This is part two of a four-part series covering San Francisco 49ers offensive players who have something to prove heading into training camp. Part one looked at wide receiver Bruce Ellington. Part two here looks at right tackle Trent Brown.
One of those was offensive tackle Trent Brown.
Physically, Brown (6-foot–8, 355 pounds) did not fit the profile of a Kelly offensive lineman. The linemen who were on the Eagles’ season-opening roster during each of his three seasons in Philadelphia, per Ourlads.com’s archived depth charts, averaged about 306 pounds.
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For an offense that valued speed over power, Brown struggled mightily in the zone-blocking scheme.
Originally drafted by the Trent Baalke regime to fit the more gap/man-scheme run blocking (power/counter/trap) the 49ers employed the last several years, Brown often looked lost when out in space due to a lack of athleticism.
In Kelly’s zone-based scheme, the uptempo pace puts a premium on athleticism for offensive lineman.
And unsurprisingly, Brown ranked among the worst linemen, athletically, at his respective position, according to the data from Mockdraftable.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan brings a similar running game philosophy with him to San Francisco. But whereas Kelly was predominantly an inside-zone scheme coach, Shanahan’s running game predominantly based around the outside zone.
Not only has Brown struggled with the inside zone during his NFL playing career, he is perhaps at his worst in the outside zone.
Brown was graded as one of the worst offensive tackles in run blocking last season, ranking 72nd in Pro Football Focus‘ player grades. As a pass blocker, Brown was somewhat better and graded 31st out of all NFL offensive tackles in their player grades:
The prospects for Brown lasting beyond this season so far do not look good.
"He came back – he struggles to keep his weight down a little bit. He came back a little heavy but he’s worked incredibly hard to bring that weight down. I just think he’s got a lot of great football in front of him if he can control that weight and be consistent with it and be accountable to us and to his teammates. I just think the sky is the limit for how good he can be. He’s a guy who’s really jumped."
The zone-running game is defined by double teams at the point of attack followed by linemen releasing off those blocks and getting to second level box defenders. The only difference between inside zone and outside zone is how they are blocked.
The main difference between the inside zone and outside zone is the inside zone seeks to move defenders upfield, and the outside zone seeks to move defenders laterally while pinning the interior to the inside. The blocking assignment remain relatively unchanged.
In this first play, the 49ers are running zone read with former quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
At the handoff, Gabbert decides to give the ball to running back Carlos Hyde based on the defensive end sitting and waiting. However, Brown allows penetration by the defensive tackle. His weight is over his toes causing poor weight distribution and he gets no drive off of his right foot.
On the regular inside zone, lineman are also tasked with getting to the second level defenders to block.
On this play, Brown lunges at his first defender and drives him back but he’s already off balance, preventing him from reaching the linebacker. He is not athletic enough to correct this mid-snap.
Brown’s responsibility on this zone read by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick is to block the scraping middle linebacker. Brown is ridden out of the point of attack when his weight is distributed unevenly over his center of gravity, resulting in the linebacker scraping over the top to tackle Kaepernick.
Brown graded poorly in the 3-cone drill at the combine, mostly a measure of how well a lineman displays body control. The outside zone may be Brown’s worst play within the scheme. His lack of body control is magnified greatly when trying to move laterally in space to the defender.
His poor lateral ability tends to take away his main power base: his ability to drive defenders with his leg power and he often can’t keep his feet under him as a result.
Poor footwork often leads him to taking poor angles to reach defenders in space as well. On this option to the right, Brown initial move is to the inside when it should straight up and out to cut the scraping defender off.
Brown is going to have to be able to correct these errors this offseason and in training camp. With the addition of offensive tackle Garry Gilliam (71st in the run and 71st overall in PFF’s player grades) and second-year 49er, Norman Price, it doesn’t appear Brown is in jeopardy to lose his starting spot any time soon.
None of this means that Brown is a bad player. If he does hit the open market, he will have many suitors looking to solidify their offensive lines. But thus far, after one and half season’s worth of work in a zone-based scheme, he is not showing he is the long-term answer for the 49ers.
All gifs and images courtesy of the NFL.