Kids begin to play football at a young age for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they don’t even know the reason. Cesar Ruiz started playing football because his mom wanted him to play. It’s might seem unusual that a mother would desire her boy to play the most violent game available, but she did so only out of concern.
Cesar lost his dad when he was 8 years old. His father was only 26, he died helping a man he didn’t even know. Cesar Ruiz, Sr. had stopped his car on the shoulder of Route 55 near their home in Camden, NJ, to help a man fix a flat tire. While doing so another vehicle drove into him, killing him instantly.
Cesar’s mom Shambry was young when she had her son (15). It was hard to cope with the loss. She also saw a dramatic change in her boy. “I believe he was getting depressed, because he had lost his dad at such a young age,” said Shambry, “That was pretty hard for him.”
She considered counseling but decided to take him to play football. Cesar didn’t want to leave the house after his father’s death.
He was a big kid. Doctors told his mom that he was at risk of obesity. For his physical and mental health his mom signed him up at age 9 with the Whitman Park Tigers.
“He was a pulling center for us, and not too many centers at that age have the coordination to snap the ball and pull and block the defensive end,” said Keith Walker, who coached Ruiz at Whitman Park. “Very, very rare.”
After his sophomore season at Camden High School, Cesar was becoming a name college scouts began to know. He was offered a scholarship to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his junior and senior years.
“I was at home playing with my friends every day. I thought that was what my life was going to be like forever,” Ruiz said. “But honestly, it all really changed when I went to IMG. They exposed me to a whole new world. When you see something like that, you just want to see more. What else is out there? What else can I see? What else can I explore?”
IMG was just like college where Cesar could get a great education and play against some of the best football players in the country. While at IMG Ruiz played in 12 different states. He soon became a star, the #1 center prospect in the country in 2017 according to 247Sports.
He was a great player but was also well liked by his teammates.
“He was one of the most likable guys on our campus when he was here, and sometimes that’s not easy for offensive lineman,” said IMG head coach Kevin Wright. “The quarterbacks are usually the guys that people want to hang out with. But people like to hang out with Cesar.”
He went to IMG as a big recruit, he bonded well with another recruit who came in with his same class, QB Shea Patterson. This was his reaction (as a 15 year old) of hearing of Patterson’s involvement.
“They were telling me how they have a new quarterback and both of you guys are new to the school so we want you to bond with each other so you can build a friendship,” said Ruiz. “I heard a lot about (Patterson) in the meeting, (Saturday). It’s cool I’ll be snapping to one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
They both accepted scholarship offers to attend the University of Michigan after IMG.
Ruiz became a rare freshman starter for Jim Harbaugh, he is big 6’ 3 1/2” 320 lbs but light on his feet. His strength with plus mobility allowed the Wolverines to use Ruiz in a variety of ways including pulling out to the edge.
This is a great example of what I am talking about. This is an off tackle play against a stout Notre Dame defense who came in 8th ranked in the country. Michigan routed them 45-14 while piling up 303 yards rushing on the day.
This is impressive speed along with quickness to snap the ball and get to the edge to cut off the left inside linebacker before he can make a play. It is fluid yet nimble as the linebacker #40 Drew White reads the play and races to the hole but gets stoned by Ruiz who was further away.
A couple plays later again Ruiz is on the move. This time it is out of a pistol formation with a little motion to give the defense something to think about. It is basically the same play except the left inside linebacker (now #22 Asmar Bilal) takes a more outside track. He is still blocked on the play by Ruiz.
This game was played in a driving rainstorm all night which made footing treacherous. This wasn’t a crushing block by Ruiz but it was effective as he took out the linebacker which kept the safety from making a play. This did not go unnoticed by his head coach,
“You know, he’s continuing to learn all the nuances of playing the center position,” Harbaugh said. “Well ahead of the curve, as far as a young player ever since he’s been here. Started as a true freshman, and now continuing his growth. He’s just on the track of being an outstanding player.” He is also protecting Shea Patterson, just like at IMG.
Ruiz is capable of hitting players on the move in the second level of the defense which is important for any running game. Many players can get there but making a solid block is another matter. Here he is against inside linebacker Drew White again.
Ruiz is able to get to the correct side of the linebacker to pin him back, away from the play. This was well blocked for an 8 yard gain on first and 10.
“Cesar’s just a great player,” said junior offensive lineman Stephen Spanellis. “And Cesar, he’s a very thick individual, but he’s also very athletic. That’s impressive. He bends well, he’s smart, he knows all the calls, and he’s just a good leader. This offensive line is not where it is today without Cesar Ruiz. He’s a great player, and he’s going to be a great pro.”
This next play is just quickness against a penetrating tackle with the guard to that side pulling for a trap block against the defensive tackle on the opposite side.
This was not a hard block, but it was just what the situation called for. This is just one of dozens of plays I saw Ruiz make the right block without being overly aggressive or missing. Many players Ruiz’s size will try to manhandle the players they go against, but they lose blocks occasionally when doing so.
This next play is another example of what I mean. This is a cross blitz by both inside linebackers on an inside run play. This is the type of nuanced block Jim Harbaugh was talking about earlier.
First Ruiz has to make the perfect snap while looking at two antsy linebackers in front of him. He then takes a step to the right to get on the correct side of the block to be most effective. He then must decide which man is the biggest threat to the play so he can take him out. With good fortune he takes out the right inside linebacker which also happens to take out the left as well. You can see Ruiz turn his man around which has him ending up with his back to the play on a first down run.
I have been showing you run plays because this is where Ruiz most struggles. His pass sets were great. In fact he was named the best pass blocking center in the country by PFF College, with 447 snaps spent in pass protection and just eight pressures allowed. None came over the final five games of the season. He didn’t face a lot of one on one pass sets, but he has a strong enough anchor to hold off the largest nose tackles the NFL has. He is also very good with finding stunts and blitzes while being a great helper to his guards.
On this play you can watch as Ruiz gets almost no movement of the nose tackle on the running play. He should at least be able to turn his man away from the play, but this becomes a near stalemate.
Ruiz had a run blocking grade of 64.9 on the year which is low for any offensive lineman. Tyler Biadasz had never had a run blocking grade under 82.1, but his pass blocking this year was the worst of his career at 70.5.
Ruiz is still only 20 years old with an athletic build so he just needs to learn some better technique, especially with leverage to get better at his run blocking.
In the prior GIF Ruiz is too high coming into the block which is the reason he doesn’t get movement. I graded Patriots guard Joe Thuney out of North Carolina State in 2016 the same as Ruiz, great pass blocking, poor run blocking. Thuney is about to make some money in free agency. He learned. He isn’t the best run blocker, but he keeps his QB safe and plays effectively enough in the run game.
In this last GIF we see what I am describing, the struggles in the run game but the ability to overcome those difficulties. This is a goal line play where leverage makes all the difference in the play.
You can plainly see the defensive lineman is lower than Ruiz. He is pushing him into the backfield. Yet Ruiz is able to turn him away from the play to keep him away from the running back.
Now in the NFL he is going to need to play with better leverage. I think he has the ability to do so. His offensive line coach will need to sharpen his technique with his knees plus his hands.
Ruiz appeared in 36 games for the Wolverines with 31 career starts 5 at right guard and 26 at center. He also played on special teams during 14 games.
Ruiz wants to succeed to take care of his family. He is an amiable kid who appears to be very coachable. He is going to be a 21 year old rookie so there will be struggles and adjustments needed in his game.
Cesar Ruiz has the tools to be an above average center in the NFL. He is young so it will take some time, but he has great movement skill with excellent pass blocking abilities. Those are the things that are most difficult to teach.
The run blocking problems can be solved with work along with some advice from peers. Ruiz has solid character. He would fit nicely into any locker room. He appears to be able to successfully work with his offensive line mates. He has leadership traits to become a leader (in time) on the line.
Ruiz fits into any type of offensive system but would need time to develop before he would be proficient in a gap/power scheme. His movement skill translate to all NFL offenses, but he would be best used in a zone based system at least to start his career.
I currently have a high 4th round grade on Ruiz, but he will go before that I am sure. He is going to be between the 2nd to 4th center off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft. In a normal Draft I would suspect he would be taken in the bottom of the 2nd round, but because of all the offensive line talent this year he will probably last to the top of the 3rd round. That is just my guess as of now. Things could change.
What do you think?