It all starts on the line of scrimmage. Not recruiting coverage. But winning football. Since time immemorial, no adage has proven so true as the old saw that "football games are won in the trenches."
Now, there's been a good bit of discussion in recent days about recruiting services, their "star systems", and the relative value of those things. And I've noted in the past (with an assist from the Blue-Gray Sky) that offensive line recruiting is particularly tricky. But in this blogger's opinion, Brent Benedict is about as solid a bet as you'll find in the area of offensive line recruiting. In this installment of the TMI series, I'll explain why.
The Offer List
As I've said before, we may sometimes miss on a guy. But it's much harder for Mark Richt, and Urban Meyer, and Pete Carroll, and Mack Brown and Jim Tressel to all miss on a guy. Brent Benedict is one of those rare young men who got an offer from all of those well-respected coaches, plus those at Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State, Alabama, Clemson and a slough of others, all before completing his junior year of high school. This is strong evidence that good to great talent evaluators across the country agree on the kid's potential. No one thought he was a borderline guy who they'd let pass, or wait on to see if they could get somebody better. He was at or near the top of the board for most of the best football programs in the country. That's never a bad sign.
Benedict measured in during the April 2008 Rivals combine in Gainesville, FL at 6'4 and 1/2 and 278 pounds. That's plenty big enough going into his junior year of high school. If you look at pictures of Benedict you'll see that the kid is not one of those project guys who'll need to lose 30 pounds just to make it through fall camp. However, he could certainly put on some quality weight, too. While I didn't see it, I'm also told that he has posted a 30 inch vertical jump. For a 280 pound offensive lineman that's off the charts. The vertical measures lower body explosiveness, a key aspect of offensive line play, especially run blocking. Suffice it to say that propelling a guy that big that far off the ground takes some explosion.
Off The Field
Brent is the younger brother of former Tennessee signee and Newberry College standout Heath Benedict, who died tragically while preparing for the NFL Draft in March of 2008. Brent says that he played football at least partially to be like his older brother. He's attending the Bolles School in Jacksonville, which also produced UGA fullback Shaun Chapas and some baseball player named Larry Jones. I think people call him "Chipper" or something. Having known several Bolles graduates, I am certain that Brent will arrive at Georgia academically prepared to take care of business in the classroom. That should make focusing on the football portion of the program easier.
What I like most about Benedict is his athleticism. I'm not sure I remember Coach Richt and crew recruiting a true offensive lineman who moves this well. Ever. Chris Davis and Clint Boling both had good feet, but were really tight end/defensive end-type players who bulked up and learned to play offensive line. Benedict is much closer to being physically ready to play in the SEC at this stage. I like that even against smaller players he maintains a good pad level. You'll also notice that he doesn't just push guys back, he moves them away from the hole on running plays. That requires using your feet and hips to get into good position, and it's a sign of both physical ability and football intelligence. Benedict seems to understand that it doesn't matter if he pancakes some guy if in the process the tailback trips over him. I also like that he never stops moving his feet. Bigger high school linemen sometimes get in the habit of engaging a smaller player, and then just leaning on him. Against 5'10, 190 nose tackles from St. Agnes's School for the Tone Deaf, that works. Against Jeff Owens, it will get you embarrassed.
One possible knock on the Bolles School standout is his arm length. As I noted recently in a post on defensive end recruit Jalen Fields, arm length allows a lineman to engage the guy across the line first, in much the same way that it allows a boxer with superior arm length to land punches without being punched. Benedict looks a little short armed for an offensive tackle to me. But if his strength numbers are accurate, that's less of a problem. He should also be able to use his superior feet to gain position on defensive linemen. Finally, I'd like to note that former USC tackle Sam Baker had the same perceived problem, and he started four years for one of the best teams in the country, then as a rookie in the NFL. In other words, arm length and height are way more important for professional lightbulb changers than college football players.
But even if Benedict doesn't have the wingspan to play tackle, his feet should allow him to move inside to guard with no trouble. As you can see from the video above, the guy is deadly pulling out to block down the line, which is more of a guard technique in our offense anyway. Speaking of guards, I'd also note that Max Jean-Giles had pretty short arms too, and his NFL paycheck spends just as well as anybody else's.
The Bottom Line
Benedict should step on campus physically ready to play, but also with enough technique and knowledge to contribute immediately. That could be a very good thing. While we certainly have enough warm bodies on the offensive line going into 2010, a lot of things could go wrong between now and then. Plus several of those warm bodies have not proven themselves to be All-SEC caliber offensive linemen just yet. And after the dark days of the Callaway recruiting era, I'll never complain about us signing a top flight offensive lineman.
I can think of absolutely nothing negative to say about this pickup. Benedict is arguably the top lineman in the state of Florida, and anytime we can go into Jacksonville and take a guy who could have gone anywhere, it's a good sign.
Until later, enjoy the fine guest posting, and . . .