The rise of spread offenses in college football means offensive linemen may need more time to adjust to pro-style offenses once they are in the NFL --- and potentially harder for teams like Seattle to find immediate offensive line answers in the draft.
Judging by the discussion on social media and talk radio, the majority hope among Seahawks fans for the upcoming NFL draft is that the team will get a few offensive linemen who can immediately help a group that had its issues in 2015.
But as Seattle coach Pete Carroll and John Schneider reiterated on Tuesday in about as much detail as they ever have on the subject, finding NFL-ready offensive linemen is harder than ever with the proliferation of the spread offense at every level.
“It’s just the style of play is different,’’ Carroll said during the team’s pre-draft news conference Tuesday. “There’ll be guys that we’re looking at right now that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in two-point stances. So there are transitions that have to take place.
“And even we’ve seen in the last couple years pretty strong adjustments by offensive coordinators to adjust the ways guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive, and physically-oriented as we like them to be and (like) we try to make them become. So it is different, and there is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There’s not even a play in the game. So it’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s going to be like.’’
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Some college teams do still run a pro-style offense, such as Alabama, whose center Ryan Kelly is considered an almost-certain first-round pick. That he’d have less of an adjustment is a definite plus.
But that can add to the quandary teams face in the draft — do they bypass a potentially more talented player, but one who made need a year or two to adjust, for a less-talented prospect but one who might be readier to play immediately?
In general, one would imagine talent will still win out — it just may be more difficult for teams to know for sure which players are the best for the long-term given what they see them do (or don’t do) in college.
That college offensive linemen increasingly need more time to adjust from a spread offense to a pro-style scheme also means that Seattle’s propensity — of converting defensive linemen to offense — one increasingly maligned by fans — isn’t going away.
Think of it this way –- if a college offensive lineman is going to need a year or two to adjust anyway, then what’s the difference in asking a defensive lineman to transition in offense in the same amount of time?
As Carroll and Schneider said again Tuesday, one reason they have looked to convert defensive linemen is that they increasingly see some of the most talented players choose to play defense rather than offense at lower levels.
“There’s a lot of kids that if they’re playing both ways, defensive line and offensive line, defensive line is just a little bit sexier, they’re going to go that route,’’ Schneider said. “So those numbers (of offensive linemen) come down. So that’s why you’ve seen us in the past try to make a couple of these conversions, because you can’t just go out and pick them off a tree in the backyard.”
So because of that paucity of offensive linemen at the high school and college levels, and the increasing number who need more time to learn the pro game, expect the Seahawks to continue to explore every avenue for finding offensive linemen who fit what they do — and recall that Seattle’s zone-based scheme puts more of a premium on athleticism and lateral movement than some others.
“I think it really depends,’’ Carroll said about converting offensive linemen to defense. “It depends on the guy. How much background he had in high school and stuff like that. We’ve experimented enough that we know some guys are more apt to make the transition quicker than others, and some guys don’t make it. So I don’t know if it’s more likely, but like John’s saying, just looking for the right athletes. We’re certainly always tuned in. He’s done a great job over the years of figuring out guys that have a chance. Not many teams see it that way, but (offensive line coach) Tom’s [Cable] been really good at experimenting with us, and we’ve made some sense of that.”