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A Look At Newcomer Connor McGovern

He has the makings of a foundational piece

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Newcomer Connor McGovern grew up as far away from the bright lights of Broadway as a person can get. Not the distance (that would be Perth, Australia which is 11,620 miles away) but in lifestyle. McGovern grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, born into a family of potato farmers, a business started by his grandfather. A strong work ethic was bred into Connor early in his life, a principal he still lives by to this day. “When stuff isn’t going right all we know how to do is work harder, so that’s where I got that from,’’ McGovern said.

Connor also shares another thing with his grandfather: football. His grandfather was a wrestler and a football player in college. He also had a cousin who was a QB that played in Germany but also had a short stay with the New Orleans Saints. “Football definitely runs in the family and I’ve been just taking that hard work I learned from my family to the football field,’’ he said.

Connor played both offense and defense in high school. He played on the line on both sides of the ball, but his future was on offense according to recruiters. “It was a little bit more fun tackling people and chasing the quarterback,’’ McGovern said. “But then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do that in college.’’

McGovern was a big kid in high school (6’ 3” 280 lbs). He was an avid weightlifter but not real savvy when it came to high level blocking techniques, which made him a 3-star recruit. He later went on to become a competitive powerlifter after high school. “I didn’t really have technique in high school. I was bigger than everybody else so I could just toss them around” said McGovern.

At Missouri he played all over the offensive line, everywhere except center which is where the Jets have him penciled in to play. He first worked in as a right guard and on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2012, playing in 9 games. He was awarded SEC Honor roll status for his work in the classroom. He again played right guard in 2013, starting all 14 games for a team that ranked 16th nationally in total offense (490.7 yards a game). He was also awarded SEC honor roll status for the second straight year.

As a junior he started 14 games again, the first four at right tackle and the last 10 at right guard. In 2015 he started 12 games, all at left tackle, while also setting numerous Missouri school weight room records. Here he attempts to set the Missouri school record with 5 total reps at the highest weight in the squat.

While in college McGovern realized that in order to improve he had to work on something more than strength. The offensive line is a very different position as compared to the defensive line. A defensive lineman is almost always moving ahead with his entire momentum thrusting forward. An offensive lineman will spend half his time engaged in blocking these wild men while moving backwards. It is a difficult skill to learn. You have to have your feet in concert with the rest of your body or you will be off balance, then be run over or thrown aside.

You have to change gears when power blocking on running plays to drive your man away from the ball carrier moving forward. Pass blocking and run blocking are two completely different skills sets, with entirely different hand usage along with weight distribution. In addition, various blocking schemes differ widely, such as power gap, man or zone blocking schemes. Most teams have variations of all three of these techniques in their offensive systems. An offensive lineman must be much more technically sound in all aspects of his game than his defensive counterpart.

For that reason McGovern began to move away from weight training to work on agility, along with boxing to work on his hands. “When I transitioned to offensive line, I really embraced the grind,’’ McGovern said. “With very few exceptions the job of offensive line is foreign to anything done outside of football. So I really embraced the technique side because there’s not a whole lot of what you do on the offensive line that you do every day in life. My college coaches did a really good job with my technique.”

McGovern had great size (6’ 4 1/4” 306 lbs, 32 7/8” arms and a 79 1/2” wingspan), but playing left tackle his last year hurt his draft stock. His size was good but not good enough for the left tackle position. That along with his less than elite agility made him a guard prospect or a backup offensive line possibility. Thus he was drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 draft (#144 overall) to the Denver Broncos.

McGovern failed to see the field his first year in Denver. In 2017 he was a backup right guard who was active for 15 games (starting 5 games) while playing 37% of the offensive snaps and an additional 10% of the special teams snaps. In 2018 he took over the starting right guard position, but moved over to the center position in week 11 when Matt Paradis went down with an injury.

He then received a crash course in the center position. He had to learn to call blocking schemes along with the different blocking assignments on the fly. The transition went reasonably well and the Broncos went on a 3 game winning streak, beating the Chargers, the Steelers on the road, then destroying the Bengals. Injuries to stars Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris were too much for the Broncos to overcome and the season went south from there.

McGovern went into the 2019 season knowing that he was going to be the starting center once Matt Paradis left for free agency. Paradis (even though injured) had really helped McGovern after McGovern took over center duties in week #9 in 2018. McGovern ended up playing 98% of the snaps that year while starting 15 games.

“I think I learned a lot, especially from Paradis, he was such a great guy to have as a mentor and a good friend starting next to him at guard. I got to see how he handles the huddle and I got to see how he handles pre-snap. As the ball is getting snapped, sometimes you’re getting calls out of your mouth too. Between everything I’ve learned from Matt and the couple of games where I was fortunate enough to play center, I think I have a pretty solid base going into the season and being able to go through the whole OTAs and camp at a certain position. I think it’s going to be huge” McGovern said.

The addition of Mike Munchak as offensive line coach really aided McGovern in his development as well. “Munchak is fantastic,” McGovern said. “He gets it. There are a lot of coaches that played a couple of years in the league or played college ball and got hurt and then got into coaching. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s seen every look. He’s played against great guys. He knows what it takes to beat anybody. He played against fantastic defensive linemen. Just his knowledge of the game and the little nuances that a lot of O-linemen don’t even see and definitely the every-day person wouldn’t see, he’s so good at. The base technique, he really hammers that home and [in] a way where we all understand it because it literally applies perfectly because he’s used that in games — and a lot of games.”

His attention to his studies at Missouri helped out as well, especially the math courses he took. “Running (the blocking schemes) is a lot of geometry, figuring out angles,’’ McGovern said. “It ends up being a lot more math than you’d expect playing center. I was decent at math so I put it in numbers and shapes and do it that way. So even if they’re showing a look I’ve never seen, I apply a numbers system to it and it seems to help you pick up a blitz a little bit better.’’

“It’s critical thinking,’’ McGovern said. “Especially when you get into the higher math, a lot of it is critical thinking. Math without numbers gets a little bit different. I really enjoy the cerebral part about it.’’

Through his 4 years in Denver McGovern played in 4 different offensive systems so he has a broad knowledge now on various blocking schemes used in the NFL. He has also played the interior line spots while playing both tackle spots in college. When asked about himself plus other teammates playing all over the line McGovern said “I think that really adds to the versatility of the offensive line, a lot of guys have played a lot of different positions, and it only helps us.”

Finally when asked about the center position itself McGovern said “I enjoy center. I think it’s more of a natural position for me, I’m excited for it. It’s a great opportunity.” McGovern played all but two snaps at center for the Denver Broncos in 2019 while committing zero penalties in his 1,014 snaps.

When you look at McGovern play you really see the difference working on agility has made in his game. He was already plenty strong enough for the NFL, but he had trouble hitting blocks on the move. He has cleaned much of that up in the past year but you also see his athleticism shine through now. His has much quicker feet, he gets himself in great position quickly, but it is done in concert with his hands.

Here he is going against D. J. Reader of the Texans, a massive man at 6’ 3” 327 lbs. At the snap he is able to get underneath the big man to gain leverage while taking away the leverage of his opponent.

This is a designed play to get the back out on a linebacker while the other receivers run vertical routes to take away coverage. McGovern does his job well and the play results in a 25 yard gain. Look who is downfield first to help up the back after the big play. McGovern hustled downfield after his block in case he could throw another block that could have sprung the back for even more yardage. He is the only lineman in the picture after the play is over.

This next play is against the Lions. McGovern has a linebacker over him in possible blitz mode. McGovern calls for man blocking on the play considering there appear to be 5 rushers with 5 linemen available. There is also an empty backfield, so any additional blitzer would be unblocked. To complicate the situation McGovern has a rookie UDFA, Adam Schlottmann, playing right guard.

At the snap the linebacker (Steve Longa), who was lined up over McGovern, drops back into zone coverage. McGovern wisely moves over to take on Damon Harrison who is about to work on Schottmann. This leaves Schottmann available for help work, while McGovern immediately stonewalls Harrison, keeping Harrison at least 5 yards from the QB at all times. It is an important trait for a center to understand where the weaknesses of the line are located, then give instant help in that area.

This next clip shows nearly the exact same defensive alignment without the threat of a blitz. This time it is Jalen Reeves-Maybin in the middle with Longa playing the right OLB spot. In this configuration McGovern will again be looking to help his weakest link, UDFA Schottmann.

Sometimes looks can be deceiving as Maybin blitzes at the snap. McGovern had already moved over to help Schottmann on the right side when he sees Maybin coming with a free lane to the backfield. Again the work on agility helps as McGovern is able to get to Maybin in time to push him out of the way. Lindsey the RB finds the gaping hole in the defense and races 13 yards to the Detroit 3. McGovern shows his alertness to spot the blitz along with good dexterity to be able to reverse course to make a path clearing block.

McGovern has worked hard on his fluidity but he hasn’t let his strength deteriorate. It is a fine line for any lineman to create the bulk along with the force to move some huge humans while maintaining the flexibility to flow while making quality blocks on the move. Here McGovern is playing against the L. A. Chargers. His opponent is Brandon Mebane, who is a savvy 13 year vet with power, good leverage and superior hand play.

This is just an excellent play all around as McGovern wins the leverage battle despite being 3 inches taller than Mebane. He stands him up and moves his feet to position himself between Mebane and the runner. Even though he is nowhere near the runner, McGovern works hard to gain that position advantage should Lindsey decide to cut the play back into the middle of the field. Either way Mebane is totally stymied on the play.

Later in the same game McGovern is going up against Justin Jones, a 2nd year player out of North Carolina State who is a strong, active player with great length. This is another running play that is designed to go off McGovern’s right shoulder. The tight end is supposed to make a crackback block, but he completely whiffs on the seal.

Snap to first step quickness is one of the major indices scouts use to determine the value of a center. Getting the ball to the QB without error while being the first to initiate contact is critical to the effectiveness of a center. Here McGovern does a beautiful job on his man as he gets out of his stance fast, uses his length to control the defender, then moves his feet to gain the correct position to finish the block. The block doesn’t have to be devastating, just effective enough for the RB to have a lane to explode through. The lane was not clear but that was no fault of McGovern.

Lastly, length is not a necessity for a center like it is for the offensive tackle position, but it is a nice luxury to have. Having length can be an asset but using length well is always a positive trait when blocking. Here McGovern is going up against Jaleel Johnson, a big third year player from Iowa.

This is a pass play, so McGovern will snap the ball, then hold his position to make Johnson commit to which direction he is going at the snap. McGovern has his hands high, so as soon as he sees where Johnson is headed he can land a punch to the chest plate to stun/halt the rush. Once he does that he is going to keep his opponent at arms length, moving him side to side without letting him make any headway. When the pass is thrown Johnson is still on the 30 yard line, he has made no progress during the play.

Summary

Connor McGovern was in my opinion the best free agent signing of the summer by the Jets in a definite area of need. McGovern is an ascending player who has played only 28 games at center in his lifetime. He is just 27 years old with plenty of tread left on the tires. He has played a total of 2,488 snaps without any notable injuries in 4 years (after not playing a single snap as a rookie). He comes to the Jets with a world of confidence but a demeanor of a player with something to prove. He is a throwback player who thrives on hard work.

McGovern has a mentality of positivity along with the desire to dominate that can rub off on teammates. He is a no nonsense, let’s get to work type player who will always look to improve. He was rated the 10th best center in the NFL overall by PFF last year and his pass blocking was rated 5th best in the NFL according to PFF. He plays the game the right way. McGovern’s technical improvements have allowed him to play an entire season without a flag.

McGovern is the type of player who can develop into a foundational piece for the Jets. Given his age, his lack of injuries along with his low snap count he is a player who could be around for the next five years while playing at a high level. If the Jets can find the pieces to fill in the line with Mekhi Becton & McGovern, in the next two years the Jets could have the makings of a top five offensive line. If Joe Douglas continues to make the offensive line a priority it is a real possibility. Only time will tell.

That is what I think.

What do you think?