The notion that playing offensive tackle is more difficult than playing guard or center is a bit of conventional wisdom in football. Furthermore, left tackle is considered a more physically-demanding position to play than right tackle.
Longtime NFL lineman Ross Tucker explained the concept in detail several months ago on SI.com.
If a team is going to pay a huge premium for the increase in performance that a good player delivers over an average one, that player should play a position that has a greater opportunity to significantly impact the outcome of a game. In order to clarify my beliefs regarding the salary structure among offensive linemen, I decided to list in order the positions among the front five that I feel are most worthy of receiving big money. Having played all five positions at different points in my career, and starting at least four games at all three interior spots, I am uniquely qualified to assess the difficulties associated with playing these positions. Just to be safe and unbiased, however, I solicited the opinions of several other linemen around the league.
Tucker ranks the physical demands of the positions as follows:
The mantra of the importance of the left tackle is not a novel concept. Michael Lewis, of Moneyball fame, dedicated his book The Blind Side to exploring the phenomenon (a truncated version was published in the New York Times magazine).
But size alone couldn’t cope with the threat to the quarterback’s blind side, because that threat was also fast. The ideal left tackle also had great feet. Incredibly nimble and quick feet. Quick enough feet, ideally, that the prospect of racing him in a five-yard dash made the team’s running backs uneasy. He had the body control of a ballerina and the agility of a basketball player. The combination was just incredibly rare. And so, ultimately, very valuable.
By the 2004 N.F.L. season, the average N.F.L. left tackle’s salary was $5.5 million a year, and the left tackle had become the second-highest-paid position on the team, after the quarterback. In Super Bowl XL, played on Feb. 5, 2006, the highest-paid player on the field was the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck — who was just finishing the first season of a new six-year deal worth $8.2 million a year. The second-highest-paid player on the field was the man who protected Hasselbeck’s blind side, the left tackle Walter Jones, who made $7.5 million a year.
To really drive home the point, consider the case of one Robert Gallery. Once considered a monumental bust after the Oakland Raiders drafted him with the intention of making him their franchise left tackle of the future, Gallery moved to guard this year, and underwent a career resurgence.
The player I really have in mind though, as a basis of comparison for Anthony Davis, is Leonard Davis of the Dallas Cowboys. Leonard Davis could probably play left tackle for many NFL teams. In fact, last year, the New York Giants wanted to sign him to start at LT, before he decided to join the Cowboys instead. He could probably be a very good right tackle, but he has settled in as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.
"I think one of the greatest moves with Leonard was moving him to guard," Warner said. "That was a position he felt more comfortable in, felt like he could really be dominant in smaller spaces because of his size and his stature and his athletic ability. I mean, the guy can get his hands on you and you can't do anything. I remember talking to Leonard a number of times when he was here. I just knew that was his natural position."
Now, just what does all of this have to do with Anthony Davis?
I don't believe that there was much of an internal debate that Anthony Davis would eventually become RU's starting left tackle.
"We recruited him to be an offensive tackle, but we happened to have two multiple-year starters at both positions, so we didn’t want to tip the boat there," Schiano said. "We scheduled Anthony at guard, and he met our expectations and became a starter. But the plan all along was to move him out to tackle during his sophomore year."
He's the most imposing physical specimen on the team, with endless hype as a future NFL star. Still, the events of 2007 left just enough doubt to give fans a bit of a pause. After settling in at right guard, Davis was an instant sensation, largely manhandling overmatched defensive linemen by sheer talent alone. Further giving a bit of pause was the player Davis replaced at right guard, Kevin Haslam. The lanky Haslam looked more like a tight end than a guard in 2007, and had major problems generating a push in the running game. The temptation definitely had to be there to leave Davis in at RG as a battering ram, while moving Haslam to left tackle where he could line up against speed rushing weakside defensive ends.
However, the transition in spring practice and fall camp proved to be relatively smooth. Beatwriter Tom Luicci was quick to praise how well Davis was looking in August.
By the way, LT Anthony Davis is becoming scary good. At a svelte 316 pounds, his athleticism is really beginning to show now.
After a while, opponents are going to notice that Rutgers seems to run a lot of plays behind left tackle Anthony Davis. As good as Davis is -- and he could be the best lineman in school history -- he is only one person.
After 2/3rds of a season at right guard, in his first full camp as a starting left tackle, Davis was already being crowned as possibly the "best lineman in school history". Undoubtedly, some of that came as the result of Davis's numerous high school accolades, but it couldn't have been solely based on his reputation.
That brings us to the big question: just how exactly did Davis perform in his first season in the spotlight?
The short answer: good.
The longer answer: for a true sophomore, Davis largely did live up to expectations in 2008. Under offensive line coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers has had very good line play during the past few seasons, meaning that the bar of expectations were set very high to begin with. Davis was replacing one Pedro Sosa, a three year starter with nary a flaw in his game, excellent at both pass protection and run blocking.
Anthony Davis proved that he's not Leonard Davis in one respect: he's a fairly good blindside pass protector. For a big man, Davis is quite agile, showing very nimble feet for a man of his size. Davis had one stinker of a game matched up against Cincinnati's Connor Barwin, surrendering 2 sacks and leaving Quarterback Mike Teel running for his life during the entire first half of the contest. There were a few more occasional mishaps here and there (not picking up a stunt early against USF come to mind), but as a whole Mike Teel's blind side stayed relatively clean this year. Rutgers did not live up to its lofty pass protection standards of the pass few years, but that's because the Knights were replacing three senior starters. Ironically, it was Kevin Haslam, starting at Right Tackle, who's mental errors in picking up rushers were responsible for the largest portion of the sacks that the line surrendered.
This Kenny Britt highlight video from Youtube gives a few examples of Davis in action against UConn's Cody Brown and Julius Williams. More RU highlight videos are available on Scarletknights.com.
Run blocking gets a bit more complicated. As a whole, I don't think RU's line collectively got much of a push at all against opposing defensive lines until late in the season this year. That's not entirely unexpected at all, because they were an incredibly young unit, and bound to improve eventually. The team's stable of backs can't really do that much when opposing defenders are in the backfield after sniffing out a run. It's harder for the naked eye to evaluate run blocking than pass protection; I don't think that Davis was the worst offender in this regard, but he does have a lot of room to improve.
However, there's good news to report too. When Davis is able to get a head full of steam and pull downfield, that's where his unique blend of power and athleticism really shine. Get this man moving, and he's not going to stop. Davis gets downfield fast and with momentum, and he doesn't let anything stand in his way. That's one of many qualities that pro scouts love to see. In a way, that role allows a bit of the 2007 Davis to creep back in. However, Davis is good enough in pass protection that it would be foolhardy to move him from left tackle at this point.
Rutgers is very, very fortunate to have Anthony Davis, but I think the converse is true as well. As everyone well knows at this point. Davis could have chosen any school in the country to attend, including the Ohio State Buckeyes. In their man blocking scheme, Davis likely would have settled in at guard, and eventually bulked up to Leonard Davis-sized proportions. In contrast, RU's zone blocking scheme and its emphasis on athleticism not only gave A.D. a chance to prove himself at left tackle, but conditioned him to the point where he can shadow the George Selvies of the world.
Anthony Davis is very, very good for a true sophomore just completing his first full season as a starting left tackle. It was not realistic to expect him to be Orlando Pace in his prime over night. If everything continues to go according to plan (Davis was suspended for one game in 2008 due to a team rules violation), there's no reason why he can start for two more years, and go on to have a very long career in the NFL.
Notice that I said "two more years". I admit, my standards for line play are quite high when replacing the likes of a Pedro Sosa. Davis was good in 2008, but he still has numerous kinks in his game to work out during the next two years. He did not pass what I call the intuitive "wow" test. Here's an example: last year, whenever I saw Kenny Britt make a spectacular play, I thought to myself "Wow, there's absolutely no possible way that does not declare for the NFL Draft after 2008". Davis impressed me at times in 2008, but he did not elicit that same reaction in me as a sophomore that Britt did. Quarterbacks and offensive linemen arguably benefit the most from exercising all of their college eligibility. On the other hand, increasing numbers of underclassmen are being lured into the NFL Draft by scurrilous agents, economic uncertainty, and fears of a fixed rookie pay scale being implemented in the next NFL collective bargaining agreement. If Davis improves as much in 2009 as Rutgers fans would like, leaving early may become an increasingly realistic possibility.