Former NFL offensive line coach Paul Alexander has worked with some of the top offensive line prospects in the draft, providing detailed preparation for what they will face in the league in a few months, including game-wreckers like Joey Bosa and Aaron Donald.
So, who better to talk with about this year’s offensive line class? Alexander was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this year’s group.
Alexander, 61, spent 26 seasons in the NFL -- 23 of those as the offensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
He last served as the offensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, and now works as offensive line coach and consultant for high school, college and NFL players.
Alexander offers a series of instructional lessons on pass protection and evaluating offensive linemen at CoachTube.com, an online resource for coaching videos.
Alexander believes offensive linemen are not as technically sound entering the NFL as they were 20 years ago for several reasons. Those reasons include limited practice time in college; the emphasis on the passing game and spread formations in both high school and college; offensive linemen in two-point stances the majority of the time.
“I think the percentage of passes in today’s football compared to running plays have made the linemen’s job more difficult,” Alexander said. “And in many ways the shotgun, two-point stance has made them softer, so to speak.”
What Alexander tries to do during the pre-draft process is create a skill set and game-plan for success in handling talented defensive linemen in the run and pass game that his client can implement and use during the regular season -- through film study and practice time by perfecting their movement skills.
“Because of their limited time, they have very little time to break down the person that they are blocking, and what they do themselves,” Alexander said.
Alexander fills in the gaps by breaking down the offensive lineman’s individual matchups with defensive lineman, charting what worked well and what didn’t work well. At the end of the process, Alexander helps the player develop a game plan to make the defensive player play left-handed – forcing him to do things he’s uncomfortable doing.
Alexander has 12 players he already works with in the NFL. And he worked with 25 offensive linemen this year, including some of the top prospects in Perneii Sewell, Christian Darrisaw, Walker Little, Quinn Meinerz and Dillon Radunz.
Alexander echoes their sentiments of draft analysts that there’s a deep pool of talent at center and interior offensive line this year.
“The real strength of this draft -- and it’s not a sexy analysis -- but the real strength of his draft is the middle-round centers,” Alexander said. “There’s a bunch of them, an exorbitant amount of them. Guys that I think we’ll be NFL starters.”
Alexander said Landon Dickerson of Alabama and Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey will go early and start for an NFL team. But he also believes players like Josh Myers of Ohio State, Michal Menet of Penn State, Stanford’s Drew Dalman, Kentucky’s Drake Jackson and Jim Morrissey out of Pitt can also earn NFL starting center jobs.
Along with those names, someone Alexander personally worked with up in Wisconsin in the lead-up to the draft is Division III prospect Quinn Meinerz.
Even though Meinerz played mostly guard against lower-level competition, Alexander believes that he showed during his work at the Senior Bowl that he can serve as an anchor of an NFL offense at center.
“I’m not saying I was skeptical, but I wanted to see it,” Alexander said about working with Meinerz. “So, I went up to work with him, and spent a couple days with him. And I left saying, ‘Yeah, this guy’s a staring NFL center.’
“He’s got real foot quickness, body quickness getting out of his stance. He has strong hands. He has short-area explosiveness, which is so critical -- meaning he’s the type of guy that can put his fist two inches in front of a dry wall and punch a hole through it. And he’s a good athlete. He smart. He takes good angles and learns well. He kind of blew me away.”
Alexander went on to say Meinerz would be a fit for the Rams.
However, Alexander said many of the tackles in this year’s class may have to move inside to guard due to size and arm length.
“It’s a great year of guards,” Alexander said. “There’s a whole bunch of tackles in this draft that are going to play NFL guard, whether they know it, like it or not. … There’s a shortage of big men in this year’s draft who have the athletic ability and the arm length. It’s surprising.”
Alexander point to examples of players like Bill Fralic and Robert Gallery that projected as tackles coming into the league but later had to kick inside to guard, where both had good success.
Alexander believes only four prospects in this year’s draft can play left tackle in the NFL.