#Browns C Nick McDonald was cleared to return vs. Bills after hurting ankle, but staff stayed w/Ryan Seymour, who was playing 1st NFL game.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) December 4, 2014
#Browns HC Mike Pettine: Still haven't determined whether Nick McDonald will start at center. Have been working Ryan Seymour and McDonald.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) December 4, 2014
#Browns coach Mike Pettine said he will announce Sunday morning whether Nick McDonald or Ryan Seymour will start at center vs. #Colts. #NFL— Brian Dulik (@BrianDulik) December 5, 2014
Let's take a look at how Ryan Seymour played vs. the Bills.
Run Blocking - Negatives:
Seymour and Greco have a miscommunication here. Greco initially picks up the defensive tackle and Seymour is expected to overtake him and assist. Then, one of them (most likely Greco in this case) would release to the second level to block a linebacker. Instead, Seymour doesn't pick up the DT and Greco releases when Seymour catches up to him, so both end up releasing downfield with no one staying home to block the tackle:
This time, Seymour thinks that Bitonio has the defensive tackle blocked, so he's looking to leak out and attack the linebacker. However, Bitonio doesn't have control of the DT. Seymour notices this after he's begun his pursuit of the LB and tries to fall back to help but isn't in good position to do so. The result is that he doesn't get a good block on anyone:
Now, if Bitonio gets a good block this isn't an issue, but Ryan Seymour needs to be more decisive on this play. If he stays back to help on the DT, then West likely makes his cut in behind him. Considering the running back's outside aiming point, Seymour should have continued on and attempted to block the linebacker. Either of these would have given West an easy read to work with and likely a positive play.
Here Seymour reaches the linebacker but fails to get playside of him and maintain his block in space:
Seymour (red circle) and Greco (yellow circle) both go after the middle linebacker (red arrow) and nobody picks up the weakside linebacker (yellow arrow).
Here's a different angle of the play:
Run Blocking - Positives:
Seymour works properly with Bitonio here. He catches up and gets playside position on the defensive tackle, allowing Bitonio to release and take on the middle linebacker. Seymour gets under the tackle's pads and uses his leverage and power to drive him to the ground. Seymour's block shoves the DT into the path of the pursuing backside end, so that's two takedowns on the same play:
Once again, a textbook job of reaching the defensive tackle, allowing the guard to release, and gaining playside position on his block:
Seymour once again takes over blocking a defensive tackle so that a guard can release downfield. This time he outleverages Kyle Williams, stands him up, and stops him in his tracks:
Ryan Seymour squares up on Kyle Williams. Williams tries to give Seymour the slip, but instead gets the heave-ho and becomes lawn furniture:
Here, Seymour quickly gets off the ball and attacks the middle linebacker, looking comfortable in space:
Seymour has the athleticism and strength to stay engaged with Marcell Dareus far across the field:
Pass Blocking - Negatives:
Seymour gives up A-gap pressure here. He doesn't square up on Kyle Williams right away. It's possible that he's expecting help from Bitonio...and he doesn't receive it. Either Bitonio needs to help out or Seymour needs to keep his feet moving and wall off the defensive tackle. This looks like another play that came down to the interior linemen not being on the same page as each other.
Ryan Seymour squares up well with Kyle Williams here. Williams begins to slant wide to the offense's left. Bitonio is in position to pick him up, but at the same time Hughes gets penetration on an inside move and the left guard turns to assist on him. Williams' movement puts Bitonio in between him and Seymour, causing the center to lose contact with the defender. He tries to recover and push Williams wide, but he and the left guard trip over each other's feet and Kyle Williams records the sack:
On the first play that he was in the game, Kyle Williams walked Ryan Seymour five yards back into the pocket. While this is hardly a sack or a pressure, the pocket collapsing up the middle limits his options and makes him more vulnerable to outside rushers.
Pass Blocking - Positives:
On this play, Marcell Dareus rushed up the middle. Ryan Seymour held his ground blocking him 1-on-1 and didn't allow him to push the pocket:
Seymour picks up Williams slanting inside. He squares up on him and Williams tries an "arm-over" move to beat him to the inside. Seymour maintains his leverage while turning and shoves him wide:
This is just a simple double team on a defensive tackle. Seymour was involved in several of these vs. Buffalo. Here he starts out double-teaming the DT and then takes over to allow Greco to check on how Mitchell Schwartz is doing:
Seymour keeps one hand out to keep track of where the nose tackle is. He looks the other direction, identifies Jerry Hughes stunting from an outside linebacker alignment, and stops his A-gap rush:
Ryan Seymour notices a stunt and picks up Jerry Hughes on an A-gap rush. Mario Williams is stunting from the opposite side and the two defensive ends collide with Seymour and Terrance West right in front of the quarterback. The blockers don't give up any ground.
Ryan Seymour vs. Nick McDonald:
Seymour is better at keeping his balance. He has significantly improved at this since college, where he had a tendency to lean too far into a block on occasion. At times, defensive linemen were able to shove him aside. The Bills may have the best defensive line in the NFL, yet they didn't shove Ryan Seymour off balance once. That's outstanding progress since his college days.
McDonald lunges and is caught leaning much more often, which makes him more prone to falling off blocks or losing the leverage battle. He happens to be a lot better than Seymour at recovery. He is extremely good at regaining his balance and re-setting his feet, which helps him to compensate somewhat for losing initially on a block...but having a knack for buying himself second chances is nowhere as good as winning from the start.
This is why McDonald often leans and lunges: he has poor flexibility, especially lacking knee bend. If he keeps a balanced stance, the more athletic defensive lineman he's facing will get a leverage advantage on him and win the battle. If he leans, it's a gamble. When a defender comes straight at him, it'll usually help him hold his ground. If a defender can fake him out and get him leaning the wrong way, though, he'll be much easier to shove aside or bowl backwards.
Now, don't take this to mean that McDonald leans and Seymour doesn't. That's not the case. Ryan Seymour has some flexibility issues as well, they're just not nearly as bad as Nick McDonald's.
Both Seymour and McDonald are agile for interior linemen. Seymour turns well and is good at maintaining his leverage while turning (which Kyle Williams found out on a few of the plays highlighted in this article). McDonald is also good at this but is better at adjusting to a target in space. Both are good at keeping themselves alive and maintaining their position between the defender and the quarterback while initially beaten, but McDonald is better at this as well.
This is a major weakness for McDonald. He's very athletic "in a phone booth" but doesn't have the foot speed or quickness to get out and cover ground. This is especially a problem when it comes to making effective blocks at the second level. He simply can't get to the target.
Far worse, McDonald struggles to overtake defensive linemen along the line of scrimmage on zone runs. Seymour has no trouble coming off the ball, catching up to the guard next to him, getting playside position, and letting the guard release to his next target.
McDonald's limited flexibility is an issue here. He struggles to bend, has to lean to get good leverage, and then can be thrown off balance. He also lacks an effective power step to absorb a defensive tackle's bull rush, reset, and push back. Ryan Seymour has a good power step to catch rushers due to his better waist, hip, and knee flexibility.
Ryan Seymour looked surprisingly aware of what was going on vs. Buffalo. He had a few mental mistakes but he never seemed confused or overwhelmed. He didn't look like an undrafted rookie in his first NFL action. All that being said though, Nick McDonald has to get the edge here for his greater career experience and greater playing time in this offense.
I've mentioned a few times in this article that Ryan Seymour was unsuccessful on a play because he wasn't on the same page as his teammates. People often speak of offensive lines needing "time to gel" and that it's important to have continuity on the offensive line. McDonald has had that time; Seymour has not. If their ability and performance are very close to each other, McDonald's familiarity with Greco and Bitonio should give him the decisive edge.
This one isn't even close. Nick McDonald ran a 5.21s 40-yard dash with a 1.85s 10-yard split in 2010. Ryan Seymour ran a 5.09s 40 with a 1.69s 10-yard split early this past spring. Seymour has a lot more range and quickness than McDonald and combines that with better bend and a stronger anchor.
I see what Ryan Seymour has to offer. From a pure scouting standpoint, he looks like a capable developmental backup guard and center who can compete for a starting job. He looks almost ready to start for a zone blocking scheme team, has a collection of traits that make him well-suited to the job, and his deficiencies are all correctable with coaching.
And there's the clincher for me: he has the athletic ability and his flaws are correctable, while McDonald has a couple key areas (range, anchor, flexibility) where his athletic ability isn't up to par. This was on clear display on three consecutive plays in the first quarter:
On the first play, Nick McDonald engages the middle linebacker but can't get playside position on him. This allows the Mike to immediately disengage, release to the playside, and get into the backfield to help corral the runningback for a loss. If McDonald was a half-step quicker, he could have gotten to the playside shoulder of the LB and taken him out completely.
On the second play, Kyle Williams drove right through McDonald and at Hoyer:
Most glaringly, on the third play Marcell Dareus tossed McDonald aside like a ragdoll right off the snap:
Below are the blocking success statistics for Seymour's and McDonald's play vs. the Bills. An 82% success rate pass blocking is quite good. A 64% run blocking is somewhat poor. McDonald's, though taken from a small sample, are hardly better.
Run Block 9/14 = 64.3% 7/10 = 70%
Pass Block 23/28 = 82.1% 3/5 = 60%
Play Action 8/9 = 88.9% 3/3 = 100%
For a good performance, the benchmarks we're looking for are high 70's and up for run blocking and somewhere in the 80's or above for pass blocking. By those standards, you can see that both Seymour and McDonald performed below par.