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Why Tom Cable seeks Texas A&M linemen like Seahawks free agent acquisition Luke Joeckel

Joeckel’s college offensive line coach uses zone scheme principles shared by Cable’s run game designs

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks added to their recent pipeline of former Texas A&M Aggies Thursday when they signed former Jacksonville Jaguar and 2013 second-overall draft pick Luke Joeckel. Seattle also currently has Michael Bennett and Germain Ifedi on the roster, but in the last season-plus have featured Christine Michael, Patrick Lewis, Steven Terrell and Damontre Moore—each out of Texas A&M. Moore and Terrell became free agents Thursday, but for a short period in November all but Lewis were on the Seahawks at the same time.

The connection makes for funny trivia between two institutions known for their “12th Man” traditions (and more lately a licensing partnership between the school and the NFL club), but is perhaps most pertinent on the offensive line where coach Tom Cable has often lamented college players’ preparation for the pros.

According to Jeff Tarpley, at least nine Aggie linemen were on league rosters at the start of 2016—four of them first-round picks in each of the last four drafts—placing the school at a level with blocker factories such as Wisconsin and Boston College as a top source for NFL line talent. Joeckel becomes the third of these players to find his way to Seattle, but what’s interesting with respect to Cable is how, with line coaches Jim Turner and B.J. Anderson under Kevin Sumlin, A&M runs a spread (ostensibly Air Raid)-style system that seems exemplary of the finesse-type schemes cursed by Cable.

However, Inside the Pylon’s Mark Schofield points out how Sumlin’s offense relies on zone concepts to generate success running the football even in the rugged SEC. Some college teams run out of the spread all the time, but Schofield specifically credits the use of combo blocks and arcing, split zone designs with backside actions that look notably familiar to an eye used to watching the Seahawks rushing game in action. It’s easy to recognize why Cable might value players tutored in these run concepts before joining the professional ranks.

Although SB Nation’s Ian Boyd makes clear that this transition away from the Air Raid roots to more run focus in College Station has been a development more recent than Joeckel’s departure from the program in 2013, the greater orientation toward zone also involved the return of Turner, who was Joeckel’s offensive line coach for three years under Mike Sherman before Sumlin arrived. Turner is kind of a scumbag. He’s the guy who got suspended last year for making tasteless jokes about women during a fan-instruction clinic, and during his hiatus from Texas A&M Turner oversaw the Miami Dolphins line during the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal. I’m not making a fellowship between Cable’s own personal controversies and Turner’s, but there also may be a side to his motivation methods that Cable recognizes, for better or worse.

Anyway, John Schneider may have seen the Joeckel signing as simply a shrewd way to deliver high upside and veteran presence without lengthy commitment. I expected the front office to be a few days more patient but, without yet knowing the full guarantees or incentives thresholds, there is plenty of financial sense in finding such a player on the first day in a market where Matt Kalil and Kevin Zeitner are getting deals for $10-12 million a year with hefty guarantees and Russell Okung sets the record for offensive linemen APY—even as it doubles the price of the Seattle offensive line for now.

Joeckel original draft profile also matches the hyper-explosive model Cable and Schneider have sought in linemen. But in this case Joeckel’s background in the Texas A&M-Jim Turner zone concepts—in a year when there are fewer trusted tackles or guards coming out of college—perhaps helped all the pieces fit together even better.