BGA: Scouting Hayworth Hicks

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

Earlier this week, the Jets signed offensive lineman Hayworth Hicks off the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. He must therefore, by rule, remain on the Jets’ active roster for at least the next three weeks. Jets fans might not know too much about Hicks, so I’ve been looking at game footage in detail to investigate what he could bring to the table.

Hicks spent the preseason with the Colts after going undrafted in the 2012 draft. This followed a solid career at Iowa State, which saw him earn Second Team All-Big 12 honors. He didn’t make their final roster, but was added to the practice squad, where he remained until this week. The Jets had placed a waiver claim on him at the time, but they withdrew this when three other higher-priority claims were successful.

After the jump, I look in detail at footage from the preseason to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Who is Hayworth Hicks?

Hicks is over 330 pounds and played guard in college, where he started 24 games. There was some talk that he was learning the center position, but in preseason he exclusively played at right guard. Reports on his preseason performances were generally favorable, but we’ll look at those in more detail further down.

Indianapolis used to run a zone blocking scheme, but switched to a man-scheme for this year, which should ensure Hicks will be prepared for Tony Sparano’s system. In recent weeks, the Colts have been incorporating more zone blocking and have seen some success in doing so. Presumably Hicks has been tasked with learning those plays, so that will also help his versatility in the event the Jets do something similar.

Iowa State actually plays a spread offense with man blocking, although they do use a lot of inside zone runs, like many man blocking teams. Once again, this should mean he would translate to the Jets’ system better than someone from a pure zone background, athough often spread offenses do have simpler blocking systems compared with NFL schemes.

2012 Preseason

As noted, in preseason, Hicks played right guard with the Colts. He was on the second unit for each of the last three games, after starting off on the third unit in the first game.

Week 1 – Rams

Just played the fourth quarter (14 snaps) …

- Rode his man down to the ground on the inside to set up a four yard run
– Opened a hole on the right side, with help from a double team from the RT for a nine yard run
– Drove a linebacker back at the second level, but the run went for no gain behind him
– In pass protection, he initially knocked his man back, but then let him get past him, although the pass was completed for a first down before the pressure got there
– Got a good surge on a straight-ahead block, but then lost leverage and allowed his man to get off his block
– Tried to leverage his guy to the outside, but ended up shoving him into the path of the runner
– Blocked his man to the ground
– Pulled to the right and whacked a DB at the second level

Not a bad first performance, although he wouldn’t have graded out too well. He was moving his opponents about but it wasn’t leading to a huge amount of success, although I would attribute this more to the line not really blocking well as a unit and running plays not developing fast enough. His one issue in pass protection was more down to the fact that the quarterback (a certain Drew Stanton) held the ball for quite a long time.

Week 2 – Steelers

Played the entire second half (34 snaps) …

- Let his man get off his block to assist on a tackle for a short gain
– Gave his man too much of a clean release on a screen pass
– Initially blocked his man in pass protection but then he looped around the outside for a clean run at the quarterback, although the throw was completed for a first down before the pressure arrived
– Blocked his man well in pass protection, although he would end up chasing the quarterback out to the sideline as he scrambled
– Blocked down and drove his man back to create a seam for a short gain
– Surged through the line and then made a block at the second level but the run went for a short gain behind him
– Just about managed to handle a bullrush long enough to enable a touchdown pass to be thrown. Driven back initially before stabilizing
– Pulled to the left to block the MLB but he read the cutback run up the middle and was able to beat the block to the inside and make the play
– Made what looked like it was supposed to be a pulling reach block going left, but the runner went to the inside instead of outside and therefore his man had inside leverage to make the play and he ended up getting called for a hold as he tried to prevent that
– Driven back by a bullrush in pass protection
– Surged forward and then tried to make a second level block but let his man get off it
– Flattened a guy at the second level enabling a run to be bounced outside
– OLB was unblocked and made a tackle in the backfield. It looked like it was the RT’s fault but it might have been Hicks who missed his assignment
– Pulled left and set the edge with the help of a double team block from the right sided fullback in a three back set

Hick was up and down here, but did show flashes of potential dominance. His blocking in space was pretty solid, but he didn’t always sustain his blocks. Some of his mistakes could be attributed partially to bad reads by the runners.

Week 3 – Redskins

Entered on the second possession of the third period, with over 10 minutes left and played the rest of the game (36 snaps) …

- Pulled left and was initially stood up by his man, but then countered to get a late surge and set up a short gain
– Sustained his block on the edge just well enough to allow the runner to break his man’s tackle in the hole
– Failed to pick up a delayed blitz in pass protection
– Pulled to the outside and rocked the OLB on the edge, setting up a run up the middle
– Appeared to miss his assignment in pass protection, leading to a QB hit
– Rocked the OLB again on a similar pulling block to the play mentioned above, but this time he bounced off to assist on the run for a short gain
– Was almost driven back into the QB on a bullrush, but just managed to regroup and hold him off
– Was seemingly taken by surprise on a run blitz, allowing his man to get off the block and force a fumble, although it was ruled down by contact by the replay booth
– Good second level block was inconsequential as the run went for a short gain behind him
– On 4th and goal from the two, his man almost made the stop, but he just about got enough of him to enable the touchdown to be scored
– Allowed a stunting DE to beat him to the QB but he was the second guy to get there, so he wouldn’t have been “credited” with giving up the pressure

Some signs of rawness here from Hicks, but he was never really badly beaten and did have some positive moments.

Week 4 – Bengals

Entered the game in the first with 2:25 to go on the third Colts possession and played the rest of the game although a nine minute Bengals drive in the third helped limit his total snap count to just 42 …

- Allowed a lineman to shoot the gap and make a tackle for a short gain
– Pulled left and had to dive to make contact, just doing enough to prevent a tackle in the backfield
– Drove his man laterally out of the play to set up a seven yard run
– Was beaten for a pressure as his man set him up to the outside and then made a duck under move to beat him on his left shoulder
– Pulled left and leveraged his man back to the inside to create the seam for a seven yard touchdown run. This was arguably Hicks’ best highlight and can be seen here (Hicks is number 61)
– Made a pulling block which he held well, enabling the runner to cutback for five. It looked like he could easily have been flagged for holding, but he perhaps deserves credit for keeping that on the clean side of legal
– Rode his man to the ground at the second level, allowing the run to be bounced outside for nine. Holding was called on the right tackle, where again it could potentially have been called on him
– Was beaten on the inside, but this was one of those plays where the whole line seemed to mess up so they probably screwed up the call or something. Two other guys were beaten worse than he was and the play was easily stuffed for a loss
– Made a surging block, although the ball was fumbled going up the middle
– Drove his man to the outside, setting up a short gain for the runner

Of the four, this was probably Hicks’ best game. He still made one or two mistakes but did have a positive impact on several runs.

Observations

Based on all the footage I watched, here was my take on what Hicks brings to the table, divided into categories:

Usage - As noted, Hicks only played at right guard.

Athletics Ability – As you can see from the breakdowns, Hicks was called upon to pull quite a lot and had some success doing so. For a big man, he is surprisingly light on his feet and appears to be pretty nimble.

Run Blocking - Like most young linemen (and fullbacks) Hicks’ biggest issue seems to be that he sometimes makes a block initially but lets his man get off the block to make a play. That’s an adjustment you have to make because it’s much harder to sustain blocks against NFL players. In space, he seems to be pretty good at finding his assignment and when he does lock onto a block, he seems to have the ability to leverage his man out of a play. His ability to pull will come in handy if he gets any playing time with the Jets, but one thing he didn’t show in preseason was any trap blocking up the middle, something he’d be expected to be able to do with the Jets. He did a pretty good job of drive blocking when asked to do so.

Pass Protection – Most of the time, Hicks was employed in a free safety role. In other words, the other four linemen would block their man and Hicks would remain free to pick up a delayed blitzer or help out if one of his teammates lost leverage. This is a good test of both his instincts and his ability to react and move into position laterally. Overall, he did a pretty good job of this, but there were one or two missed assignments.

When matched up one-on-one, he mostly held his own, only getting beaten for a pressure once. However, he was driven backwards by some bullrushes.

Attitude – It’s difficult to read too much into his demeanor because he wasn’t demonstrative and finishing blocks to (and beyond) the whistle like a Jason Smith, but there was nothing that stood out in terms of laziness, lack of effort or arguing with teammates or opponents. There were one or two mix-ups but, as ever, we can never be certain where the blame lies and it did seem like he appeared to get his assignment right most of the time.

Conclusions

Despite the fact Hicks drew rave reviews during the offseason, if I had been grading these games, it’s likely he’d have graded negatively for the most part. Having said that, he never looked overmatched and managed to avoid any horrible missed blocks leading to big plays or anything like that, so maybe he’s capable of filling in and holding his own even if he isn’t ready to dominate.

I’d liken this signing to the Austin Howard signing last season. Is Hayworth Hicks going to be ready to contribute this year? Probably not, unless he’s come on a long way over the last few months. However, it gets a guy into the system that has obvious potential and could be ready to contribute by next year, when the Jets’ guard situation is in flux with both starters out of contract.

Unless Brandon Moore is hurt, or the Jets fall out of contention, I wouldn’t expect to see Hicks on the field this season. In fact, even if either or both of those things happen, Caleb Schlauderaff would probably be the first to get an opportunity. Hicks could theoretically be in the mix with Schlauderaff and Ducasse to flesh out the roster at the guard position next year.