For many years the left tackle position was considered the primary area of concern for teams to cover. Once you had a bona fide stud left tackle you could piecemeal the rest of the offensive line together as you see fit. The reasoning was simple. You want to protect your QB’s blindside. The defense would most always put their best pass rusher on the that side to take advantage of the QB being unable to see him coming.
That has all changed. Defenses are set up to attack all weaknesses wherever they exist on the offensive line. Many players are interchangeable with similar skillsets . Defensive linemen are much more athletic than in the past.
Every offensive line position is now critical for the success of the unit as a whole. The center position in particular has an increased importance. He must understand protections and how to change those schemes on the fly.
The centers of the NFL today must be able to block behemoth nose tackles and also be able to pull on rushing attempts and swivel from side to side in pass protection. The must be intelligent leaders who can hold the unit together when things go wrong. They are coaches on the field who better be able to handle their duties, or the entire line will be affected.
Keith Ismael is a center from San Diego State University with skills that may be of interest to the New York Jets. He has great movement ability. He is also a smart kid who was a leader on his line in college. Ismael has started 38 games at center over the past 3 seasons. He earned First Team Mountain West honors the past two seasons and Second Team honors as a freshman. He is still young (doesn’t turn 22 until July) so he has a long career ahead of him if he develops.
Ismael has some position versatility as he can also play as a guard. He has very quick feet and a high degree of technical ability. He wins with his head, not pure bulk. He is still raw in some areas and needs to work on his power to help his drive blocking. He is a smart kid who is earning his degree (He should graduate this semester.) in international security and conflict resolution.
Ismael is a good (not great) athlete and he has the best snap to step quickness in this class. That is how fast he get to his block after hiking the ball. He can make reach blocks a gap away and he can make long pulls if he is needed to do so. He is a fluid mover in space. He gets to the second level with ease with the ability to make a block on a moving target once he gets there. He can use a little tweaking here and there on his movements, but for a 21 year old kid he has some special tools to work with.
The first clip is of Ismael as a center. (He is the center #60 in all these clips). He is performing a reach block on the right defensive tackle on a play being run to the left side which is a difficult block to get on the correct side. Jason Kelce can do this in his sleep, but he is an All Pro. Most NFL centers will struggle with this block.
See how fast he gets out of his stance after the snap. Remember his man is lined up over the inside shoulder of the guard so he has to move out and around to get to the correct side of the block. He almost makes it there, but he is half a step away from totally stoning the 3-tech from the play. It is still an effective block, but a 3-tech in the NFL is going to be lightning fast so he will need to get a little quicker. Still those are some quick feet for a 310 lb man.
This next play is another reach bloc,k but he doesn’t have to travel as far as his man is playing off his outside shoulder. He still has to snap the ball then move to his right to get an angle on the defensive tackle. Also notice on these two plays that the QB is under center. Ismael has to make sure the QB has the ball before he can get to his block.
It may seem a mundane thing, but many college centers come into the NFL without ever having their QB under center. It is a vital chore to make a successful exchange of the ball to the QB without incident. This is where that snap to step quickness comes into play. He is not just throwing the ball back then moving. No, he is handing the ball to the QB then moving, It’s only a split second more, but it makes a huge difference. Some centers can never master this trait in the NFL coming from college.
As it stands you can see how Ismael gets out on the move to the correct side of the block then is able to push his man back 4 yards. He stays really low after the snap so he has great leverage once he makes the block. He does a great job of staying low initially but has a tendency to stand up late and lose that great leverage. He needs to work on that. He gets pushed back late, but it has no bearing on the play. His man was a nonfactor.
This next play Ismael doesn’t do much, but I wanted to show how fluid he looks in space. A 6’ 3” 310 lb player running in space usually is lumbering slob, but Ismael looks very comfortable in space.
He is his QB’s personal protector, and I think he was surprised by how little pressure was there. He could have squared his shoulders better. but he really didn’t have to make a block.
This next play is really nice to watch as Ismael shows not only his technical acuity but also his intelligence to make a solid block on the second level. He is lucky as his man on the second level (the MLB) is fixated on his left shoulder, and the play is being run off his right shoulder.
If you look closely the ball is on the two yard line, and the defense is playing a zero coverage. There is no one deep. All eleven defenders are at the line of scrimmage looking to attack the play. At the snap Ismael doesn’t go to his man. He lets him fill the hole inside of him which is a gap away from the RB. Once the MLB commits to the hole Ismael is able to pin him there as the RB races by. If not for the safety #7 who is unblocked this would have been a 98 yard TD. As it was it is a first down with SDSU out of a huge hole. This is just a smart play by a young lineman. I had to watch this over and over; to me this is beauty.
This next play is simple one on one pass blocking on a nose tackle who has great power but is lacking in the speed department. It’s 3rd and 9 so they need a play to keep the drive alive in a tied game (which they won).
There is nothing really special here, just some good fundamental pass blocking. As a player you understand the defender in front of you because you have been working against him all day. Ismael knows his man is not someone who will race around him. He snaps the ball, lets the defender come to him, and gets his arms up quickly with his hands inside to control the breastplate. The defender is stymied. The play goes for a first down; it’s a win.
This next play is a 3rd and 8 with a blitzer and a missed assignment. The guard #79 takes the wrong man so the protection breaks down, but the play was a bust from the start. The right side of the line did its part while the left side was totally messed up.
I wanted to show you this because of the technique used by the right side of the line. When offensive linemen run block they fire out to move the defender out of the hole. When they pass block they usually give way to gain depth on the defender (this is called a vertical set). This allows the pass rusher to make the first move. It is the term used for the technique when a tackle pushes the edge rusher beyond the QB to keep him safe.
This play the linemen are using a pass blocking technique called a “jump set.” Basically what the linemen do is try to do is stone the defender at the line of scrimmage. Offenses use this technique on short passes because they don’t have to worry about an offensive lineman getting beat. There is no time for the defender to get home. Also it changes up the protection scheme which keeps the defender guessing on the protections.
Offenses worry about quick pressure. If a lineman used a jump set all the time he could be beaten quickly by a quality defensive lineman which would probably cause a sack. When the ball is coming out quickly you don’t have to worry about that. So next time you hear a TV commentator use the term “jump set” you will understand the concept involved.
This next play is just a way to show you the impressive movement skills by Ismael on the second level of the defense. When a center is uncovered like in a 4-3 defense he has certain responsibilities and certain freedoms he must use judiciously.
Now the first responsibility of Ismael is to check, and make sure that no one is shooting the gap inside of him or crossing his face. Once that is secured he heads to the second level to cut off the backside linebacker from running the play down. Ismael moves so smoothly out to the next level of the defense, he is a natural in space.
This next play is in a zone blocking scheme which is something that fits perfectly into his skillset. Snap to first step quickness, quality hands and a solid use of angles are assets Ismael has. He is a natural fit in a zone based offense and will be highly sought after for those skills at the next level.
There isn’t a whole lot here other than you can see the quickness off the snap. He almost beats his guard to a block on a man that is directly over the guard. He just has really nice, quick feet, and he is so active with his hands.
This next play has some good and some bad all mixed into one. It’s a running play off his shoulder, but his block was effective but then ineffective.
You can see at the snap he comes off really low with great leverage, pushing his man 3 yards off the line. This is something he does well when he uses leverage. Yet he then stops his feet just for a split second, but that is enough to give the advantage to the defender.
He also stands up (losing all leverage), and at the end he leans over to affect a block which is a big no-no. This play started out great then ended horribly even though it had little to no effect on the outcome of the play.
This last play is a testament to Ismael’s movement skills. This is what defines him, and the coaches at SDSU knew that. They used those skills to their advantage. This play is a mini rollout to hit a back in the flat on a 3rd and 3.
What is interesting here is the design of the play. They have the tackle blocking down as the center is moving outside to take the edge rusher. Ismael is able to get great positioning on the defensive end then keep him from the play. This is just another example on how much SDSU used the movement skills of Ismael to their advantage.
Keith Ismael is a quality prospect with great movement skill but also smart with an ability to use his hands effectively. He is evolving as a player but his skill set screams zone blocking scheme. This is not to say he could not develop other skills, which he could.
I have Keith Ismael as an early day three prospect who has some scheme diversity. He needs to develop a little more but yet has an enticing skill set.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?