Greg Little, LT
Of course, of the Panthers offensive linemen on the field against the Bears, the one that everybody wants to hear about is 2019 second round pick Greg Little. While there is still a chance that Little could win the starting left tackle job, especially if Daryl Williams isn’t fully healthy, the expectation is that the job should be his in the next year. One of the bigger concerns with Little coming out of college was the fact that he hadn’t been asked to run block either as much or in the same was as most NFL teams ask their tackles to and while he wasn’t asked to run block a huge amount against the Bears – and often when he was, it was on the back side of plays – but a couple of times he showed his potential value in this regard, down blocking on the defensive linemen before kicking up to block the linebacker:
Where Little was given something of a more thorough examination, however, was in pass protection, and here he showed both why he was a high draft pick – and that there are still ways in which he needs to improve. In terms of the positives, there were a couple of plays where he showed great foot speed, with good hip flexibility allowing him to keep his weight evenly distributed between his feet and with his weight largely over his frame, allowing him to stay in front of the defender without having to sacrifice his balance, and using his hands to keep the defender from getting to his frame:
There were also a couple of really encouraging plays where he showed excellent awareness of his protection responsibilities, prioritizing taking away the inside defender and either then kicking out to the outside rusher or simply recognizing that this player was the quarterback’s responsibility:
It should be noted that, while he could do with some refinement, Little was generally very good against the Bears, allowing only a couple of pressure and avoiding any really ugly plays – but there were some things he needs to work on. As was the case in college, he needs to be more disciplined with his hand usage at times, as while he shows the ability to play with excellent hand usage, there are times where this just isn’t the case. The most basic example of this is his elbow positioning, which is generally good, but at times is a bit sloppy, allowing his elbows to get outside his frame, exposing the center of his chest and making it more difficult for him to strike:
The more frustrating issue is his tendency to strike first, even when it makes no sense to do so. On the following play, he is actually in good position, and while the defender is slightly outside of him he should be perfectly able to drive him wide of the pocket. However, by punching first unnecessarily, he allows the defender to generate outside leverage earlier in the play and to turn the corner back to the quarterback:
Of course, if the defender exposes his frame then it makes sense to strike, but while the defender has good hand position, he’d do better to force the defender to beat him and so make him make the first move. Little’s exceptional foot speed and hip flex allows him to force defenders to actively beat him in a way that is not true for the vast majority of tackles, this is something he really needs to take advantage of. Similarly, a couple of times he seemed too focused on making sure he didn’t get beaten around the edge – in so doing, he made it easier for the defender to try and drive him yet further out to create an inside rushing lane.
Here, he again needs to just stay in front of the defender and dare him to try and go around the edge:
For Little, the key in pass protection is to try and restrict every defender into trying to beat him with a speed rush, where his foot speed and hip flexibility should make him extremely difficult to beat. To do this, he needs to prioritize inside leverage and not giving defenders any unnecessary opportunities to beat him with hand usage. As Marty Hurney said after the Panthers drafted Little, “He has got such a skillset, and I’m not sure he realizes how good he can be” – as much as anything, part of improving his game involves the understanding of just how good he can be and adjusting his play accordingly.
It’s hard to glean too much from one game, but there are clearly some positives as well as some negatives from the Bears matchup – as there are from every game for every team. However, the Panthers should be really encouraged from what they saw from Little and Daley, and the questions going forward should be about the rate at which they are able to improve and whether the Panthers stick with some, Larsen and Hearn in particular, or whether some other guys get extended playing time as they look to decide on who makes the active roster.