Recently I brought you a status report on the University of Georgia's 2008 offensive line recruiting. In that update I noted that if we could sign any three offensive linemen, one of the three I would most like to see in the red and black is Mountain Brook, Alabama offensive tackle Tyler Love. I noted however that the odds of Love ending up in Athens appeared slim to nonexistent because of his strong family ties to Tuscaloosa and Nick Saban's unwavering attention.
I was forced to retract that statement when Love announced that he will be visiting Athens this weekend for the third time this summer. While I still put the odds of Love playing at Georgia at less than 50% (I'm just naturally pessimistic that way), the chances of it happening are significant enough to qualify him for a slot in the TMI series, where we look at what incoming commitments and potential recruits are doing on the field, as opposed to in the recruiting rankings.
I'm also pleased to do a TMI installment on Love because his highlight film provides a good case study in offensive line recruiting. Pat from The Blue-Gray Sky opined recently that offensive linemen are the toughest players to evaluate, and he gets no argument from me. The reasons for this are numerous and varied, but include the following:
1) physical development-Offensive linemen change more over the course of their careers than probably any other position players. They tend to either come in with tight end-type bodies that just keep growing (see Robert Gallery) or as giant garbage disposals who must be weaned from mama's home cooking and put on a lean protein diet (see Duke Robinson). There's really no surefire way of telling which ones will look like Jabba the Hut, which ones will have freak shoulder injuries, and which ones will turn into Jonathan Ogden.
Actually there's one way to tell about the freak shoulder injuries. Callaway+offseason conditioning= bizarre rotator cuff shenanigans. Get ready, Blazers.
2) variety of skills required- A lot of offensive linemen come from high school systems that are relatively simple. Either they run the ball 85% of the time, or throw it 85%. There are, percentage wise at least, very few "pro-style" or "west coast" offenses in high school. Therefore a lot of high school offensive linemen get to college with an inability to either run block or pass block. That's before we even consider the many nuanced techniques within these two fairly crude assessments of what college offensive linemen do.
3) intellectual rigor-All stereotypes aside, any college offensive lineman can tell you that his position requires a lot of study. And adaptation. It requires split second decision making. Not every 6'6, 320 pound mauler can handle that.
What is so special about Tyler Love then? Take a look at the footage from Rivals on his player bio page. Several things are apparent even in these short clips. One is that Love has great feet. His "trap step" (that is the maneuver on pulling plays where he gets his shoulders and hips turned) is one of the quickest I've seen from a player that size. He also drives his feet well when run blocking (rather than just leaning on smaller players and pushing them to the ground). When pass blocking, he gets set in a hurry and clearly knows how to stay square to a passrusher. This is a guy who won't have trouble with the speed of the college game.
I also love the fact that he has long arms which he uses to engage pass rushers. People often wonder why college coaches want offensive tackles who are 6'5 or taller. The answer is not height per se, but the arm length that comes with it. A 6'9 tackle like former Dawg Dennis Roland is able to engage a speed rushing defensive end from 6 inches farther away than a 6'3 tackle because of longer arms. That often means the difference between being able to lock onto the speedrushing defender, or turning around and yelling for your team's prized passer to duck and cover.
Of course low pad level and leverage are also important for offensive tackles. The taller ones tend to have trouble against 6'3 270 pound "bowling ball" defensive ends like Charles Johnson who can stand them up or swim around them. Love plays with excellent pad level for a 6'7 tackle, even against substantially shorter defensive personnel.
Obviously it's hard to evaluate a player's mental acuity on tape. The closest I think you can come is seeing how he handles situations where brute force would allow him to do one thing, but sound football strategy calls for another. Love demonstrates this dichotomy several times in this Rivals film. On a couple of occasions, he resists the urge to push an obviously overpowered defensive player further into running lanes, even though he clearly could. On passing downs, he does a great job of knowing precisely where the pocket is and either giving or gaining ground accordingly. He also reports a 3.0 GPA at Mountain Brook High School, which is known for a difficult college prep curriculum. This is all the assurance I need that Tyler Love is probably not a member of Kenny Irons' book club (in which texts are selected based on picture content and whether or not a "scratch and sniff" edition is available).
If I have any criticism of Love it is that he may not be physically developed enough to play as a freshman and would require a redshirt season to add 15-20 pounds. But it's easy to see that he's a lean 280-285 now, so he should be able to put on the weight without losing speed. And he probably wouldn't be called on to play in Athens as a freshman anyway.
Will Love end up a Dawg? I still think the odds are against us. But the longer a highly touted instate prospect goes without committing to the home school, the more you begin to wonder. If Love were sold on the Crimson Tide, I think he would have committed by now (if for no other reason than the signal it would send to other big name recruits in Alabama). Love is also being heavily recruited by Oklahoma and Florida, and Texas has recently joined the fray for his services. I think the reason is that Tyler Love is the best pure offensive tackle prospect in the southeast.