Through two preseason games, Zach Tom looks like one of the five best offensive linemen on the team. He is primarily getting reps so far with the second- and third-team but he has filled in quite nicely behind Elgton Jenkins in the right tackle position. He also received snaps at left guard versus the Chiefs in Week 3 of the preseason and played with the second-team offense.
While he has not been able to get reps in preseason games with the first-team offensive line, he’s taken snaps at four of the offensive line positions and has a ton of experience playing center in college. He is as versatile of an offensive lineman as there is, a pretty good value for a fourth-round pick.
There has been some internal secrecy regarding why Elgton Jenkins missed practice recently but he did return to the field quickly. They assured the media it has nothing to do with contract negotiations or his knee. If he has to miss any time, then Tom would be a good candidate to slot into the right tackle spot, as that is where he played in most of the preseason games.
For now, his best position might be at the right guard spot over Royce Newman. Newman is penciled in as the starter but by no means should the position be solely his. Last year, Newman gave up six sacks and 32 total pressures and while Tom did not get any first-team reps in the preseason, he still displayed good movement in anchoring in the pass game, good stunt recognition and good drive in the run game.
In the preseason, Tom played mostly at right tackle in the first two games versus the 49ers and Saints and left guard versus the Chiefs.
At right tackle, Tom displayed good balance and get off at the snap, nice low pad level and good hand usage combined with his strength to control the defender’s movements in pass protection. He excels over smaller pass-rushers on the edges more than the interior, but if he were to slot in at the right guard spot, playing next to Elgton Jenkins would help him with that.
In these cut-ups of him playing left guard, he showed an ability to stay engaged throughout the rep with contact that controls the defender, ensuring pass rushers never had a chance to get to the quarterback. He also showed good balance and awareness of space as a traditional pass blocker, getting his hands inside on the chest plate and controlling the rush, and almost never gave too much ground.
Also, Tom was very good at recognizing stunts, passing off the pass rusher and easily sliding over to handle the looper when Tom was at left guard.
In the running game, Tom earned solid overall grades from Pro Football Focus and he showed an ability to move well in the zone running scheme.
He shows good leg drive and quickness that allows him to displace the defender downfield away from the line of scrimmage. These were traits he had in college as well. He does lack some upper body strength but he is still able to latch onto defenders and displace them downfield away from the line of scrimmage.
He had good pad level in the running game in college but on several reps in the preseason, he’s playing a bit too high. Still, his best tools will be his lower body drive while he adds strength to his upper body. He was able to drive and stick on defenders throughout each rep but it’s here where he faces his toughest task. He will still need to add strength and his pad level is a bit high for some blocks.
If Newman wins the job over Tom, he’ll be on a short leash. Tom should easily slide into the starting right guard spot at some point this season and he’ll likely play a significant amount of snaps given the recent injury history of the offensive line. His preseason tape showed that his more than ready to assume a bigger role.