Iowa has a great history of producing offensive linemen, and one big reason is because of head coach Kirk Ferentz, an offensive line coaching guru. Ferentz, along with his staff, do an excellent job of coaching up athletes and turning them into quality players, and one of their major tools is the constant reinforcement of fundamentals.
Fundamentals are the key at every position, especially offensive line, where the slightest mistake can cost the team an entire down. Iowa’s (former) top offensive lineman Riley Reiff has strong fundamentals, which is a prime reason why he’s one of the top players in this April’s draft.
Reiff’s size stirred up a discussion for draftniks when he came in at nearly 6’6″ and 313 pounds. It wasn’t those measurements that raised eyebrows, and instead it was his arm length (33 1/4″).
Measurements are important in a league where personnel men and coaches have their ideals cemented, and are constantly looking for players that fit the “planet theory” concept, a term coined by Bill Parcells. Because of those firmly established ideals, Reiff’s arms are said to be too short for the left tackle position, where he played at Iowa.
But is this true?
Reiff’s hand use is good, as he shows proper hand placement when his hands are up and fending off pass rushers. However, he has a tendency to drop his hands, which exposes his chest and leaves him open to bulrushes. This doesn’t happen often based off of what I’ve seen, but it’s still happened, and it’s something that he can’t allow to occur considering his shorter arm length. When his hands are up and away from his hip area, instead of chest high, he is able to deal with any pass rusher.
If there’s an aspect of a lineman’s game that one would say is most important, it’s the ability to anchor in. A good and NFL-caliber offensive lineman has to be able to anchor regardless of his size, and Reiff does this effectively.
Reiff plays with a strong base because of his quality footwork and strength. He has good overall strength that is on display when he’s able to sit in his stance with a shoulder-width base. His ability to do this is resembles Bryan Bulaga, a recent Iowa tackle who came out and had success and was taken in the latter portion of the first round in 2010 by the Green Bay Packers.
Flexibility and Balance
flexibility and balance are also very important to a tackle’s game. If the player is jarred by a defensive lineman at the point of attack, he needs to be able to maintain his base and re-anchor while also moving his feet to mirror the defender.
This is not an issue with Reiff, as he shows good balance and can slide his feet left and right, displaying both agility and strength. He’s a little tight in the hips in terms of flexibility, as he can get beaten by a speed rush. However that’s not a major concern because he does a good job of recovering by sliding his feet and riding the pass rusher wide of the pocket.
Along with flexibility and balance comes athleticism, which to me is about the tackle being able to get to the second level in run blocking. Reiff is able to get to the second level and take on linebackers consistently. He is also able to drop his weight when cutting down defensive linemen with cut blocks and rolling his body into them.
While Reiff is a very good pass blocker, he is not of the same quality as a run blocker. This is an area that Reiff needs to improve, with the focus being on his pad level. He tends to raise his pad level when executing drive blocks, which causes him to bend at the waist and not get the requisite leg drive to move defenders off the line. At the moment, he is a better zone blocker, where he executes a combination or “slip” block with a teammate or a down block.
It’s not always pretty, but the job gets done when Reiff steps in at left tackle.
He’s one of the top prospects at his position and in the draft overall because of his ability to anchor and mirror pass rushers. He also has room to grow as a blocker despite already being very good, which is what makes him appealing to NFL personnel men. Reiff can put on weight and improve his pad level to become a complete offensive lineman at the next level, which I expect him to do. I also believe that he can play left tackle in the NFL despite his less than ideal arm length, a position where teams are always looking for elite talent.