has a solid build with good arm length, big hands, thick upper-body region (chest), firm midsection with a strong lower frame and a good offensive lineman's physique.
In 2011, Zeitler showed impressive speed and balance, especially when blocking or running interference on the team's "power-left" sweeps, producing most of his Big Ten-record 33 touchdown-resulting blocks on the move. He displayed good foot quickness and body positioning to deliver crunching blocks while working down the line (see 2011 Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State games).
The right guard demonstrated much better explosion and functional strength behind his punch, along with flashing agility when changing direction in pass protection. He demonstrates good knee bend and hip flexibility to stay low in his pads while still firing off the snap in an instant.
Nobody — repeat, nobody — in college football has had the success Zeitler has shown leading the way on sweeps around the corners (see 2011 UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, both Michigan State games, Purdue and Penn State contests). He has the functional strength to impact and rock a defender back with his initial hit and shows the nimble feet needed to get position, wall off and screen, thanks to consistently playing at a good pad level necessary to gain movement.
Zeitler is a good flat-back drive blocker who gets a fit and keeps it well. He can be a quality mauler (see battles vs. Penn State's DT tandem of Devon Still and Jordan Hill and in the two-game set vs. Michigan State's Jerel Worthy in 2011), thanks to keeping that flat back to go with good knee bend and ankle flexibility. You can also see his success in playing with a good base and balance, along with fluid body control in space.
Zeitler plays with good base and quick feet in fan (pass) protection, as he is conscious of picking up defenders to his outside shoulder (see both 2011 Michigan State and the Penn State games), as well as working in unison with the fullback in taking care of any up-the-middle blitzers. His vision is very good to anchor and hold at the point of attack.
It is rare to see him "outquicked" when taking on edge rushers that get past the offensive tackle, as he is never late in recognizing and positioning vs. the stunts. He has that strong body base and positioning strength in pass protection, as that anchor allows him to slide, mirror and change direction to stay in front of his opponent.
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It is rare to see Brooks on the ground (only when he overextends and lunges as a run blocker) and he shows good upper-body flexibility with his hand placement. He has good body control and generates movement on the short pull, which could see him earn playing time at guard earlier in his career. He plays on his feet, thanks to a strong anchor and above-average balance in the trenches.
Brooks can slide and adjust in pass protection (has a good retreat slide) and does a good job of keeping his pads down to drop his weight and anchor. Run blocking is what Brooks does best (31 of 33 touchdown-resulting blocks in the last two years came on running plays). He shows excellent initial quickness off the snap, especially on the down block. He does a much better job of opening and rolling his hips on drive blocks than he does in pass protection.
Brooks is a good player in space, where he uses his power and size to drive through into the second level. He comes off the line with a good flat-back motion and proper hip snap, using his hand punch with force to stun. With his long arms, he is capable of quickly resetting his hands. He is light on his feet moving forward and looks like a dancing bear mauling smaller second-level defenders. When he gains position off the snap, he uses his strength well to sustain. In the second level, he has a good concept for angling, but will get lazy with his feet if he has to execute a long pull.
Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu is the premier blocker coming out of the small-college ranks. He is light on his feet for a player of his size. He has excellent explosion coming off the snap and nimble footwork, especially in his kick slide. He will get too high in his stance moving to the second level, but shows good knee bend when changing direction. He uses his feet well to slide out and adjust on the edge rushers and knows how to shoot his hands in attempts to lock on and sustain.
Silatolu has the quickness to recover when beaten and his feet allow him to redirect with ease to neutralize back side plays. He is consistent at using his explosion to generate movement and control the defender. He shows good hip and knee bend to deliver good lower body power off the ball. He is also good at caving defenders once he lets his body go and he is quite effective at turning and sealing.
Silatolu has the upper-body power to combat stunts and blitzes. Edge rushers are quickly neutralized once he gets his paws on them. He shows very good patience, especially in his anchor, letting the defender come to him rather than overextend (will lunge some working into the second level, though). Because of his active hands, it is difficult for defenders to get under his pads in attempts to pull and jerk him off stride.
Silatolu is good at extending his arms and generating a hand punch that consistently jolts the defender. He has that long wingspan to lock out, gain placement and sustain. He holds with decent efficiency and it is rare to see an opponent be able to get underneath to pull him off stride.
Brandon Washington of Miami is another lineman who will shift back inside to guard at the pro level. He has good straight-line speed, but might be a better fit for an interior line position, as he's too much of a waist bender. When asked to get out in front on pulls and traps, he has good upper-body strength to lock on and sustain. He is a quick-twitch type, but is patient enough to wait for the defender to come to him, rather than over-extend. He uses his size well to cover up the defender working on the line, and his 5.18 speed is evidence that he is quick enough to pull or be effective working in space.
Washington is good at creating and sustaining a rush lane. He has the hand strength and explosion to finish consistently when allowed to stay at the line of scrimmage. He is a physical drive blocker with the reach to keep defenders off his body. He is not going to mirror moves with his feet when operating from the left tackle position, but as a future guard, he is a powerful straight-line blocker.
With his punishing hand punch, Washington consistently shocks and jolts the pass rusher coming off the snap. He uses his strength and size to lock on, steer and wall off the opponent. He lacks ideal change-of-direction agility, but is active with his hands when he attempts to control and steer his man away from the pocket. On the move, he is conscious of not taking false steps and crossing his feet. On the line, he plays with a wide base and shows alertness, making it hard for the bull rusher to push him back.
Troy's James Brown is another collegiate tackle about to shift inside in the NFL. He shows good balance, agility and foot quickness. He has good knee bend and kick slide to mirror and does a nice job of advancing and taking proper angles on pulls and traps. He is flexible in his stance, demonstrating the agility to redirect. He maintains body control when changing direction and has quick hands to lock on and sustain. He comes out of his stance at a proper pad level and is quick to recover working in-line.
As a run blocker, Brown comes off the snap with his pads down and arms active to lock on and control. He has the power and leg drive to gain leverage and uses his huge mass to gain movement on drive blocks. He has the upper-body strength to punish and moves his feet well to sustain. Once he gets his hands into the opponent, he is quick to pin his man. It is are to see him catch-block or waist bend driving off the ball.
Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, 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.