Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chris Spencer Going Forward

by: Michael Steffes

Chris Spencer is a quandary. He is a first round pick who hasn't really lived up to expectations. Filling the shoes of Robbie Tobek has been tough, and he often takes the brunt of the criticism thrown towards the offensive line. Is it time to replace or move Chris Spencer?

Here is what I have seen this year from Spencer. While I am at the games, I often notice Chris Spencer standing around, especially on plays that don't seem to work. However, when I watch the game on the DVR, the plays that gain big chunks of yardage in the run game almost always seem to include a huge block by Chris Spencer. He has also been better with his line calls. Surprisingly, the Hawks are protecting the QB better this year. They didn't allow a sack versus the Eagles until the second to last drive. Last year, the Hawks led the league in sacks caused by missed assignments, but that hasn't been the case this year. Instead, players not winning one-on-one battles and the QBs having nowhere to go with the ball have been at the heart of the problem. I think it is fair to say that Spencer has improved his line calls; however, in my opinion his problem is consistency.

So, where does Chris Spencer fit into the team's plans going forward? His blocking ability could make him an effective guard. He is strong and powerful, but simply not consistent in being able to dominate the point of attack. Is his relative youth to blame? Maybe--linemen often take longer to become really good players than those at other positions, and it's likely that inconsistency would dog him as a guard as well. However, it is possible that with less to worry about before the snap he could develop into a premier player. The question then becomes, is it time to find out--not just in moving Spencer to guard, but whether or not a player like Steve Vallos can translate his pre-season success at center into real games?

Making a change like this has risk. Essentially, the team would be risking any confidence that Spencer has built as a center, so they need to be sure. And with the line showing some age, if Vallos isn't the answer at center then this team will need to look at multiple linemen going forward. A young and developing line would likely mean at least another year of inconsistent offensive output.

Even with those risks in mind, it is still a move I would like to see made. I think Spencer could be an average NFL center, but an above average guard, especially in Mike Solari's quasi zone blocking system. But regardless, evaluating a move like this would be difficult, simply because the offense as a whole is struggling. Having trouble throwing the ball is leading to increased difficulty running the ball. There is no denying that. The coaching staff continues to attempt to pass themselves out of this scenario with little success, and as a result running the ball on early downs has become increasingly difficult. A change at center could lead to increased protection problems. However, what better time to take that chance than with a backup QB at the helm? It makes less sense to do it if Matt comes back.

In other words, this move probably should have been made weeks ago. Will it be made now? It probably should be, but Mike Holmgren has always shown a loyalty to long-time guys. And with Floyd Womack playing well, he is going to give Porkchop a chance to finally show his ability, leaving the only starting spot on the line for Spencer to play at center. It is likely that the only thing that will shake up the line's current makeup is injury, and that is something that no one roots for. In a time when the Hawks should be looking towards next year, they are unfortunately being led by a man who only cares about this one. Thus, the lame duck rears its ugly head again. ~END~