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Trench Warfare: Northwestern State

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It's been too long

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and welcome to the new (and probably not improved) Trench Warfare series.  If you aren't familiar with this series on ODB, they served as a way to show our appreciation to the hog-mollies that paved the way for Baylor's high powered offense while also giving performance grades and breaking down some of the nuances of Baylor's blocking schemes.

Last season I was unable to commit enough time to grading out each game as the time it took to watch every offensive snap multiple times added up to a long film breakdown.  For that reason, Trench Warfare had to take a backseat to my busier schedule.   But I've missed writing about Baylor's linemen so I've decided to bring it back to life but without a detailed grading system.  Now I'm just going to give my general thoughts of each game while talking about scheme and technique, break down positive and negative plays, and any other topics I feel about.  I'll also talk about the defensive linemen and start giving them the recognition they deserve.  So let's get this started!

Much was made about how much Baylor's lost on the offensive and defensive lines this past off-season.  Many, including myself, wondered if Baylor would have to rebuild or just reload.  After watching Baylor play Northwestern State I can definitively say that I'm leaning toward a feeling of an opinion that we'll probably be pretty good in the trenches this season.  I know we scored a lot of points offensively and I know the defense shut them out for nearly the entire game but when your opponent is clearly outmatched, it's hard to say whether it was due to how good Baylor played or how poor NSU played.

I would love to say that yes, all of our worries can be put to rest and we won't miss a beat after losing 7/9 of our starting linemen but there were more moments than I'd like to have seen where miscues and poor technique were evident.  Now I should preface before I go on that I feel a little better about our defensive linemen than the offensive linemen.   They looked pretty good against the NSU offense, especially Ira Lewis our new nose tackle, but I'll get to them later.

First I'd like to talk about what I liked and didn't like about the o-line play.  I like the talent we have to work with.  Baylor started the game with Dom Desouza (LT), Ishmael Wilson (LG), Kyle Fuller (C), Tanner Thrift (RG), and Patrick Lawrence (RT).  In the second series, Blake Blackmar and Mo Porter subbed in for Thrift and Lawrence.  In the third series, Blackmar and Porter switched to the left guard and tackle spot respectively with Thrift and Lawrence reclaiming their positions on the right.  The fourth series had the starting five all playing their original positions.  In this fashion Baylor rotated in and out three different line-ups working seven linemen with only Fuller unchanged.

With each line-up I didn't see much change from one to the next.  This tells me that we have six guys that we can count on for four positions.  This is good as depth may not be an issue when the inevitable injury happens.  I can  see why, though, Blackmar and Porter weren't Friday nights starters.  Blackmar's size gives him a huge advantage as a road-grading run blocker but it also hinders his speed and agility.  I saw him struggle to lock onto defenders in space and he was slow getting to his block when asked to pull.  Both Ish and Thrift had much better footwork and agility when it came to downfield blocking and pulling.  Porter has decent technique for a tackle but I am concerned about his strength at the point of attack.  I saw him get stymied a couple of times and even knocked on his butt once.  Dom and Lawrence showed better initial push in the run game and I didn't see any problems with their pass blocking.

I liked that I saw few miscues and missed blocks.  Our guys seem to be knowledgeable of their assignments and comfortable with each other.  This should help when we start playing better and more complex defenses.  Making quick and accurate line adjustments before plays is key to runners have holes to run through and QB's have time to throw.  Knowing you can trust the guys around you to do their job correctly will allow whatever line-up we use to gel and keep our offense clicking.

Although the line seemed to be making the right blocks, I'd like to see more aggression and push when run blocking and which was mostly due to sub-par technique across the board.  I feel like the line got away with doing just enough to spring our backs in the run game rather than completely dominating the line of scrimmage.  Our players were physically superior and were able to make their blocks while playing high instead of staying low and driving the defense off the ball.  This won't be a possibility when we start conference play.

Now onto the defensive line.  Our new three man front has us lining up in a zero and fours.  A zero technique is a lineman who lines up over the center and a four lines head-up with the offensive tackle.  A zero must be able to occupy multiple blockers and clog up run lanes.  A four must be stout and the point of attack and quick enough to set the edge of the defensive front when necessary.  Our lone returning starter, K.J. Smith, who is a more natural 4-3 defensive end has transitioned well into his new 4-tech position.  His power and quickness allowed him to make plays in the backfield.  He ended the game with two TFL, a sack and 2 QB hurries.  He'll need to keep this up as we'll undoubtedly need to get pressure when rushing three.

As I said earlier, Lewis was very impressive as our new zero.  He basically lived in NSU's backfield earning three TFL and a QB hurry.  What I saw that allowed him to make plays in the backfield was an ability to effectively disengage with blockers.  Obviously one would need to touch the defender in order to block them correctly.  What Lewis does well is counter that by either presenting a smaller target by turning his body and/or using his hands to get blockers off and away from him.  Bravvion Roy looks to be a serviceable backup to Lewis who could blossom into a good, possibly great, interior lineman for Baylor.

The other 4-tech's that played were Jamie Jacobs (starter), Greg Roberts, Xavier Jones, and Tyrone Hunt.  I am really looking forward to see how these guys develop because they all looked promising.  I love their size as three of them are 6-5 or taller and Xavier the "smallest" at 6-3.  With weights ranging from 245 lbs to 275 lbs, they all seem to have the same build: broad shoulders with long arms and legs.  Basically they all have the prototypical size of a defensive player who needs to be big enough to plug a gap yet rangy enough to keep contain.  If these young players keep developing we should have another set of dominant defensive linemen sooner than later.

My only reason to not get too excited about these guys is the competition they looked so good against.  NSU's o-line was just bad and I'll wait to see them play a better unit before I think we're ready for conference play.

That's all I've got for now.  Thanks for reading and SIC EM BEARS!