SAN ANTONIO - It doesn't matter what position on either the West or East roster you'll find plenty of talent that will be on display in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday afternoon. However, it's hard to imagine a group of players any more highly regarded than the West offensive line. The unit contains three five-star prospects and seven members of the Rivals100.
Whether it be at tackle with the likes of Matt Kalil, Tyron Smith, and Stephen Good or at center where Ben Habern was one of the day's most pleasant surprises the group protecting the West quarterbacks has all the skill and talent to trouble the East squad come Saturday.
With all of the amazing talent on display it was interesting to get the take of Habern and four-star Rivals100 offensive guard Trevor Robinson on what players impressed them the most during the first set of workouts this week.
"Oh yeah, I was most impressed with Ben. He played center and did a good job with the snaps. I've tried snaps before and it's not as easy as it looks," Robinson said.
"First of all when I got out there everyone was a lot bigger than me," Habern laughed. "Me being 6-foot-3, everybody else being like 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7.
"I liked the guys who moved to the right side. I know Stephen is more of a left tackle guy and he really stepped in there and didn't even take a step back. He played LT all your life and kick with your left foot and then move to the right and kick with your right. I think he did a great job and stepped right in."
Sure it's nice to watch other players and see what they might have to say about each other, but their thoughts on dealing with opponents that they face in practice every day is an even better chance to decipher what kind of players are along the lines of the West squad.
More so than one player Robinson said it was a technical aspect of being an offensive lineman that caught his eye.
"This level it's a big change, you can kind of tell with the inside guys that we're working with," Robinson stated. "You have to be aware of the bull rush. They have the power and leverage to move a 300-pound offensive lineman where most guys don't. Then they'll surprise you with the spin or something quick so you really have to keep your head up because they'll really take advantage if your technique is bad."
Robinson and the other offensive lineman had to concern themselves with adjusting to the speed of the West defensive linemen and linebackers no one had a bigger adjustment than Habern.
The 6-foot-3, 275-pound, Habern, who was making the massive jump from Texas private school football, had to make the same adjustments while learning a new position.
"It was a little bit tough at first; I was worrying more about the snap. During the inside run and team period I got more comfortable with it," he said. "The first thing I had to adjust to was the speed of the game going off and blocking those linebackers. Those linebackers are really fast and quick. It's kind of tough snapping the ball and getting on the block. It's not too hard to adjust. Throughout the week we'll get better and better."
Habern, like many centers do, could become the glue that holds the lines together off the field just as he is the centerpiece on it. So when he saw the group quiet today he hoped the situation would remedy itself and apparently it has.
Of course cohesion is the key to any offensive line group.
"I definitely think we've worked well together. At first we were a little quieter and got to know each other at the beginning," he said. "At the beginning of the second practice we were joking around and all felt comfortable with each other. It's real comforting to know that I've got these big guards and tackles around me and I don't have to worry about those guys outside of me."
That type of relationship usually manifests into on the field trust, and according to Robinson it's already taking place. Of course it doesn't hurt to have some of the nation's most talented blockers lining up next to you.
"I think it really helps, especially in the zone schemes. I don't have to worry about my tackle getting beat to the inside cause he's not going to get beat to the inside. You don't have to worry about that because every single guy is as good as you are," he said.
The 6-foot-6, 304-pound offensive lineman from Omaha (Neb.) Elkhorn says that it's not just the players next to him, but those behind him that have him feeling good about the West offense.
"I've noticed with all of our running backs, they have good vision good cut back ability," Robinson said. "You know when you're trying to get on some of those linebackers that are quicker than anything we've seen. It's hard to get that square pancake on those shifty little guys. It's good to know that as long as they get across your face and you stay on them the backs can see the cutback lanes."
The interesting thing about the West's spread offense for players like Robinson and Habern is the heavy use of the spread for two players who have played in run-heavy offenses. In the case of Habern basic offensive line drills were something new to him today and both players took in a crash course on zone blocking.
"I learned a ton today, especially in the pass 'pro' game cause it's not something we work on a lot in my high school. Also in the running game because we zone and we don't really zone block in high school," Robinson said. "Outside of just learning a coach's scheme every coach teaches a little different, footwork is different, hand placement is different, I think I'm a better lineman now than I was this morning.
Habern echoed the thoughts of the man blocking just to his right shoulder.
"Everything we've done today was new to me. I've heard of kicksliding but I had never done it until today. Like Trevor I feel like I'm a lot better now than I was this morning."