Below is our breakdown of newly signed offensive linemen Rashaad Coward. Similar to our draft profiles, we’ll break down the good, the bad, and go through some tape study of his game.
#69 Rashaad Coward /OG/OT / Chicago Bears. – 6’5, 319lb
-Has great size and arm length you like to see in a pro offensive lineman
-Arm length and size can keep pass rushers at bey on the inside when he gets an accurate punch on the defender’s torso and uses his reach to his advantage
-Has good play strength and can deliver big blocks in the run game
-Moves fairly well when asked to get out in space and climb to the 2nd level for a player of his size
-Does a good job on double teams with the tackle or center and when asked to combo off to the backer
-Capable at pulling on kick out blocks and picking up defenders on the edge
-Physical in the run game, looking to maul the defender and throw him onto the ground on nearly every snap
-Has shown the versatility to play both guard spots as well at RT over the last two seasons
-Extremely raw and still has a lot of room to grow, having only played on the offensive line for the past three seasons
-Feet can get caught in quicksand on the snap of the football, shooting his hands and lunging forward rather than moving his feet
-Will panic and stand upright when he thinks he’s beat, turning and running with the defender instead of keeping his sturdy base
-Bad at recognizing exotic blitzes, twists, and stunts and picking up the correct defender
-Technique in pass protection needs a lot of work
-Hand placement is erratic and needs to be more accurate on initial punch
-Hip bend isn’t where you’d like to see in terms of playing with a strong base in pass protection to set and anchor
-Has been moved all over the offensive line in the short time playing the position, not having time to learn one position
Film Room Breakdown
Recently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed FA OL Rashaad Coward, formerly of the Chicago Bears. As Alex Kozora highlighted in his article on the signing, Coward was originally an UDFA coming out of Old Dominion in 2017, playing along the defensive line for the Monarchs and in his first season in the league before making the move to the offensive side of the ball to start 2018.
As of the last two seasons with 15 starts under his belt (ten on 2019, five in 2020), Coward has played 993 total snaps, having recorded six penalties and four sacks (three in 2020) per Pro Football Focus. According to their player grading system, Coward has come out with a 46.2 overall grade in 2020 and a 51.7 overall grade in 2019, respectively. As one can imagine, this doesn’t give a lot of confidence to Coward’s performance thus far in his short time in the NFL. However, as one can imagine, the transition from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball can be quite a shock and may take some time.
When analyzing Coward’s film, it’s easy to pick out a lot of technical errors he makes. One thing that continually sticks out when watching Coward is his footwork, or lack thereof. He often tries to rely on his punch rather than firing his feet forward on a quick set or moving his feet side to side when asked to mirror defenders on the LOS. A great example of this shows up on the this play in 2020 against the Rams where he gets out of his stance, but stutters with his feet and lunges forward on Aaron Donald, leading to him completely whiffing on the block as Donald swims right over him to get into the backfield. Obviously facing a player of Donald’s caliber is no easy task for the best blockers in the league, but this does highlight a constant issue that shows up in Coward’s film.
Along with moving laterally along the line in pass protection, Coward can struggle to pick up stunts and twists in pass protection. He tends to panic when he thinks he’s beat, standing straight up and turning and running to try and get defenders rather than relying on his technique. A clear example of this problem is this play against the Saints in 2020 where Coward fails to recognize the twist up front, trying to pick up the tackle going outside into #72 Charles Leno and failing to pick up #92 Marcus Davenport twisting inside, resulting in the incomplete pass.
Coward’s hand placement also needs to be refined both as a run blocker and a pass protector in order to avoid whiffing too often on his blocks and sustain his blocks throughout the play. Here against the Eagles, Coward initially is in good position on this pass rep against #91 Fletcher Cox. However, Cox hits him with the hand swipe/club move and instantly knocks Coward’s hands down, collapsing the pocket and leaving Coward on the ground.
While Coward has logged a few starts at RT the past couple seasons, but he shouldn’t be played there unless absolutely necessary. He just doesn’t have the feel of working on the edge and pass setting against edge rushers. Here on this rep vs Denver, Coward lines up at RT and tries to do a vertical set but doesn’t have the kick slide to get the arc of the pocket, allowing the edge rusher to turn the corner around his outside shoulder get a hit on #4 Chase Daniel.
His angles he takes on blocks also need to improve. Coward’s overall awareness is spotty at best and he will need more reps and film study to get more comfortable with his assignments. Complete misses like this one against the Rams show up every once in a while, where he fails to even put a body on a defender.
While Coward is extremely raw and has a long way to go to be a quality NFL blocker, there are glimpses of hope littered throughout his film that show what he can be. His pass blocking is a glaring hole of concern, but when asked to operate in the right scheme, he can be serviceable. Take for example this play against Detroit where Coward lines up at RG and initially is tasked with aiding the RT by picking up the defensive end, but then recognizes the linebacker coming up the middle and picks him up for #10 Mitchell Trubisky to make the quick through to #32 David Montgomery in the end zone for the score. Sure, Coward is asked to work in the phonebooth on this play, but he executes his assignment in the red zone to help his offense get the score.
Another good example against the Panthers where Coward helps out against #95 Derrick Brown but then picks up #21 Jeremy Chinn filling in the hole, clearing him out of the way and not letting him into the backfield to get the back who breaks the plane for the score. His hand placement could have been better on this block, but it gets the job done.
Coward appears to be a great fit for the duo/power blocking schemes based on his traits of working well when asked to block with the tackle or center and his ability to climb to the 2nd level of the defense. Here he and the center double on the defensive tackle before the center goes to pick up the linebacker, leaving Coward 1-on-1 where he rides the defender nearly ten yards back into the backfield and into the ground for the pancake block on the big run.
Another good example of Coward being used well on the double team against the run against the Rams where he and the center double on #90 Michael Brockers until the center leaves to try and get a backer and leaves Coward to kick out Brockers toward the sideline.
For being 6’5 and nearly 320lb, Coward moves pretty well for a player of his size when asked to run block and get out in space. Here against Minnesota, Coward helps #68 James Daniels on the defensive tackle before breaking off and picking up the linebacker downfield, running him away from the play and eventually throwing him to the turf.
As mentioned earlier, Coward appears to be a good fit for a power blocking scheme based on his size, play strength, and ability to move and pull. Some of Coward’s best tape comes on him playing as the pulling guard, getting the kick out block on the edge and getting a seal in the run game. Below are a couple examples of Coward acting as the puller and winning his assignment.
When he has his feet underneath him and is aware of what is happening in front of him, Coward has shown some quality reps as a pass protector as well on the interior. His size and strength can make him difficult for linebackers to beat when asked to blitz on the inside and his length aids in his ability to get hands-on the defender to try and neutralize them. A good example from the rams game where #54 Leonard Floyd lines up head-up on Coward, but Coward does a great job picking him up, giving him a violent shove down the line into the center and then picks up Michael Brockers on the twist, giving #9 Nick Foles the time to make the completion along the sideline.
Overall, Rashaad Coward should not be seen as the answer to the offensive line as a potential starter in 2021 at either guard or tackle. However, the signing makes sense to Pittsburgh as a low-risk signing where they are able to bring on a project player that is raw at the position but has shown glimpses of being a capable pass protector and a physical run blocker for a team trying to find a new identity up front in the trenches. His best fits are in a duo or power blocking scheme which matches what the Steelers have done in the past. Plus, his athleticism and demeanor on the inside are a good start to work with as a guard working on the interior. For instance J.R. Sweezy of the Cardinals and formerly the Seahawks was also a defensive lineman convert that has been a mainstay in the league as an average-level starting guard and a player that can provide depth to an offensive line room.
With David DeCastro entering the last year of his deal and no real depth behind he and Kevin Dotson, the signing of Coward makes a lot of sense on several different levels. First, it allows Pittsburgh to have a player with experience playing both guard spots and RT in a pinch as potential depth. Second, it decreases the need for the team to draft a versatile interior blocker or guard-only player in the 2021 NFL Draft, allowing them to target a player they may see as primarily a center and address other needs they have on their roster. Third, it gives Offensive Line Coach Adrian Klemm yet another young, athletic player that is still learning the position to try and develop. Should the signing have come in close to the minimum and was cost-efficient for the team, I personally see this as a good signing by Pittsburgh to add depth to the offensive line and get a look at another young player that can add to the physical demeanor this group is trying to recreate.
Games Watched: vs New Orleans Saints (2020), at Detroit Lions (2020), at Los Angeles Rams (2020), at Carolina Panthers (2020), at Denver Broncos (2019)