Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday Feature (Delayed): If They Played in the NFL

Sorry for the late post. We're breaking in a new cat here at the homestead, and she's taken up a lot of time. Anyway, here's a name that had been suggested quite a bit, so I'm excited to "tackle" this one:

Shaquille O'Neal
Center, Cleveland Cavaliers
7'1" 325lbs

Position: Left Tackle

Shaq had been suggested to me as a Defensive Tackle, which I thought about considerably. However, I have to put him at the ever-important left tackle spot for some very specific reasons. First, his weight is just about perfect for an NFL LT, though he's a little on the tall side (duh). Second, one of the most prized traits in left tackles is arm length, as longer arms allow him to keep pass rushers at a safe distance, increasing the length of their path to the QB. Shaq's arms, at over 7 feet tall, are plenty long to make even the likes of Dwight Freeney or Jared Allen work extra hard.

Another aspect of playing center in the NBA that translates well to NFL left tackle-dom is foot movement. Left tackles specialize in a move often called the "kick-slide," where they kick out of their stance to the left, then slide their right foot to shoulder-width, making their first step very wide without having both feet off the ground. Sounds a bit like guarding someone in basketball, doesn't it? Shaq is accustomed to having to keep his feet constantly moving and sliding to not get caught flat-footed in the paint. While not the dominant defender he used to be, O'Neal would definitely still have the athleticism to work against speed rushers in spurts.

Strength has always been a prime attribute for Shaquille O'Neal, and it would serve him well in the NFL. He has always had a great balance of upper- and lower-body strength which is essential for a left tackle. Powerful legs and proper weight distribution help a LT maintain proper leverage when combating a pass rush, and Shaq would likely excel at that.

The only real downside to Shaq protecting a QB's blindside is his attitude. When he's motivated, he's still one of the best centers in the business. However, Shaq has shown a penchant for losing focus and motivation if he doesn't feel sufficiently involved. It would be a challenge for Shaq to play second attention-fiddle to a quarterback, and he might lose his motivation by not being in the spotlight. He's also very egotistical, which could be a benefit at this position. A LT has to believe he can match any pass rusher lined up across from him, and Shaq always thinks he's the best. However, NFL offensive lines do not suffer diva personalities lightly, and Shaq would have to work extra hard to win over his team mates.

I think Shaquille O'Neal would be a very good, though not Pro Bowl, left tackle in the NFL. I'd expect him to excel at pass protection, though he's not likely to be a crushing run blocker (too much dirty work for Shaq!). If he kept his ego in check, he would be a solid contributor on an offensive line, and a complete crack-up at post-game press conferences.

Imagine last week's pick of Tim Lincecum with his blindside guarded by Shaq! Now we're on to something!!

Whaddya think? Disagree completely? Other suggestions (don't worry, Lebron James is already on my list)?


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