(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
OVERVIEW: While offensive linemen are known most often for their size and strength, the center position is one that involves a steady mind on top of a burly pair of shoulders. Centers are at times in charge of making the protections calls at the line of scrimmage, and are an integral part to successfully navigating the proper play call on each snap. The position requires one who is able to think quickly on his toes while also do his job as a physical run blocker and reliable pass blocker. With the rise in passing around the league, the number of teams who regularly operate from a shotgun formation is dramatically increasing as well. Delivering an accurate shotgun snap may look like a simple task, but is far from it with pressure on the line.
DESIRED TRAITS: Intelligence can be difficult to decipher at times on film, but it’s a major part of the evaluation process of centers. A center must be intelligent enough to understand the play called in the huddle, identify the defensive alignment at the line of scrimmage, assign the appropriate protection/blocking scheme call, and subsequently execute his assignment.
Centers may not always be the biggest players, but they must be tough enough to hold up against nose tackles in the running game. That requires players with a powerful base who can at least tie up nose tackles, as well as a player who can move laterally and towards the second level on a perimeter run. Because nose tackles often rely on power and explosion over agility, a center needs to be able to anchor in his stance and hold his ground as a protector. He dictates the integrity of a pocket up the middle for a quarterback, and being driven back as a center is a quick way to force your quarterback into being sacked.
With the multitude of stunts and blitzes that centers will face throughout the course of a game, they must be able to move side-to-side and react to oncoming defenders.
The center position is one that involves a balance of smarts, strength and athleticism.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Centers will play on field goal protection units as well as on the kickoff return on occasion. As noted in the Guards overview, Dan Connolly nearly returned a kickoff for a score against Green Bay late in the 2010 regular season.
PATRIOTS TAKE: After losing longtime starting center Dan Koppen in the season opener against the Dolphins in 2011, it looked as though the Patriots may have had an issue on their hand. Fill-in Dan Connolly stepped up, however, and seamlessly transitioned into a very effective starter. Both players hit free agency this offseason, and both were retained. The financials of Connolly’s three-year contract (it’s worth almost $10 million) suggest he is viewed as the starter going forward, although it looks as though there will be a competition for the job in training camp. Connolly offers very good versatility with the ability to play guard as well, while Koppen has worked as a center throughout his career. The Patriots have two players who are starting-caliber players at an important position: that’s a major positive.