Wednesday, 24 July 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 37

(photo cred: Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports)

As the countdown hits our fourth member we finally reach our first member of the Oregon Ducks. As a bonus, I’m going to give you a break from reading stat lines because today’s subject is Oregon Sophomore Left Tackle Tyler Johnstone. As always, here’s a recap of the countdown so far before we begin:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State

There are no stats that I can point to that will make my point because with offensive linemen there never are. However, there is one name I can put out there that illustrates how good Johnstone was last year. That name would be Kyle Long.

Long, if you don’t remember was drafted 20th overall out of Oregon by the Chicago Bears back in April. The Bears drafted Long to play Guard but hope he will develop into a star Left Tackle and why wouldn’t they? Long is 6-6, 311 pounds, he is an elite athlete who once was able to play college baseball even with his big frame, and he has impressive football bloodlines being the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and the younger brother of perennial Pro Bowl pass rusher Chris Long. Even with all of that working in Long’s favor, he was not able to play Left Tackle last year. Yes Johnstone was so good as a redshirt freshman that he forced a senior mere months from entering the NFL as a top-20 pick to play Guard.

What makes Johnstone so good? You can start with his fit within Oregon’s system. Oregon doesn’t have much use for big hulking tackles at 330 pounds who can’t run worth a lick. In the Ducks spread attack, a lineman has to be athletic, nimble, and in great shape, able to run over a mile in one game and remain just as effective in the 4th quarter as he is in the 1st. Johnstone stands 6-6 and has long arms and an athletic build which allows him to keep pass rushers at a distance while his movement skills allow him to get an explosive burst off the line to take advantage against even the most athletic Defensive Ends on running plays. Johnstone breaks the mold of most elite Left Tackles in that he is not bulky, in fact he isn’t even 300 pounds. Johnstone checks in at 292 which is huge for an average human being but quite undersized for a Left Tackle.

Johnstone’s size creates a bit of a catch-22 for him. On the one hand, his smaller size improves quicknesses and allows him to get to the second level on running plays and provide great blocks downfield to spring big plays. It also allows him to mirror pass rushing moves and stay with athletic sack artists step for step. To exhibit the good side of Tyler Johnstone, take a look at this game film from the Civil War.

Johnstone only played the first half and was pulled due to what looked like a foot injury but while he was in he pitched a shutout. Going up against 1st team All Pac-12 performer Scott Crichton, Johnstone prevented Crichton from getting a single tackle while he was in the game. Watch the film, Crichton never gets past Johnstone off the line, not even once.

Unfortunately, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the bad side of being 292 pounds at Left Tackle. That bad side of Johnstone’s game was on full display in Oregon’s dream crushing loss to Stanford. You can view the damage below:

Johnstone faced another all conference standout in Henry Anderson and got beaten like a drum. Anderson piled up 7 total tackles (5 solo), 2.5 TFLs, a sack and a forced fumble, leading the way for one of the most impressive team defensive performances in Pac-12/10/8 history (considering context). Johnstone helped build Anderson's star. Without this game, I doubt Henry Anderson would have received all-conference honors.
So where does Johnstone go from here? I’m not sure, I don’t think any freshman has ever reached his full potential so there is certainly room for growth. He needs to get stronger and play more physically for sure but he needs to be careful not to add too much weight and take away from his athleticism and movement skills. I think he has great technique and he is a natural fit at the position but he still needs some fine tuning and some time in the weight room before he is ready to be an All Pac-12 pick. But, he’s only entering his Sophomore season. He’s got time on his side and the sky is the limit.

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