Perhaps the one signing that bucked the trend was when the Raiders signed Austin Howard, a large offensive tackle who started every game in the last two seasons at right tackle for the Jets.
Howard is a physical specimen, standing 6’7″ and 335 lbs. He definitely stands out on game video, too, because he’s much larger than those around him.
With such size, you may expect a mauler at the right tackle position – someone who crushes smaller defensive ends with his brute force. If you did expect this, however, you’d be wrong.
Unfortunately, Howard is not this mauler and it’s one of a few issues that were made clear in watching All-22 coaches film of several Jets games last year.
First, and probably foremost, I’m not sure Howard has the foot speed necessary to be a good offensive tackle. If defenders have a good first step, they will be able to get down the field, drop their
shoulder and get around him in the backfield. This is especially true when defensive ends or outside linebackers were lined up “loose” or very wide from the center formation.
Howard’s struggles with shutting out defenders on outside moves starts with a poor kick step. The kickout is the first step the offensive tackle takes. As Howard was a right tackle for the Jets, it started
with his right, outside foot.
Howard doesn’t appear tohave the foot speed to make a quick kick step, slide with his left foot and stay between the defender and the quarterback. Multiple times, he will allow his man to get deep around
him and it resulted in too many QB pressures.
There is a caveat, here, because Howard was blocking for a rookie QB most of the season in Geno Smith. It’s possible that Howard was blocking for a set-up point that Smith was supposed to hit but that Smith didn’t hit the correct set-up point. This seems unlikely, given the number of times it happened, but it is possible.
Here is an example of Howard against the Raiders’ Jason Hunter last year, week 14. Hunter, as Raiders fans will remember, is not known for his speed rushing abilities.
Here, Hunter is lined up extremely loose – that is he’s line very wide to the right side of the offensive line, almost to the outside wide receiver. Howard has adjusted his stance to a very deep set foot (his right foot) in anticipation of needing to kick out immediately and get between the rush and QB Geno Smith:
At the snap, Howard kicks out and back and gets in front of Hunter:
Unfortunately, Howard’s lack of foot speed doesn’t allow him to continue to stay in front of Hunter who, again, is not known for his elite speed or anything. Ideally, Howard would continue to kick and slide, keeping his body between the pass rush and Smith, who would then be able to step up into the pocket.
In this case, though, Howard has not been able to keep his feet moving well enough and Smith has been able to dip his shoulder and turn the corner:
Howard tries to push Hunter, but he’s lost the leverage battle and is just lunging, at this point. Hunter is not pushed off his path to the QB, who isn’t looking at the right side to see pressure coming:
Hunter hits Smith just as he’s throwing, here. You can see the ball right by the “0” in the upper “30” line marking. Smith was trying to hit his tight end, Kellen Winslow, who is just breaking open at the top right part of the screen versus Kevin Burnett:
Instead of a long completion, possibly a touchdown, this pass falls incomplete because Hunter hit Smith while he threw, misdirecting the pass. This was solely due to Howard’s slow feet allowing Hunter to bend and burst part him on the outside.
Thankfully, Howard is much better when the defender is trying to go inside. An inside move requires the offensive tackle to take power steps towards the interior of the line and drive the defender inside
where he can’t find a crease to get into the backfield.
Howard does this well, sealing off the defender from making a sudden outside move and driving the end or tackle into the guard’s area, where the two can lock him out.
On run plays, Howard is likewise inconsistent. He’s best when he’s on the move and can drive a defender back, and then look to get to the second level.
He struggles when the run is coming right behind him, however. Howard has a decent punch, which stops the defender in his tracks, but he does a poor job of then keeping contact and continuing to drive his defender.
This allows the defender to recover and make a tackle around Howard if the running back hasn’t already cleared the area.
When he does keep contact, however, he’s able to bring his immense size and strength into play and more than once a defender was pancaked by Howard, when Howard got his technique right.
Finally, Howard struggles to keep his pads low, which means he loses leverage against shorter defensive players, especially defensive tackles.
Howard stands a full 6’7″, so it’s not surprising that he struggles to stay low – that’s difficult for such a big man. However, it allows defenders to get in under his arms and into his pads and this puts him
back on his heels and struggling to block.
This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that it’s no surprise when it occurs.
Do not take these negatives to mean that I do not like Howard – I think he can be a solid contributor. I am heartened by the fact that the Raiders are interested in trying him at guard instead of right
As a guard, Howard can focus his considerable physical ability on dominating defensive tackles instead of trying to gain the fast feet needed to stop rushers around the edge. I think he projects much
better as a guard than as a tackle, although he certainly can play tackle in a pinch.
Howard’s versatility is his biggest key. He is also just scratching the surface of his ability. Howard came into the league as an undrafted free agent, so he’s been learning how to play the position as he goes. Transitioning to guard can only help him and he’ll be surrounded by some very solid vets, who can help coach him up.
Howard should be able to keep improving his technique and that will allow him to be a very strong force with his imposing physical attributes. I’m much higher on Howard as a guard, however, than I would be if he were starting at right tackle.