FRISCO, Texas — More than 40 offensive linemen were flanked in a horseshoe formation with their eyes plastered to the screen at the front of the room. They were all transfixed.
The oversized group was watching clips of Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller dominate offensive linemen across the league while Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz provided a scouting report of his rival. Schwartz suddenly stopped mid-sentence and nonchalantly blurted, “Don’t watch that one.”
The comment drew chuckles across the room as they watched a clip of Miller getting the best of Schwartz on a rep last season. Schwartz then continued with his assessment of Miller’s game. Others added their input on the seven-time All-Pro.
“He’s got elite quickness and elite timing,” one lineman said. “That is a pretty s—ty combo to go against.”
This is why all these offensive linemen gathered last weekend at the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star, around the corner from the Dallas Cowboys‘ training facility. They were sharing trade secrets and trying to improve their games, figuring out how to stop or minimize the damage some of the league’s best pass-rushers inflict on Sundays.
None of the men in that room, no matter their accomplishments or resumes (some of which are quite impressive), are impervious to getting beat by Miller when they face off for potentially 60 to 70 snaps in a game. So for the second straight year they congregated at the OL Masterminds and devised plans to stop players such as Miller, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.
Schwartz, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, Saints tackle Terron Armstead, Bucs center Ryan Jensen, Raiders tackle Trent Brown, Bears tackle Charles Leno Jr., Broncos guard Ronald Leary and Eagles guard Brandon Brooks were some of the more dominant voices in the room. They talked about how Mack’s get-off is simply to get them to open up, how not to fall for DeMarcus Lawrence‘s head fakes, how to avoid getting bull-rushed by Cameron Jordan, and why it was mandatory to use an attacking and physical pass set against Donald.
More than just seasoned All-Pros digested the knowledge. The group also consisted of some of this year’s top draft picks (the Vikings’ Garrett Bradbury and Saints’ Erik McCoy), free agents who have played in the league such as Hugh Thornton and Jeff Allen, retired veterans such as Geoff Schwartz and even a few college linemen.
Renowned offensive line trainer and scouting consultant Duke Manyweather and Johnson organized the event, the offensive line’s version of what Miller has done the past few years in California with some of the league’s top pass-rushers. Manyweather introduced the conversations, which ranged from how to train, take care of their bodies, handle conflict with coaches and deal with crowd noise and self-confidence. Even the veterans were taking notes.
“There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.'”
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks
But a majority of the two-plus-hour classroom sessions from Friday to Sunday centered around the best players they face on Sundays (Miller, Lawrence, Mack, Donald, JJ Watt, Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and more). Different linemen who play different positions chime in on each.
“Just finding a way to stop some of those guys and having those blueprints on field,” Armstead said. “They’re like study guides. It’s work done for you in a sense in that you can see how effective it can be, or ineffective. And then make your plan from there.”
It’s a start, but it’s hardly foolproof.
“There is more to it than the plan,” Armstead added. “You still have to execute.”
Trying to get better
Manyweather, along with offensive line consultant Brandon Thorn, have the clips loaded. There is a slide that notes each pass rusher’s top moves, counters, best practices and some notes on their preferences — such as the frequency with which Miller used his spin move in 2018.
Then the floor opens and the conversations flow. Anything goes.
“This stuff is all about offensive linemen trying to bounce ideas off each other,” Leno said. “We’re just trying to get better. Get better and improve offensive line play. We’re saying all this stuff, and to think we’re going to go out there and block every single defender, no. They get paid, too.”
The idea is that the offensive linemen can take some of the ideas and techniques discussed and add them to their arsenal. Armstead explained during one of the sessions how he utilized something from last year’s OL Masterminds during an early matchup with the Buccaneers’ Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul beat Armstead early in that Week 1 matchup with a cross-chop move. This prompted Armstead to make an in-game change. He switched to a striking technique that was discussed by Mitchell Schwartz (among others) at the previous year’s OL Masterminds. After that adjustment, Pierre-Paul went silent. His name did not make the stat sheet.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that what worked for Armstead that week will work for another offensive tackle. Everyone in the room seemed to concede that. Linemen come in all shapes and sizes. Not everyone can take the same approach that Trent Brown did, when his pass sets begged Mack to bull-rush into his chest. Not everyone is 360 pounds and has Brown’s 36-inch arms.
In fact, Schwartz talked about how early in his career in Cleveland he was trying too much to imitate future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas when he was not Joe Thomas. Schwartz believes his game elevated to the next level when he focused on his individual strengths. That played right into the theme of the second annual OL Masterminds, which seemed to be to trust yourself and do what you do well.
The information sharing that occurred at OL Masterminds and at Miller’s pass-rush camp has been met with criticism by those who view it as helping the enemy. But the players don’t seem to have reservations about the sessions.
“Even if we didn’t have this, there are guys in here that know each other,” Brooks said. “They are going to discuss the same things. It’s just a great idea where guys from all over come. There are a ton of things I learned the past few days. There are some techniques that I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve been doing this the hard way the whole time.’ You have some O-line coaches who teach their ways. There are different line coaches and players who teach it a different way that just so happens to work for you.”
Johnson noted that players speak immediately after games, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Some then train together and talk about techniques and opponents in the offseason. So why not get all this offensive line knowledge in one room to better yourself and the overall line play around the league? All the information in the world doesn’t necessarily make a good lineman or mean that the individual digesting it can stop or contain Miller or Mack.
“Mike Tyson said it. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Johnson said. “Basically, there is no recipe. There are going to be guys that get their ass kicked. Sometimes I’m on the other end of that. But the more you can prepare, you’ll be in a better position to be your best self. That is what I like about [OL Masterminds].”
Cards’ Murray struggles with snap issues, flags
Murray was twice flagged for false starts in the first quarter of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders because of his cadence, in which Murray claps for the snap. Officials told him he was “too abrupt” in his clap and “not smooth enough as far as bringing my hands together,” Murray said.
The two penalties cost the Cardinals 10 yards, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he doesn’t plan on changing Murray’s cadence to a verbal call.
“I think it’s the first time for certain officials to see it, and we’ve been in contact with the league and had a great conversation on it,” Kingsbury said. “We’re going to work through that and make sure everybody’s on the same page. We want to be on the same page as them and make sure we’re doing things that they deem legal.”
Kingsbury called the conversations with the league and officials “ongoing.”
Last season, there were eight false-start penalties by quarterbacks, and none had more than one in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The most recent time a quarterback was called for two false-start penalties in a regular-season game was the Saints’ Drew Brees on Oct. 27, 2013, against the Bills.
Murray, who finished his second preseason game 3-of-8 passing for 12 yards with a run for 4 yards, said his hard count won’t be affected if any changes to his cadence are made.
“To me, it’s like any other hard count,” Murray said. “It’s the defense’s job to watch the ball, so it really doesn’t make sense to me. I think we’re trying to fix things right now.”
Murray’s outing, which lasted four possessions and into the second quarter, wasn’t as efficient or productive as his showing in Week 1.
On top of his inefficient stat line and the two false-start penalties, Murray was also flagged for a delay-of-game penalty and was sacked for a safety. Murray disagreed with the delay-of-game flag.
“I don’t think they reset the clock,” Murray said. “But it being preseason, I don’t think they cared to really check it out because there was no way that the clock ran down for 24 seconds.”
On the sack, which happened in the second quarter and ended up being his final play of the game, Murray said he thought he landed on the 1-yard line. After that play, Murray thought it was time to get out of the game.
“It didn’t really matter,” he said.
That was Murray’s approach to Thursday night overall. However, Murray said he understood the need to clean up the snap issues as well as the 14 penalties for 108 yards.
“I mean, it’s football,” Murray said. “We didn’t look as good as we would’ve liked to look, but it’s the preseason. This is why it’s the preseason. It’s just tough because we’re not playing a whole game, and it’s … I don’t wanna say it’s not real, but it’s not the regular season. We’re not doing everything we’re gonna do. It gets frustrating, but at the same time, it’s preseason.”
Kingsbury supported Murray’s approach to the preseason, adding that the vanilla offensive approach makes the exhibition games a bit more difficult. But Murray believes the Cardinals will look different in Week 1, when they unveil their offense in its entirety and game plan for the Detroit Lions.
“I think it’ll be very different, just because we’ll scheme them up, just like they’ll scheme us up,” Murray said. “But we’ll be going full force and we’ll see.”
Kingsbury was pleased with some of the decisions Murray made but added the first-overall pick missed some close throws. Murray had four overthrows in the first quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He had at least four overthrows in just two games throughout his entire college career.
On Thursday night, Murray averaged 1.5 yards per attempt after averaging 6.3 yards per attempt last week against the Chargers. Last season at Oklahoma, he averaged 11.6 yards per attempt and his lowest average in a single game was 8.3 against Alabama in the CFP Semifinal. Murray said he just one pass got away from him — a throw across the middle to Christian Kirk — but added that he felt confident on every throw.
“He understands what it is,” Kingsbury said. “He understands what we are trying to accomplish and where we are at and what we are doing offensively right now, so he is very confident.”
Cardinals CB Alford out with injured lower leg
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals cornerback Robert Alford suffered a lower leg injury during Tuesday’s outdoor practice and will miss an “extended amount of time,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said after Arizona’s 33-26 preseason loss to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night.
A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Alford will miss “about two months,” leaving the Cardinals extremely short-handed at cornerback to start the season. Alford was expected to start opposite eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, but Peterson was suspended the first six games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
However, a two-month timetable for Alford could see him back right around the time Peterson is eligible to return for the Cardinals’ Week 7 game against the New York Giants. In the meantime, it’s likely that rookie Byron Murphy and Tramaine Brock will be the Cardinals’ starting corners come Week 1 against the visiting Detroit Lions.
Alford, 30, signed a three-year contract with Arizona in February worth $22.5 million.
Gruden ‘optimistic’ on AB’s progress after drills
The show Antonio Brown put on in running routes and catching passes from Derek Carr on the State Farm Stadium grass before the Oakland Raiders’ 33-26 exhibition defeat of the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night has coach Jon Gruden hopeful.
As in, Gruden hopes Brown practices with the Raiders before the team breaks camp in Napa on Monday.
“I’m not going to say anything else, but I’m very optimistic after what I saw tonight,” Gruden said after the game, in which Oakland built a 26-0 lead, with its defensive starters playing four series against No. 1 draft pick Kyler Murray.
“Hell yeah, it was encouraging. It was great to have him back. You know, it’s been a strange, strange couple weeks, with frostbite and the helmet grievance. Can’t say that that’s common, at least in my history in this league. But we’ve weathered the storm.”
Brown had been away from the team for two weeks after starting camp on the Non-Football Injury List before participating in one pre-practice walkthrough on July 28 and being limited on July 30 and then leaving the field early.
Brown was away seeking treatment on the soles of his feet, which he injured in a cryotherapy mishap in France early last month. He told ESPN’s Lisa Salters the injury occurred because he only wore socks. Therapy included laser treatments, said Brown’s agent Drew Rosenhaus, who added that the injury was the main reason Brown was absent from camp and not so much his grievance against the NFL to let him wear his 10-year-old Schutt Air Advantage helmet, the only helmet he has worn in his professional career.
Brown lost the grievance on Monday and returned to Napa on Tuesday.
Gruden would not say what helmet Brown was wearing during warmups.
“I’m not talking about it anymore,” Gruden said. “It was a legal, certified helmet, you know? Somebody approved it, or he wouldn’t have worn it.
“It’s great to see him out there with his teammates. He appears to be in great spirits and he appears like he’s ready to get going here so, that’s Antonio Brown. We’re excited about him. I’m excited about him. I could care less what anybody else says, I’m excited.”
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