The Indianapolis Colts just completed a ten point comeback in the fourth quarter against the playoff hopeful Miami Dolphins to secure their 5th straight victory. What’s even more impressive about the victory is that they did all that without their starting center Ryan Kelly. Kelly has been playing like an All-Pro this season and is a big reason why the Colts were stringing together so many victories. With Kelly at starting center, the Colts had a streak of four straight games without allowing a sack.
Starting in place of Kelly was former fourth round pick Evan Boehm. Boehm started eight games for Arizona last year at right guard before being cut and signed to the Cardinals just before this season. Once the Colts lost guard Matt Slauson for the season, they poached Boehm off of the Cardinals practice squad for added depth. Although he hasn’t started a game at center in the NFL before this past Sunday, he did make 52 career starts at the position in college for Missouri.
Boehm was very up and down in his first career start at center this past Sunday. The Dolphins rarely tested him in one-on-one and that definitely made his job easier. With Joe Haeg returning to practice this week, some are calling for him to replace Boehm at center against the Jaguars. I will show you all through this film room that Boehm did play well enough to earn another start and that he continually got better as the game progressed on Sunday. Let’s jump into the film though to see what I’m talking about.
A common staple of the Colts’ offensive line dominance in past weeks is their ability on pulls. Kelly was borderline elite in this area as his athleticism and ability to locate defenders were pretty great. Boehm is not quite the athlete Kelly is and he does struggle with locating his targets when pulling. Here, Boehm is able to get out in front of the run but is a bit hesitant about who to block when he gets out there. He ends up blocking nobody on this play as a result which is not ideal.
This next rep by Boehm is a really good one, as he is operating from a position of strength here. Boehm is a very short, stocky lineman and excels more in tight quarters rather than on the move or in space. He is down blocking here, away from the play. He does a great job of getting low on his block and driving defensive lineman Ziggy Hood out of the play. He also directs his block of Hood towards edge rusher Charles Harris, which takes him out of the play as well. Overall a great block by Boehm to take two defenders out of the play. If Marlon Mack had better vision and saw the cutback lane that Boehm created, this play could have gone for more yards.
This next rep shows a few of the flaws I saw in Boehm when run blocking in the first half. The first one that I mentioned earlier is finding his targets and taking proper angles in run blocking. Here he runs past his man and is not able to even get a hand on linebacker Kiko Alonso. I also noticed that Boehm is fairly stiff in the open field, especially when he is attempting to get to the second level against linebackers in the run game. He does a good job of getting to the next level but where he needs to improve now is locating his targets, taking better angles, and engaging in blocks with linebackers, Too often he whiffs in the open field like this.
Earlier I showed a clip of Boehm pulling and failing to diagnose which player he needs to block on the play. Here, Boehm actually does a great job of getting through the line and finding his linebacker that he needs to block. He proceeds to sell out on the block and dives at the linebackers legs to get a body on him. This is actually a pretty solid block that likely would have sprung Mack for a big gain if Anthony Castonzo was able to hold his block on the outside. Definitely a much better rep from Boehm on this inside pull with a much shorter distance to cover and his target more easy to diagnose.
This next rep is actually quite comical, as it is a reminder that Boehm is still new to this team and trying to learn the offense. Playing center in the NFL is one of the hardest things to do in all of football. On top of being asked to block 330 pound nose guards right after you snap the ball, centers also need to be the captain of the offensive line along with understanding all the protection calls and run designs. That is a lot to take in for a guy who has been on the team only for a few weeks. Here he clearly has a miscommunication with Quenton Nelson or simply blocked the wrong way. It is funny to see him spin around like this at the line but these type of mistakes will happen with a player still relatively new to the team.
This next clip again shows Boehm climbing to the second level and whiffing once he gets to the linebacker. Alonso is much quicker than Boehm— obviously as Alonso is a linebacker— and is able to make Boehm whiff on his block en route to making a tackle. In the future, I’d like to see Boehm get his hands inside on the linebacker once he initially engages the block so that he has complete control of the rep and where the linebacker moves. Watch how Braden Smith blocks the opposite linebacker on this rep. He gets his hands inside and is able to keep hold of him until the end of the play. I want to see more of that from Boehm going forward.
Another rep from Boehm where he misses Alonso in space. This may be the worst rep of all because he actually does establish good position initially in front of Alonso. The main problem here is that Boehm just doesn’t get his hands up and on Alonso before he makes his move inside. Boehm has to get his hands up and on quicker linebackers or they are simply going to go around him to make plays. He has the strength advantage over players such as Alonso, he needs to use it. Use your hands, control the block, and open up the run lane.
Now I have been a bit hard on Boehm so far in this piece. So let me show a clip on something I absolutely love about him. He was really solid in pass pro on Sunday, particularly in finding work. The Dolphins run a 4-3 defense so rarely is there a player lined up over the center on pass blocking attempts. As a result, Boehm is tasked with having to find work on unsuspecting lineman already engaged with guards. On this rep, Boehm lays out the defensive lineman engaged with Mark Glowinski after scanning for any late rushers. I love this bully mentality to find work and put defenders on the ground.
Now every clip I have shown so far was Boehm in the first half. The rest of the clips are in the second half of the game on Sunday and you’ll notice a player getting better as the game went on. I mentioned earlier that Boehm impressed me a lot in pass blocking on Sunday. One area where I was really impressed though was in his handling and diagnosing of stunts up front. This is something that Nelson, Kelly, and quite frankly most guards really struggle with in their first few starts in the NFL. Boehm however handles these like a veteran as he is very patient and does not get pulled out of position when handling stunts. He is able to shut down the stunt from Cameron Wake with ease on this play.
The Dolphins really didn’t test Boehm much with one on one reps, which shocked me quite a bit. Here is one of those rare plays where Boehm was tasked with blocking a defensive tackle one on one on a blitz. The defensive lineman— Ziggy Hood— attempts to get up field on Boehm and actually does get a good jump off of the snap. Boehm does a great job of executing the “snatch and trap” technique of blocking to get Hood onto the ground. He notices that Hood’s leverage is pulling him forward and Hood is off balance. Boehm then pulls Hood’s arms down, leading to him falling forward and giving Andrew Luck and open throwing lane. Excellent blocking by Boehm here.
This next rep by Boehm is probably his best block of the entire afternoon. Again operating more in the “phone booth” rather than in open space, Boehm is able to execute two key blocks on one play to spring Mack for a huge gain. Boehm first chips defensive lineman Akeem Spence to help Glowinski secure that block. Then, he is able to work to the second level and secure a block on linebacker Raekwon McMillan. By blocking McMillan out of the gap, Boehm also gets in the way of the backside linebacker— Alonso— and throws off his angle. To top off the whole thing, he buries McMillan in the ground to finish the play. Overall he takes out three defenders here and sparks a huge play for the offense. Excellent rep here by Boehm.
I mentioned earlier how I love how quickly Boehm is able to diagnose and react to stunts. Here we see that ability again on full display. He initially carries the defensive lineman Spence inside before handing him off to Castonzo. He then— rather athletically— works back inside to pick up the inside stunt from Robert Quinn. This quick diagnoses of the stunt play likely saves a sack and I am thoroughly impressed by the awareness he displayed on plays like this all Sunday long.
This last rep may not be his best of the day, but it is my personal favorite. He starts off the play double teaming inside with Glowinski on Spence. After he helps Glowinski control that block he then finds work on Nelson’s side and absolutely crushes defensive lineman Sylvester Williams. My favorite part of the clip— which actually made me chuckle quite a bit— is that it appears that Boehm is thinking about hitting Williams then ultimately decides to once he sees Williams open up his body by jumping up to defend the pass. I love lineman who find work and he definitely excels at bullying defensive lineman around.
The Colts’ five game sackless streak came to an end this past Sunday, but that was not because of Evan Boehm. He excelled in pass blocking and showed no sign of a drop off in replacing the injured Ryan Kelly. Where he really did struggle though was reaching and maintaining blocks in the second level. He struggled with the lateral ability of linebackers in space and needs to really improve getting his hands on them so he can control the block.
Overall I’d say it was a solid showing from the young center. He displayed an impressive mean streak in finishing blocks and finding work and showed some exellent awareness in pass blocking. He may be more limited than Kelly but he should be quite serviceable until Kelly is able to return. In short though, Boehm should absolutely be the starter until Kelly is able to return from his knee injury.