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Comparing Geron Christian and Donald Penn: a short pre-season film study

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What’s gone on with the team’s two top left tackles in the first two pre-season games?

Redskins summer camp Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the absence of Trent Williams, there are a lot of conflicting opinions about the competition at left tackle between second-year offensive lineman Geron Christian and 14-year veteran Donald Penn.

Recently I got an email from Andrew York asking if I’d be interested in collaborating on an article about these two players:

Bill,

Would you be interested in doing a film review article of Geron Christian and Donald Penn based on the first two preseason games? I think there’s enough film of them in the highlights to do a first take with a few selected plays.

We quickly agreed that we would do what we’ve done in the past; Andrew would scour the film of the games and select a few representative plays, writing critiques of each. I would create .GIFs and insert them into the article.

That’s what you’ll see below — intelligent commentary written by Andrew York with support work carried out by Bangkok Bill (isn’t it interesting how we’re both named after cities?).

I hope y’all enjoy this 7-play look at Christian and Penn.

Andrew’s Analysis

Geron Christian, Washington Redskins

Geron Christian was a 3rd round pick of the Redskins in the 2018 NFL draft. A basketball player in high school, he displayed the agility, athleticism, and length to succeed at the most athletically demanding OL position: Left Tackle.

He has the long frame NFL teams covet, standing 6’5” and with elite 35” arms. However, the knock on him in college was that he needed to fill out that frame, as he lacked the functional strength necessary to play OT in the NFL (only 19 BP reps, and his lack of upper body strength was evident on tape).

Although he suffered a season-ending MCL injury in his rookie season and spent much of the offseason rehabbing, he has had a year to develop his upper body in an NFL strength & conditioning program.

In these first two 2019 preseason games, Geron’s arm length is evident. He is often able to win an initial punch through length alone, knocking a rusher back or controlling him while they are unable to reach him to gain purchase.

His increased strength is obvious too, as Geron is now holding his own against NFL talent, whereas last year he seemed unable to control anyone he got his hands on.

He has quick feet and fluid hips and is able to slide effectively, but (unlike last year) he also displays a strong anchor and is able to withstand a bull rush.

His problem is consistency, as there are still times I think the NFL game is too fast for him and he gets beat due to slow reaction time or poor angles and body positioning. Also, although I think he is now strong enough to match up with NFL competition, he still needs to gain more strength to become a high level starting LT.


Geron Christian

Redskins @ Browns | 2019 Preseason Week 1


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[1:09] Geron has a good stance and good footwork, staying low and moving his feet to kick back and rotate around the pocket. He uses his long arms and good punches to knock the rushing DT (Larry Ogunjobi) away and keep him at a distance without giving much ground, allowing Keenum enough time in the pocket to make a deep pass that gets called for PI.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[7:25] Geron does a good job staying low and getting his hands underneath so that he can pop up and push his man outside, creating a running lane inside. Unlike last year, Geron shows the functional strength here to force a defender to the side, though not the dominance that a player like Trent Williams would have in knocking him away. I also like that he kept swiping at the defender. I hope that shows a nastiness that can be unlocked with more strength.


Geron Christian

Redskins @ Bengals | 2019 Preseason Week 2


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[3:09] Geron wins his punch, but isn’t strong enough to maintain control with his hands and has to flip his hips and run after his edge rusher to push him out of the play. He wins this matchup partly because his long arms give him enough leverage to get a good push on the defender, but he displays poor technique, chasing the defender instead of keeping his hips sunk and sidestepping with him while rotating so that his back is to the QB and he is facing the edge rusher. Geron would have been instantly defeated by a spin move if the defender had thought to employ one.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[3:23] Geron is assisted by a chip, but still manages to whiff on his original punch and lose leverage to the defender, who almost gets a sack. It seems to me like he is hesitant on the punch and forgets to slide to move with the edge rusher. I think this is just an example of inconsistency and hesitation due to inexperience. It’s all still moving a bit too fast for him.


Donald Penn, Washington Redskins

Donald Penn was an undrafted free agent who first signed with the Vikings in 2006, only to be released and signed by the Bucs the same year. He slowly worked his way up to starting status with the Bucs, and from there he became a Pro Bowl alternate in 2011 and a regular Pro Bowler in 2016 and 2017 with the Raiders. He is somewhat undersized for an OT, standing 6’4” and with 33” arms, but he has always compensated with excellent technique and effort.

In watching Donald Penn in the first two preseason games, I thought he looked rusty, weak, and out of shape. He still has good technique and looks like a pro, but he has gotten beat by strength and athleticism a few times. I think he’ll be able to get back in shape and increase his level of play over time, but right now he is not really ready to play at a high level, and we’ve heard Jay Gruden mention the team’s goal of getting Penn into shape.


Donald Penn

Redskins @ Browns | 2019 Preseason Week 1


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[3:48] This is basically an ideal pass protection snap from Penn. He kicks back and slides with the edge rusher, gets his hands inside the defender’s chest and pushes him away, keeping him off balance and without leverage as he pushes the rusher around the pocket.


Donald Penn

Redskins @ Bengals | 2019 Preseason Week 2


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[5:06] Penn is slow to get his hands up and slide his feet to the side on this play, and his QB pays the price. Penn just looks slow throughout the course of this play, moving his feet a tick too slow to keep up and having to overbalance himself to reach out and grab the edge rusher to try to hold him to prevent the sack. Even then, he isn’t strong enough to stop the sack.


Posted by Bill Horgan on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

[5:55] Despite getting a chip assist, Penn is too slow to keep up with the DE (Jordan Willis), unable to land a good punch inside, and unable to adjust to his spin move. If Haskins hadn’t broken the pocket, this probably would have been another pressure or sack. Penn looks slow and tired to me in this set. I think he’s just out of shape, though, to be sure, he has never had the athleticism of a player like Trent Williams to make crack blocks on the run.


After watching film of both of these players in the first two preseason games, I think Geron Christian has the most upside and could potentially turn out to be a high level starter if he can improve his consistency, technique and reaction time, and continue to improve his play strength. These are all things that should improve as he gets more experience under his belt, and he’s already made great progress when factoring in that he lost much of his rookie year to injury.

He currently looks like a better player than Donald Penn, though he still has a lot to improve and is nowhere near the dominant force that Trent Williams can be. I think Geron Christian can serve as an NFL average LT for now, with ability to grow beyond that. He is better at pass blocking than run blocking, as he doesn’t seem to have enough strength to be more than a functional run blocker at the moment.

Penn still displays good technique, but his strength, endurance, and speed are all lacking. Hopefully he is just out of shape, but who knows how long it will take him to rectify that?

Even at his best, he doesn’t have the athletic upside that Christian does, though perhaps with his experience, he would be a more consistent protector on the blindside.

For now, I think it’s best that Penn act as a backup to Christian. Hopefully he gets back in shape to the point that he can create some genuine competition at LT. However, neither Penn nor Christian will offer the run blocking upside lost with the absence of Trent Williams this year.