The most prominent Detroit Lions undrafted free agent in 2016 is Chase Farris. Even though he went undrafted, the Lions ponied up big dollars to secure his rights after the draft…
That’s a pretty significant commitment to an undrafted player, one which ensures Farris will get a long look over the summer and a realistic shot at making the roster.
If he does indeed make it, you will see my shocked face. You see, I saw very little offensive line ability that said anything “NFL” in watching Chase Farris at Ohio State.
He was underwhelming, to be diplomatic, as the starting right tackle opposite Lions first-rounder Taylor Decker. It showed Farris was a neophyte to offensive line play, as he struggled with the speed of the game. His technique and coordination was often hard to watch. It was most noticeable in the run game, which was worse than his below-average grade in pass protection:
By way of comparison, Decker graded out at 96.4% in pass blocking while playing the more demanding left tackle spot. Farris in run blocking was often a disaster. Take the loss to Michigan State, where he simply could not move, or often even successfully engage, Spartan defenders in the run game. Ohio State lost in no small part because the ground game ground to a halt, and Farris’ relative ineptitude was a big part of that.
Farris also failed to impress during Shrine Game week. In fact, he had one of the worst weeks of practice of any lineman I’ve seen at the nearly 20 postseason all-star games I’ve attended over the past decade. Here’s an excerpt from my notes at RealGM.com on Farris,
"Ohio State OG Chase Farris, who has managed to get into the coaching doghouse for whining after reps. He’s been repeatedly coached up to get his feet closer together, to punch with power, to put his back and hips into the block, pretty much everything."
And here’s where the lesson comes in. I tweeted out negative comments about Farris, and it led to an interaction with LeCharles Bentley. You know Bentley, the majordomo of the O-Line Performance Center and former Pro Bowl center. Farris was training there, as was Decker and Larry Warford among other select individuals.
Bentley took umbrage with my criticism. We had a prior online relationship (not that kind) and it led to a discussion. The following week at the Senior Bowl, I spent an entire practice talking in person with Bentley (along with Pete Smith, who can verify the details of the conversation).
I brought up my critique of Farris, and Bentley sternly but nonthreateningly wanted to go over the points I had about his technique and his negative response to the Shrine Game coaching staff.
Bentley is a technique maven, a perfectionist who has a distinct teaching style and methodology. He acknowledged Farris needed a lot of work, and that he was working hard to fix his numerous technical flaws. All of the sudden the light bulb went on in my head.
I should have been bright enough to have this moment of epiphany already, but for whatever reason it never came to me with such context. Farris wasn’t obeying the coaching staff in St. Pete because they were directing him to do things differently than the training he had been receiving from Bentley and his professional crew out in Arizona. When the Shrine Game coaches demanded he close his stance and lower his hands on his punch, it directly countered what Farris has been programmed to do in weeks of work with men he trusts a lot more than some marginally employed all-star game coach.
Should Farris have been more polite about it instead of mouthing back to the coaches and openly rebelling against their instruction? Absolutely, and Bentley acknowledged as much while noting that Farris’ competitive spirit and attitude were qualities he strongly valued. Yet it really got me to thinking about other instances where the players haven’t exactly taken to the coaching at the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl or even team workouts.
These players are often in the midst of highly specialized training programs. Some are better than others, and Bentley’s falls definitively into the former camp. For weeks they’ve been drilled and taught and programmed to do things in one way. The coaches, whom stand little chance of ever coaching them again beyond the week in January, often have a different system or teaching style.
In the past, I’ve downgraded and labelled players as “difficult to coach” in situations like this. I did just that with Farris. Now I realize that might be a hasty rush to judgment. There is a deeper context with a lot of these players. I’ve seen the same sorts of “doesn’t accept coaching” in the past with guys like Malik Jackson, Gabe Jackson and Shaq Barrett. Now I realize the individual situations were much deeper than what they appeared during the sun-soaked practice sessions where they bristled back or just ignored the coaching.
Does that make Farris a more palatable prospect for me? Maybe a little. I feel better about him eventually improving his technique because I trust Bentley and his visionary process. The fact fellow Bentley students Decker and Warford are in Detroit certainly helps. I pull for Farris because he attended Elyria High School, which is a former conference rival of the high school I graduated from all those years ago and I like to see the local guys do well.
Still, Farris is at least two years away from being NFL-ready as an offensive lineman. He’s only played the position for two years, after all. The athleticism is present and was evident even during his struggles in St. Pete. The Lions made a solid commitment to patiently developing Farris. I expect he winds up on the practice squad in 2016.