Mobility defines the 2009 class of guards and centers, otherwise known as interior offensive linemen. For the most part they aren't exceptionally big, especially in terms of height, but they are athletic and carry their weight extremely well. These men on the move impress when pulling and trapping; they also give great effort hustling across the field to get in front of the play and excel at leading their ball carrier downfield as they seek the opposition to deliver a touchdown block.
These agile linemen are effective run-blockers because of their leverage and leg drive. Pass protection doesn't suffer, either, despite their not possessing the same wingspan as those at the offensive tackle position. The 2009 interior linemen as a whole have quick feet and demonstrate the ability to change direction in pass protection. Defenders have trouble beating them underneath or speed-rushing the outside edge. It's safe to say the athleticism and agility of the guard and center positions complement the tough and tenacious nature of the offensive tackles in this year's offensive line class.
OG/OC grading criteria
Scouts Inc. grades offensive linemen in eight categories:
1. Initial Quicks: Are they quick when coming off the ball? Do they have good footwork? Are they faster than the defensive line?
2. Run Block: Do they control the opposition at the point of attack? Are they balanced? Do they play with leverage?
3. Pass Block: Do they have good footwork? How quick is their setup? Can they adjust and mirror the pass-rusher? Do they sustain their blocks?
4. Pull and Trap: Do they have the athleticism to get to a moving target? Can they adjust in space?
5. Use of Hands: Do they get separation? Can they keep defenders away from them? Do they play with good leverage?
6. Strength: Do they play with leverage? Can they move the pile in the run game? Can they anchor in pass protection?
7. Explosion: Do they finish their blocks? Do they play low and show some pop at the point of attack?
8. Long Snap: Do they have the ability to long snap, and are they proficient at it?
The state of Utah is not considered a powerhouse of high school football, but it is vastly improving. The top two guards in '09 class both hail from the Beehive State and are great friends. John Martinez (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood) and Xavier Su'a-Filo (Pleasant Grove, Utah/Timpview) are deserving of their rankings.
At 6-foot-2, 264 pounds, Martinez is not as big physically as you might expect, but the way he plays is huge. He moves with the tenacity of a linebacker and is a devastating puller and trapper. Martinez plays with great intensity from the first snap until the last whistle and has exceptional lower-body agility and change of direction.
Su'a-Filo has the ideal physical dimensions and is the prototypical-looking offensive guard. He is quick off the ball, making him a superb zone and reach blocker. Running backs love to run behind him in short yardage and goal-line situations due his toughness at the point of attack. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he and Martinez end up being teammates at the next level.
The No. 3 guard in the class, Chris Burnette (La Grange, Ga./Troup County) is very active for such a thick and compact lineman. The Georgia commit is aggressive and plays with great leverage when run blocking. He also gets excellent movement of the defender due to his unremitting leg drive.
Coaches often like their offensive lineman to have a little bit of a nasty streak; such is the case with Florida pledge Nick Alajajian (Naples, Fla). He is the master of the peel-back block -- he circles around and unloads like a cannon on pursuing and unsuspecting defenders.
Alajajian is also light on his feet and for such a big man and gives super effort getting downfield to pick up another block. He is a very solid run blocker and a sound pass protector.
Rounding out the top five guard/center contingency is Notre Dame commit Chris Watt (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Glenbard West). Watt sticks on the opponent like paint on the wall. He delivers powerful first punches with his hands and then uses them to maintain control and sustain his blocks. Like Burnette, his churning leg drive creates knock-back off the line of scrimmage.
Thomas Ashcraft (Cedar Hill, Texas) is a typical Texas lineman, meaning he is athletic enough to play either guard or tackle and his foot quickness and agility make him an outstanding pass protector. He has good balance and body control for a lineman and can handle line stunts and speed rushers off the edge.
Quinton Washington (Saint Stephen, S.C./Timberland) likes to use his 300-plus pounds on opposing defensive linemen. He is an impressive combination of strength and mobility. As good of blocker as he is up front, he is extremely fluid getting to level-two linebackers.
No. 1-ranked center Jack Mewhort (Toledo, Ohio/St. John's) is the tallest of the top ten interior linemen, and his huge wingspan makes him an efficient pass protector. Despite being 6-6, the future Buckeye is a solid run blocker with strong hands.
Mark Brazinski (Somerville, N.J./Immaculata) is four inches shorter than Mewhort but leaves no doubt about his toughness. He is a real scrapper and has the foot quickness to handle a head-up or shaded middle guard.
One of the most flexible and agile offensive linemen in the country is Will Jackson (Knoxville, Tenn./Farragut). The Georgia Tech-bound guard is an excellent technician and can lower the boom on defenders when he kicks out defensive ends or turns upfield on linebackers.
Offensive interior linemen normally operate in a more limited space than offensive tackles, especially in terms of pass protection. At the same time, they are in the middle of the action in terms of defensive front movement. Guards and centers must be able to handle line stunts and linebacker blitzes instantly. They are also called upon to pull and trap on power plays, counters, reverses, screens and boots, so they can't afford to be slow of foot or faint of heart. The 2009 class is neither with fluid, athletic competitors who make their offenses run with precision.
Bill Conley is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.