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It's a fine line with recruits

Coaches have to take long, hard looks in a number of areas when evaluating offensive linemen.

November 07, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Sondheimer is a Times staff writer.

You would think it was simple.

Scan the rosters for the biggest players.

Pour over game video looking for the guy who knocks around the most other guys.

Ask his coach how the kid fares in the weight room.

All can be good indicators for college recruiters searching for offensive linemen.

And all can be false indicators if the scouting stops there.

College powers rise and fall based in large part on the ability to forecast line prospects. Just look at UCLA. Recruiting experts judged the Bruins' 2006 recruiting class of linemen among the best in the nation.

But the recruiting experts were wrong. UCLA has been rolling out a different makeshift line nearly every week this season, leaving quarterback Kevin Craft scrambling and the Bruins' rushing attack ground to a halt.

So what else can you do to determine a legitimate line prospect? We asked three veteran line coaches -- Pat Ruel of USC, Bob Palcic of UCLA and Gary Bernardi of Nevada Las Vegas -- what they look for. Their answers:


Wanted: high school linemen between 6 feet 2 and 6-6 who weigh more than 260 pounds.

The lighter the prospect, the more his frame is considered. Is it such that he can put on weight and add strength without sacrificing speed or agility?

"There are exceptions to the rule," USC's Ruel says, and Palcic, who is in his first season at UCLA, agrees, saying, "If there's a kid who plays three sports and he's 255 pounds and has broad shoulders and has the potential to put on weight, I'm going to take a look."


Bigger isn't always better. Sometimes it means you have more to overcome.

Jonathan Ogden of UCLA won the Outland Trophy as college football's best lineman and went on to be a nine-time All-Pro with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, but being 6-9 wasn't always to his advantage. Coaches don't usually want linemen who are that tall because often those players have trouble getting low enough to stay with shorter quick and powerful defenders.

"If you don't play with leverage, you're going to get your butt kicked," Palcic says.

Speed and agility

Ruel has a question for linemen who boast of their strength: "Tell me, what simulates a bench press on a football field?" he asks.

The answer: " . . . being on the bottom of a pile and pushing people off.

"Those aren't the guys I want. I want the guys on top of the pile. We can build strength here and do it in the proper fashion."

Says Bernardi: "In high school, the ability to run and show you're athletic is more important than strength."

Ruel watches how linemen react to the snap. "I want to see some quickness," he says. "Does he have some suddenness, the ability to explode? Then I'll continually get interested."

Bernardi also watches where a blocker ends up after the play, saying, "Is he on the ground? Does he fall down all the time?" He wants a lineman who can stay on his feet.


Bernardi defines toughness as a "continuous pounding effort. The constant determination to finish and beat your guy into submission. It's someone who's relentless."

Ruel says mistakes are made when coaches take talent and ignore intangibles: "When you look at a guy, 'Wow, he's got good feet, but he's a little lazy. But we're going to take him.' . . . You're going to have a big guy on the team who's going to look good getting off the bench or sitting on the bench."

What Ruel looks for is, "is he running hard? Does he finish his blocks? You want a guy who enjoys playing the game. When a guy is competitive, he tells you" -- or, rather, his actions do.

"Competitiveness is being able to buckle down in tough situations and do it right," Ruel says, "which requires mental and physical toughness."

That, Palcic says, a coach might not see on video: "I can't read someone's heart, someone's desire. When you have home visits and speak with them, you try to find out whether they have that determination."


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