Injuries are a fact of training camp, but that doesn’t mean that Daryl Williams going down in screams during a drill during last Saturday’s practice will have come as any less of a shock for the Panthers’ players, coaches and fans alike. Williams has suffered an MCL tear and a dislocated patella, and the timetable for any potential return is still extremely cloudy. Having spoken with a member of medical personnel from NFL franchises, admittedly without specific knowledge of the injury, a somewhat clearer set of potential timetables depend largely on the severity of the MCL tear, with the patella dislocation only likely to be significant if it has led to further tissue damage, with the most severe potential issue being damage to the ACL.
Whatever the severity of the injury, it should be expected that the Panthers will likely be without Williams until at least the second quarter of the season, and will certainly not have his services come the season opener, creating an opening at right tackle that will almost certainly be filled by second-year lineman Taylor Moton, the second of two 2017 second round picks. Moton barely saw the field at all last season, only really seeing snaps during the preseason and in jumbo packages – so in order to get an idea of what the Panthers might have in Moton, one must look all the way back to his college tape at Western Michigan. So, with that in mind, what made Moton a second-round pick, what did he need to improve on coming into the league and how far does he appear to have come?
The Run Game
One of the major selling points for Moton coming out of Western Michigan was his power in the run game, and when switching on his college tape that power does stand out, allowing him to move defenders in the run game (Moton wears #72):
However, that power isn’t worth a huge amount in itself, and one issue that Moton had at times was that he failed to get himself low enough during initial contact, allowing the defender’s superior pad level to negate Moton’s power advantage. On both of the following plays, Moton got too upright out of his stance, allowing a lighter defender to force him upwards and prevent him from pushing him backwards:
The other extreme can also be an issue, as when Moton looked to compensate for his high pad level by leaning into blocks he put himself off-balance and allowed the defender to use his own forward momentum against him:
Moton is forced into leaning as he allows his legs to get too straight too early and therefore the only option are to either get vertical or to lean forwards, both of which expose him to potential issues. To improve on this, Moton needs to keep his knees bent and his weight over his frame and trust his power to create push without having to sacrifice control to get the job done. Ron Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff have repeatedly talked about the importance of consistency this offseason and for offensive linemen; it is always going to be hard to be consistent if you’re not playing without a reasonable amount of control. These issues are things that can be corrected through coaching, and John Matsko is one of the best in the league.
Moton does, however, have quick feet, which allows him to be effective as a zone blocker, even when he plays out of control. On both of the following plays, Moton does a good job of getting his feet around and cutting off the back side of the play, even if the block he makes is somewhat ineffective due to him being off-balance and with a very high pad level. If he has improved his pad level and body control, he may well have become a highly effective zone blocking tackle as he absorbed a year of NFL tutelage.
The other key aspect of run blocking, and indeed blocking in general, is hand usage. If an offensive lineman can get his hands inside the frame of the defender, it not only makes it very difficult for the defender to shed the block but also makes it much easier for the offensive lineman to direct the defender, something that is extremely valuable in zone blocking schemes. While not perfect, the following play by Moton is a good example of what good hand usage looks like:
What is important to note here is how Moton keeps his elbows inside his frame, allowing him to direct his punch in a targeted way towards the body of the defender. While the above play is a good example of this, Moton’s hand usage wasn’t always so good. Rather than keeping his elbows inside his frame, he had a tendency to swing his arms wide, as can be seen on the following play:
This not only exposes his frame to the defender, but also means that the natural contact point is on the outside of the defender, which will make it hard to secure blocks and potentially lead to holding penalties. On this next play, the defender targets the inside shoulder of Moton, and rather than striking his frame and pushing him backwards as he would have been able to do if he’d kept his arms inside his frame, Moton has to resort to grabbing wildly at him with his inside arm, and is lucky to have escaped without a holding penalty:
The lack of control is also evident on the following play, where Moton resorts to trying to bear hug the defender as he in unable to get his hands inside, and so when the defender rips inside him he is unable to do much more than watch:
Additionally, as a taller offensive lineman who has a tendency to get a little high, this lack of inside hand placement makes him vulnerable to power moves as he has little ability to prevent the defender from simply swatting him aside:
These issues are far from unfixable, and having come from a smaller school and being a cerebral player, there is a chance that this could already have changed with a season in the pros, but if left as was, his hand usage was poor enough to create consistent issues for him as a run blocker.
Western Michigan’s scheme didn’t ask Moton to block in space a huge amount, as they rarely pulled Moton into space and much of their screen game is based off of RPOs. When Moton was asked to block to the second level it was almost exclusively a kick up to a linebacker, and the good feet he showed on the plays above and on the following play should allow him to be effective as a blocker in space:
However, the same issues that as a run blocker in general also manifest, and in some cases are exaggerated, when he is asked to block in space. The questionable body control again sees him caught leaning into blocks, such as on the following play:
And that tendency to get high and try to bear hug defenders made it too easy for much smaller defenders to stuff him despite his momentum and power advantage:
The Taylor Moton that can be seen on his Western Michigan tape would likely struggle as a run blocker in the NFL, as his lack of consistently good pad level, body control and hand usage will make it all too easy for defenders to drive him upwards or swat him aside. These things, fortunately, are fixable, with the main things to look for are for him to keep his knees bent when engaging blocks, his weight over his feet and his elbows inside his frame; if he has learned to fix these issues over the past 16 months since being drafted, his natural power and fast feet give him a high ceiling to aim for as a run blocker.