Next Man Up: Ricky Wagner
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.
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:
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:
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:
- 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.”
- Mirror – This is the ability to flexibly move one’s feet and hips to maintain the best body position relative to the defender.
- 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.
- 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:
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.
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:
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.