(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
OVERVIEW: As the middleman between the center and tackles, the guard is an often overlooked position along the offensive line. Few guards rank amongst the NFL’s high-profile players, and it’s a position that some believe is less important than the other offensive line spots. Centers are typically responsible for assisting in the identification of the defensive schemes before the snap, while tackles take on the role of protecting against elite edge rushers. Nonetheless, guard is an integral part to an offensive line, and a position that requires a tough-minded individual to man it.
DESIRED TRAITS: Because the guard is sandwiched on the line and often opposes the defense’s biggest players (nose and defensive tackles), athleticism is not always a primary consideration. What is, however, is toughness and physicality.
A guard must be able to generate push off of the ball, execute double-team blocks, and move to the second level to engage contact against linebackers. A guard must be able to anchor in pass protection, which is to say that he can absorb a blow from an oncoming rusher and not give ground. A guard that is overpowered can deform the shape of a pocket, and prevent his quarterback from having an outlet to step up into.
Although guards will work primarily against massive defensive linemen (like New England’s own Vince Wilfork), a league-wide surge in athleticism requires guards to be able to get out of their stance quick enough to prevent single gap penetration. Additionally, guards must have a strong temperament in their blocking, and be able to play with body control and force. Guards work in a small area of the field, and cannot afford to throw their body around without aim and hope for the best. A tough guard who plays with his base underneath him is one that can excel.
SPECIAL TEAMS VALUE: Guards will play on field goal protection units as well as on the kickoff return on occasion. Former guard-turned-starting-center Dan Connolly nearly returned a kickoff for a score against Green Bay late in the 2010 regular season.
PATRIOTS TAKE: Much like the tackle situation, the Patriots have a pair of players at guard in Logan Mankins and Brian Waters who can be exceptional. Mankins is coming off of an ACL tear and Waters appears to be contemplating retirement, making the picture a little murkier for the time being. Should Mankins return to form, he’s arguably the best in the league, and if Waters opts to retire, the Patriots seem to have a ready-made fill-in in the form of free agent signee Robert Gallery. If Dan Koppen can supplant Connolly as the starting center, Connolly could re-assume a role as a reserve at multiple positions. For now, Connolly looks to have the inside track to start at center. Marcus Cannon is another candidate to hold a reserve guard spot, as he has the power and toughness to play inside on top of his tackle duties.