I once heard the late Formula One driver Jim Clark describe the dynamics of a Grand Prix race in Germany. If you took a particular turn at 144 miles an hour, the vehicle would be not be able to negotiate the turn, but if you entered that turn at 142 miles per hour, you would ultimately be unable to win the race.
Such is the case at the offensive center; if a particular player is too tall, he will have a very difficult time leveraging the typical wide body nose tackles, but by the same time if your center is undersized he will be run over and physically over matched by bigger, stronger defenders.
The ideal professional center would be in the 6’ 2” range and weigh in the vicinity of 290 to 300 pounds. Long time Broncos Tom Nalen, former Saints Joel Hilgenberg, Steve Korte and Tampa Bay center Jim Pyne, were not only four of the very best collegiate centers, but were also excellent professional. None were over 6’ 2 ½” and all struggled to play above the 270 mark (Hilgy never came close).
What were the qualities that made these players special and able to function at a high level for many years? I believe the answer are contained in these four critical factors (QBLI); quickness, balance, leverage and intelligence.
A top center must have the quickness to snap and step effectively, reach the playside tackle and effectively work to the second level. A quality offensive linemen and football player is infrequently on the ground. Balance is a critical factor at every position on the football field. I’m going to give you a “scouting point” that will greatly enhance your ability to evaluate offensive linemen. If the athlete plays stiff legged (with no flex in his hips, knees and ankles), I would say he has little or no chance to become a successful professional. Waist benders consistently get out over their pads lacks power. One’s ability to maintain good leverage is also an essential quality. A player who plays high is at a particular disadvantage and will be unable to neutralize a defenders charge, build a fort or get movement on his drive block. Intelligence is critical at the center position.
On virtually every offensive play, once the quarterback identifies the “Mac” at the line of scrimmage, it is the centers job to quickly locate the “buck:, identify the defensive front and make a line call; all this before snapping the football and executing his block.
Snapping the football is an under appreciated skill. A snap needs to be hard and automatic and a clean exchange must take place before a center can engage a defender. Take special notice of the arm length (under 32 inches is unsuitable) and the center of gravity (is he short legged) of the center you are evaluating. Short armed player often have a difficult time getting the ball up into a proper exchange position, resulting in an inordinate amount of exchange fumbles while short legged players will often cause a quarterback to alter his stance.
I have only two qualities to look for when evaluating the gun snap; make sure it’s both consistently and accurate. Timing is the most critical aspect of the passing game, and if the quarterback has to reach for or dig the ball out of the ground, it will seriously affect both the rhythm of the route and the timing of the throw.
A particular skill set to look for at the snap is a linemen’s ability to lead step (stepping with his play side foot). It seems rather elementary, but the next time you critically evaluate a game you may have taped, take note of the number of linemen who are unable to execute this without false stepping.
On pass protection, the center when covered, must have the ability to drop his base and control the rusher with his hands. Initial punch and power recoveries are a must. *** Scouting point: pay particular attention that the pass protector assumes a power position (not up on his toes, but rather his entire foot on the ground).
When uncovered, an experienced center will look around with his head on a swivel, and quickly make a decision of which rusher poses the greatest threat and assist. He also must be very conscious of delayed blitzes, and stunts.
Take special note of the following:
Quickness off the ball and into the defender (blocking speed)
Lateral adjustment (high reach, choke, and scoop blocks)
Hand placement & punch (keep hands inside defenders frame)
Nimbleness (particularly in the open field)
Explosion (combination of quickness and playing strength)
Quick setting skills on pass protection
Explosiveness with his hands (punch) on pass pro
Long and short snapping skills are a major plus, but the truth be known few is any of the starting centers in the National Football League are currently performing this highly coveted skill today.
Two final considerations when evaluating a college offensive center; since a center will often battle inside defenders and or nose tackles and give up as much as 40 to 50 pounds, playing strength is an absolute must at the position. Secondly, when evaluating a prospect, never under-estimate the importance of competitiveness in your evaluation. It is a critical factor and essential if a player wants to separate himself from the rest of the pack.