Many Seahawks fans (myself included) have been recently complaining about our offensive line play for the past few weeks. Of course, my frustration isn't with the fact that our left tackle, right tackle and center are all hurt - injuries happen to every team in every season - but rather with the concept of relying on seventh round draft picks as depth and placing our trust on our left guard to be our backup left tackle. It's questionable logic, and the only saving grace for this is that those seventh round picks have done much better than what I had expected, based on reputation, them to be.
Entering week 11, I'm glad to be mostly proven wrong. Michael Bowie has been solid at the right side after taking over for Breno Giacomini, decently holding his own against a slew of pass rushing defenses such as Houston, Arizona and St. Louis. We'll talk more about him later.
The focus today though is on Alvin Bailey, the undrafted guard out of Arkansas. Once the Seahawks took him they did not hesitate to convert him into left tackle, which was curious and exciting because it speaks of his athleticism as an offensive lineman. As I mentioned previously, you need girth as much as you need quickness to survive in the zone blocking scheme. And at 6'3, 319 pounds, Bailey fits the bill - he brings a lot more size and toughness than you want to see in the 298 pound J.R. Sweezy, but he's not as slow or sluggish as Paul McQuistan along the edge.
It's important to also remind ourselves that Bailey was rated highly within the Field Gulls team. Danny and Davis wrote some great highlights here during the preseason when Seattle played San Diego, and I'll put some more of the interesting quotes down below:
"Many players would hesitate here with the corner/safety blitz here and end up blocking no one - letting both players through for a sack. Instead, Bailey stays on point - is pushed back briefly but quickly and athletically re-gains his balance. I'm impressed with his ability to kick-step back and hand fight his way into a 'win' on this play."
"Here's what I really like about Bailey - and I'm no offensive line expert - but he seems to easily control oncoming pass rushers because he locks onto them with his long arms and just swallows them up from there. Bailey appears light on his feet - almost nimble even - and that's a great trait to have in a left tackle. Bailey never lets #58 get into his body - not even close - and controls the exchange."
"You can see Bailey has power in his upper body, and good arm length, as he extends and rocks the edge defender back rather easily."
Similarly, Hawkblogger aka Brian Nemhauser wrote this last week upon hearing the news that Bailey will be rotated in to the starting spots:
"It was over a week into camp before I noticed Alvin Bailey. I had never heard of him, and given my obsession with the Seahawks, that is saying something. He was doing team drills at the time, and I first was confused because he looked like Russell Okung in his stance, and I didn't understand why Okung was taking snaps with the third-string line. I quickly realized he was not Okung, but his footwork was terrific. I watched more. I watched him in pass rush drills each day, going against every LEO they could throw at him. I watched him climb the depth chart ahead of Mike Person at left tackle. I watched him dominate during his first game at San Diego during the pre-season. He and Jermaine Kearse were the surprises of camp for me. The only time I ever saw him get beat in pass protection was one time during the Oakland pre-season game when he got fooled on an inside spin move.
I have watched a lot of rookie lineman over the years. The only two tackles I ever saw that looked this calm, collected, and consistently successful so early in their careers were Walter Jones and Okung. Does that mean Bailey is that caliber of player? Of course not. It simply means his potential is intriguing and rare."
Then there's this:
According to @PFF Alvin Bailey did not allow pressures on any of his 16 pass-blocking snaps.— Ryan McQueen (@RYAN_C_M) November 11, 2013
(He was also in the running for "Stars of the Week" for Football Outsiders' Week 10 DVOA analysis).
Now of course it's way too early to say weather or not Bailey has Walter Jones/Russell Okung potential, let alone play well enough for time on the field. But as you can glean from the multiple sources above, Bailey is a natural athlete that, with good coaching, can turn into something special. And after reviewing the film, I have to agree - the progression is there, and the prospect of him becoming a starter is exciting.
I picked out a couple of plays here that highlights his potential and his diversity with shifting in between right guard and left tackle. I have also, for your convenient pleasure, categorize them into different aspects of his game:
One thing that immediately drew my attention was Tom Cable and Pete Carroll's confidence in sending out Bailey to block the blindside. Before he saw a majority of the snaps in the second half, Bailey was rotated constantly at left tackle on a strict third down basis. While the Atlanta defense is pretty bad, the fact that you're placing your trust on a undrafted rookie to keep Russell Wilson upright on a probable passing down speaks volumes.
The first play comes on a 3rd and 3 early in the 2nd quarter, when the Seahawks are yet again driving for another score. Aside from the (uncalled) false start, Bailey does a solid job here. From the onset, the Falcons are placing out three defensive rushers on two offensive lineman - himself and left guard McQuistan. From here, Bailey has to make a decision as to who he will block.
As soon as the ball is snapped, he commits to stepping inside to ward off the move by DE Osi Umenyiora. Essentially, he notices that one of the three rushers is going into coverage. Because of that, it now becomes a two-on-two scenario, meaning that Bailey needs to quickly pass his man off to McQuistan (who is already sliding to his left for the protection) to get the delayed blitz by the safety Thomas Decoud. Bailey doesn't win this matchup here (in fact, if Wilson had hesitated throwing the ball it probably would've been a sack), but I like his pre-snap recognition.
Here's another good play on another key third down situation that's right after the two minute warning. Here you can see him staying square in front of his man and using those massive arms to give him and the DT Jonathon Babineaux some space. I like that he again had the pre-recognition before the snap to know that TE Luke Willson has his outside help, so he that can subtly backpedals slightly inside to prevent Babineuax from beating him with an inside move without worrying that he can stunt outside.
A few minutes later, the Seahawks are at it again. Now that he had a series or two to run through, Bailey looks more comfortable at the blindside. I'm particularly impressed with this play for a number of reasons, but the most important is the amount of space given between the LT and Umienyora. If the DE doesn't decide to necessarily check the TE off the line, then Umineyora has a wide open lane to get towards the quarterback. Fortunately, Bailey's athleticism pays dividends here: he beats the DE to the outside edge and gives Russell Wilson an escape lane to boot. (Wilson uses this to his advantage at the next play and scrambles for another first down.)
The kick-step that Danny mentioned is also evident. The hand position of Bailey's block - inside of the DE's left shoulder to prevent him from swimming inside - gets the job done.
From a quick glimpse, I think he does just as well in pass protect at right guard as he did at left tackle. Unfortunately, there aren't many plays of him pass blocking (as the Seahawks were already up 23-3 by the time he was rotated in there), and the Falcons didn't blitz much at all at the time, so I will withhold judgement until more film shows up.
Now run blocking is Bailey's forte, just like any good ZBS lineman. Like I said earlier, his body type makes him stand out from a Paul McQuistan or J.R. Sweezy - he's athletic yet holds enough of his own to give the "umph". In essence, he's like Russell Wilson in terms being able to play two systems, being able to power block and zone block at the same time. And that's pretty scary.
Let me show you what I mean. This is an 11 yard run from Marshawn Lynch, and it's a traditional wide-zone run play towards the left side. Lynch manages a big gain from the cutback lane, which Bailey, now playing right guard, is lead blocking. The flow of the offensive line is cascading towards the left side, and Bailey helps out the center Lemuel Jean-Pierre before latching on to the middle linebacker, #55 Paul Worrilow. Watch how he stays on his man, uses his arms to keep the separation in the block and drives him literally ten yards from where he originally starts. Worrilow had no chance of making the play, and the block is key for allowing Lynch to break the second level.
Another 13 yard gain here. Its again a wide-zone run play to the left side, a ZBS staple. This time, Bailey is at left tackle, and he now has the responsibility to set up the lanes which Beast can run towards. At the point of the snap, he attacks the DE out. While he doesn't completely win on the block and beat the outside corner, Bailey does a great job of holding and driving the LOS out. The fact that he manages to turn his body 90 degrees facing outward is enough for Lynch to blast through. I also love that Bailey manages to finish his block and crumple the guy on the ground.
And finally, just for pure enjoyment, here's what happens when you align Bailey at left tackle and James Carpenter at left guard, then call a run play with Christine Michael. I'll let it speak for itself.
So there you have it. For all the good things that Bailey has done in his limited playing time, it's would be jumping the gun to automatically put him as an upgrade over Paul McQuistan or J.R. Sweezy (though I am leaning towards that way). What matters, though, is that Bailey has proven that he can play under the spotlight, and if Carroll and Cable have as much sense as I do, I believe Bailey has earned the opportunity to play more. And for a team that has preached competition and embracing opportunity, sometimes that's all a drafted rookie needs to rise to the top.
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