When Chris Ballard drafted Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith with two of his top three picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, it was assumed that he intended to fill out the interior of the offensive line next to center Ryan Kelly. The trio would create an interior full of top draft picks with long careers ahead of them.
Entering camp, veteran Matt Slauson had the inside track at the starting position at right guard early in the season, but it was assumed that Smith would push for starting reps as the season progressed. While it is entirely possible this could happen, Smith has also been getting a closer look at right tackle.
In his first game at guard, the rookie had a mixed performance. There are things he will need to clean up if he wants to take over as the starter.
This is the worst pass blocking down of the evening for Smith. He pops up out of his stance but doesn’t achieve any depth to counter the speed of the defensive lineman off of the snap. He is so far behind he has no chance to recover and is responsible for the sack on Jacoby Brissett.
The edge rusher who spins out of his block with Austin Howard wouldn’t have had an impact on the play if Brissett could have stepped into his throw without pressure in his face from Smith’s man.
Smith comes out of his stance ready to block on this play but is unable to identify where he should help quickly enough to have an impact. He ends up standing in a lane by himself doing nothing until the throw is made. It would be nice to see him help on Kelly and immediately come back to help the tackle stop the inside move. He has to be more assertive and quicker to recognize the play.
Smith does a nice job when defenders come right into his face. In this case a linebacker tries to generate pressure in his gap and he is able to get his hands up to ward away the pressure.
Smith also does a nice job when he has an obvious assignment. There are two defenders on the right side of the line and he will clearly be responsible for the one to the inside. The attempt to gain outside leverage or an advantage was quickly dispatched.
Once again, when Smith shoulders up a defender who is trying to come directly into him, he does a nice job. He does give some ground here but is able to keep his hips and shoulders between the defender and the quarterback. It would be nice to see him gain leverage a little quicker so the defender doesn’t have as good a chance to deflect the pass but this isn’t a loss for Smith either.
One of the biggest concerns for Smith playing guard in the NFL, particularly in Frank Reich’s system, is an inability to cleanly pull. While it is entirely possible that this can get cleaned up and that it is partially due to interior linemen next to him giving ground, it is worth monitoring. Getting tripped up left the ball carrier with no where to go.
On this run, Smith fails to win at the point of attack. He needs to generate some push on the line of scrimmage or at least turn the defender away from the play. He does neither and gets push right into the running lane.
This is another example of getting tripped up on a play designed for him to move laterally. It would be incorrect to say he is pulling but he is forced to block the defender down the line toward the play direction. A win would be to use his advantage on the snap to seal the defender. Instead, Smith ends up back on the ground. His man doesn’t make the play but this isn’t ideal.
Smith does a better job of getting initial leverage and turning the defender away from the play here. He bursts out of his stance and has a step to get some momentum before he engages the defender.
Overall, Smith as inconsistent in his snaps at guard. He needs to work on his feet and getting clean releases when he pulls. He needs to do a better job of recognizing where and when to help when he finds himself without someone to block. Some of this can be cleaned up with better communications and some continuity on the line and some of it can be cleaned up by playing with starters.
Either way, Smith shows that he either has a way to go before he is ready to take over for Matt Slauson or that he will need additional reps to prove that his mistakes were anomalies and not systematic.