BGA Special: Scouting Colin Baxter

With all the waiver claims over the past few days, the Jets have acquired several players who are not exactly household names. I have therefore been looking at game footage to get a feel for what these guys bring to the table. If you missed it, I looked at the guard the Jets traded for (Caleb Schlauderaff) a couple of days ago. I’ve also done the film study on Andrew Sendejo and Mardy Gilyard and will publish my findings on those two tomorrow.

Colin Baxter is an interior lineman with good size, who started a record 49 straight games in college (at multiple positions) before blowing out his ACL and missing his team’s bowl game in his Senior year. As a result of his rehabilitation, he went undrafted in April, although one mock draft I saw that was published just before his injury had him going as early as the third round.

This was therefore a good pickup for the Chargers, although they already have Nick Hardwick to start at center and a surplus of versatile backups in Scott Mruczkowski, Tyronne Green and Brandyn Dombrowski. They also drafted Steve Schilling in the sixth round, so there wasn’t much chance for him to make the active roster.

Even so, the feedback from the media was very positive, which certainly wasn’t the case for Schlauderaff. Here’s an example:

With Scott Mruczkowski rehabbing a quad strain, undrafted rookie Colin Baxter has taken the majority of second-team snaps and has been impressive, so much so that he is a threat to make the team and will at least be on the practice squad.

When I did the legwork for Schlauderaff’s BGA, my expectations were low because of what was said in the media. Therefore, when he had one rough-but-not-that-bad game, one bad one and two pretty good ones, I was relatively pleased, especially in the context of how that compares with the rest of the Jets backups in preseason. Now my expectations are pretty high for Baxter. Let’s see how he performed in preseason.

Game One – Seattle

Baxter entered the game late in the first and played for the rest of the game at center. Let’s see how he fared:

- After the TE gave up a sack, he showed good hustle to dive on the loose football. The QB had been ruled down, but it was still good to see.
– He turned his man and drove him to the ground which created a big hole and the RB picked up 13. However, this was 3rd and 20, so it was only against a three-man front.
Turned his man aside to create a hole for a five yard gain.
– Did exactly the same thing, but this time his man was able to get off the block and semi-disrupt the run.
– He double teamed a DT with one of the guards and the DT eventually broke free and got a pressure, although he broke free on the guard’s side.
– As part of the (not)wedge on a kick-off return (one of Rob Turner’s roles), he threw a punishing block, although his man did bounce off it and got back to the return man to make the stop.
– On another kickoff, he rode his man out of the play well, springing the return man for a 103-yard TD.
– Didn’t sustain a second level block well enough, allowing his man to make the tackle.
– Made his block initially in pass protection, helping out the guard, then sort of looked around for someone else to block as his QB hung onto the ball for too long and when the guard lost his man, he was able to flush the QB out of the pocket.
– Double teamed a defensive lineman and the guard released at the same moment Baxter seemed like he was about to, which gave him an angle and leverage to beat Baxter and get a pressure on the QB, who was then sacked by someone else’s man.
– Appeared to be half-beaten in pass protection, but used good strength and technique to recover.
Blocked his guy well on third and one. The play actually failed because the safety made a great read coming off the edge.

I was impressed with my first in-depth look at Baxter. He was at least half-responsible for a sack, but otherwise didn’t surrender any pressure and graded out positively as a run blocker. He usually gets a surge on running plays and didn’t blow any assignments. I did note that Baxter didn’t get many solo pass protection assignments, but that may just be the way San Diego usually blocks a 4-3 team that doesn’t often blitz. Also, the RT had two false starts, which theoretically could be partially down to the center.

Game Two – Dallas

Baxter didn’t enter the game until there was 7:22 left in the third and, this time, he was playing left guard. He did take over at center for the last two series, although this would prove to be just four snaps.

- Turned his man to the outside and sustained his block well, even though the defensive linemen had a hand up in his facemask (which should have been flagged). The play failed because the right tackle got badly beaten inside.
– Was flagged for a penalty to negate a touchdown. However, this was a bad call by the officials. He was flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield, although the Center was two yards further downfield than he was, so I think they just got the numbers mixed up. Also, the pass was clearly caught behind the line of scrimmage, which I’m pretty sure means it is not a penalty. Not to mention the fact that Baxter was behind the line of scrimmage too, when the pass was released (although the center wasn’t). Seems like a case of mistaken identity, at least and probably a bad call.
– On that play, he got out in front of the screen pass and although he didn’t get a clean block on anyone, the only guy with a shot of stopping the receiver at the second level had to avoid his sprawling attempt at a cut-block and this was enough to mean he no longer had the angle to stop him going down the sideline for a 36 yard TD. Without the (incorrect) penalty, I’d have graded his blocking on that play positively and it was a key factor in the TD (that wasn’t).
– Baxter missed his block and the TE on the right side missed his block on the same guy, enabing him to assist on a tackle for no gain. The run might have been stuffed anyway, but that certainly didn’t help.
Good cut block to open a hole for five yards.
Pulled to the right and made a good seal block. The play failed because the TE let his man beat him inside.

In a much smaller sample size, Baxter again fares well. Even with the penalty counted against him, he would grade out positively and didn’t have any issues in pass protection, despite the fact that he was given solo protection assignments this time.

Game Three – Cardinals

In this game, Baxter entered with 12:33 to go in the fourth, again at left guard.

- Forced his guy to the outside as the run went up the middle for five.
– Was almost beaten in pass protection, but recovered well to get back in front of his man, showing solid footwork in plenty of space as the guy to his left went wide to the outside and the guy to his right tried to stunt to the outside.
– Pulled to the right and drove an OLB back a couple of yards off the line. The run went for four yards.
– They ran behind him to convert on 3rd and one, as he drove his man off the line.
– On the game winning TD drive, he got plenty of chances to pass protect and handled himself well. Although he was getting driven back occasionally on bullrushes, he was able to handle them better than Schlauderaff was and prevent any pressure.
– Ironically, on the one play where he got beaten for a pressure on an inside move, the QB threw a game winning TD pass with three seconds left.

This was another solid performance by Baxter, although it was an even smaller sample size than game two. That’s three good performances in a row, maybe we have something really promising on our hands. Although…

Game Four – 49ers

Baxter entered the game at left guard with 12:09 to go in the first half. He played the entire second half at center.

- Bullrush from DT almost drove him into the QB. Would have been a pressure, but the DE beat the LT and got there a beat earlier.
– Exactly the same thing happened. This time, he recovered just in time to prevent his man getting to the QB and the DE beat the LT again.
– Tried to make a pulling block, but RG got beaten inside and Baxter couldn’t get through all the traffic, so the run went nowhere.
– Bullrushed again, this time driven back right into his QB leading to a sack by the DE, who once again beat the LT.
– Driven deep into the backfield by the same DT on a running play and the runner ran into his back and lost a fumble.
– Driven back by the DT, then as the DE stunted to the inside, the LT picked up the DT and the DE beat Baxter for a sack.
Good run block on the DT for a meaningless nine yard run before half-time.

Quite simply, Baxter got destroyed in this second quarter. He was matched up with UDFA DeMarcus Dobbs, who dominated him on almost every play and completely physically overpowered him. This was very impressive indeed from Dobbs, so hopefully this signifies the emergence of a great prospect rather than an indication that Baxter will always be overmatched at left guard. The fact that he handled himself well against guys like Alan Branch and Vonnie Holliday does seem to suggest he can hold his own against NFL-level talent. It doesn’t help when the rest of the line is crumbling around him – the left tackle was getting beaten at least as badly by a higher profile rookie, Aldon Smith.

There was still one half to be played in this one. Baxter seemed much more comfortable after moving back to center, with consistent run blocking with no mistakes. He only had one issue in pass protection and that didn’t appear to be his fault – he double teamed the DT with the LG and the DT beat the guard on the outside to flush him out of the pocket leading to a sack.

Conclusions

Until that last game, I was ready to pronounce Baxter a really solid pickup by the Jets, but this was a rough outing to rival Schlauderaff’s display against the Colts or Vladimir Ducasse’s Week Four performance. Where Schlauderaff’s issues in his worst game were mostly in the running game, Baxter’s were in pass protection. Strangely, both did well in that area in each of their other three games. Maybe Schlauderaff is better against big and strong defensive lines and will struggle against fast and small lines and Baxter is the opposite. Who knows?

One silver lining for Baxter is that nearly all his negative plays in the 49ers game were similar, so hopefully he can work on that aspect of his game by getting his pad level lower, improving his footwork and working at his hand placement and it will make a big difference. Doing everything else – and even against the bullrush versus everyone not named DeMarcus Dobbs – he did a solid job.

On the whole, Baxter was more consistent that Schlauderaff, who was already much more consistent than any of the Jets’ backups had been this preseason. He finishes his blocks, didn’t mess up any assignments and didn’t have any holding or false start penalties.

The fact he can snap the ball and has blocked on the kick return unit probably makes him a better bet than Schlauderaff to be active on gamedays until Turner returns.

Oh, and watch out for DeMarcus Dobbs. That kid’s an animal.