Linemen who can flatter, like Ickey Ekwonu, are in NFL demand

Linemen who can flatter, like Ickey Ekwonu, are in NFL demand

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Offensive line players have always loved “pancakes” – unmistakable blocks that end in a flattened guard on top.

But Ikeem Equonu, arguably the top-10 choice in this year’s NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday, is rare: he is flexible and dynamic enough to add a bonus pancake after another big game.

In the October game against Louisiana Tech, the North Carolina state team of Equonoa held a standard pass. His task was to wedge the opposite side of the defender and create space for Ricky Pears Jr.. Ricky Person Jr.. Having managed to turn around and turn the wall of the clothes upside down, the person was spun by an open alley.

“Then he runs down another 20 yards and punches another guy,” said John Garrison, Wolfpack ‘s offensive line coach. The play ended with a 24-yard meeting.

Moments like this have strengthened Equuno’s status at the forefront of the wave of offensive line prospects, including Evan Neil of the University of Alabama and Charles Cross of Mississippi, who are expected to be selected early in the draft. Their speed and mobility are in great demand in positions that have traditionally been the toughest positions in football. In this year’s draft scout combination, Cross was one of 12 attacking lines to run 40 yards in less than five seconds – the Equinox clocked 4.93 seconds – twice the previous record of six set in 2013.

“When they think of offensive lines, people stop at numbers, height and weight,” Equonu, 21, said in an interview this month. “But the intangible thing: are you flexible? Can you bend? Can you sprint around the corner, stand on the pitch, keep your balance? “These things are really important and they all have to do with mobility.”

In 2013, the last time the liner was first in the draft, the NFL had just finished a season in which five-quarters ran at at least 300 yards. There were 10 such defenders last season. Where the task of tackling years ago was often simple – to keep a pickpocket upright – this player may now have to finish the trick game after a single shot and intervene after the signal is called.

“At the time it was Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, it was older school football,” said Jordan Reid, an ESPN draft analyst. “You had these big, strong men trying to beat the boys at the time of the attack. “Now everything is in terms of profit, having these athletes who can run the crossings and run the defenders rather than just plow into them.”

It is also important to bypass the athletes opposite them. Ten years ago, teams did not need to block Aaron Donald, a small but eye-catching passer who ran the Los Angeles Rams’s Super Bowl last season.

“Now you have these defensive players who are a lot of athletes,” said Jeff Schwartz, the attacking midfielder who has played in six NFL seasons. “That’s why it’s so important that offensive line players match this athleticism.”

Upon entering college, Equonu did not look like the next first round. The youth soccer coach called him Aiki after the former Cincinnati Bengalis retreated Aiki Woods, and that name remained when he became a three-star recruit. He landed in North Carolina in 2019 at 288 pounds, had no dimensions to stand out among the linear. (Top prospects can be 6-6 and weigh more than ფ 300 when entering college.)

But Garrison and the rest of Wolfpack’s coaches saw the potential for Equonu’s light legs, loose hips, and balance, attributes he used in wrestling and several times to support a 4×100 relay team at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC.

“The first time I saw him, he was walking around the room with his gloves on,” Garrison said. “Only his athleticism and fast-paced speed was very impressive.”

Equonu weighed in at over 300 pounds as a freshman, and he thrived on a system that asked him to be more than just a “hut butt,” as Garrison describes the completely muscular-free mowers. Equonus routes from Snap to Snap were almost as diverse as the wide receiver.

In the middle of the mileage he stopped the defensive ends; On wide pitches he accelerated to the side lane and played the defender. In total, he cut 67 pancakes in North Carolina last season.

“The teams knew what we were going to run,” Equonu said. “It only made me want to defeat them. “Any time you can throw a ball at someone who knows what awaits you, it just feels good.”

Prior to the combine, Equonu worked with trainers at the Sports Academy, a biomechanics company. He had two main goals: to start a reliable 40 times – he did not miss more than one in five years – and to prepare for the even greater demands of NFL line players. His trainers have compared the blast of an equinox to the ability of a lightweight player over 100 pounds, which may have once been a luxury and is now almost a necessity.

“You have to be more athletic and be able to play longer,” said Taylor Ramsey, a coach at the Academy of Sports. “It’s no longer three to six seconds, it’s five to eight that you can play one game online and then another on the pitch.”

Ekwonu’s NFL idol is Trent Williams, for the 2021 All-Pro The 49ers, who ran a 4.81 40-yard run on the combine in 2010. As part of San Francisco’s intricate circuits, which could include splitting the fullbacks into wide receivers and receiving fouls, Williams sometimes strays the rows from his normal left-kick position. When Williams moves to the backfield, ready to rush to some amazing spot and knock on whoever he meets, Equonu sees a plan of how his future team can use him.

“I feel the NFL is playing really well for the staff they have,” Equonu said. “They really play on their own.” His future team will have several choices.

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