The reign of the Smoothie King may soon be upon on Jacksonville following the Week 6 NFL debut of rookie right guard Ben Bartch.
When the Jaguars selected Bartch with the No. 116 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the expectation wasn't for Bartch to see the field soon. In fact, it was made clear the Jaguars saw Bartch as a future contributor as opposed to someone who would step in and challenge for a starting position right away.
Bartch, a college offensive tackle at Saint John's of Minnesota, transitioned to right guard with the Jaguars and watched from the sidelines for the first five games of the season. For the first five weeks of his career, Bartch played only special teams.
But on the Jaguars' second offensive possession of Week 6's loss to the Detroit Lions, veteran right guard A.J. Cann went down with a shoulder injury. Bartch's time on the sideline had run up, and it was time for him to substitute in and make his NFL debut.
After playing zero offensive snaps in the first five games of the season, Bartch played 55 against the Lions in a 34-16 loss. Bartch could get the call from the Jaguars to start at right guard against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 7 if Cann doesn't play, so we decided to look at the All-22 to get a sense for how Bartch performed in his first NFL action.
What His Coaches Said
"I thought Ben [Bartch] stepped in there and there’s some things that he did well and some things he didn’t, and I think that’s normal for a young guy to step in there. At the end of the day, I think I started this when I said before, I don’t think we did a good job upfront on either side of the ball. I thought that they got the best of us and I give them credit. We did not play as well on either side and there was some good individual play at times, but it wasn’t consistent enough," -- head coach Doug Marrone.
"Losing A.J. [Cann] hurt us. A.J.’s played extremely well. It was Ben [Bartch]’s first experience in an NFL game, so it was fun to see him in there. He’ll get better and better. Man, he’s a tough kid, he’s smart, but playing for the first time, you’re going to have some struggles against that front. They were very good, very big, very strong, and not to mention we were very one dimensional there late in the third, early in the fourth quarter, which made it even more difficult. So, hopefully A.J. can go, but if not, I think that experience will help Ben moving forward," -- offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Overall it is clear the Jaguars staff thought Bartch got some good experience, but he still had the typical up-and-down game one can expect from a rookie. It should be noted that Bartch was not in the starting group of linemen in the entire week leading up to the game and instead came off of the bench cold.
When going over Bartch's first NFL action, it is clear that he is further ahead as a run blocker than as a pass blocker right now. Considering he is moving from left tackle to the interior of the offensive line, this should probably be expected. But despite the change, Bartch flashed a few impressive things as a run blocker.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bartch finished ranked 37 of 69 qualifying guards in run blocking grade for Week 6, which is a higher run blocking grade than either Andrew Norwell or Cann recorded in Week 6. A big part of what made Bartch effective as a run blocker is his pure strength and aggressiveness at the point of attack, as displayed below.
When Bartch was able to fire into a defender's frame and win the leverage battle, he can create serious movement. His technique still needs work, but his power is obvious even early on in his career.
Bartch also demonstrated an encouraging amount of physicality and effort, which will serve him well as he continues to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Awareness and technique can be improved over time and with experience, but the willingness to be physical and grind out play after play is typically something a player has or they don't.
While Bartch still clearly has a long way to go, there were still plenty of instances against the Lions in which he showed he was able to hold hs own in terms of physical play in the trenches. As a pass protector, he showed good effort at sustaining blocks and keeping his eyes up to watch the movement of the Lions' defense before the snap.
While Bartch did some positive things against Detroit, he still had the typical lows one would expect from a raw rookie making their first NFL appearance. Marrone and Gruden each alluded to this when they spoke to the media this week, and the tape backs up their sentiments.
Bartch primarily struggled as a pass blocker, which again should likely be expected at this point. According to PFF, Bartch had the eighth-lowest pass blocking grade in Week 6, a result of the organization giving Bartch credit for three pressures (one hit, two hurries) His performance against the Lions gave him PFF's 52nd highest pass blocking efficiency rate of 67 guards in Week 6.
Bartch got beat by a variety of different defensive linemen on Sunday, ending up on the ground more than you would like to see from an interior lineman. His issues with balance showed up on this rep against defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who was able to beat him at the line of scrimmage to get a pressure on Minshew.
It also isn't surprising to see that Bartch still has a ways to go in terms of consistent technique. This was the first live action he has ever seen considering he didn't have a preseason to play in, and these predictable lapses showed up a few times when the Jaguars set back to pass. Considering the Jaguars dropped back more than 45 times, this magnified a bit more than one may expect.
In this rep below, Bartch gave up a pressure up the middle and was partially responsible for the incompletion. Bartch had wide hands against defensive tackle Nick Williams and was easily bowled over, an example of how his relative inexperience at the position will show up as he continues to grow and gain more reps at the position.
All in all, Bartch had his positive moments and his negative ones. Considering he is a rookie who hadn't yet played an NFL snap, this should be expected and isn't any reason to throw either heavy praise or criticism Bartch's way. There are several areas he will need to improve, but there are also several things he did well enough to be positive about his outlook moving forward.
Whether Bartch playing so early as a rookie will be beneficial to him is yet to be determined, but it is likely the Jaguars are going to see a bit more of their rookie lineman over the next few weeks. Bartch doesn't have a place in Jacksonville's lineup when they have a healthy line, but he will get ample chances whenever they turn to their depth.