It’s fascinating how opinions differ on former Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh and his arm length. His arms are only 32 inches long, which is shorter than ideal (33-34 inches) for his position. That lack of length has led to many debating whether or not Pugh can play on the edge, where he’ll face endlessly long and speedy pass-rushers on a weekly basis. Jerry Reese, the New York Giants general manager who drafted him, isn’t concerned.
“People ask about his arm length and that wasn’t an issue for us,” Reese said. “We looked at him and when you see guys with 32-inch arms playing the offensive line, especially the tackle the position. I looked at tape after tape after tape and I never could see the arms come into play because I was looking for an excuse to downgrade him but you can never find that.”
Reese later added, “I watch a lot of tape. I can’t pinpoint a game that I watched but I watched a lot of tape on him though because again I saw the 32-inch arms and I was like ‘I’m going to find something wrong with this guy,’ and there’s nothing wrong with him.”
That raises an issue of just how important the measurement is. There’s been offensive linemen in years past who have had short arms, and they’ve done well. Consider Sam Baker (32 3/4), Jeff Backus (32 1/2), and Michael Roos (32 1/4) as recent examples of left tackles who have played at a high level at one point — if not for an extended time — in their career despite having less than average length. What they also all have in common is they’re smart, flexible, and strong. That’s what Pugh is too.
Pugh is a very bright player who’s uncharacteristically patient, understands how to take sharp angles, and is improving his strength. There were few times where his length specifically was detrimental to his performance last season, and a big reason it wasn’t is because of the aforementioned reasons. He’s very good at understanding how and why pass-rushers are coming at him the way they are, and he uses that knowledge to overcome his inadequacy.
One example came against Rutgers last season, when he was lined up at his usual left tackle position. He kick-slid from his stance at the snap, sliding out wide to fend off the edge rusher. He was patient sliding out, though, and didn’t attack the rusher immediately. He also didn’t slide too far out, and as a consequence leave a gaping hole to the inside. He slid out far enough and waited. For comparison’s sake, look at Pugh (orange box) and then look at the right tackle. Note the difference in aggression.
There’s an obvious difference between the two tackles. Pugh is much more patient and is perhaps a bit lax in his technique because of where his hands are. That patience, however, pays off for him because he’s able to let the rusher declare his intentions, and then mirror him. He slides his base laterally to his left, bends his knees, and stops the rusher. In comparison, the right tackle is beaten around the edge…
The rusher then tries to change directions toward the inside, but is again stonewalled. Pugh slides his feet laterally to his right, still bending his knees, and anchors down. In comparison, the right tackle is chasing the rusher he was ‘blocking’.
Pugh’s length or lack thereof was clearly not an issue on that play. He showed patience and intelligence when kick-sliding to negate the defensive end’s rush. The same happened later in the game, but on this play he showed that he also had some power to his game.
When he slid out of his stance and hand-fought the rusher, he did it by extending his arms and really doing a damn good job of bending his knees. His knee-bend is really important to his anchor because it drops his weight to the ground as he lowers his rear-end.
As the play develops further Pugh slides his feet to his left and keeps his wide base, still bending at his knees, and he continues to maintain control of the defender. Once again, his arm length wasn’t an issue.
Although he was a standout at Syracuse, Pugh needs to continue to improve his core strength to ensure that his arm length won’t be an issue in the pros. The previously mentioned left tackles who had below average length had or have very good strength that enables them to anchor down consistently even when a rusher is able to get a hold of their breast pads. Once Pugh does that, his length won’t be an issue, especially when he combines it with intelligence and patience.
It’s why Reese made him the Giants’ first-round selection. He knows that he likely has a good player at a position he rarely selects highly in the draft. That says something about Pugh’s ability to play tackle, length be damned.
Quotes were attained from Big Blue View, which can be found here.