Today we're taking a look a Brian Schwenke, the center from California. At first glance, Schwenke appears to be a very explosive athlete who will either come off the snap extremely quickly and violently in running situations or will quickly drop into a pass protection posture in passing situations. He is consistently one of the first linemen off the ball and he uses it to his advantage.
Schwenke is a fantastic leverage player, staying consistently lower than defenders and defeating them with technique. Schwenke is also tenacious; though he doesn't seem to have the great maximal strength, he consistently finished blocks and was always working the defender. Though he isn't a mauler by any means, Schwenke does appear to have an attitude to his game and seems willing to dish out punishment even when he isn't the most physically powerful man on the field.
In pass protection against single defenders, Schwenke kicks back into a pass blocking posture very quickly and almost always squares himself properly to defenders. He has a vicious first punch; fully extending his arms while maintaining low hips and a good knee bend that allows him to win the leverage battle later. Schwenke’s punch consistently killed his opponents’ momentum and kept them away from his body in the opening moments of the pass rush.
After the initial punch, Schwenke consistently out-leveraged his opponent(s) through extending himself from a low hip position superior to his opponent’s. Schwenke consistently maintained hand positioning inside of his opponent, allowing him to control them while reducing the likelihood of being called for holding. However, Schwenke did appear to allow his opponents to get into his body too much after the initial punch. Though he often still defeated the pass rush due to playing with fantastic leverage, allowing opponents inside did lead him to occasionally get outmuscled by stronger defenders, causing the pocket the deform. Schwenke also seemed susceptible to power-to-speed pass rush moves such as push-pulls.
Schwenke showed fantastic awareness and intelligence when passing off or taking on defenders exiting or entering his zone, always seeming to understand where his help was and when others needed his help. When defenders drifted away from his zone, Schwenke understood when his teammates were capable of taking on the blocker and when they were occupied, passing them off or trailing the defender appropriately. Conversely, Schwenke understood when to take on defenders entering his zone and when not to when he had help behind him.
Schwenke also showed himself to be adept when double teaming, quickly positioning to prevent the defender from stepping in between him and the other blocker to split the double team, while keeping himself available to disengage from the double team and take on subsequent rushers.
When run blocking single linemen, Schwenke proved adept at shielding out blockers to allow for good run lanes. Schwenke was also very explosive off the line and would often get a good initial jolt on the lineman showing good interior hand positioning. That being said, he does not have a good leg drive and rarely moved his opponent more than a couple yards off the line of scrimmage after the initial hit in situations where opponents were aligned heads up or shaded. Also, Schwenke seemed vulnerable to being thrown off balance and disengaged from by stronger defenders. Schwenke was very good at taking on lineman aligned outside of him, moving quickly laterally to take defenders on before they could penetrate, often getting one or both hands into their chest and driving them down the line.
Schwenke repeatedly proved to be more than adequate during double teams, displaying good technique. When he was the principle blocker he latched on with good hand positioning that allowed his teammates to stay tight with him on the block, stayed low and almost always got at least a reasonable push, preventing the defender from anchoring or splitting the double team and disrupting the run. When he was the assisting blocker, Schwenke used good technique and usually positioned one of his hands inside of the defensive lineman’s shoulder while keeping himself tight with the other offensive lineman preventing the defender from splitting the double team and creating leverage to help drive the opponent from the run lane while simultaneously keeping himself in position to disengage and combo block.
Schwenke appeared to have serious problems once he peeled away from the line for combination blocks however. While he proved to me he could lock up and drive out linebackers when they were directly in front of him or ran into his path, Schwenke constantly missed linebackers moving laterally away from him by one or two steps, often owing to taking awful angles to them. Schwenke was fantastic when moving downfield for screens however, releasing his man at precisely the right moment and getting downfield. Schwenke almost always identified and engaged the most threatening defender, showing the ability to latch onto them and drive them downfield. Schwenke was responsible for several screens breaking free for big gains. It appears that Schwenke is fine when his target is in front of him but he struggles mightily to judge proper angles when they’re not.
Though it is often difficult to discern, Schwenke appears to be very intelligent with his line calls. Though it is impossible for me to tell the weight of responsibility in line calls between the quarterback and center in Cal’s system and whether missed assignments were the result of a bad call or the failure of individual linemen, Schwenke’s line appeared to be well organized. I rarely saw unblocked defenders hitting the quarterback and the pressures and hits that occurred appeared to be the result of individual linemen being defeated far more often than poor organization.
Schwenke did appear to sometimes have problems with his shotgun snaps. They seem inconsistently placed, sometimes coming in low or to the sides. This is likely a result of inexperience snapping the ball since Schwenke played guard in previous seasons at Cal and I would expect him to improve in this aspect over time. When the quarterback took the snap from center, Schwenke’s snaps seemed clean and he was often the first or second man out of his stance despite being responsible for delivering a clean snap.
When taking this all together, I see Schwenke as being a mid to late second round center for a team that employs zone blocking scheme. Thought he isn’t the bruising, bulldozer type of lineman that many Packers fans seem to crave, his game is almost perfectly suited for zone blocking schemes as it’s predicated on explosiveness, agility and technique allowing him to defeat much stronger defenders in pass protection and shield out defensive players in run blocking. Schwenke does need to work on the angles he takes to his secondary target in combo blocks or he’ll cost his running backs yardage when they reach the second level. In my opinion, at this point Schwenke is a good pass protector and adequate run blocker in a zone blocking scheme but would be a below average run blocker if he were inserted into more of a man blocking scheme.
If drafted by the Packers, Schwenke would seem to respresent a slight upgrade in pass protection over Evan Dietrich-Smith but also a downgrade in run blocking in the immediate future. Though he could start right away, I think Schwenke could use a year on the bench to refine his technique, particularly his run blocking. I think in the future he has the potential to become a very good pass blocking center and an above average run blocker and be an overall significant upgrade from EDS. Though I see Schwenke as a second round value for the Packers and teams with zone blocking schemes, I often see him going in the third to fourth rounds in mock drafts. If this holds true and the Packers get him in one those rounds, he could represent a serious value pick and might end up as an absolute steal.