Next Man Up: Ricky Wagner

WAGS

6’6″ | 308 lbs

The Ravens had their struggles on the offensive line in 2013.  What was a mainstay for the 2012 Super Bowl run suddenly declined into little more than a series of holes and mishaps.  With Michael Oher rumored to have played his last snap in purple, the current back-up Right Tackle is Ricky Wagner.

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Michael Oher was of particular concern as his previous “inconsistent” label would be a  compliment when describing his 2013 campaign. Behind Oher on the depth chart was the 2013 5th round pick Ricky Wagner. Wagner played 131 snaps in 2013 but the majority (56%) of his playing time was as an eligible-tackle (i.e. 6th OL) in the Ravens heavy package.  Luckily for his (and my) sake, he played Right Tackle on 58 plays against Denver in the season opener once Michael Oher left due to injury.

My approach to studying Wagner is based solely on his tape.  I think this is the least biased method but keep in mind three factors:

  • Given the score in the Denver game, Wagner was asked to pass protect (48 snaps) far more than run block.
  • Pass rushers almost always knew the play was a pass in the pre-snap phase.
  • This is a limited sample size.

Run blocking

Wagner did an admirable job in his limited role in the rushing attack.  The following play is indicative of his worth in the zone blocking scheme:

Zoneaway1

The Ravens are running a "Split Zone" concept. This play is blocked identically to "Inside Zone" except the near bunch receiver (TE Dallas Clark) will work across the formation after the snap to eliminate back-side pursuit. Wagner's role is to reach-block #95 Derek Wolfe in combination with Marshal Yanda. Promptly cutting off Wolfe will allow Yanda to scoop to the second level.

Zoneaway2

Wagner turns his hips smoothly after the snap to get his head on the correct side of Wolfe. Good positioning here allows Yanda to creep to the second level with minimal hesitation.

Zoneaway3

RT Wagner has positioned his body well.

Zoneaway4

Rather than flexibly changing his positioning, Wagner just digs his feet into the turf in order to wall-off Wolfe. Wagner is playing a bit too high and Wolfe pushes him backward into Pierce's intended running lane.

The Ravens are running a "Split Zone" concept.  This play is blocked identically to "Inside Zone" except the near bunch receiver (TE Dallas Clark) will work across the formation after the snap to eliminate back-side pursuit.

Wagner's role is to reach-block #95 Derek Wolfe in combination with Marshal Yanda.  Promptly cutting off Wolfe will allow Yanda to scoop to the second level.Wagner turns his hips smoothly after the snap to get his head on the correct side of Wolfe.  Good positioning here allows Yanda to creep to the second level with minimal hesitation.RT Wagner has positioned his body well.Rather than flexibly changing his positioning, Wagner just digs his feet into the turf in order to wall-off Wolfe.  Wagner is playing a bit too high and Wolfe pushes him backward into Pierce's intended running lane.

Wagner has demonstrated the ability to move laterally and block using position.  He has areas of weakness, however, in using power from his lower body. He does not yet have the bulk to drive defenders and his lack of subtle position adjustment after initial contact creates a weakness for defenders to exploit.

The next play has Wagner blocking on the play-side of an Outside Zone play:

zoneto1

This "Outside (or Wide) Zone" play calls for Wagner to combo-block with RG Marshal Yanda until Yanda can reach to the 3-Tech's play-side. This involves post-snap communication so that Wagner can work up to the WILL 'backer soon enough to engage him but not before the 3-Technique is controlled.

zoneto2

Yanda and Wagner work to the play-side of the 3-Technique efficiently. The above image shows Wagner giving the 3-Tech one last shove to ensure he is eliminated.

zoneto3

RT Wagner attacks the WILL linebacker but this 'backer has read the positioning of the line and has begun to flow toward the sideline. Wagner wisely chooses to attack his back-side shoulder instead. Dallas Clark (W=Wing) is doing nothing more than confusing the second level blocking assignments.

zoneto4

Up to this point, Wagner has accomplished his mission. This image, however, reveals his relative naivety. After engaging the linebacker, Wagner straightens his back and sets his feet as though the defender would cease his pursuit.

zoneto5

Wagner once had solid positioning but has since lost it. Wagner's assigned linebacker posts against Wagner's chest and Wagner is left lunging. Due to a number of circumstances, the ball carrier (Pierce) continues to stretch the ball toward the sideline and eventually runs out of space before a minimal gain.

This "Outside (or Wide) Zone" play calls for Wagner to combo-block with RG Marshal Yanda until Yanda can reach to the 3-Tech's play-side.  This involves post-snap communication so that Wagner can work up to the WILL 'backer soon enough to engage him but not before the 3-Technique is controlled.Yanda and Wagner work to the play-side of the 3-Technique efficiently.  The above image shows Wagner giving the 3-Tech one last shove to ensure he is eliminated.RT Wagner attacks the WILL linebacker but this 'backer has read the positioning of the line and has begun to flow toward the sideline.  Wagner wisely chooses to attack his back-side shoulder instead.  Dallas Clark (W=Wing) is doing nothing more than confusing the second level blocking assignments.Up to this point, Wagner has accomplished his mission.  This image, however, reveals his relative naivety.  After engaging the linebacker, Wagner straightens his back and sets his feet as though the defender would cease his pursuit.Wagner once had solid positioning but has since lost it.  Wagner's assigned linebacker posts against Wagner's chest and Wagner is left lunging.  Due to a number of circumstances, the ball carrier (Pierce) continues to stretch the ball toward the sideline and eventually runs out of space before a minimal gain.

As the above plays show, Wagner tends to rely on the rules laid-out on the chalkboard instead of using brute force or athletic superiority to dominate his opponents.  With a bit of tuning, Wagner could become a reliable run-blocker but his current lack of lateral quickness is of concern given the Ravens commitment to the zone blocking scheme in 2014.

Combating Edge Pressure

Generally when analyzing pass blocking, there are four main facets:

  1. Set – At its simplest, setting is the patterned retreat that provides the OL with space to efficiently protect the QB and form a pocket. There are several types of sets but the Ravens generally employ more of a “vertical set.”
  2. Mirror – This is the ability to flexibly move one’s feet and hips to maintain the best body position relative to the defender.
  3. Punch – Mostly self-explanatory.  A quick thrust of the arms to stun a defender. Maintaining good body positioning throughout the punch (i.e. not lunging) is a struggle for some.
  4. Recovery – Good maintenance of the pocket after initial contact.  It is often the defender’s job to use moves and counter-moves to displace a blocker off his spot.

Wagner sets as though he’s a Guard.  At Right Tackle, he under-set his opponent at times which left him vulnerable to the speed rush.  He was able to push his assignment past the Quarterback the majority of the time, but when the interior rush provided no space for Flacco to step into, Wagner’s strategy left him with credited sacks on his stat-sheet.

The following play describes Wagner’s struggles:

set1

The Ravens are using "BOB" (Big-on-Big) protection against the Bronco's "X" Stunt (crossing A-gap LB stunt). This protection pits RT Ricky Wagner versus DE Shaun Phillips on the edge.

set2

Wagner sets vertically (3 yards on the hash) before engaging Phillips. Wagner stretches out his outside arm to punch (stun) Phillips.

set3

A half-second later, Wagner's punch is countered by a simple swipe and arm-over technique. Wagner's body stance and balance are sufficient but after not setting far enough vertically (under-setting), he has given up the edge to Phillips.

set4

Predictably, Phillips defeats Wagner around the edge and tallies a sack as a reward.

The Ravens are using "BOB" (Big-on-Big) protection against the Bronco's "X" Stunt (crossing A-gap LB stunt).  This protection pits RT Ricky Wagner versus DE Shaun Phillips on the edge.Wagner sets vertically (3 yards on the hash) before engaging Phillips.  Wagner stretches out his outside arm to punch (stun) Phillips.A half-second later, Wagner's punch is countered by a simple swipe and arm-over technique.  Wagner's body stance and balance are sufficient but after not setting far enough vertically (under-setting), he has given up the edge to Phillips.Predictably, Phillips defeats Wagner around the edge and tallies a sack as a reward.

On the above play, Wagner’s first error was under-setting Phillips.  With Phillips in a “ghost-9″ technique (i.e. outside shoulder of the imaginary tight-end), Wagner should have slid further to the outside to cut off Phillips’ angle.  In a compromised position, Wagner had no ability to “mirror” because Phillips was attempting to bend the edge.  Instead, Wagner attempts to punch with his outside hand.  Wagner’s punch was inaccurate and easily swiped away.  Wagner was left lunging.

Despite the above play, Wagner sets adequately.  He certainly under-set more often than not but he was often looking to his inside gap before outside gap (likely due to zone protection).  Where Wagner struggles the most is in the “Mirror” phase.  He has good technique in his pass drops but he is not nimble enough to shuffle/kick to combat evasive moves.  Additionally, he is often caught flat-footed in the Recovery phase (as in the running plays above) and is therefore easily disengaged.

Dissecting Stunts

For all Wagner’s faults, his strengths are accentuated when he’s asked to play like a Guard.  Denver had a field-day rushing with passer pulling out blitzes and stunts in an attempt to disrupt Flacco.  I was impressed with Wagner’s ability to sort out twists up front.  It is not an easy skill to come by:

tex1

The Ravens are using 6-man "BOB" protection which has Wagner one-one-one with Shaun Phillips. RG Marshal Yanda intends to block 3-Technique Derek Wolfe. Phillips and Wolfe, however, use a "TEX" stunt and both Wagner and Yanda are forced to switch their assignments.

tex2

Post-snap, RT Wagner is looking at his assignment, Phillips.

tex3

Wagner has read the inward trajectory of #90 Phillips but due to the nature of the stunt, Wagner has Derek Wolfe in his lap before he has much chance to react.

tex4

Although stunned, Wagner squats and re-positions quickly to take on Wolfe's bullrush. Wolfe clearly has better leverage but Wagner is able to anchor and hold off Wolfe long enough for Flacco to get the ball away. An impressive recovery after being put in a tough spot.

The Ravens are using 6-man "BOB" protection which has Wagner one-one-one with Shaun Phillips.  RG Marshal Yanda intends to block 3-Technique Derek Wolfe.  Phillips and Wolfe, however, use a "TEX" stunt and both Wagner and Yanda are forced to switch their assignments.Post-snap, RT Wagner is looking at his assignment, Phillips.Wagner has read the inward trajectory of #90 Phillips but due to the nature of the stunt, Wagner has Derek Wolfe in his lap before he has much chance to react.Although stunned, Wagner squats and re-positions quickly to take on Wolfe's bullrush.  Wolfe clearly has better leverage but Wagner is able to anchor and hold off Wolfe long enough for Flacco to get the ball away.  An impressive recovery after being put in a tough spot.

Wagner’s stat-line after the Denver game describes an unrefined pass-blocker.  Wagner allowed 3 sacks and his assigned defender pressured the Quarterback on ~14% of his dropbacks.  As always, stats are an incomplete method for scouting a player, particularly an offensive lineman.

Wagner’s strengths lie in the trenches where he can use his tree-like legs to thwart interior rushers or wall-off defenders in a phone booth.  For these reasons, I see Wagner’s best fit as a back-up Guard (or starter if they move Osemele to tackle, again) although this obviously depends on Free Agency and the Draft.

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About the author


Dan Bryden   

Dan played high school football at Wilde Lake and graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Psychology. Dan is currently a Maryland Terp working on his PhD degree in Neuroscience. He has experience writing published scientific material as well as blogging for SBNation via Baltimore Beatdown. Beginning in the 2012 season, Dan has been writing about the Ravens focusing on the X’s and O’s of the game of football with heavy use of overhead (All-22) film analysis. The Columbia, MD native currently lives in Silver Spring.


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