MOBILE, Ala. — Mobile during Senior Bowl week can provide some great stories. We told one yesterday in the form of Dayton TE Adam Trautman, a player looking to erase the “asterisk” next to his name denoting a lower level of competition. But Trautman is not from the lowest level of the collegiate ranks represented in Mobile.
St. John’s (MN) offensive lineman Ben Bartch is.
Recruited to the Division 3 school as a tight end, Bartch put on seventy pounds early in his days on campus and moved to the offensive line, where he became a standout for the Johnnies. His story is a fascinating one as well, as he graduated with a degree in psychology, and spent a semester abroad in South Africa.
But Bartch can play the OT position, and play it well. We will dive into his performance thus far in Mobile in a minute but Chicago Bears fans might want to take note. When I asked him on Tuesday what his favorite blocking scheme was, he emphasized his love of the inside zone game. “I enjoy inside zone. It requires a level of communication with other players around you. I enjoy doing combo blocks with other players...it is really a team style of running.”
Does that sound like someone that Matt Nagy might want in a Bears’ uniform?
With two days of practices in the books, I wanted to highlight some of the offensive linemen who have stood out so far. We can start in the interior, as Chicago looks to deal with the retirement of Kyle Long at the guard position. There are a few guards who have stood out this week, particularly in pass rushing 1 on 1s. First up might be Ben Bredeson, from the University of Michigan. He turned in some very impressive reps on Tuesday, first against Davon Hamilton from Ohio State. Bredeson showed a great initial hand strike, almost violent with the left hand, eventually driving Hamilton to the turf. He also had a fascinating rep against McTelvin Agim from Arkansas. The guard was beaten a bit to the inside, but maintained contact with Agim and was able to recover with his right arm to bring the rep to a stalemate.
His ability to counter quick moves flashed later on a pass rushing rep, when he slid out to protect to his right but the defender tried to cut inside his left shoulder. Bredeson was able to again recover and “ride and carry” the defender away from the pocket.
He showed some strength during portions of Tuesday’s practice. First against Darrion Daniels, the big defensive tackle from Nebraska. Bredeson showed good upper body strength to handle the initial bull rush move, but the good footwork to handle the late counter move to the inside. Then in a bit of a rematch with Agim, he handled a “swat and cut” move from the defender very well, with a solid combination of upper body strength and lateral quickness.
Another player who has been impressive in the interior has been Jonah Jackson from Ohio State. On Tuesday he showed very good length and power in his arms, locking out Agim on one particular play. Later in the practice he was beaten very late in the rep by Larrell Murchinson from N.C. State, but in a real world setting the ball would likely have been out of his quarterback’s hands by that time. Jackson flashed some more upper body strength, handling a bull rush from Daniels on the inside. My favorite play of his from Wednesday’s practice was a rep against Agim, when he won with his initial punch but was still able to handle a late spin move from the defender with just his left arm acting as a wall of steel between Agim and the pocket.
One more guard I will mention from the North squad is Hakeem Adeniji from Kansas. He struggled at times on Tuesday, and in particular on one rep against Jason Strowbridge from UNC, when Adeniji failed to finish the play and gave up a pressure. But as Tuesday wore on he seemed to improve, flashing some pure strength against Daniels when he rocked the Nebraska product with his initial punch and then rides him out of the pocket when Daniels tried to counter with a swim move. But Wednesday he was really impressive, finishing an attempted bull rush by Strowbridge with a win , and handling another bull rush from Neville Gallimore with a strong anchoring of the lower body to stand his ground. He has come on as the week has unfolded.
Looking to the outside for a moment, a player that has flashed at times has been OT Matt Pearl from the University of Connecticut. Tuesday saw Pearl turn in very strong work, such as a play against EDGE Carter Coughlin from Minnesota, where Pearl displayed a very fluid kick slide, as well as good hand strength and length to lock up the defender. Against the talented edge rusher Joshua Uche from Michigan, Pearl was able to use his upper body and lower body strength in concert to anchor against the rusher and hold his ground.
Finally, on the North squad I did want to mention two centers, Nick Harris from Washington and Matt Hennessy from Temple. Both have been very impressive with a great combination of upper body strength, footwork, lateral quickness and awareness.
We can start with how we opened the piece, with Bartch from St. John’s. He turned in a great performance on Tuesday, winning almost every rep he had at the left tackle spot. He showed both the upper body strength and hand usage that made him an impressive tackle at the Division III level, but he also showed the athleticism that underlies his background as a tight end and a high school basketball player. His day could probably be encapsulated in a rep against Jabari Zuniga from Florida. Bartch stoned the defender with his initial strike, and then simply rides him outside and around the arc of the pocket using fluid footwork and lateral agility. Similar to Trautman, Bartch showed early and often that he belongs on this level.
Kicking to the inside given Chicago’s pressing needs at the guard spot, I should mention Logan Stenberg from the University of Kentucky. The Wildcats’ offensive line was a solid group this year, and Stenberg was a big part of their success on the ground. We can begin with his base, as he shows the ability to mirror, reset and anchor against many types of pass rushers. On a rep against Marlon Davidson from Auburn, he was able to mirror and slide against the defender, giving up a tiny bit of real estate but still dropping the anchor and stopping the penetration. He also showed very good hands, particularly on a rep against Robert Windsor, where Sternberg displayed great hand placement as well as power in his arms.
My favorite moment of his so far was another rep against Windsor. The Penn State product tried a combination of moves on this play, first a bull rush and then a violent rip with his right arm. But Stenberg handled it perfectly, stoning the initial strike and then riding him after the contact with the rip upwards to his chest. Very impressive to see Stenberg combat the counter-strike from Windsor.
A player that left me somewhat underwhelmed on the interior was John Simpson, the guard from Clemson. He struggled at times, particularly against Javon Kinlaw, although that might be expected. Kinlaw beat him with a move to the outside when Simpson whiffed on his initial punch. He also lost in a rep to Davidson when he whiffed once more on his initial strike, and Davison was able to beat him with a swim move. Perhaps in a good sign for the Clemson product, he learned from that mistake and when Davidson tried to hit him with a swim move later, Simpson was ready for it and simply rode the defender to the outside of the pocket and away from his “quarterback.”
Another player on the inside who showed some ability was Damien Lewis, the LSU guard. He had two different reps against Kinlaw of note this week. On the first one he faced a pure bull rush from the South Carolina's highly touted defender, but he was able to lock him up and while he got pushed back a bit, he eventually stood his ground against the power move. Later in a meeting between the two, Kinlaw “won” with a late spin move, but again that win probably came after the ball would have been out of the quarterback’s hands. However, prior to that spin move, Lewis mirrored the initial jab step and cut from Kinlaw, riding him and mirroring him perfectly.
At the center spot, Lloyd Cushenberry has been one of the stars of the week. Both Matt Miller and Daniel Jeremiah have been talking up the LSU center, and with good reason. He handled some reps against Kinlaw very well, and has shown great strength in his lower body with tremendous ability to anchor and stone defenders. A perfect example is a rep he had against Benito Jones, when he stoned the Mississippi defensive tackle at the point of attack and barely gave up an inch.