Free agent offensive linemen: A name, value and sleeper Redskins could target

Continuing on with the latest of our series, I thought we’d move on to offensive linemen this week. Once again I look at a big name, a good value signing and an under the radar guy that could make sense for the Washington Redskins in free agency.

Big name: Alex Mack

Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack is the biggest name of the interior offensive lineman in this free agent class. The Browns no doubt want him back, but are unlikely to use the franchise tag on him. That means, if the two-time Pro Bowl center wants to get away from the many problems the Browns have encountered over the past year or so, he should be able to hit the open market. He’ll come with a big price tag, but for a player of his caliber at an important position, he might just be worth the investment.

Mack has experience running both zone and power schemes. Washington is expected to continue with the zone scheme installed by the Mike Shanahan regime, but Jay Gruden had plenty of power runs in his Cincinnati playbook. Mack is scheme-diverse, which would allow him to transition to whatever Gruden wanted the offense to run.

zone 1a

On this play, the Browns run an inside zone, similar to what the Redskins have run the past four years. Mack is going to tandem block Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

zone 1b

Mack does an excellent job staying low and getting under the pad level of Suh. That gives him leverage to start to push Suh towards the sidelines.

zone 1c

Mack clears the way to open up a cutback lane for the running back.

Redskins incumbent center Will Montgomery rarely managed to get himself such leverage to help push a defender back off the line of scrimmage. Often, it was Montgomery going backwards, not the defender. Mack excels with his technique, which is crucial for interior linemen in zone schemes.

As I mentioned, Mack is also plenty capable in power schemes, should Gruden want to install a more physical style of running.

cut off 1a

This time, Mack has Nick Fairley to block. The play is called as a power run to the right, with the left guard pulling. Mack has to cut off Fairley from the front side of the run.

cut off 1b

Mack again stays low, getting under Fairley and using his angle to push him off balance.

cut off 1c

Although the run is designed to follow the pulling guard to the right, Mack does such an excellent job of cutting off Fairley that he creates a clear lane for the running back, who cuts back and gets upfield quickly for a big gain.

Mack is more than just a run blocker though. He also shows up well in pass protection.

re-anchor 1a

Mack returns to his battle against Suh on this play. Suh is one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL and provides a tough challenge for Mack.

re-anchor 1b

Mack gets a little help from the right guard, who chips Suh before allowing Mack to take the block. Mack makes a mistake and allows Suh to get under his pad level.

re-anchor 1c

That allows Suh to drive him back towards the quarterback. But Mack stays in front of Suh and attempts to re-anchor and regain control of the block.

re-anchor 1d

After re-anchoring, Mack is able to get himself under Suh and control the block, giving his quarterback a chance to throw. That was by no means a perfect block from Mack. But against one of the best defensive tackles, he showed an ability to recover and maintain a block despite giving up the initial leverage.

Center is one of the most crucial positions along the offensive line. The center needs to be able to identify blitzes and call out protection changes, especially if he has a young quarterback behind him. Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has mentioned how Montgomery misidentified the mike (middle) linebacker on some plays this season, which led to the wrong protection or blocking scheme and resulted in negative plays. Signing an experienced Pro Bowl veteran like Mack would help Robert Griffin III with making sure he has the correct protection called. That could be a huge boost for Griffin’s development, which would make the expensive investment worthwhile for Washington.

Good value: Jon Asamoah

As a third-round pick in 2010, Asamoah is one of the younger free agents available in this class at just 25 years old. By his third season, he became an established starter at right guard on a Kansas City Chiefs offensive line that paved the way for Jamaal Charles to average five yards a carry on his way to 1,287 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Asamoah excels as a run blocker but can also pass protect effectively.

Pass pro 1a

Here against the Texans, Asamoah faces a one-on-one matchup with J.J. Watt.

Pass pro 1b

Asamoah’s hand placement is key to this block. He gets his hands inside and on Watt’s chest.

Pass pro 1c

Watt attempts to club Asamoah’s hands and rip free.

Pass pro 1d

But Asamoah is able to keep his hands on Watt’s chest, preventing Watt from ripping free.

Pass pro 1e

Watt resorts to an attempted spin move back inside after failing with his initial rush, but Asamoah mirrors him well and gets some help from the center as well.

Asamoah also does an excellent job getting to the second level in the run game, something Washington’s guards struggled with all season.

2nd level 1a

Here, Asamoah works with the right tackle to secure a tandem block before working to the second level.

2nd level 1b

Almost immediately after the snap, Asamoah begins to look for his assigned linebacker, Brian Cushing.

2nd level 1c

He peels off his block and works his way towards Cushing.

2nd level 1d

Asamoah proceeds to cut off Cushing from the play as Charles cuts back into a wide open hole in the defense for another big gain.

It’ll be tough to convince Asamoah to leave a 11-5 Chiefs team to join a rebuilding 3-13 Redskins team. He might cost a little more than Washington would ideally like to pay. But Asamoah has age on his side. Tying him down as he enters his peak years in the NFL could make the extra money worth it for the Redskins.

Under the radar: Anthony Collins

This one almost makes too much sense. The Bengals lineman filled in at left tackle for Andrew Whitworth to start the season and performed well in his absence. Once guard Kevin Zeitler went down injured in week 13, Gruden had enough confidence in Collins that he moved Whitworth inside to guard and trusted Collins to protect quarterback Andy Dalton‘s blindside. Collins repaid that trust shown in him by Gruden with a string of solid performances. He particularly impressed me with the way he shut down the Indianapolis Colts’ Robert Mathis, who finished with a league-leading 19.5 sacks on the season.

speed rush 1a

Mathis is known for his speed rush around the edge. The Bengals are backed up dangerously close to their own goal line, adding to the pressure on Collins.

speed rush 1b

But Collins manages to kick-slide quickly and stay level with Mathis. He gets good hand placement that allows him to control the block.

speed rush 1c

Mathis uses his rip move, but can’t escape Collins’s hands, which stay on him throughout the block. Dalton is given a clean pocket and plenty of time to make his throw.

Collins also did a nice job handling Mathis’s counter move.

inside move 1a

This time Mathis will start wide and then cut back inside.

inside move 1b

Mathis tries to get Collins to over-set to the outside and create room to cut back inside, but Collins does an excellent job mirroring Mathis’s movement.

inside move 1c

As Mathis cuts back inside, Collins cuts him off and lands a powerful initial punch, which slows down Mathis and allows Dalton to get rid of the ball cleanly.

Being a former Bengal who Gruden trusts makes the link to the Redskins extremely obvious, but I’ve not seen much mention of it. Trent Williams has the left tackle position locked down in Washington, which could prove troublesome for any potential Collins deal. Gruden would have to convince Collins to move to right tackle, and they typically aren’t paid the same as left tackles. He’s an under-the-radar guy, but could have some suitors who want him to play left tackle after his impressive performances there for Cincinnati this season.

Which offensive lineman would you like to see the Redskins sign this offseason?

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

What’s ahead:

Mike Jones reports from the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

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