Ethan Pocic was one of the offensive linemen I studied and graded for the 2017 Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. I watched five games of his film to break him down. A five-game minimum is typically the benchmark I like to hit when fully evaluating a player. This allows for exposure to the player dealing with the pain and various ailments that often accumulate during a football season. I also like to hit at least five separate exposures to ensure seeing multiple levels of competition, playing on the road, at home, and the end of the year when the grind becomes grueling and increasingly challenging, especially for linemen.
Pocic was one of the players whose skill set was apparent from the first time I studied his tape. He is a unique prospect given that he played center at 6’6’’, but his skill set is refined in terms of the nuances of hand usage / placement, sustaining blocks, and overall run-blocking ability. These traits allowed him to start and excel in 37 career games (27 at center, 9 at right guard, and 1 at left tackle) in the SEC.
In 2016, LSU primarily used zone principles in the run game under run-game coordinator and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. In the outside zone-run game the basic goal of the OL is to achieve lateral displacement of the defense, meaning to be effective as a blocker you must be able to open up the playside hip and efficiently drive out of your stance to get on the proper track to target and hit your landmarks from snap to finish. Being in the proper position with balance and a strong base at the point of attack (POA) is what allows effective use of the hands. Without a strong base it doesn’t matter what the hands do.
Pocic demonstrates very good ability to target and hit his landmarks in the zone-run game, along with the necessary pad level and crafty hand usage to create leverage on defenders. These traits are how Pocic succeeds in achieving a reach block, climbing to the second level, cutting-off the backside, and utilizing angles in tight areas in the zone-principles LSU often ran in 2016.
Pocic was drafted in the 2nd round (58th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks, a team that primarily uses zone-based principles in the run game. This was a perfect match based on the one-to-three year projection I gave Pocic in my pre-draft scouting report:
Additionally, Seattle OL coach Tom Cable recently has said Pocic will start out at RT:
— Kevin Shockey (@KevinShockey) May 10, 2017
On zone footwork against tight-shaded players, Pocic predominantly used a stretch step as opposed to a bucket step. This is an excellent fit for what the Seahawks like to do.
Seattle assistant offensive line coach Pat Ruel teaches his players similar footwork known as the “stretch hook concept” for his linemen who are playside in zone. Pocic’s tape showed a high level of proficiency using this footwork and technique to hook and reach defensive lineman.
Ruel’s Techniques of a Stretch Hook (covered lineman)
- Short, 45-degree lead step
- Rip to run on second step by driving back shoulder through defender – this provides for a cutoff scenario
- Get stomach upfield on third step – this ensures the defender is cut-off from his gap responsibility.
Pocic used the stretch step to gain ground and work his hips around defenders as far away as a 2i alignment, displaying very good range and short-area quickness (SAQ) to get around defenders in space.
This sort of range as a run-blocker is a testament to Pocic’s efficiency out of his stance, his SAQ, use of leverage to get his hips around defenders, and his hand usage to latch and sustain while moving laterally. The synchronicity of Pocic’s movements as a run-blocker were what stood out most on tape and was a skill set I identified in his report would fit best on a team running primarily zone principles such as inside and outside zone. Seattle drafting Pocic is an ideal match-up of skill-set-to-scheme.
Context: Week 5 at home versus Missouri. First quarter with 5:47 on the clock and LSU up 7-0. LSU faces a 1st and 10 on their own 12-yard line. The offense runs zone to the right out of 21 personnel. Pocic is tasked with a zone-combo block with the RG from the shaded nose tackle to the second level. Pocic overtakes, seals, and provides an easy cutback read for the runner.
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A key for OL blocking in zone-based schemes is keeping their shoulders square and facing upfield at all times. This provides the running back with a three-way go and achieves lateral displacement of the defender. Pocic turns the shoulders of the NT on this play while maintaining shoulders upfield, driving and sealing the NT out of the play.
Another example of Pocic working laterally while fighting to keep shoulders pointed upfield and square:
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Next we have Seahawks C Justin Britt executing a similar concept. Notice his pad level, efficiency out of his stance to quickly gain ground laterally, and use of independent hands to create leverage and seal the defensive lineman. Britt fights to keep his shoulders square, making the read easier for the runner. What Seattle asked Britt and their offensive line to do in 2016 in the running game is very similar to what Pocic did at LSU:
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Next, let’s look at Pocic’s best trait that I saw on film, his hand usage. Holding happens on the majority of plays in the NFL, and getting away with it is an artform that only savvy OL have mastered. This requires good or better hand placement, grip strength, and control, but also the use of leverage, angles, and footwork.
Context: Week 5 at home versus Missouri. 4th quarter with 12:42 on the clock and LSU leading 28-0. LSU faces a 2nd and 2 from the opponent’s 24-yard line. The offense runs zone to the right out of 21 personnel.
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Pocic does an outstanding job of placing his right hand on the linebacker’s inside shoulder while demonstrating good grip strength in the process. Once he is latched on, Pocic continues working laterally, but closes the gap between his body and his man in the process, hiding the fact that he is holding the defender. This technique also allows Pocic to regain leverage and gain control. The finish through the whistle is another benefit Seattle gets with Pocic, who displayed very good competitive toughness and effort in his 2016 film.
Pocic shows very good quickness in and out of his stance while maintaining good pad level and leverage, aiding in his ability to quickly work around defenders. Coupled with excellent hand usage; placement, sustained grip, and steer ability, Pocic is a very polished zone-run blocker.
Context: Week 5 at home versus Missouri. 1st quarter with 7:20 on the clock and the score tied at 0-0. LSU faces a 2nd and 3 on the opponent’s 42-yard line. The offense runs outside zone to the left out of 12 personnel.
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Pocic has a tight-shaded NT over his left shoulder and is tasked with working his hips around for a reach block. Pocic efficiently comes out of his stance and gains ground laterally on the shade, but quickly diagnoses that the NT is slow-playing it and attempting to undercut him for a quick tackle for a loss. Pocic reacts back inside to secure and seal the NT, protecting the RB and providing an alley. He displays good mental processing here, plus good hand placement, pad level, and use of leverage to ensure the block and spring the runner for a go-ahead TD run.
Another example of Pocic’s efficiency out of his stance, SAQ, use of leverage, and hand placement to achieve a reach block on the playside of zone can be seen below.
Context: Week 13 at Texas A&M. It is the 1st quarter with the scored tied 7-7. LSU has the ball on the opponent’s 12-yard line with 3:42 on the clock. The offense is in 21 personnel and they run zone to the boundary side of the field.
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Pocic’s initial quickness and snap timing is excellent here, and his hand placement with his snap hand is fast and accurate.
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The second clip shows the same placement and hand quickness with his off-hand working to his left. He quickly gains leverage and obtains the reach block in both cases, making it look easy. This level of efficiency in the zone run game is clear throughout his 2016 film, and fits very well with what the Seahawks utilize in their zone-based approach to running the football.
Expectations for 2017
Pocic presented very good value on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft. The LSU alum landed in an ideal scheme for his skill set and he should earn a starting role coming out of training camp. Seattle has been unable to develop players up front over the last couple of seasons, but Pocic is more advanced technically than the typical player the Seahawks have gone for in the last few drafts. Seattle’s OL environment in terms of development is a bit worrisome, but due to the high level of technical proficiency in areas that typically present steep learning curves (hand usage, footwork, stance) Pocic has a good chance at excelling sooner rather than later as a starter.