In one of the more disappointing decisions this preseason, Chris Ballard and the Colts decided to move Braden Smith back inside to guard for the “dress rehearsal” game. They trotted out Austin Howard, who quickly showed he was not the answer at right tackle. They brought in J’Marcus Webb after a single series in hopes that he could improve the position, and while he wasn’t as bad as Howard, he is still unlikely to make the regular season roster.
After two straight games of promising tape at right tackle, I had hopes that Smith would be given a chance to nail down a starting spot. With Denzelle Good also taking the field for the first time, I was intrigued to compare their tape.
None of that happened. Instead, Smith took the field in the first half as the starting right guard. This leaves us to take our second look at his performance on the inside, starting with his impact on the running game. As with the Quenton Nelson pieces yesterday, we’ll move from the weakest downs to the strongest.
This is a designed run around the right end for Nyheim Hines. You can tell based upon what happens on the back side of the play. Joe Haeg gets inside to slow down trailing pursuit and moves to the next level to seal the inside. Quenton Nelson reaches and gets around the defensive tackle to wall him off from the running lane. Ryan Kelly also seals.
Braden Smith needs to gain outside leverage on the defensive tackle to create the outside edge and spring Hines. He fails to do so and allows his man to set the edge, forcing Hines back inside for no gain.
You have to carefully watch this play to see where Smith enters the scrum and where he comes out of it. He initiates contact with the defensive tackle but fails to gain inside leverage. The defensive lineman is heading right for the inside lane that Hines was supposed to take. Smith is left grabbing at the defender and is called for a hold. This negatives the first down run and ends up resulting in a punt one play later.
This play shows Smith’s continued limitations in space. While he is not pulling on this play, he gets to the second level and has a chance to seal the linebacker. Instead, he dives at the linebackers feet and ends up on the ground. This play is over well before the back gets to the second level but nothing about what Smith did was particularly effective.
Here is another opportunity for Smith to make an impact at the second level. This time, he stays on his feet and pushes the linebacker away from the hole behind him. This is slightly more effective than the previous play and if the rest of the play didn’t break down (namely if J’Marcus Webb doesn’t whiff on his block) he could have helped the Chrstine Michael gain some yards.
This is an example of a nice seal with Webb on the right side. They create a massive lane to the inside. If the back identifies the lane and is able to avoid contact in the backfield, there is a chance this run goes for a nice gain.
This play works to Smith’s strengths. When he is asked to block in line and doesn’t have to move laterally, he is particularly effective. He gets a quick chip on the defensive lineman and moves straight ahead to get a body on the linebacker.
This is another example where Smith is able to initiate contact with the defender and is not asked to move laterally. He gains inside leverage, stays square to the defender and eventually overpowers him to push him down the field.
This is the final look at a positive play in the ground game for Smith. You can see that he initiates contact, squares up his shoulders and never allows the defender to make progress to the inside.
Smith continues to be inconsistent when he plays at the guard position. His limitations on the run, in space and moving laterally give him fits on certain downs. He is susceptible to losing when he doesn’t initiate contact and is unable to square his shoulders. He has a bad habit of grabbing at defenders when he is beat, resulting in holding calls that will kill drives.
While Smith might be an average or slightly below average starting guard, particularly for a rookie, he seems much more natural at right tackle at this point in his development.