It seems as though the content of the AP community has shifted from the Berry Bromantics to Linemen Roulette. While the debate by the Berry Bromantics has essentially become "settled science," a debate rages on whether or not you can effectively move lineman across the line without a decrease in performance.
I will reiterate this again, this is not Madden. Lineman are not interchangeable pegs that can be placed at any position on the line at any time and expected to perform at peak levels throughout the year.
As Beswaf points out HERE, shuffling linemen in the NFL does occur, and can occur on a fairly regular basis. However, injuries, performance, and value issues will sometimes demand a shuffle within the offensive line when one may not be desired. Shifting from the left side to the right side or from tackle to guard to center IS POSSIBLE, but it is not often easy. There are individuals who can play almost any position on the line (Wade Smith), however, how often are these individuals (utility linemen) a dominant force at any one position? Most of these utility linemen are mediocre stopgaps; a glorified career backup or young draft project needing seasoning, ready to jump into any position they may be called on to handle.
Some of the points that I wish to edu-ma-cate the AP community on are:
1) What makes the switch from the left side to the right side so difficult,
2) What are the difficulties associated with moving from tackle to guard to center, and
3) IF the Chiefs are forced to draft a LT at #5, what kind of linemen roulette will maximize the amount of talent on the OL while minimizing a loss of productivity by a position switch?
What makes the switch from the left side to the right side so difficult? The answer is simple: fundamentals. Life in the trenches is continuous instinctive reactionary responses to stimuli from DLs and manipulating those DLs to a position that fits the playcall. The drills that athletes undertake at practices at all levels are designed to instill these basic fundamentals into the movement of the athlete. They teach muscle memory and allow the athlete to instinctively execute his job in a split second. How often do you see the team practicing better fundamentals lose a game? It happens, as there are always exceptions to the rule. My favorite one is the one about diamonds being forever. Yea guys, that hunk of rock you saved up 3 months salary for is slowly decomposing on your significant others' finger into a worthless chunk of graphite, but I digress.
When it comes to offensive linemen, the fundamental movements that need to be mastered can be divided into the first step, footwork, hips, arms and hands, shoulders and head. Rather than discuss the individual minutiae of when and how each of these movements work together for every type of block a lineman is required to perform, I will focus on how the first step varies during a transition from the right side to the left in a pass blocking situation. For most run and pass blocking (except for the LT/RT in pass blocking), the first step of a lineman is only 3 to 6 inches before the weight and balance is shifted into the second, much larger step. For most interior linemen, you hardly notice the first step, but it is vital as it sets your body up for a balanced attack while your hips, shoulders, head, and hands adjust into the correct position before you take your second step.
Since LT is the highlighted position on AP, we should look at that more closely. During an obvious passing down, the LT is usually in a modified 2-point stance. His left foot is significantly behind his right and his shoulders square with the line. This stance is the way it is because the LT needs to get every possible advantage against an outside speed rush while still guarding against a bull rush or inside attack. Either way, his first step will be with that left foot and it will be an 8 to 12 inch step backwards. This is significant because it is the largest first step any lineman will ever (commonly) take.
A LT will have this first step ingrained into his reflexes. Hours and hours are spent drilling and drilling on just the first step alone. A basic drill of just going from the 2 point stance and then BOOM (with Madden-like inflection) taking that 8-12 inch step back. Then back to the 2 point stance and BOOM, 8-12 inch step. Back to the 2 point stance and BOOM...you get the picture? Albert has been using this first step for 3 years (2 in NFL and Sr. Year in College I believe). Moving to the right side, he has to retrain his muscle memory to taking that same step (actually, its usually a little smaller on the right side) with the right foot (BOOM). Its not easy. You actually have to think about it when you should be focusing on the playcall and who to block rather than something that has to come naturally.
Other than the first step, think about all the other things that will be reversed. The hips need to rotate a different direction. So do the arms and shoulders. You are shuffling your feet and leading with the right rather than the left. In addition, the stimuli that you must react to from the DL/DE are delivered to the opposite side of your body (the right shoulder rather than the left). This is all the stuff that you need to reprogram into your brain, just for a basic pass block. You will also need to reverse your run , play action, and roll-out blocking techniques. These are just the physical reactions that an NFL lineman must make instinctive. There is a whole mental aspect that must be addressed to with a switch across the center. You will have different blocking assignments as a whole and will be exposed to a completely different set of defensive alignments.
Can it be done? Of course it can. The league is full of LT moving to RT and vice versa. Its not easy though. For a best case scenario, a full offseason of workouts and drills can reprogram your instincts. Even a training camp of drills should be able to flip a TALENTED AND DEDICATED lineman from one side to the other. However, it will still feel unnatural until you have been at it for much longer. In the case of an injury, depending on the severity of that injury (one game or many games missed) you may be better served using your utility lineman to fill in for one game rather than flip sides. This is not something that can be accomplished overnight, so flipping a lineman midseason may not be the best idea unless you have no other choice or plan for that lineman to be at his new position for a long time (Michael Oher).
Ok, chiefsandcigars, but what about moving from Tackle to Guard and/or Guard to Center? Well, I am glad you asked AP. This is really a little bit of an easier move. If you are on the same side of the line, then you are already used to the defensive alignment, you just need to adjust your blocking assignments. You may also be required to go chase down a LB or pull/trap more often than at your previous position. That will take some work, but fundamentally, it shouldn't be too difficult. Most of these big changes are mental rather than physical. Fundamentally, most of the movements are in the same directions, however the magnitude of the first step usually reduces the closer you get to the center. The first step for a center is usually only 1-3 inches in the direction he is moving. If you notice, he is making this first step WHILE he is snapping the ball. Guards usually take longer first steps, somewhere between 3-6 inches. Again, there are exceptions depending on the blocking scheme, the plays, the assignments, and the talent. This is a simple generality. Just like with a flip across the center, a full offseason to adjust to the new position is ideal. However, in case of injury or need, shuffling positions on the same side of the line can be effectively learned in a shorter term than flipping over the center.
Before I begin to opine on the possible Lineman Roulette KC might play if they draft an LT at #5, let me summarize my major points:
- Moving from LT to RT or vice versa is difficult because the fundamental physical techniques and physical stimuli from the DL are revesed and rotated. The blocking assignments and defensive alignment the tackle must contend with (the mental aspect of the game) are also vastly different.
- Moving from tackle to guard or guard to center is easier as many of the defensive alignments and fundamental physical techniques are similar to what was experienced at their "normal" position.
- Its best to make the move with a full offseason to prepare. However, a full training camp will be adequate for most linemen of NFL talent. It will still take several months of experience before the lineman is fully settled into his new position.
If the Chiefs are forced to take a LT with the #5 pick, what offensive alignment makes the most sense?
Let me first point out that there is no 1st Round LT in this draft that would upgrade our line as much as a S, LB, or NT would upgrade our defense.
That being said, I would see Albert flipped to the RT, Lilja starting at RG, and Weigmann at C. This would give a line of LT-Waters-Weigmann-Lilja-Albert. This will allow our LT, RG, and RT to stay in their positions for the long-term, giving them time to develop.
Much of the improvement that we have seen with Albert at LT will be diminished in his first year with the move to RT. This is probably a mental thing and could disappear halfway into the season depending on how quickly he becomes comfortable at his new positon. I believe that the improvement we witnessed near the end of this past season was the result of Albert finally gaining confidence in his abilities at LT. I don't think that a shift of Albert to LG makes sense with the acquisition of Weigmann and Lilja.
I think that Lilja and Albert, with a full offseason to prepare, can effectively make the switch the opposite side of the line. In 2 years, they could be a dominant pair and really solidify that side of the line for the next decade. This assumes that Lilja is a long-term solution and not a stopgap.
I would look for O'Call or Richardson to be traded, with the remainder to act as a back up swing tackle should Albert or the rookie LT go down. I would also anticipate Niswanger (or Weigmann) to be cut or released after a viscious training camp battle. Ndukwe seems to be a serviceable backup, but nothing more. I would also anticipate drafting or aquiring at least 2 more OL prospects to play C and LG/RG. Darryl Harris and Colin Brown are already project guards and it should be interesting to see if they will blossom.
I understand that this will not settle the argument about moving linemen around, but I hope that I have helped the AP community to understand the risks involved with playing Linemen Roulette.