Gabe Ward: The Redskins have invested significant draft capital and other resources into solidifying the defense, particularly with Crimson Tide players (if you’ve lost count: Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne, Landon Collins, Ryan Anderson, Shuan Dion Hamilton, Reuben Foster). Now it is the offense that is in desperate need of a rebuild. The Redskins lost their QB, Alex Smith, to a horrific injury last year, but beyond that, the offensive line was decimated with injury last year as well. When healthy, the Redskins are in great shape regarding the offensive line as they have 4 bona fide starters; the one area that has been a weak link has been left guard. The Redskins run a power scheme, which means they need linemen who have enough strength and power to create holes for the running game, but who also have enough athleticism to pull out on running plays that go outside. Can you give us a general sense of the type of blocks and scheme Pierschbacher worked in at Alabama?
Brent Taylor: Trust me, we definitely haven’t lost count of the Tide players in Washington. You’ve already become affectionately known as the Crimsonskins around these parts. As for the scheme fit, Alabama has used plenty of both power and zone, depending on the situation. However, the base offense and significant portion of Alabama’s game plan has revolved around a zone blocking scheme-- which requires flexibility in small spaces to turn defenders around and create cutback lanes. Though he’s technically sound, Ross is neither fast around the edge nor all that strong in straight up power blocks. He’s adequate at both, but not particularly adept.
Gabe Ward: The Redskins signed Ereck Flowers to be the presumed starter at left guard this year but with Flowers’ limited success in the NFL so far, and the Redskins investing a 4th round pick (Wes Martin, Indiana, LG) and 5th round pick in Pierschbacher, I think its fair to say that the young guys will have an opportunity to beat out the veteran. What case would you make to convince others that Pierschbacher could actually win the LG job?
Brent Taylor: Consistency. While many positions (wide receiver/pass rusher) depend on players being able to make awesome plays and incredible feats to be a difference maker, the offensive line is a little different. Pancake blocks, while fun to watch, are only marginally more effective than just getting in the way of a defender. But a wide receiver slipping on a route will have much less impact on derailing a play than if an offensive lineman screws up a block. And that’s where Ross excels. He may not make the splashy blocks, and may struggle to really move things forward on a 4th and 1, but it’s a rare thing that he really messes up a block. He gets the job done. All the time. That’s something you don’t often see in young linemen.
Gabe Ward: The Redskins have a few Pro Bowlers and tone setters on the OL. I’m specifically speaking about Trent Williams (LT) and Brandon Scherff (RG), who play physically and take other players’ souls when they have the opportunity. Its important to have that toughness and attitude when facing the defensive fronts of the NFC East. Does Pierschbacher have that dog in him?
Brent Taylor: That is one thing I’m not sure of. Ross has never really stood out as being a particularly nasty or aggressive blocker. Obviously, I don’t know him personally, so attitude can be kind of tough for me to really comment on, but it’s not a trait that’s really showed up on the field, in my opinion.
Gabe Ward: Forgive me, but I’m going to say that Alabama offensive linemen have not had nearly the amount of success as their counterparts on defensive side of the ball. Considering ‘Bama OL go against some of the top DL and LB talent year after year, what do you think is missing once they get to the NFL? Do you think it’s really a strength that Pierschbacher practiced against several 1st round DLs in his career?
Brent Taylor: Honestly, I think that Alabama’s biggest issue with putting linemen in the pros is that we tend to take our best linemen, no matter their style, and put them at tackle. That’s meant that we’ve wound up with with a lot of natural guards playing tackle at a college level and then struggling to make the transition to the pros-- and consequently the Tide’s guards are generally just not as talented as the tackles. Meanwhile, the centers are generally senior players and more dependable, with the starting center often being just the longest tenured lineman on the team.
However, I do think that practicing against top players along the defensive line over the years should have really helped him, not hindered him. When it comes to competitive practice, there is, of course, a sweet spot. Competing against others too much weaker than you can lead to bad habits and reliance on techniques that don’t work at a higher level. But playing against people way out of your league leads to confidence issues and means no chance to practice any different techniques. Since Pierschbacher started for 4 years and never got booted out, I’d say that confidence can’t have been a problem. All in all, practicing against guys like Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne, and Quinnen Williams has to be considered a positive for him.
Gabe Ward: Do you have any insights as to how Piersbacher’s experience in his career might give him the upper hand in the NFL? He has played on the biggest stage several times in his college career; do you think that helps his ability to be able to come in and hit the ground running?
Brent Taylor: Absolutely. He’s versatile, tough, and refined. If he has to start from day 1 due to injuries, you don’t have to worry about him screwing up half his assignments and getting jumpy. The dude has started in four straight national championship games, 8 playoff games, and 3 SEC championship matches — plus two trips to Baton Rouge (the craziest fan base in America) and two trips to Auburn (a cursed home venue that is basically like a Final Destination movie on the football field every time Alabama plays there). He’s done so for four years under the scrutiny of the Alabama fan base-- which is about as unforgiving of mistakes as any you’ll find.
So don’t expect a pro game to daunt him.
Gabe Ward: The Redskins value versatility along the offensive line, especially in light of all the injuries these past couple of years. While the Redskins do have a fine starter at center in Chase Roullier, what do you think is Pierschbacher’s best position, center or guard?
Brent Taylor: Ross was a fine center last year, and I don’t remember any issues with snaps or identifying blocks. I don’t think you can go wrong with him there. However, 3 years of starting guard experience is tough to ignore, and I think he’s more natural there. He’s great at identifying stunts and helping tackles chip guys on the outside, and I think it’s a waste to have him slugging it out with a nose tackle every play when he can probably be more effective at guard.
Gabe Ward: Could you give us a few words to describe the player we are getting in Ross Pierschbacher?
Brent Taylor: Consistent and reliable.
I want to thank Brent again for his time spent answering my questions about Pierschbacher. I mentioned to him in my initial email, ‘another Redskins draft, another Alabama player,’ to signal what a core part the players from that program have become to the team. At this rate, with Brent previously working with me on articles about Da’Ron Payne and Shaun Dion Hamilton, we may have to put him on retainer. As a formatting note, I would have liked to have included Brent in the main byline as I have done in years past, but the new editor restricts permissions to do that. This is, at minimum, a 50/50 endeavor, with the bulk of the thinking and writing coming from the people gracious enough to answer me, and I want to make sure they get their credit. I’ll likely be including this note for the rest of the series.