Bent, TheJetsBlog.comLast week, the Jets signed two of the players who had been attending rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis to their active roster. Jets fans might not know too much about these players, so I’ve been watching game footage to get an insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Yesterday, we looked at linebacker AJ Edds, but today we move on to look at offensive lineman Markus Zuševics.
The 25-year-old Zuševics was a projected fifth round pick in 2012, but went undrafted after tearing a pectoral muscle at the scouting combine. The Patriots picked him up as an undrafted free agent and stashed him on the “Non-Football Injury” list for the first ten games, before activating him for the last six games. Although he was on the active roster and was even active on gameday at least once, Zuševics did not step on the field. In 2013, Zuševics was back with the Patriots in preseason, but this time they stashed him on injured reserve. He played in one preseason game in each season.
After the jump, I look in detail at footage from those preseason appearances to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Markus Zuševics?
Zuševics (pronounced ZOOZ-uh-VICKS) is of Latvian descent, with his grandparents having fled the country during the Soviet takeover in the ’40s. He stands 6’5″ and was regarded as undersized in college, with some sources listing him as 287. He had bulked up to 303 by the time of the scouting combine, but that’s where he tore his pectoral muscle performing the bench press. He was listed at 300 for the rookie mini-camp.
Prior to that injury, Zuševics was largely seen as a late-round pick, with PFW’s Nolan Nawrocki projecting him as a fifth-rounder. However, the injury was a major factor in him going undrafted. New England kept him for two years, stashing him on the Non-Football Injury list for 2012 and Injured Reserve in 2013. He played one preseason game in each year.
Let’s delve into those preseason appearances to see how he performed:
2012 Preseason – Patriots at Bucs
Zuševics did not get any snaps on offense, but did make two appearances late as a tight end on the extra point unit. The decision to place him on the NFI list was of a benefit to the Patriots, because it meant not only that they preserved a roster spot without exposing him to waivers, but also that they weren’t required to pay him. They did pay him though – an equivalent salary to what he would have earned while on the practice squad, which is less than what they’d have had to pay him if he went on injured reserve. Since the original injury took place before he was signed to a contract, they were entitled to put him on this list, although it does seem to be a clear bending of the rules, given that he had clearly recovered to the point where he could get on the field. The NFI rules are not included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, suggesting that it’s perhaps at the league’s discretion. Literature on the subject would suggest the rules are the same as for the PUP list, but a player would be ineligible to go onto the PUP list at the start of the season as soon as he practiced with the team in training camp.
However, I digress. Basically, there’s nothing to be learned about Zuševics from this appearance. We can learn more from the 2013 game though.
2013 Preseason – Patriots at Lions
Zuševics had missed time in camp, so this would be his only appearance. Curiously, it came in the third preseason game, which would usually be where teams played their starters deep into the second half. Instead, New England put their second unit (including Zuševics as the right tackle) out there for the entire second half. This was probably because the Patriots were being blown out 23-3. He played over 30 snaps in total. Obviously this is a small sample size, but let’s break them all down…
On the first drive, the Patriots went three-and-out. Zuševics opened at right tackle.
– Was driven back by the initial punch from the defensive end, but re-anchored well in front of the QB to allow him to get the throw off.
– A run went for no gain as he was initially stood up, but stayed on his block well to prevent his man from getting to the ball.
– An incomplete pass on third down saw him and the defensive end pull each other down to the ground. He rolled into the quarterback’s legs as he stepped forward on the follow through.
The next drive got the Patriots all the way inside the five, but they turned the ball over on downs.
– Was the free man in pass protection. Picked up the defensive tackle who was initially blocked by the right guard who then leaked out to block downfield on a screen.
– 17-yard gain on a run over the right side as he executed a straight-forward kick-out block.
– The same play as before but this time the right guard got blown up and the run was bottled up for no gain
– 15-yard pass on a quick throw. Moved his feet well to pick up the defensive tackle who rushed around the edge while the defensive end dropped back
– Initially made a kick-out block but lost leverage to the inside to allow his man to get in on the pile as the run was stopped for a short gain. On the play, he lunged forward and lost his balance and pad level.
– Made a cut block on his man as a quick throw was incomplete the other way.
– Moved his feet to get out in front of the defensive end, who deliberately rushed tentatively to allow the inside backers to execute a twist stunt so that Zuševics never had to engage him and pressure came up the middle on a well-designed play. The first down came on a penalty.
– Run went for a loss in the other direction as he held his man off well.
– This time, he had to react as each of the linemen rushed to their right and a linebacker and safety came off the edge. He picked up the linebacker and a back picked up the safety well, although the pass was incomplete.
– On 3rd and long, the quarterback took off and ran for a first down. Zuševics stayed on his man well but pressure came off the opposite edge.
– This was another five-step drop quick pass, but what Zuševics did was very impressive. The right guard lost outside leverage and was beaten, but Zuševics read this, swelled up and was able to stay in front of both the right guard’s man and his own man to allow the throw to be made and prevent a hit on the quarterback.
– Another quick drop throw, this time complete for a first down. Zuševics engaged his man early to ensure he was able to slow him down.
– Another quick drop throw where he engaged his man early on an outside speed rush.
– This was his worst play, as there was another quick throw, but a bullrusher put him on his backside as he was pushed back into the quarterback. In his defense, the right guard was again beaten and he may have been off-balance because he was attempting to position himself to try and slow that man down again too.
– On third and goal at the eight, the Patriots ran a draw play and Zuševics looked to have created a lane with a second level block, but the hole closed quickly when the right guard again lost his man and the run was bottled up inside the five.
– On fourth down, the quarterback threw incomplete on yet another quick drop pass as Zuševics stayed on top of his man.
Clearly Zuševics was disadvantaged on that drive by the poor play of the right guard (the awesomely-named Matt Stankiewitch, who struggled all preseason and is now a Jacksonville Jaguar, having signed with them at the end of the year). On the next drive, Stankiewitch moved to center and Zuševics moved to left tackle. This would be another three-and-out.
– Incompletion on a play action pass. Good, early contact going forward was effective in slowing any attempt at a rush.
– Another pass. On an outside speed rush he used the pass-rusher’s momentum against him and drove him upfield out of the play, giving the quarterback room to step up and avoid pressure from left guard and right tackle.
– Got his hands on his man to slow him up and then released him into the backfield as the Patriots ran a screen. Perhaps could have done more to slow him up here, but the play was doomed to failure anyway and the runner was tackled for a loss.
The Patriots’ final drive got them their only touchdown of the game (in a 40-9 loss). Zuševics remained at left tackle.
– Made a cut-block on the edge rusher, although he stumbled through it and stayed on his feet. It slowed him up enough anyway, with a quick pass thrown the other way.
– Was the spare man as the tight end stayed in so New England had six men to block a four-man rush and throw deep with the first down coming on a defensive hold.
– Deep drop and completion by the quarterback as Zuševics repelled his man’s initial move and then moved his feet well to recover and stay in front of him.
– A safety came up into the box and Zuševics picked him up at the second level and rode him out of the play but the run was stuffed for no gain.
– 13-yard completion with 15 tacked on for unnecessary roughness as he again took an outside speed rusher and used his momentum to drive him upfield.
– Run for a short gain in the other direction.
– 14-yard pass as he blocked down on the defensive end, driving him to the inside and then reacted superbly as the defensive tackle stunted underneath, getting across to the tackle and driving him upfield so the quarterback could step up.
– Four-yard run on a busted play to the outside. Zuševics initially double-teamed and then peeled off to make a second level block, but instead tripped over and probably wouldn’t have affected the play anyway.
– They ran it the other way and the runner was tackled for a big loss in the backfield by a safety coming up. Zuševics was on the move to the right, but didn’t get a chance to block anyone because the center missed a cut block allowing his man into the backfield.
– The defensive end tried to make a spin move and Zuševics wasn’t fooled, staying in front of him well. At the last moment, the end was able to use a rip move to get off the block and head towards the quarterback, but there was plenty of time to make the first down throw.
– The next play was a quick pass, thrown almost immediately.
– They then scored on another quick pass to a wide open back in the flat/
– Finally, on the two point conversion a fade pattern was broken up. Zuševics stayed in front of his man but was being driven back into the quarterback.
After this game, Zuševics did not play in the last preseason game and ended up on injured reserve with the Patriots, attributing it to the same condition that had kept him out the previous year. Again, the fact he had played a full game makes this dubious, because according to NFL rules an injury has to be serious (rendering you unable to practice for at least six weeks) for you to be allowed on that list.
Based on all the footage I watched, here was my take on what Zuševics brings to the table, divided into categories:
Usage – Zuševics played right and left tackle in his one appearance. He was also working as the first-team right tackle during the Jets rookie mini-camp and played right tackle in college. However, while at New England, they had some injuries at camp in 2013, so he did get some work at right guard, including with the first unit. Some pre-draft reports suggested he would project better to guard with one, even suggesting his size might make him a better fit at center. Within a zone blocking scheme, I’d expect him to stay at tackle and we suspect that the Jets will be doing more of that going forward.
Measurables – As Zuševics injured himself doing the bench press at the combine and didn’t do any of the other disciplines, we don’t have workout numbers for him. However, he is not regarded as very athletic or strong, although scouts have cited his frame as one of the main things that makes him draftable.
Athletic Ability – While not regarded as a great athlete by the scouts, Zuševics is pretty nimble on his feet and showcases good strength at times to drive his man off course. He didn’t really get on the move much, which is something I’d like to have seen more of. He was mostly facing backups and I’m left to wonder how he would cope with an elite edge rusher.
Run Blocking – Zuševics did a pretty consistent job with some straightforward blocking assignments. The usual flaws you find in a young lineman are that they (a) don’t sustain blocks and (b) can’t find a defensive player to engage with in space. Zuševics actually fares pretty well at each of these and does finish his blocks by playing to the whistle.
Penalties – While Zuševics didn’t have any penalties in the footage I watched, I would caution that Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout suggested that he “needs to cut out some of the dumb penalties”
Pass Protection – While the Patriots certainly threw a lot of quick passes in this game, Zuševics did a solid job of keeping his man in front of him, only letting his man get by him once – and that was after his initial block had created more than enough time for the quarterback to move the chains with a completion. He did, at times, get driven back in the pocket, which correlates to pre-draft reports that suggested he need to anchor better. I was extremely impressed by how he dealt with stunts and different blitz packages from the Lions though. You’ll recall that they had basically eaten the Jets alive just a couple of weeks earlier.
Attitude – Zuševics definitely worked hard to get to this point, having bulked up from 225 pounds when he first joined the Iowa football team. There don’t seem to be any off-field issues. Some sources do suggest he isn’t as aggressive as he might be on the field.
Injuries – The pectoral muscle injury obviously hurt his chances of making an impact sooner, but obviously that’s fully recovered now. Other than that, he has been healthy. In college, he was a backup for one year and then started all 26 games in 2010 and 2011.
Scheme Familiarity – As noted, Zuševics might fit better within a zone blocking scheme and the Jets might make more of a move in that direction next year (based on the fact they replaced Austin Howard with Breno Giacomini and some of the other players they’ve been targeting over the past two years). Iowa does run a one-cut zone blocking system, but the Patriots operate more of a power blocking scheme with the capability to go to zone looks, so this might help the transition to a Jets system that also does both.
Thinking back to some of the previous scouting reports I’ve done for so-called depth signings on the offensive line, Zuševics might well be one of the most impressive. I was blown away by how good Ben Ijalana looked before his knee injuries took hold, but he didn’t look the same after that. Oday Aboushi, his other main competition for a backup role, didn’t impress as a rookie.
The Patriots have been good at developing competent, low cost, offensive linemen over the past few seasons and had he not been injured, Zuševics might have been next. I can recall charting a preseason game where Marcus Cannon gave up 12 pressures in one half in perhaps the worst performances by an NFL offensive lineman I’ve ever witnessed and yet he has ended up being a good contributor for them, so hopefully Zuševics was on his way too and the Jets will reap the benefits.
Zuševics might not have as much upside as some of the draft picks and waiver claims the Jets have added over the past couple of seasons, but his consistency could make him a good backup so I would expect him to be in the mix for a roster spot come preseason.