The next offensive lineman to sign up for football with the intent of capturing the spotlight will be the first. With the league's head coach and general manager interviews wrapping on Wednesday, the media-room floor was substantially more quiet on Thursday. Perfect, that's where these professional people-movers have operated their entire football lives.
The many draftniks and local journalists still here at the center of the football universe were treated to terrific content from arguably the best position group in this class. Twenty percent of Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50 rankings is made up of offensive linemen, including Boston College's Zion Johnson (No. 41), who weighed in on new Dolphins OL Coach Matt Applebaum.
"When I first got to Davidson I really only played one year," said Johnson. "I was really behind everybody else in terms of development; I didn't know what an over front was, I didn't know what a three-technique was. Coach Applebaum took me aside. I would go to his office in the evenings and go over those things and that really helped me get on the field my freshman year."
"When (Applebaum) came to Boston College he was a really unique coach. He has this base in terms of technique, but he wants you to do whatever you can to win your rep, to do your job. He wants to work with the whole line to figure out what the best course of action is in terms of technique or various ways to win collectively."
Johnson, who considered attending Harvard for academics with a 4.0 GPA, played just one year of high school football. He applied that aptitude to the craft and played four different positions before spending the week at the Senior Bowl learning to play in the pivot at center.
His teammate, Alec Lindstrom, comes from a football family. Lindstrom's fifth-year with the Eagles was the first time in his collegiate career that he was charged with a sack-allowed. Lindstrom mentioned former Falcons center Alex Mack as a player he models his game after. You might recall that Mack was a prized free agent signing for Atlanta in 2016, the final year in which Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator, and the final year that Mike McDaniel was on the Falcons staff.
"(Mack) is someone I watched growing up on tape; a big outside zone guy. That's kind of where we got our offense at B.C. with Coach (Frank) Cignetti who got it from San Francisco, and Coach Applebaum with the Dolphins learned from the San Francisco o-line coach. I think that scheme fits me but I'll do whatever, wherever."
Coach Applebaum is the man. Coming in, he really introduced to me that zone-scheme offense and really refining my technique in a zone scheme. I’m a smaller guy and having someone like him to really work on my technique and my athleticism and using that to my advantage is unreal. An example is every single day after practice, after workouts, whatever, he always cared about us. He would stay after practice and take his time to work with us to get better and use that extra time, always there to talk. I just talked to him a couple minutes ago. I saw him in the hall. He’s such a personable guy. He’s a great guy and he’s a great coach. Alec Lindstrom, 2021 Boston College Center
Speaking of players who exceled in a wide zone scheme, Kentucky's Luke Fortner paved massive lanes for the Wildcats in 2021 playing under Offensive Coordinator Liam Coen, who was recently hired to the same position with the Los Angeles Rams. Prior to his lone year in Lexington, Coen was on the Rams staff with Sean McVay from 2018-2020.
"I think I have good quickness off the ball. I think I'm a smart player and being in Liam Coen's offense last year has been really helpful for me." Fortner said.
Widening our scope to the edge, Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning caught a reputation at the Senior Bowl for playing through the echo of the whistle. He was asked where that temperament comes from.
"It's really out of passion," said Penning. "My o-line coach wanted us to do that. He wanted us to have a dog mentality and really punish the defense. We really prided ourselves on that."
Washington State's Abraham Lucas didn't put his hand in the dirt until his trip to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. Playing in both the air raid and run-and-shoot on the Palouse, Lucas feels like he perfected one, key element to his game.
"I certainly learned how to pass block, I did that 70 times a game," Lucas said. "With the run-and-shoot coming there's obviously more run blocking. I hadn't put my hand in the dirt really until the Senior Bowl and I proved I could do that, too. I love run blocking. I'm going to do whatever and getting downhill is fantastic."
Lucas' WSU Cougars lost a heartbreaker in the Sun Bowl to Central Michigan. The Chippewas rolled up 147 rushing yards running behind Luke Goedeke, who's journey to Indianapolis began at the division-three level. How did he progress from D3 to the Scouting Combine?
"At the end of the day, I'm a finisher. I'm a nasty guy," Goedeke said. "There's not much of a greater feeling I get than imposing my will on another grown man and driving him into the dirt."
Next, the players who the guys up front block for, the running backs.
Michigan State's Kenny Walker III was pushing for a Heisman bid late in the 2021 college football campaign. In his lone season in East Lansing (a Wake Forrest transfer), Walker rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns. Draft publications laud his footwork and vision, which Walker said he works on every day in practice with intent.
Walker was arguably the most productive back in the nation, while Texas A&M's Isaiah Spiller put his hat in the ring for the most versatile player at the position. Operating in something of a backfield-by-committee at A&M, Spiller went over 1,000 yards from scrimmage all three years in College Station, scoring 26 touchdowns and giving the Aggies a dependable third down option on the ground or through the air.
"I've grown a lot since being at A&M just in understanding blocks, the schemes, routes and how to run them, reading coverages…I'm thankful for everything A&M has done for me," Spiller said.
Arizona State's Rachaad White went from junior college transfer to 42 carries his first year in Tempe, to a 16-touchdown, 1,456 yards from scrimmage producing back in 2021. A three-down player, White described what allows him to excel in the area of the game where he's not touching the football.
"Pass protection has a lot to do with technique and I'm working with coaches to keep getting better," said White. "It's all heart, it's all will, and I think coaches see that on my film that I get the job done."
Iowa State's Breece Hall rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and scored 56 career touchdowns. He broke an NCAA record this year by scoring a touchdown in 24-consecutive games. He scored from everywhere -- short-yardage, long runs, he was always a threat to find paydirt. Still, he is excited to people that he can do it all.
"I think a lot of people are questioning my speed right now," Hall said. "I'm excited to show tomorrow running my 40."
What does he think he's going to run? "That's a surprise," Hall concluded.
You can watch Breece Hall and the rest of the backs and offensive line participate in the on-field drills Friday at 4 PM ET on NFL Network.