Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring last offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Alejandro Villanueva – Hand Placement
There should be zero question if Villanueva is improving. He is. And by big strides. But there’s still a ways to go in his game and I’m sure he’ll be the first one to tell you that. There will always be parts of the game working against him because of his height. There is a such thing as too tall for a tackle and Villanueva is pretty borderline. That all comes back to “leverage,” but I felt saying that was too vague – and obvious.
Hand placement is something more specific, though admittedly probably not enough. Offensive line guru I am not. That is a root cause of leverage problems. Villanueva has to improve on keeping his hands inside to maintain leverage, stay in control of the rusher, and keep his base. When his punch is outside, and his hand aren’t tight, he gets into trouble.
As the left tackle in this clip, he struggles on his punch and getting his hands inside, letting the RDE into his pads and running him into the pocket. Please ignore Jesse James getting murdered in the open field.
I don’t want to diverge from the main topic too much either but I think he’s still working on how running backs fit into pass protection. There were times, like the example below, where he struggled when the RB had outside leverage and was chipping. Part of the protection we don’t often think about and honestly, it can do more harm than good. Messes with the tackles set and redirects the edge rusher in unpredictable ways.
It’s hard to say if that is 100% the issue here but the fact Villanueva has to short set because of DeAngelo Williams releasing probably played a role. Can’t hold the edge and allows a pressure.
To his credit, one of the best things in Villanueva’s game is his ability to mirror any inside rush. Powerful lower half to change directions and seal to the inside. And when talking about his game in general terms he does an excellent job of being able to reposition his hands when his punch is off. But I’d like to see him punch correctly the first time so he doesn’t have to correct.
It seemed to be a bigger issue in the pass game than the run, his run blocking was stronger than I thought it was, but it still was an issue. Watch him stall out on contact here. Loses leverage, legs go dead, and a 6’9, 340 pounder loses all his power.
Once he repositions, he’s able to drive his lower half and move the linebacker (the linebacker moving to set the edge helps, too). It’s good recovery, as we’ve noted, but the less he has to recover, the better.
There’s no doubt you’ll see continued improvement in his game this year, as I alluded to earlier. He’s self-motivated with an A+ coaching staff surrounding him. But there’s a consistency to his game that isn’t quite there yet that I hope to see in 2017. That’s what will cement him as a top ten left tackle in the league.