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2006 Season Review: Chris Spencer

Let's get this right out of the way: I wouldn't have drafted Chris Spencer. For one, it's rarely wise to draft a center in the first round. A centers' individual value can be debated--Robert Weintraub thinks it's the second most valuable offensive position behind quarterback, but even if you think the center is the keystone to a functioning line, starting centers can be found throughout the draft. So can Pro Bowl centers like Olin Kreutz (third round) or Jeff Saturday (undrafted). And two, Spencer was a one year starter whose draft stock soared more because of his projection than his performance. But that, of course, is water under the bridge. Spencer's a Hawk and the presumed starter in 2007.

Spencer is an absolute tools freak. In High School he set a 5A Super Heavyweight state lifting record with a combined 1,675 pounds in the squat, bench and dead lift. He bested his high school squat total of 700 pounds by shouldering 725 pounds in college at Mississippi. Those simply aren't numbers associated with a center. His build and meteoric rise his senior season saw Spencer shoot into the first round. On a team with a lot of polished players, Spencer is a bit of an oddity, a projectable guy with a ceiling like a cathedral.

Given his strength, it might be surprising that "Hollywood" (shudder) played so poorly at left guard last season. Spencer has the size to be a guard, is agile and massively strong, but like many centers, he lacks power off the line. Here is a comparison for your consideration:

Justin Blalock:
40: 5.1 20: 2.96 10: 1.73
Theoretical Top Speed: 9.35 YPS
Theoretical Distance at which he reached his top Speed: 11.01 yards.
Weight: 320
Projected Force (Mass x Acceleration) after traveling .5 yards: 407.63 PDL

Chris Spencer:
40: 5.21 20: 3.01 10: 1.80
Theoretical Top Speed: 9.09 YPS
Theoretical Distance at which he reached his Top Speed: 10.82 yards.
Weight: 309
Projected Force after traveling .5 yards: 389.39 PDL

This represents a tweak in the system I've been working on, that's why the numbers are different, but the same ideas are in play. Simply enough, I'm trying to estimate the amount of force a lineman is able to strike the opposing lineman with using their weight and some kinematic assumptions about how the human body accelerates during a run.

The result? Spencer lacks the punch off the line to blow a defender back. That's fine, and probably has a lot to do with him playing center instead of guard. A center generally combo blocks--that is, he works with another offensive lineman, usually a guard, but often a tackle when pulling, to overwhelm a defender, but doesn't man-up against any single player.

For a center Spencers' numbers are very, very good. Here's how the two top rated centers from the 2007 class performed at the same metric.

Ryan Kalil
Projected Force after .5: 370.97 PDL

Samson Satele
Projected Force after .5: 340.51 PDL

Satele, not surprisingly, is not known for his run-blocking. Anyway, before we roam too far afield, my point is that Spencer doesn't quite have what it takes to be a great guard, but his strength is absolutely elite for a center.

Spencer is also considered quite agile, with a keen ability to pull and work within space. Those abilities will be key for the Hawks in 2007. With Rob Sims holding down the left guard spot and, presumably, Chris Gray, Ray Willis or Mansfield Wrotto seizing the right guard spot, Seattle will need another agile lineman who can pull when run-blocking and maneuver in front of blitzing linebackers when in pass protection. With our fullback situation very shaky, Spencer will be counted on to deliver blocks at the second level. With our backs a collection of some of the worst pass blockers in football, Spencer will also be counted on to react to blitzing linebackers and keep Beck off his back. Both were sizable weaknesses for the 2006 Seahawks, and both must be improved upon if Seattle wishes to be successful in 2007.

Finally, let's examine his shoulder situation for a second. The NFL is famously tight lipped about the injuries of its players. Therefore, it's hard to find anything more specific than "shoulder injury" about Spencer's injury, but let's work from what we know and see if we can't narrow down what might be amiss with the big man. First we know that Spencer is an NFL lineman and his injury was to his shoulder. That points to a strain, sprain or dislocation. We also know that Spencer didn't miss any time last year, that rules out dislocation. He did, however, need surgery to his shoulder. That may have simply been to remove scar tissue, we can not know, but Spencer did have some lingering effects. That still leaves us with a pretty murky picture, but it's fair to say that Spencer should be reasonably healthy once the season starts. Let's hope so, because he's a key ingredient in a line that looks not just good, but young, talented and with tremendous potential.