Aug 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (72) looks to make a block during the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the New York Jets at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Lions fans have been looking forward to seeing Laken Tomlinson ever since they drafted him with the 28th pick in the 2015 draft. For him to start at left guard this year he is going to need to prove himself in preseason. Thursday night against the Jets was his first big step towards doing just that. He looked very solid in his first NFL action, he played 56 snaps (73% of the teams snaps) and didn’t allow a single pressure. He also looked very impressive in the run game and had some key blocks to open up holes. The coaching staff was impressed with his performance and his postgame responses where exactly what you wanted to hear from a rookie (from the teams official site check out the whole article here):
"“Just try to nitpick on certain technique stuff and stuff I can keep working on,” he said. “Like I said, I’m only a rookie and I’m going to keep learning throughout the process.”"
Overall against the Jets, Laken was very effective in pass protection. The play above was the closest thing to a bad play Laken had all night. As the play starts he anchors well and has very good hand placement to halt the defensive tackles bull rush. However, there is pressure around the edge forcing Kellen Moore to step up into the pocket. He runs right by Laken’s assignment who disengages and tries to make a play on Kellen. You also can see a ton of space to the left of Laken, if Kellen had read the positioning of Laken and moved outside he could of probably saved the play. Pocket presence isn’t Kellen Moore’s strong suit though so this play goes for a sack and looks pretty rough for Laken.
This next play is what the majority of Laken’s pass protection snaps look like. His pad level allows him to out leverage the defender on this play and gives him a very strong anchor. Notice how far the rest of the offensive line gets blown back compared to Laken. He is standing alone right along the line of scrimmage and barely gives up any ground. He absorbs the contact with ease and keeps the defender in front of him. He even finishes the play by driving the lineman back after he absorbs all of the lineman’s forward energy. Laken is a strong technical lineman you aren’t going to overpower him with bullrushes and he has the lateral quickness to stop defenders from getting around him.
Laken looked really solid in the run game, however he struggled with second level blocks. In the play above Laken is tasked with blocking the middle linebacker. The linebacker makes a good read on the play and gets downhill quickly which made it very hard for Laken to get into a good position to box out the defender. Laken takes a poor angle and barely can touch the linebacker before he shoots the gap and makes a play on the running back. If Laken makes this block Ameer has a good hole and would likely of had a big gain on the play. Laken struggled on the couple attempts he had blocking in the second level. Even when he got in the proper position he struggled to finish his blocks. He needs to be more physical in the second level and improve the angles he takes towards second level defenders.
It wasn’t all bad in the run game though, he had some impressive work around the line of scrimmage. He showed a good understanding of how to leverage his blocks to create holes in the run game and has the strength to turn blockers with ease. Laken also had a number of impressive pull blocks, which is a key for him to gain the starting job. His best one is featured in the vine above, he pulls across the formation and seals off the linebacker he is assigned with some authority. He was the key block on this play and created a hole for Zenner to pound through for a first down. He is a force coming across the field on pull blocks and when he gets his hands on a defender they usually end up on the ground.
Hopefully Laken can build off his strong preseason game and show some growth as a second level blocker. His work in the run game around the line of scrimmage was incredibly impressive and he showed off some athleticism as a pulling lineman. Laken is going to be a stud in pass protection, the Jets couldn’t get past him and his anchor was noticeably better than any lineman on the field with him. If he keeps playing like he did on Thursday he will be the starting left guard by week one.
Next: Michael Williams