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Quacking the Roster: OL Transfer Nishad Strother

Film review from Strother’s three seasons as a starting guard at East Carolina before transferring to Oregon 

NCAA Football: Memphis at East Carolina
Oct 15, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA; East Carolina Pirates offensive lineman Nishad Strother (73) blocks Memphis Tigers during the first half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Strother was recruited to East Carolina in the 2019 cycle as a 2-star (.7944) in the 24/7 composite, though unusually, 24/7 didn’t re-evaluate him as a transfer four years later (the other services have him as a high 3-star transfer value). After redshirting his first year in Greenville, Strother became the starting right guard in 2020 for seven games in the covid-shortened season, then switched to the starting left guard in 2021 and 2022. He has two to play two remaining.

I acquired and reviewed 19 of the 22 FBS games Strother started at left guard over the last two seasons for ECU. The Pirates had the same coaches, quarterback, and offensive system both years, and employed a fairly modern offensive structure in terms of the 11-personnel spread with plenty of RPOs and designed QB runs which has become standard at this point. Though I thought it got a little more polished last year, the offense struck me as relying a lot more on the QB’s moxie and a couple of very dangerous skill players in space rather than sophistication from the playbook. In turn, I didn’t think there was much technical demand on the offensive line – pass protections rarely required more than two seconds of pocket time, run plays had little man blocking or variation to them, and there were almost no screens which required the line to run deep downfield. Instead, on almost every play I simply saw a wrestling match of one lineman against another, though that still gave plenty of film to evaluate on footwork, physical strength, and hand placement technique.

On my tally sheet, Strother’s pass protection grades are excellent, with about a 9.5% per-play error rate. Almost every defense he played in the AAC was a 3-down front that wanted to attack the tackles and there were curiously few blitzes, so there’s a disproportionately high number of plays in which he’s not really challenged, which I think distorted that grade somewhat. I would project him to be about a 12% pass protector in the Pac-12 – pretty good, but not elite, as I grade things.

That said, Strother had the opportunity to face several then- (and soon to be) Power-5 teams, including South Carolina, NC State, Cincinnati, BYU, Houston, and UCF, and handled one-on-one blocking against bigger tackles just fine. I don’t see any problems at all in terms of strength or footwork and don’t think he’ll have any difficulty handling Pac-12 defensive lines. I do think he could use some technical refinement, however, in playing with a flatter back and getting his hands inside rather than outside. Some examples:

(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)

  1. :00 – As with all clips in this article, Strother is wearing #73 and playing left guard. Takes the strike from an SEC defensive tackle, re-anchors, maintains control throughout contact. This is one of his best reps in terms of hand placement, attaching right on the chest plate despite some fight from the DT. Also watch his footwork, he maintains his center of gravity over his feet the whole time.
  2. :15 – Another Power-5 DT here, and again good footwork and control, no chance of him getting through, and he handles the nose coming over for him well. But look at Strother’s right hand getting outside the DT’s frame, that’s what lets him ride so loosely.
  3. :28 – Good control through the handfighting here, but a little too much anticipation and reach. It would be better to drop another step and make the defender come to him, rather than lunge forward and grab at him; he almost gets off-balance for a moment at the beginning of contact.
  4. :49 – Quick, late hands to get inside the DT’s frame, and good control once they’re engaged. But again a reach at the beginning – look how much farther ahead of the pocket they are than everyone else – and he almost crosses his feet because of it while the nose is coming over.

I have no explanation for why ECU faced so few blitzes (defenses bringing five or more pass rushers) over the course of this film review project, in fact I have the Pirates seeing more three-man rushes than blitzes on meaningful pass plays on the 19 games I watched. However, opposing defenses did frequently use stunts and twists while rushing four, which can confuse linemen if they get tunnel vision, and forces them to communicate to hand off pressure. This is the best aspect of Strother’s pass grades on my tally sheet – I don’t have him missing a single stunt ever. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Watch Strother’s helmet, his eyes are up and on the end coming around on this T-E stunt. The LT is a bit slow to take on the block exchange so Strother has to ride the end rather than just stop him, but the QB still has plenty of time to deliver.
  2. :11 – I guess they were saving up all their blitzing for this jailhouse. Very quick exchange of the 3-tech onto the center for the nose coming behind him, nicely done. Meanwhile the corner illustrates why it’s a bad idea to leap for a pick in cover-0 – there’s nobody behind you.
  3. :23 – This structure has an end and an OLB, Strother dismisses that twist easily by just shoving the smaller end onto the LT and mangling the outside backer.
  4. :34 – Here’s the other end of the spectrum, two big DTs twisting up front, and Strother has to get both of them. Again, watch his helmet, he has clear vision the whole time of what’s happening.

Strother had virtually no penalties over the last two years. I can’t show all the false starts and holding flags he didn’t draw, but I was impressed with his discipline on not getting ineligible downfield penalties on the Pirates’ frequent RPO plays (and with the QB often improvising flip passes on scrambles), which is something that the Ducks’ guards have struggled with recently. Some examples:

  1. :00 – ECU used a lot of rolling pockets in 2021 but less so in 2022, I’m not sure why. At any rate, I saw this a lot, where Strother would volunteer to go up and hit a guy, but then hang back without engaging overmuch.
  2. :08 – The run component of this RPO would have had the back take the A-gap (though the RG is getting beat so good thing the QB pulled it) and as such Strother works his 3-tech to the outside to create that lane, then pushes him downfield. But since there’s an RPO tag, he disengages without pursuing.
  3. :14 – Again, inside-to-outside leverage, here on the nose tackle which is pretty impressive footwork. Then he turns and works laterally, instead of taking his man downfield.
  4. :26 – This is zone blocking where Strother’s assignment is getting to the second level, and check out that hitch in his step at the 48-yard line – he doesn’t just barrel right at the backer, he waits a moment for the backer to engage him so he doesn’t get more than three yards downfield.

Finally in terms of pass protection, Strother shows the quality I like to see most from offensive linemen – especially guards – which is actively looking for work. Some examples:

  1. :00 – This is a 3-3-5, with nobody over Strother and the ILBs backing out on the pass. He decides to help the LT and clears the lane for the QB to scramble through.
  2. :14 – Here the edge is going too wide for Strother to help the LT so he helps the center instead, then checks back and sees the QB is scrambling, and runs up and finds somebody to hit.
  3. :29 – I don’t really understand why the center gives up the nose to Strother but he accepts, and then he accepts the LT’s guy too.
  4. :35 – The defense is showing blitz here but the LB backs out of it so Strother has nothing to do, he starts to help the LT but that action has gotten too wide, so he just starts running with the scramble and improvises a block on the nose who’s disengaged from the center and RG.

In run blocking, Strother’s grades come out to about a 14% error rate, which again is above average but not elite. The most obvious quality from Strother’s tape at ECU – both because that’s what the scheme showed off and because I think it’s his clearest attribute – is his strength and that he knows how to play with leverage to get the most of it. The majority of the Pirates’ run plays required short-area engagement and turning the defender to create a running lane, here’s a representative sample:

  1. :00 – The backside blocks aren’t getting it done so the RB goes further outside on this stretch play, but Strother is doing his job frontside by getting the DT’s shoulder turned and bouncing him on his heels.
  2. :08 – Just good push here on the big DE, working him two yards downfield in short-yardage.
  3. :16 – Here the DL takes a late 4-tech, outside of Strother’s shoulder, but his assignment requires working him inside. Good footwork and hat placement to get that done.
  4. :27 – This is one of the toughest physical blocks in the game, scooping out the 0-tech from a guard spot. Strother has to get across him fast while the center climbs, turn, and work a big man outside back where he came from, requiring a 270 degree turn with power.

There were fewer of them, but still enough combo zone blocking to evaluate. Strother is pretty quick on his feet in terms of getting downfield and advancing to the second level (there are lots of QB draws in this playbook in which he’s really hustling), where he gets a mixed grade from me is the initial chip before he moves up – it sometimes draws him too far out of alignment so he doesn’t get properly squared up with the backer or safety. He certainly “checks the box” of performing his chip before moving up, doing that every single time, but I’d like to see him let go of that in favor of just getting to his assignment at times. Some examples:

  1. :00 – That’s a heck of a hip and shoulder check Strother is delivering on the nose with whom the center is struggling, and it really delays him getting up to that backer. The play design called for ball to go through the B-gap and it was otherwise there, with the X running the CB off in man, but the backer is in the way now, so the RB cuts inside instead.
  2. :07 – This is the quick chip I like seeing, then Strother squares up on the safety beautifully and takes him to the turf.
  3. :19 – Fast feet here, he’s getting to the backer in time for an effective block, but Strother knows this is a sweep and the backer can see it, so he needs to be taking a wider angle to maintain leverage. I see this a lot out of his downfield blocks, where he’s not exactly square with the defender and instead kind of riding and clinging to him. He doesn’t hold and get a flag (that was on #11) but it could be better.
  4. :31 – This is a draw play, so first the fake dropback pass protection. Strother chips the end on the LT, then runs four yards downfield to block the OLB who’d dropped in pass coverage just as the play design anticipated.

I didn’t get to see power plays very often, and so I only have about two dozen plays in which Strother pulled across the formation, but I liked the way he moved when he did, and think this could be an expanded part of his role at Oregon:

  1. :00 – Strother’s pull is a decoy here, it’s meant to get the defense to think it’s counter trey instead of a QB keep, and it works since the frontside defenders are going the wrong way. Still, it’s notable (and fun) that he pulls around so quickly and smashes two defenders.
  2. :04 – The commentator thought this was the same play as above, foolishly. The reader will of course recognize a frontside trap with the QB reading a sweep play for an inside, not outside, keep, and Strother providing the key block of the strongside end.
  3. :11 – I like power toss with a G-G pull, though not to the boundary … there are just too many defenders in too small a space here. Strother gets into position fast enough but the backer has all the momentum before his feet are set and the back has to adjust a bit.
  4. :17 – Great wrap here to seal the playside end, and then he really takes him down violently, it’s too bad the center and TE can’t maintain their blocks or this would have been big.