Thursday, February 5, 2015

Upon Further Review: Auburn's Understated Need at Center

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Yesterday was National College Football Fans Watching ESPN In Their Office Day. Also known as National Signing Day. Or #NationalSigningDay or #NDS2015 or a handful of other names. I was right there with you...sorta. I took half a day off for termite inspections for my old house, which I just sold. Nope. No termites, thanks for asking. 

After the bug man left, I headed to work. That was shortly after Auburn nabbed Holland. At that point, Auburn was smokin' hot and had several huge recruits left to announce.

But after I got to work, Auburn whiffed on the remaining big names. Maybe I should have stayed home, eh?

There are two topics I want to discuss in this post, which go back to articles I wrote last week (that few people read). 

There two were:

Auburn's Understated Needs of 2015 Signing Day: Center

I will happily discuss the rest of the recruiting class, but I felt that these two positions were two positions that the Auburn coaching staff didn't seem to be able to fill, despite having needs. 

Today, let's talk about the need at center.

In regards to center, Auburn lost a rarity in a 4-year letterman and future NFL player, Dismukes. Coming out of highschool, he was an obvious SEC-talent with his high motor and mean streak. He was a player that I felt could have come out last year after the road grater performance that was the 2013 Auburn Offense. I felt that Auburn needed him back worse than even Tre Mason, and I even wrote a whole piece on it. However, nothing could keep him another year, with his eligibility expiring. Losing him is one thing, but not having a capable replacement for him is another thing entirely. Auburn has been unable to develope a replacement center for Dismukes in 3 years. Dampeer may turn into a good one, but he is not a premier SEC-player.....yet. And, who does Auburn have behind him? No one. Auburn needed a smart, athletic, and tough recruit. Personally, I wanted someone fit for the position coming out of high school, not a converted player. 

Initially, Auburn had no one on the list going into signing day, though they had a chance with Kaleb Kim from Georgia. Kim at 6'3" 280, is the 5th best center on the 247composite rankings. He was the last uncommitted premier center on the group and Auburn landed  his signature.

Kim WAS an Auburn commitment, though several websites didn't have him listed as one. I happened to be following one where he wasn't listed as a commitment. 

You know that I don't really care for stars, so I decided to watch some of his highlights. 

My quick thoughts? 

The first thing I noticed was that his highlights showed him playing tackle, not center.

Kim was bigger than 95% of the kids he lined up against on film, almost comically so. This presented some issues when it came to pad level. Ideally, I would like to see linemen utilize hand placement and arm strength to beat opposing players who aren't in the same size range. Doing so allows more efficient movement. That is, once the player on the first level is defeated, disengage and move to the 2nd level. Furthermore, using this technique keeps opposing players from locking up in close quarters and using superior size as a leverage. Instead, I saw Kim constantly leaning on players. While his superior size easily overwhelmed other players, it frequently came at a cost of him falling on top of his opponents during the play. Instead of being able to engage multiple players every play, he would take himself out of the play. When he played against someone in his weight class, he was frequently out-leveraged. Again, he tried to use his mass by leaning on a player. If the player was strong enough, they could defeat Kim by using his 6'3" frame against him. 

I thought he struggled more with pass protection than run blocking. During pass plays, he frequently let defenders engage him too close to his core. I want to see a lineman engage a pass rusher at the maximum distance and dictate where they go. 

However, he has very good speed when pulling on run plays, frequently setting an edge easily and efficiently. 

At times, his footwork was very good. There were many plays were it was designed for him to engage a player and then pull. This required him to utilize choreographed steps. When substance such as this was required, he did very well. Unlike highschool, most every play will be like this in college, so it was good to see a player who understood footwork. 

Despite seeing his reliance on size and weight in engagement, I did see an aggressive player who wants to finish plays. The footwork and hand placement can be taught.

What can't be taught is the cerebral needs of the position. That is, all of the presnap stuff such as coverage calling and snap count....not to mention the snap itself. Without seeing him at center, I can't judge him.

Additionally, being bigger isn't always the best thing. Auburn can't change the fact that the kid is 6'3". Typically, coaches want a center to have a lower center of mass, which is not something Kim has. Post snap, the body automatically raises. Kim will present an easy target for a DT or noseguard to out-leverage. Additionally, you aren't looking for a 300 pounder. You need a player who can move on their feet well. That being said, every single one of the top center recruits listed were over 6'2" and over 270 pounds. Kim, at 280, was the second lightest. Now, all of these kids will reshape their bodies over the next year. Of the guys I have seen, he has one of the better chances of transferring into a lean center capable of superior footwork and multi-level blocking. Remember, these kids have to block 320 pound nose tackles and 225 pound speeding linebackers equally well. 

I can't complain too much.Designated centers are getting rare these days, especially in the form of SEC-caliber size and talent recruits. Coach Gus Malzahn nabbed one of the few ones out there and the only one that was in the Top 5 at the position, as per recruiting services. He has the physical edge and motor. Will he be teachable? Coach did exactly what he needed to do. Despite a list of committed centers, he managed to go out and get one of the best. I do think the kid needs a lot of work, but Auburn had a need in this recruiting class and it was filled with one of the better players in the country.