(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.)
POSITION: Offensive tackle
OVERVIEW: Aside from a franchise quarterback, there’s been a long-held belief a gifted blindside protector at the left tackle position is the most coveted offensive asset in football. Given the nature of today’s football, which involves a healthy share of spread offensive attacks predicated upon a quick, precise passing game, some don’t believe a tackle carries the same value as in previous eras. Regardless of which side of the debate you rest on, it remains clear that a pair of capable tackles is important for an offense. As was previously discussed in the context of Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, the role of a left and right tackle differ: Left tackles must be athletic enough to protect against talented pass rushers, right tackles powerful enough to set run blocking in motion.
DESIRED TRAITS: The first step in scouting a tackle is figuring out if he projects to be a left, right, or swing tackle. Typically left tackles are valued more, because of their ability to protect the blindside, but a dependable right tackle is key as well.
In a left tackle, a player must have the quickness to get out of his stance, the reactive athleticism to mirror his opposing rusher, the strength through the core of his body to hold his ground against the rush, and the smarts to decipher what is coming his way. A left tackle with length and quickness can work to spread his opponent wide and prevent him from collapsing the integrity of a pocket. In Nate Solder, the Patriots have a talented athlete with phenomenal size who they hope will prove he can consistently deter the slate of sack masters he’ll take on in 2012.
On the right side, a tackle must possess many of the same traits as a left tackle, as well as be able to engage his opponent as a run blocker, get his hands inside and drive block. A right tackle is often the largest lineman of the five, and has to have a strong temperament and body control as a blocker. That means not ducking his head and lunging forward with full force, rather being able to size up a defender and engage him with a square base and frame.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Offensive tackles are key contributors on the field goal protection team, and can sometimes be seen as interior rushers on the field goal block team. Those who have the length and explosive first step to penetrate (Solder fits this mold) can wreak havoc blocking kicks. Occasionally, athletic tackles will be used as blockers on the kickoff return team.
PATRIOTS TAKE: On paper, the Patriots look set with their starters in Solder and Vollmer, but both have something to prove in 2012. Solder will likely have the sharpest microscope on him, as he steps into a full-time job replacing Matt Light, who is now retired. Protecting Tom Brady is paramount, and he must show that he can consistently hold up. From a skill set standpoint, he looks like the real deal. Vollmer, meanwhile, is bouncing back from injuries and heading into the final year of his rookie contract. He’s proven before the quality of a player he is; he too just needs to stay on the field and be consistent. Behind them, the Patriots have an intriguing third tackle option in second-year man Marcus Cannon. Cannon is a big man who projects better on the right side, but could likely handle some left side duties in a pinch. Finding an additional player to serve as the left side backup for Solder is important for the Patriots, with a number of candidates having potential to emerge from their large group of reserve linemen, including Kyle Hix.