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.
New General Manager Chris Ballard has stated that winning in the trenches is key to winning in the NFL. His first action to add to the offensive line, that saw backup tackle and guard Joe Reitz retire and backup center and guard Jonotthan Harrison not re-signed, was to bring in backup center and guard Brian Schwenke from Tennessee.
The initial fan reaction to this signing was a bit of disappointment as there were hopes that Ballard would use some of the Colts generous cap space to bring in a key cog on the line. This free agent class only had a few linemen that would have likely constituted immediate and potential long-term starters though and the teams who signed those players paid a premium for their services.
What then, can Colts fans expect from a young player who had his share of struggles at center in Tennessee and who played just three games in 2016 at left guard?
My guess? The tape might surprise a lot of people.
Before we get into the film, it is worth mentioning that my expectations were not very high heading into this analysis. I suspected the Schwenke would look like a cast-off backup from Tennessee who was out of place at guard after having played center when he entered the league. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at his pass blocking first.
In this play, Schwenke (#62) is at left guard for the Titans. He pops his hands into the chest of Malik Jackson (#90) and shoves him into the right tackle. He then shifts back inside to engage Yannick Ngakoue (#91) who is attempting to stunt inside to pressure Mariota (#8). Instead, he has the balance, anchor, and arm strength to dispose of Jackson and control Ngakoue, pushing him away from the pocket.
This is a solid combination block by Schwenke.
On this play, Scwenke again blocks Malik Jackson but he keeps his eyes up and sees the corner blitz from Aaron Colvin (#22). He makes a quick decision to hand off the block to left tackle Taylor Lewan (#77) and knocks Colvin off of his path to the quarterback.
This level of awareness and activity is something I want to see more of in Colts offensive linemen. Too often players are either entirely unaware of stunts or or blitzes that get Luck crushed. Schwenke likely saves a sack by recognizing the blitz and doing something about it.
We discussed quite a bit about being able to combat athleticism when we took a look at Denzelle Good. He struggled quite a bit with pass rushers who made moves away from his body and got him off balance.
In this play, Schwenke is lined up across from Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget (#94). Liuget attempts to cross up Schwenke after an initial outside move and tries to rip through to his inside. Instead, Schwenke recovers, maintains his balance, and successfully counters.
Which brings me to Schwenke’s hands. I was frustrated quite a bit with some of the Colts offensive linemen who appeared to allow players to get too far inside of their body and too far back on their heels, leading to pressure on the quarterback and a collapsing pocket.
Schwenke battles with rush end Joey Bosa (#99) on this play and gets a solid punch. He continues battling and has the strength to extend his arms out and keep Bosa from getting too far into his body. This allows him to control the play and keep his advantage.
We have looked at other blocking attempts on screen plays and a number of different things have gone wrong. Either a whiff off of the snap or premature releases on the block.
On this play, Schwenke fails to gain the leverage he hoped for off of the snap. He attempts to shove Jackson (#90) to his inside so he can seal. He keeps his balance and recovers to get back into Jackson’s chest, though, and maintains the block to allow Derrick Henry (#22) to get outside.
In the three games Schwenke played at guard in 2016, this is the only play where I saw him get abused by a great pass rush move. Mike Daniels (#76) pops his left arm into Schwenke’s chest and rips through to his outside. Mariota is able to get the pass away but Daniels gets a quarterback hit.
This is the other pass block that was less than inspiring. On this play Schwenke commits too hard to the inside and the outside twist forces left tackle Taylor Lewan (#77) to pass off Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget (#94). Schwenke was never ready for Liuget and got pushed on his heels, resulting in pressure on Mariota.
I’ve mentioned in our previous analyses that one of the biggest keys to run blocking for me is having the athletic ability to get a proper seal when the play is to a particular hole and even more so when a rusher moves laterally behind the line on his way to the outside.
On this play, Schwenke shows the athletic ability to get outside leverage on Mike Adams (#76) and the arm strength to push him out of the play.
Here, Schwenke pulls around the end and gets a great block on Korey Toomer (#56).
I did not get the impression that Schwenke was particularly adept as a pulling guard though. He has the speed and strength to do it but sometimes struggled to make a good decision on who to block.
In this play, Schwenke pulls down the line where Brian Price (#96) goes inside of tight end Delanie Walker (#82) leaving full back Jalston Fowler (#45) to gain leverage on a defensive lineman with a size and momentum advantage. Schwenke could have and should have at least got chip on Price when he saw he was unblocked. Instead he runs right by him and into the second level, while Price hits Henry (#22) in the backfield.
One of the primary attributes that I liked in watching Schwenke’s film is that he is always active. Here he was surprised to get outside shoulder on the defender so quickly and over-extended to the outside. Rather than lose balance or just keep running down the line, he turns and comes back to get another chip on the defender, allowing Murray (#29) to head to the edge without pressure from his backside.
We have also taken a look at strength and the ability get get push in the running game. While Schwenke did not always get this kind of push, he shows the functional strength to hit his man and drive him back into the end zone. You see the leverage he gains on the initial hit and leg drive to push the defender back.
This is my favorite display of strength, leverage, the ability to seal, and staying active as a run blocker. Packers defensive tackle Mike Pennel (#64) is 6’5” and weighs 363 lbs. Schwenke gets inside level and tosses him aside. Rather than releasing the block early, he comes back and hits Pennel again to maintain backside protection on the run.
Don’t get me wrong, Pennel is not Poe or Wilfork, but this is a solid block on a very large man.
The last play shows Schwenke getting to the second level, getting a block on a linebacker and again maintaining his block to keep the linebacker from getting back into the play.
In all, I was pleasantly surprised by Schwenke’s three games at left guard. He is a player who stays active and plays through the whistle. I get the impression that one positive for him with experience as a center is that he is used to utilizing his eyes to make adjustments, even after the snap. He does a solid job of recognizing stunts and blitzes and is athletic enough to get a body on the defender. He plays well within his unit and passes off defenders to his teammates fluidly.
I honestly think that Schwenke will come in and compete for a starting spot. I don’t know that he will win that competition but he is more than just a camp body or bottom of the roster signing. If he can play like he did at guard in 2016 for the Titans, he will push Haeg and Good quite hard over the summer. At worst, he seems like an upgrade over Harrison, who struggled last year at guard, and a solid depth interior lineman.
Pre-Draft Look at Colts Offensive Line Series: