Gabe Ward: Anyone who follows college football knows Bryce Love because of his spectacular junior season where he rushed for over 2,000 yards. I was wondering if you could give us a little background on him? How did Stanford end up with both Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love on their roster and who do you think is the better running back prospect?
Jack Blanchat: Love came to Stanford from North Carolina, and was used early on as a speedy complement to McCaffrey, who was the total package, do-it-all, every-down guy. He ran package plays and caught passes, but mostly existed to give McCaffrey an occasional break. As a sophomore, he did some fill-in duty for a banged-up Caff, and performed really well, rushing for 129 yards and a score in a big road win against Notre Dame. Once McCaffrey left, everybody knew Bryce was a good player who was very fast... but we didn’t have any idea just how good he was, leaving everybody shocked when he absolutely dominated as a junior (I’ll address his injury-marred senior year further along in the interview.) I honestly think McCaffrey is a better NFL prospect - and I think he’s proven that he’s an extremely valuable player in his two years in the league - but that’s not a knock on Love at all.
Gabe Ward: When the Redskins selected Love in the 4th round, I think the initial reaction on the Hogs Haven site was split. Some who were familiar with him thought he was a great value despite his injury (Head Coach Jay Gruden said Love was too good to pass up at that point). Others looked at his stats this past season and his injury and were convinced that he would be available much later in the draft, and that that 4th round pick would have beeb better spent elsewhere. Can you tell us if, when healthy, Love is a dynamic running back and what you think he can be capable of in the NFL?
Jack Blanchat: Love is absolutely dynamic enough to play in the NFL, assuming he returns to full strength. Obviously, his path to being a starter is probably not an easy one in Washington, but I do think he can provide some value as a change-of-pace back at this moment. I think he could definitely be a starter, but might be limited as a two-down backup kind of player for the early part of his career.
Gabe Ward: Unfortunately, just about all the Redskins running backs (Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, and now Bryce Love) have one thing in common: an ACL injury. Could you tell us about some of the injuries Love had to overcome this year? How much did those limit his play? Was there a bigger issue that might explain his production (blocking, play calling, being behind in games etc)?
Jack Blanchat: Love had a nagging ankle injury during his dynamite 2,000 yard junior season, where the ankle would get stiff, he would come off the field, then return a few plays later (usually to break off a 50+ yard touchdown run). His senior year started out fine, but then he re-injured the same ankle; then it became apparent that his legs and feet were bothering him, too, much later in the season. We didn’t know about the ACL injury until after the season, but it was obvious that it hurt his production. Stanford also had its worst season by an offensive line in about a decade, so that hurt as well, and I don’t know that the play-calling was super helpful to try and get a gimpy Love his best looks. So there were a lot of factors at play in the statistically disappointing senior year.
Gabe Ward: Love’s detractors will point to his receiving numbers and say ‘he can’t catch’. Is this true, or is there more at play here as to why he wasn’t more of a receiving threat (perhaps compared to his predecessor) at Stanford?
Jack Blanchat: It’s not that he can’t catch, but it was also never his strong suit at Stanford. That said, they didn’t exactly ask him to catch a lot of passes. Basically, he was so effective between the tackles that it kind of seemed ridiculous to throw it to him - split him out wide and everybody knew it was a wrinkle that was obvious (I will also mention that I think him catching passes was part of the gameplan for his senior year, but then he sustained too many injuries). Another element is that he isn’t a great pass blocking back, so Stanford would take him off the field in some situations where they might check out of a run to a pass, or vice versa (Stanford doesn’t really run RPOs).
Gabe Ward: I don’t think there is any question about Love’s ability to run the ball, but one area I think all will agree he has to improve in is as a pass blocker. Is there any particular reason why he isn’t more advanced in this area? Do you think he has the toughness and drive to learn how to pass protect in the NFL?
Jack Blanchat: I absolutely think he has the toughness and desire to improve - but I don’t know that he’s ever going to be great at that part of the game. He’s not the biggest guy, so I don’t know that you really want him taking on, say, Donta Hightower.
Gabe Ward: There are a few people who look at Love’s aspiration to become a doctor as a distraction to his NFL career. The player being very smart, or a ‘renaissance man’ as it were, could be viewed both positively or negatively. It’s a bit of an unfair question, but do you think Love is 100% committed to football despite his additional educational and career aspirations?
Jack Blanchat: One thing I can say about the Stanford players that I’ve known throughout their careers is that they’re all in on what they do, and based on what I know about Bryce, he’s no exception. There are dozens of former Stanford players that are involved with more than just football, and I think it speaks a lot to their character - they give themselves to what they are doing. In short, I don’t think his aspirations will slow down his career as a football player at all - just as they haven’t stopped Andrew Luck, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Michael Thomas, Johnson Bademosi, and the other guys who have dedicated a lot of their time to things outside of football.
Gabe Ward: Could you give us a few words to describe the type of player the Redskins are getting in Bryce Love?
Jack Blanchat: Tough, nimble, optimistic, and humble.
I want to thank Jack again for his time spent answering my questions about Bryce Love. I think we may look back on this selection in a few years and identify it as one of the best value picks in the whole draft. As a formatting note, I would have liked to have included Jack 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.