Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has had in interesting last couple of years to say the least. He graduated from McGill University Faculty of Medicine in May 2018 with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery. He was entering his third season as a full-time starter and had been getting better and better as his time went on. He was playing well for the Chiefs in 2018 until he suffered a fractured fibula in week five against the Jaguars. That injury altered the course of his 2018 and, in my opinion, the outlook of his 2019 season.
He came back to playing strength in 2019 and got his starting job back from Andrew Wylie after he came in and played very well in 2018. LDT signed a nice extension after his second season as a starter for five years and 2019 was the third season playing under that number. He came into the season looking to earn that contract, but unfortunately, things didn’t work out exactly the way he or we would have hoped. He graded out at 57.2 according to Pro Football Focus which I would say is pretty average, but his tape had some alarming things from 2019. His contact strength seemed to take a hit, he wasn’t getting much push in the run game, and his athleticism looked a bit shot after his injury the previous year. But was LDT really back to 100% in 2019?
I don’t believe he was close to 100% in 2019, even though his injury had healed when you break your fibula that recovery time back to full health can take many different paths to heal. Some can recover quickly, but I’m looking at his tape and I don’t think he was there in 2019. He didn’t have the same lateral recovery I’ve seen in the past and he looked a step behind more than he should have been from his past production. I decided to look at 2018 LDT and see what he was doing more consistently when he was healthy to help me come to a conclusion on him, and I can tell you that he was having a pretty good season until he got hurt.
This is a really good example of what Andy Heck preaches in the run game. He teaches the offensive lineman to take what’s called a position step to set them up in a better “position” to block, on the second step is where most of the contact should be made. You can see LDT take that first step and then get his hands inside and drive the defender where he found him. They keep working to the left (clip view) and this allows Hunt to read the line and find a hole. LDT has good leverage with his hands inside and his hips lower than the defender. The key to everything is leverage and having this positional advantage, offensive lineman will find more success than failure.
Now, LDT wasn’t blowing guys off the ball very much, but in a zone scheme it doesn’t have to be that way. Heck teaches the lineman to drive the defender where they want to go unless the play specifically calls otherwise. When the line moves all in one direction like on the play above, holes tend to open up with the movement of defenders, it was asking a lot of Erving to reach the tackle in the A gap, but things happen. LDT takes his defender where he wants to get him and doesn’t give ground. This next clip is a picture-perfect example of what Heck calls “cracking the walnut”.
That phrase comes back to the first few steps off the snap, imagine there is a walnut between the lineman’s butt cheeks, when they make contact after that first positional step the goal is to get the arms inside and lift. This presses the cheeks together, keeping the hips low and driving up and out with your arms and legs all in the same direction. LDT does a great job getting leverage with his hands inside the tackle then lifting and driving him out of the way, creating a huge gap that Hunt can walk through for the touchdown.
LDT wasn’t an elite run-blocking guard but he was more than enough to get the job done and watching the basics in the first few steps with technique tells me that he was confident in his body to get the job done. He did enough in run blocking to open holes and make life easier on Hunt in 2018, but where he excelled was in pass protection. He was drafted as an athletic tackle and was moved inside. With the move inside comes less area to cover in pass protection and for LDT it helped him become effective in the NFL.
Playing guard in the NFL, as with the tackles, you have to be able to pick up stunts so having your eyes up and alert to what is going on is critical to being effective as a blocker. On this stunt, the defensive tackle is going to attempt to open up the right A gap by attacking the B gap and forcing LDT to overcommit to the tackle, allowing the defensive end to come around into the open A gap. LDT sees the tackle coming back around and is able to easily pass the tackle off to Schwartz and take on the end seamlessly. Then he takes him wherever he wants to go and is able to keep the DE in front of him. LDT used his lateral agility to his benefit a lot and succeeded in doing so.
This is what’s called in practice the “Tarheel drill”, the goal of this drill is for the offensive lineman to hand fight to regain the proper leverage. This is typically used for run blocking, but hand fighting is critical in pass protection because keeping the hands inside and on the chest of the defender will keep the lineman in a good position to jab and move with the defender. He’s able to work his hands around the tackle and continue fighting for leverage without giving up too much ground. Here he is doing a great job against DeForest Buckner using the same idea.
With every player there is always room for some improvement in their techniques and with LDT, I still think he has some issues with bull rush and strong defensive tackles. There is a pass protection technique called the “hop-hop” which is just what it sounds like, that allows the lineman to reset the momentum during a bull rush to attempt to regain leverage in pass pro. I like to call it a jump set to make it a little simpler, and it’s a simple concept. The legendary offensive line coach Howard Mudd implements it in his coaching and the Chiefs use a ton of his teaching techniques in their pass protection. When a lineman is feeling pressure on his hands and being pushed back quickly, you’d jump shortly to dig your feet back into the ground and attempt to re-establish the momentum. I think LDT could benefit from using it a little more in his pass sets.
Improving in contact strength is a big issue all around for the Chiefs’ interior offensive line, but some of that comes with the trade-off in taking more athletic big men. Andy Reid likes athletes at the position and sometimes you sacrifice some strength with that. But the thing about offensive line play is that good leverage position can move stronger defensive players even if you, as a player, aren’t as strong. Heck is all about leverage and knows that proper technique will win out in the end. LDT was much better with his technique prior to 2019 and I am willing to bet it was due to his injury.
The Chiefs and LDT worked on a restructure for the 2020 season which essentially voids the 2021 and 2022 seasons that were originally in his contract extension. Looking at 2020 from LDT’s standpoint, this is a contract year for him. With 2019 in the rearview, he can focus on being fully healthy going into his sixth season with the Chiefs. Do I think LDT can regain his 2018 form? It’s possible, but I have lower expectations as of right now. I haven’t seen him since the Super Bowl against the great defensive line the 49ers have and he was pushed around a bit, but prior to that he was turning a corner in my eyes.
He has an opportunity to make himself a nice amount of money with a bounce-back season in 2020 and with his restructure, I think he will be slotted in as the starter this coming season. If he can get back to the techniques he’s being taught and get some of that athleticism back that we saw from him in 2018, he’s got a chance to help this team win a second straight Super Bowl before becoming a free agent. I’m not expecting him to immediately come back and be what he was in 2018, but later in the season is definitely in the cards for him. This is a fun clip that I found of his from his last game in 2018, let’s get this guy back into he mix for 2020. (LDT recovery)