- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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The value of an offensive lineman is best determined by his physical and mental abilities. In other words, strength, power, foot quickness, mobility and fundamentals are the foundations for being a solid offensive lineman. However, what separates the good from the great are the intangibles.
It takes a special person to be an offensive lineman. It takes someone who places personal pride above glory in terms of his attitude toward the game. Physical skills are important but it's the fight and the effort put forth that makes the difference. The best at the position are tough and aggressive to the point they do whatever it takes within the rules of the game to finish the play and win their one-on-one battles.
To be perfectly honest, few high school offensive linemen enter a collegiate program already possessing all the physical and mental tools. More than with any other position, an offensive lineman can develop over time as long as he has the grit, determination and personal drive to excel.
The 2011 class features a wonderful group of line prospects, especially at the tackle position. There are three five-star offensive tackles in this class, all of which are ranked in the top 10 overall. We have seen some excellent tackle prospects through the years of the ESPNU 150 but never a collection like this. The guard and center positions also provide some excellent prospects with the ability to have excellent careers at the college level.
Some prospects could have fallen into several categories, but with so many talented line prospects we've limited it to a one category maximum, and even with that some fine players were left out.
What we look for: Good run-blockers must come off the ball with a flat back and deliver a solid first punch into the frame of the defensive lineman across from him. Fast hands and quick feet allow him to control the defender and get movement at the point of attack. Coaches want a lineman that can lock on to the opponent and maintain control until the whistle blows and a guy that will give great effort from the backside and seek out a defender to block downfield.
Christian Westerman (Chandler, Ariz./ Hamilton)
The No. 1 rated tackle is a big and well-put-together lineman who possesses an aggressive attitude and the ability to be a dominant run-blocker. He combines his size and strength with the ability to quickly get out of his stance and explode into defenders. He can maintain good pad level and leg drive to push defenders off the ball. He has an attitude in which he tries to finish blocks and will look for opportunities to make another block downfield. It is not all size and physicality with the Longhorns' commit, though, because he is an agile big man who can work up to the second level and block well in space.
Marcus Jackson (Vero Beach, Fla./ Senior)
Jackson is a tenacious run-blocker who could demand a fee from defenders for the ride he gives them off the line off scrimmage. He is quick and explosive out of his stance, stays low and rolls his hips on contact to generate good power from his lower body. He is able to violently and quickly get into defenders, knocking them on their heels and off the ball. He works to finish what he started. Jackson is a guard prospect who could find himself being a popular guy to run behind in college.
Reese Dismukes (Spanish Fort, Ala./Spanish Fort)
Dismukes is an excellent center prospect who can do many things well. One of his real strengths is his run-blocking ability. He can quickly get moving while snapping the ball, and when covered up he can explode into a defender, get good hand placement and knock him off the ball. When uncovered, he has the foot quickness to get leverage on shaded defenders. The Auburn commit is nimble enough to climb up to the second level and block moving targets. In addition to good ability, Dismukes is an aggressive blocker who tries to finish defenders.
What we look for: The initial kickstep is the foundation of solid pass protection. The pass-setter must get back and anchor down without hesitation on the snap of the ball. From that position, it becomes a matter of stopping the initial charge of the pass-rusher with a jarring blow without getting overextended. That's followed by shuffling and sliding his feet to maintain an inside relationship on the defender. Good offensive linemen will wash rushers to the inside if they cross the lineman's face or run them past the pocket if they try to speed rush the outside edge. Offensive linemen with long arms have a distinct advantage in keeping pass-rushers off their bodies.
Cyrus Hobbi (Scottsdale, Ariz./ Saguaro)
There are not a lot of glaring holes in Hobbi's game. The No. 1-ranked guard is a fairly technically-sound pass-protector. While he's listed as a guard, he has the tools to play tackle if needed. He can set quickly and uses a good reach to deliver a forceful punch. He maintains good position and is able to shadow rushers. Whether at guard or tackle, Hobbi presents a difficult obstacle for pass-rushers to try and get around with a combination of technique and toughness.
Bobby Hart (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./ Saint Thomas Aquinas)
Hart is still a pup age-wise, but he already is a good pass-blocker. He needs to keep developing his frame, but he has a nice reach and uses it well to deliver a good initial punch to keep defenders off his body. He is a kid with good flexibility who can bend and slide his feet and is able to mirror rushers well. The future Seminoles lineman is a competitor who seems to enjoy the challenge of trying to keep pass-rushers off his quarterback. Young for his class, Hart is still developing physically as a player, but regardless of age he is still entering college as a good pass-protector.
La'El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./ Redemptorist)
Collins spends the majority of his time driving defenders off the ball, and he is amongst the best run-blockers in this class, but he is listed here because his ability as a pass-blocker is very strong. The five-star prospect may not get to showcase his pass-protection skills as often, and yes there is some room for improvement from a technique standpoint, but Collins has the ability to be a rock at left tackle for LSU. He has excellent bend and nimble feet and can quickly get set and kick back. His size, reach and quick hands allow him to deliver a blow that can knock rushers off balance. There is some polishing to do, but this kid is a fine pass-blocker and will only become better with continued reps.
Best in space
What we look for: One of the big assets that sets the very best offensive linemen apart from the others is how they operate on the move. Whether it is pulling and trapping or leading upfield on level-two linebackers or level-three defensive backs, the big man who has body control and balance in wide-open spaces is indeed a special player. It takes a lineman with good foot agility, hand-eye coordination and overall athleticism to be an effective blocker in space.
(Hyattsville, Md./ DeMatha Catholic)
In a deep class of fine offensive tackle prospects, none may be as athletic or possess as much upside as Kouandjio. The five-star prospect has a freakish combination of size and athleticism. He has good flexibility and balance that not only allows him to be a dominant force at the line of scrimmage but in space. Add into the mix a punishing style of play and you have a wonderful prospect with the ability to continue to get even better.
Andre Yruretagoyena (Scottsdale, Ariz./ Chaparral)
You think pronouncing his last name is difficult, try avoiding his wrath if you're an opposing defender. The Oregon commit needs to keep developing his frame, but he is one of the most physical and tenacious blockers in this class and defenders are not safe, no matter where they are on the field. He can be a dominant run-blocker in space, and his athleticism allows him to stay on his feet and at times crush defenders on the move. Yruretagoyena may be a little light, but don't underestimate his aggression or ability to hunt defenders down between the white lines.
Matthew Hegarty (Aztec, N.M./Aztec)
The No. 4-ranked tackle prospect is a good, well-rounded player and the foundation of his game is his overall athleticism. The Notre Dame commit is an offensive line prospect with good agility, balance and flexibility. He can knock defenders off the ball, quickly get set to protect his quarterback and move well in space to block linebackers or make second-effort blocks downfield to help spring a big play. There is plenty to like about Hegarty, and his ability to play on the move and stay on his feet are things that should have Fighting Irish fans excited.
What we look for: Offensive linemen make huge strides as they mature. Sometimes it's a matter of gaining strength, improving foot quickness and agility or becoming more fundamentally sound in terms of technique. Young linemen are often better run-blockers than pass-protectors or the other way around. The important thing is that a player improves his weaknesses to be a complete offensive lineman. These are some of the guys we think can be exceptional linemen at the next level with some refinement.
Gregory Robinson (Thibodaux, La./Thibodaux)
The recent Auburn commit likes to compete in the trenches. He has a physical, tenacious style of play, and that, combined with his good size and nice wingspan, makes Robinson a promising prospect. The four-star guard is raw in his technique and can be a bit feast or famine in his style of play. He is capable of manhandling a defender and knocking him on his backside, but his aggression can leave him exposed to being beat at times. If Robinson can channel his aggression and meld it with better technique, he has the ability to develop into a good college offensive lineman.
Tyler Johnstone (Chandler, Ariz./ Hamilton)
When the guy lined up on the other side of you is the nation's No. 1-ranked offensive tackle, it can be easy to get stuck in the shadows some, but Johnstone is someone to take notice of. He will need more time develop physically and as a player than his teammate, Westerman, but the Oregon commit displays the tools to have a bright future. He needs to add serious bulk to his frame but is an athletic prospect who posted some of the best test scores on the combine circuit this offseason for offensive linemen. He is an aggressive player who gives good effort. He reminds us some of another Arizona offensive line prospect from the 2009 class, Taylor Lewan, who is now starting at left tackle for Michigan.
Zach DeBell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./Tarpon Springs)
This Georgia commit needs to keep filling out his frame and developing his technique, but he has good tools to work with, and we could see him growing into a good one for the Bulldogs. He has a nice frame to develop, flashes good athleticism and has a physical style of play.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has more than a decade of coaching experience. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.