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Shane Lemieux: 5 plays to be excited about, and 2 to worry about

The Giants are hoping Shane Lemieux can solve their center position

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the New York Giants drafted Oregon guard Shane Lemieux in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it looked as though they were selecting a successor for Kevin Zeitler .

But after the draft it was confirmed that they have more immediate plans for their fifth round pick and want to get him on the field while Zeitler is still a Giant. The team confirmed that they are looking at Lemieux not just as a guard prospect, but that they will cross train Lemieux at center. The Giants have been looking for an answer to the center position since letting Weston Richburg walk in free agency and trading Brett Jones. The team tried to convert journeyman guard Jon Halapio to center, but he has struggled with injuries and proved ineffective when on the field. The team has also tried Spencer Pulley when Halapio was recovering from injury, but he too was ineffective as a starter.

Lemieux is both durable and experienced, starting 52 games for the Oregon Ducks.

But what does the tape say?

Play 1) Oregon vs. Auburn

First quarter, 14:53, First-and-10

(Note: The above gif is at 75 percent speed)

Any scouting report of Lemieux is going to mention his play strength. It’s his best trait and something that shows up time and again on his tape. And frankly, you don’t have to wait long to see it in action.

This is Oregon’s first play of the 2019 season. Predictably, it is a quick hitting wide receiver screen designed to get the ball into the hands of a fast player with room to run. The offensive line has a pretty easy job here, but Lemieux’s block stands out. He is matched up against 6-foot-5, 290-pound Nick Coe and simply throws him to the ground.

Lemieux does a good job of keeping his hips and pads low to maximize his leverage and play strength. But what stands out here is his core strength to torque and throw Coe to the ground.

He will have to be careful with his hand placement at the next level, as he slips his right around the back of Coe’s neck. But that being said, the power on display is impressive and underpins the rest of Lemieux’s game.

Play 2) Oregon vs. Auburn

First quarter, 6:29, First-and-10

Staying with Oregon’s game against Auburn, which is a “Go To” game for Lemieux when we consider the caliber of defensive linemen he was playing against.

Oregon does a great job of blocking this play up on the left side. The left tackle kicks out and takes the defensive end right out of the play, while Lemieux and the center double-team the 3-technique, creating a wide alley for the running back. Lemieux works off the double-team and gets up to the second level, and that’s where we see what I want to highlight.

Lemeiux squares up and gets a good block on the linebacker in space. At this point Oregon is pretty much guaranteed a 5-yard gain and a good run in the red zone. But Lemieux isn’t done and goes on to block that linebacker again in a third effort.

That is an uncommon level of competitive toughness. Lemieux did his job with the first two blocks and the play is a success. But it’s that third block that puts Oregon on the door to the end zone. He isn’t quite able to stay with the linebacker, but the outcome is better than if Lemieux didn’t play through the whistle. The running back is tackled by an unblocked defender but is able to pick up several more yards than if both defenders were able to tackle him.

Play 3) Oregon at Washington

First quarter, 13:47, Second-and-12)

Our first two plays showcased Lemieux’s play strength and competitive toughness, and now I want to look at his pass protection.

We know Lemieux can anchor against powerful players, but defenses will often try to over-match interior offensive linemen with speed rushers — either defensive ends or outside linebackers playing inside or with blitzers. We talk a lot about mobility and mirroring ability for offensive tackles, but interior linemen need to do it too, and Lemieux does it here.

Washington brings a zone blitz, with a linebacker (No. 13 is listed as a linebacker on the UW roster page) attacking the left B-gap while the left defensive end (offensive right) drops back into a zone coverage. Lemieux expects and quickly gets into position to deal with the blitz. He gets into his pass set well and keeps his balance as he picks up the smaller and more athletic blitzer.

Lemieux might be noted for his play strength, but most powerful guards (such as John Simpson of Clemson or Michael Onwenu of Michigan) tend to be more limited in their short-area quickness. While nobody will confuse Lemieux with Zack Martin or Quenton Nelson, he does show a good functional ability to move laterally in a small area to mirror the blitzer.

Play 4) Oregon vs. Auburn

Second quarter, 6:31, First-and-goal

I’ve mentioned Lemieux’s play strength multiple times, but it doesn’t do much good if he can’t sustain his blocks. That’s where grip strength comes in, and we get a good display of it here.

Lemieux blocks the defensive tackle (his exact alignment is a bit difficult to tell from the camera angle. He appears to be playing a 1-technique, but it could also be a 2 or 2i technique) while the center works to the second level. Lemieux does a good job of sitting into his stance, keeping his pads down, striking and driving the defender, and gaining leverage. He is able to get under the defender’s pads and blunt his initial rush. From there Lemieux shows good grip strength to stay engaged and not allow the defender to shed his block and get involved with the play.

A common issue with rookies is an inability to sustain blocks, but that isn’t an issue here with Lemieux.

In fact, Lemieux staying engaged and sustaining the block is about the best thing to happen for Oregon on this play. The disaster starts immediately as Justin Herbert mishandles the ball, and the play is further wrecked as Derrick Brown does Derrick Brown things and simply blows through the Oregon offensive line and into the backfield. The chaos he creates allows Auburn to recover the ball and almost return it for a touchdown.

We’re not interested in that, but the play does serve to make Lemieux’s play stand out all the more.

Play 5) Oregon vs. Utah

Fourth quarter, 5:57, First-and-10

Finally we come to the Pac-12 championship. Oregon has a big lead by the end of the game and is looking to run the ball and get the game over with. Lemieux’s strength as a run blocker is on display in this clip, but I want to focus on his hand placement in particular.

I decided to save this for last because his placement isn’t as consistent as you would like it to be, which is something that can work against him at times and is something he will need to work on at the NFL level. That being said, Lemieux is able to really play to his strengths when he is able to strike an opponent’s chest plate with authority.

Here we see him matched up on senior DT John Penisini (No. 52), who is listed at 6-foot-2, 333 pounds. Lemieux is giving up significant size and leverage to the shorter, stouter defensive tackle but he is still able to gain leverage and control the defender.

Lemieux keeps his hips and pads low, matching the the defender’s pad level. He takes leverage by firing his hands close together, with good orientation, and into the center of the defender’s chest. By taking inside leverage he is able to really latch on and put his lower body, core, and grip strength to work. Throughout the rep we can see the defender trying to shed the block but is unable to get free. Lemieux is instead able to control him enough that the running back can burst through the left A-gap for a nice gain on first down before a linebacker is able to bring him down.

Things to worry about

Play 1) Oregon vs. Colorado

Third quarter, 7:20, First-and-20)

The most common negative note on Lemieux’s scouting report is about his athleticism. While he moves well in a short area for a powerful guard, he isn’t a great athlete in an absolute sense. We see that demonstrated here as both guards pull on this running play.

Lemieux is able to get out and pull well enough, but he doesn’t really have the foot speed to stay ahead of the play. The Colorado linebacker does a good job of tracking the ball carrier and finding an open lane through the offensive line. He becomes Lemieux’s responsibility, but Lemieux isn’t quite able to get to the spot in time, nor does he have the agility to get into position to deal with him.

This would be less of a concern if the Giants were planning on slotting Lemieux in as a guard in an inside zone or man-gap running scheme. However, they are looking at him as one of their options to address the center position. The reality is that center has a (much) higher athletic premium than guard. Centers are asked to (at least) a little bit of everything and simply being able to snap the ball and be ready to protect against a 0 or 1-technique defensive tackle requires a high degree of athleticism. Lemieux might be too limited to make the conversion and might be a “guard only.”

Play 2) Oregon at Washington

Fourth quarter 10:50, Third-and-5

Finally we come to one other concern with Lemieux which cropped up a few times in his tape, which is his awareness of the play. He is experienced and has seen most looks and blitzes before, which makes it difficult for defenses to take him by surprise. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t lose track of what is happening around him.

Here we see Washington run a blitz scheme with a fairly long loop from an inside linebacker to the outside. No. 30 loops from being head-up on the center out to the left D-gap, outside the tight end. Lemieux tries to pick him up and seems to get fixated on the looper, and that causes a breakdown in the pass protection. Rather than picking up the defensive end as the left tackle tries to pass him off to Lemieux so he (the tackle) can pick up the looper, Lemeiux lets the DE into the backfield and tries to chase the looper.

The play ends with an incomplete pass as Herbert just gets the ball away and Oregon is forced to punt.

This is something Lemieux will need to work on regardless of whether he is a guard or a center for the Giants, but it will be doubly important if he is asked to make the transition to center. The center is responsible for making many of the protection calls and making a lot of decisions during the play about providing double-teams and responding to blitzes. It needs a lot of awareness and lapses like this can be devastating.