The Indianapolis Colts selected Braden Smith with the 37th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Originally drafted to be a guard, Smith was asked to make the move to right tackle despite rarely playing that position in college. Even with his lack of experience and technique at tackle, Smith anchored the right side of one of the best offensive lines in football as a rookie in 2018.
While it was remarkable how good he was with so little experience as a rookie, there were still many areas for improvement. The biggest area he needed to show growth in year two was as a pass protector, as the Colts had to use running back and tight end chips all year to help him control his blocks. In today’s film room, we are going to look at some areas he has improved at since last season. We will also be looking at Howard Mudd’s impact on Smith and how Smith has performed under this new technique.
The Mudd Effect
Before we look at the traits and areas of Smith’s game that he excels in, let’s look at two different types of pass plays and their impact on Braden Smith. Aggressive pass sets are the staple of the Howard Mudd technique. They preach attacking the defensive line quickly off the snap. For traditional offensive line coaches and traditional thinkers, this type of blocking is only really used during play action as the offensive lineman attacking the defensive line really sells the play fake.
While Mudd isn’t working with the team anymore, his close friend Chris Strausser is. The two have very similar mindsets when it comes to pass blocking and want their lineman to attack and limit space between them and their defender. To get a baseline for how the Mudd Method essentially works, let’s look at some clips of Braden Smith blocking on play action plays and see how he attacks the defensive line:
In this first clip, it is apparent that Smith is very comfortable in aggressive pass sets. He fires out of his stance and immediately gets his hands inside of the defender. He dominates the block from start to finish as the defensive end can’t get any movement on the powerful right tackle. He is powerful, confident, and controlling on the block when using this technique.
Here is another example of aggressive pass blocking. Rather than getting into a kick slide, he attacks the defensive end off the snap and again controls the block. His power again shows as the defensive end can’t get any separation from the block. In the words of Howard Mudd, “Pass blocking doesn’t have to be passive” and you can see that on these two clips with Smith. Being that he was formerly a guard in college, excelling in this area is no surprise for the giant right tackle.
Now, lets look at Mudd’s spin on typical pass blocking and how Smith has been operating in this system. Typical pass sets require offensive tackle to be passive and slide into the backfield with a “kick slide.” Mudd rejects this as he preaches shorter steps, aggressive angles to the defender, and making first contact with active hands in pass protection.
Love Howard Mudd's pass pro philosophies. I'm sick of vertical sets.— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) October 6, 2018
Set shorter, go get him
Aggressive, passive, aggressive (Not passive, aggressive, passive (vert sets)
Shake hands, start at the endpoint
All passes are play action, go hit em pic.twitter.com/tRW1BXDxRm
Here, you can see how uncomfortable Smith is in this pass set, which is expected of a young player learning a unique method. His feet are short and choppy which is to be expected in this set. He quickly cuts off the angle of Melvin Ingram which, again, is exactly right according to this method. Where he gets into trouble is guessing the outside move of the pass rusher. This leads to Smith lunging and nearly missing the block. It is still a work in progress but Mudd (and Strausser) are training Smith in this new technique.
The overall point in showing the learning process of this technique while also showing Smith’s success on play action is to remind everyone that he is still a work in progress, especially in this new technique. This technique is very unique and difficult to learn for any player. It is even tougher to learn when you are a guard your whole life and have to learn a whole new position on the fly like Smith is doing at right tackle. The most important point though is despite the tough learning process, he is keeping his quarterback clean even on ugly reps. Even Howard Mudd would agree, that is the only thing that truly matters. He will be fine long term, especially after he has this technique perfectly mastered.
Areas of Improvement
Now lets get into the good stuff and hype up this young right tackle. We have known since he was drafted that he is a powerful player and he shows that in pass protection even. One area that he needed to show improvement in however is his anchor in pass protection. He has the strength but lacked the overall footwork and balance to reestablish himself and win reps that he initially loses. In 2019, he looks much improved in this area.
Look at this first rep against pass rusher Frank Clark. Clark is a pass rusher that you rarely want to make mistakes against but Smith does allow him to get the edge early. Smith squares the talented pass rusher up well but allows Clark to get inside his chest plate and initially drive him into the backfield. Smith is unfazed by this however and is able to take the initial hit and casually work the talented pass rusher outside of the arc with ease. It isn’t perfect but the ability to win a rep even when everything isn’t perfect is so important for an NFL right tackle.
This next clip is probably a better example as you can see him lose initially yet re-anchor and win the rep. He shoots his hands way too far outside and his feet are unbalanced. This allows the pass rusher to quickly get inside and drive Smith into the backfield. Smith however is able to regain his balance, find his anchor, and lock the rush down with his strong arms on the pass rusher. Again, it is not perfect but it gets the job done.
One other quick note of improvement I have seen has been the communication up front between him and guard Mark Glowinski. They have passed off twisting defenders well and look very comfortable next to each other after a full offseason working as the right tackle and right guard respectively. They are an unspectacular duo who will get beat a fair amount of times a season. What you won’t see though is miscommunication on the right side as both players have great chemistry with each other and that has been evident all season.
Final clip of the film room but the one area I personally wanted to see improvement with Smith is in his nastiness and finishing ability. For a big and strong player, he failed to finish blocks more often than not in 2018. He didn’t really have that nastiness as a rookie that you want to see. While it still isn’t where it should be, Smith’s mean streak has shown a bit on film this season. Here he locates the blitzing defensive back and knocks him out of the air. Great awareness and nice hit on the blitzing defensive back.
Overall Braden Smith has put together a good season in terms of pass protection. Outside of the one sack he gave up in week one to Joey Bosa, he has kept Jacoby Brissett pretty clean through five games. While that would point to a good second season for any young offensive tackle, it is even more impressive that he is doing this while still learning how to play right tackle and learning a unique pass blocking method.
Howard Mudd’s method is different and not for every offensive tackle. Smith has even shown that he needs to be better in the technique in terms of hand placement and footwork. The most important thing however is that he is showing positive strides in this technique and he is keeping his quarterback clean. Those two aspects right there give me a ton of hope for the future with him at right tackle.
Braden Smith has developed nicely and has improved minor aspects of his game in terms of mean streak, communication, and anchoring. Those minor improvements along with overall better technique could point to a bright future for the young offensive tackle. I think the Colts have their long term starter in Smith at right tackle.