One of the most highly contested position groups for the Indianapolis Colts is the offensive line. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been under duress far too much during his young career and he is without a doubt the most important piece of the team’s chances to succeed.
After numerous signings and attempts to fix the offensive line primarily through free agency, former General Manager Ryan Grigson finally got serious about addressing the problem in the 2016 NFL Draft. He drafted four offensive linemen and three of those offensive linemen were starting by the end of the year.
Still, questions remain. No one other than Ryan Kelly has proven himself to be a reliable starter and the answer long-term. Second-year players Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark are the clear front-runners for the starting spots so it makes sense to take a look at each player and see where they best fit.
We continue our analysis with our second segment on hybrid lineman Joe Haeg, who played at both right tackle and right guard throughout the year. Now for a look at his film at right tackle.
Haeg (#73) displays a fluid drop step and the ability to slide and mirror the defender. Outside of one play in three games, his ability to block defenders who attempted to get the edge was consistent. This is also in line with the previous observation that Haeg is particularly mobile.
In the segment breaking down Haeg at right guard, we also noted that he was a technician. What I like to see in this play is that he fluidly navigates the oncoming defenders and makes the right decision on who to keep in front of him. The end result is that he keeps things very clean on his side.
However, just as we noted before, one of Haeg’s biggest weaknesses is his anchor. It’s easy to get caught up watching Doyle (#84) getting blown back into Luck but if you focus on Haeg (#73) you will see that he is shoved 7 yards into the backfield. If Luck hadn’t been scrambling already due to Doyle’s man in his face, he would have had Haeg in his lap as well.
One difference for Haeg at right tackle is that lacking an anchor isn’t quite as catastrophic due to playing in more space. Here he clearly loses the initial punch and gets driven back but because he is blocking on the edge, defenders tend to take a less direct approach to the quarterback. This allows him the extra 7 yards to gain his footing and keep Luck from taking a hit.
One of the biggest surprises I’ve had in all six games analyzing Haeg is that I find he is a far superior run blocker than pass blocker. Still, the lack of functional strength will show up against larger defenders. He seals the defender, meaning he wins the block, but getting push will continue to be a struggle in tight spaces where he isn’t able to get some momentum going.
Plays like this, when he gets a body on the defender at the first level and uses his quickness to get to the second level to push out the linebacker are where he makes the biggest difference. Every time Haeg succeeds at getting to the second level the running back picks up extra yard — and he does that a lot.
Additionally, Haeg shows good awareness and quickness when asked to seal the edge on runs around the end. He bursts to the outside of the linebacker and quickly pivots to keep the linebacker from penetrating. This allows Gore to get into open space and pick up about 7 yards.
Through three games at right tackle, Haeg gave up three sacks. Two of those sacks were the results of getting out-muscled by the defender. This is my biggest worry for his long-term viability as a starter in the NFL. If I’m a defensive coordinator breaking down film on Haeg, I give my ends and outside linebackers the green light to run right through Haeg and encourage them to not waste any extra energy trying to get around him.
Here Haeg allows the defender to get one arm into his chest and gets pushed back like he is on a unicycle. He was so far off balance that the defender had the chance to stop and turn around to sack Luck without Haeg having a chance to do anything about it.
The final sack Haeg gave up is very atypical. He allows the edge rusher to get under his hands and fails to engage. I would be surprised to see Haeg give up many sacks of this variety.
What I’ve ultimately concluded about Haeg surprises me. I suspected that I would find he is significantly better suited for right tackle than he is at right guard. Instead, I would say that his biggest weaknesses are apparent at both positions and the only reason he may be better suited for tackle is due to his mobility on the edge.
No matter where Haeg lines up along the line he has significant difficulties setting his anchor in pass protection. He also shows that he is primarily useful when he is on the move and not as useful in tight spaces due to his lack of strength in general.
If he plans to make his career in the NFL as a starting offensive lineman, he will need to spend much of the off-season with professional trainers to find a way to improve his strength against NFL caliber defensive linemen and outside linebackers. Until then, he will be a highly versatile backup lineman who will give up a couple of plays in pass protection each game but otherwise have the football intelligence to play multiple positions along the line and athleticism to get to the second level as a run blocker in a zone blocking scheme.
I’ve also concluded that Le’Raven Clark would be my choice of the two second-year linemen to take the starting right tackle spot.