The left tackle position is one of the most important parts of the offense in today’s pass happy NFL. Generally speaking, this position is what is protecting the blind side of your highly paid Quarterback and can really help when it comes time to game plan. If you have a LT that can handle most speed rushers off the edge, you have a lot more versatility on what you can do with your blocking assignments. For example, if your LT is continually getting beat, the scheme will need to be changed to keep a RB in the backfield instead of having him flare out for a check down.
Grading any offensive line position is a very tough task. There are many things that need to be taken into account besides their run-blocking and pass-blocking skills. Strength, technique, vision, hands, quickness, size, etc are all very important traits to have at that position. Therefore, many of the top lists of lineman put out by the popular media outlets are very debatable. While stats are a good indication of what someone is doing from game to game, it doesn’t always give you a clear picture of their abilities. An example of that would be comparing Ropati Pitoitua to Haloti Ngata in the 2012 campaign. While Ngata is clearly at the top of the league when it comes to 3-4 defensive ends, Pitoitua is an average player (but did show some nice flashes this year). Ngata finished the year with 51 tackles, 5 sacks, and 0 forced fumbles. Pitoitua put up 51 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Again, we all know who the better player is, but looking purely at a stat sheet, those extra 3 sacks wouldn’t lead me to believe just how powerful Ngata can be.
That leads me to what I see as Andy Reid’s second (draft being first) toughest decision this off-season. Branden Albert. This one is a no brainer in my book. Teams always talk about building the team through the draft. That is exactly what Herm Edwards excelled at and the gems he drafted are the core of our roster today. The versatility that Albert has is not common from the big guys at that position. Many were unsure if Branden could even make the switch from guard to blind side protector. Although I can’t imagine a situation where Branden wouldn’t play LT, he possesses the ability to play guard as well since he played the position in college. This helps him to understand the blocking assignments even better. Anyone can study a playbook and see what the task is on film, but it’s a whole different situation to experience it at game speed in a live football situation. This is a benefit that I believe the Virginia alumni holds over many starters in the league.
When Albert entered the NFL in 2008, he was the highest drafted guard since Chris Naeole went 10th overall in 1997. Branden was also only the second freshmen at Virginia to start on the offensive line since 1972. More than likely, he would have gone higher in the draft had he started at LT all three years. It’s hard to start Albert when D’Brickashaw Ferguson and five star recruit Eugene Monroe are on the roster though.
Besides having an extreme sophomore slump (giving up nine sacks), Albert has showed that he is among the top left tackles in the league. He has done everything that was asked of him and more. He even lost 40 pounds when Haley took over as coach and learned to play just as well at that size. While there are rumors swirling of a large contract with Bowe, the next one I’m hoping to hear is Albert. The franchise tag would work with Bowe locked up, but Albert has already proven that he deserves a long term contract and I’m ready to see him reap that reward.