INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not always easy to get anything of import from the player podium sessions at a scouting combine. The 15-minute pressers are generally taken up halfway with various reporters asking, “Did you meet with [Team X],” “Did you meet with [Team X]?” “Did you meet with [Team X]?” “Did you meet with [Team X]?” “Did you meet with [Team X]?” and finally, “Did you meet with [Team X]?”
Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright took care of that during his Saturday morning podium session by pulling out his phone and running down the names of about three-quarters of the NFL.
With that out of the way, it was time to talk about Wright’s 2022 season reps against two of the best edge-rushers in this draft class — Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., and LSU’s BJ Ojulari. Anderson is a consensus top-five prospect, and Ojulari might sneak into the first round, but neither man did much against Wright. In back-to-back games against LSU and Alabama, Wright allowed a total of no sacks, no quarterback hits, and one quarterback hurry on 81 pass-protection snaps. And at 6-foot-5 and 342 pounds, you know that Wright can get it done in the run game, as well.
But this was about how Wright protected quarterback Hendon Hooker in those two games. He did so to the point where Anderson, in his own podium session this week, said that Wright was the best offensive tackle he faced.
“My sophomore year to my junior year, he had gotten way better,” Anderson said of Wright. “Very athletic, can bend, [and] can re-trace with his steps. If he gets off balance, [he] can sit down on power[-rushes], so it was really exciting going against him this year. He was really great.”
Wright’s game against Anderson was one of the primary series of moments in the SEC last season, because Anderson had just two pressures in that Tennessee game, and he had to get as far away from Wright as possible to get either one of them. When it was mano a mano, Anderson found himself shut out.
I asked Wright how he decided to deal with Anderson, and from there, it’s time to go to the tape.
Will Anderson Jr., and countering speed to power.
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Anderson is a speed-to-power end, which made Wright’s game plan pretty clear. At first, he didn’t want to reveal how that worked (“I might have to face him again”), but he eventually warmed up to the idea.
“During the week, I was just breaking him down, and I picked up on some things I might be able to do on each play. Pretty standard, like an inside-out set. I knew I could take it very simply. When you break down a guy like Anderson, you know he’s mostly going to be… so, you have categories [for edge-rushers]. You have speed, you have power, and you have finesse. Very rarely do you have someone who is going to hit all of those categories. So Anderson, he’s speed and power. With him, it’s just different.”
Different than his strategy against Ojulari, which we’ll cover in a minute. Anderson tried more than speed-to-power against Wright — there was this euro-step early in the first quarter — and Wright countered it with a quick set, his own quick feet, and his long arms. Eventually, Anderson was going to have to rush, and that’s where Wright had him.
As for the speed-to-power stuff, those inside-out moves prevented Anderson from getting into the pocket.
BJ Ojulari, and dealing with finesse.
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Ojulari is more reliant on speed around the edge, as Wright detailed.
“I don’t want to, but I will,” Wright said with a laugh when asked how he erased Ojulari. “Ojulari, you give him speed and finesse. Going into [the game against] BJ. like in practice, it wasn’t a good thing to do, but I would over-set — we don’t have a BJ Ojulari on scout team, obviously — but I would over-set just because I know that BJ Ojulari makes all his money on the edge. That’s mostly what he’s good at. His counter move isn’t as effective. So, going into it, when you’re setting, you want to stay inside-out. But for this game specifically, in practice and leading up to it, I would go inside, but I was baiting him into [the outside].
This rep with 23 seconds left in the first half showed how Wright would feign vulnerability to Ohulari’s inside counter, and then move outside to manhandle him before Ojulari could start pressing the edge.
At his combine podium session, Ojulari went into how he studies offensive tackles.
“What rushes did the offensive tackle lose on? What are some keys that I can use to get tips on a pass-rush or run keys as well? What did they struggle [with]? What type of technique do they use? What type of set do they use? What’s the cadence of the quarterback? Try to pick up on some protections and where the running back is placed.”
It’s impressive in Wright’s case that nothing Ojulari tried really worked against him.
Getting it done, however you need to.
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In the 2022 season, Anderson totaled 14 sacks and 65 total pressures. Ojulari had nine sacks and 49 total pressures. There’s little doubt that Wright’s ability to handle two such different pass-rushers with such talent will hold him in good stead with NFL teams, and when he’s explaining in the room, that’s even more impressive. Add that to his 2022 metrics (no sacks, two quarterback hits, and six quarterback hurries in 507 pass-blocking snaps), and we might be dealing with a sneaky late first-round pick here.