Late last night it was clear that Idarius Ray was down to two programs, the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Louisville Cardinals. As today wore on the Bearcats picked up a lot of momentum, with basically everyone on the 24/7 site with the ability to make crystal ball predictions moving towards a union with Ray and the Bearcats, including two guys who cover Louisville recruiting. Now that Ray is officially a Bearcat we can start to ask what kind of player is offensive line coach Darren Hiller getting.
A nasty one in short. When it comes to evaluating offensive linemen most fans look at things like the size of the lineman, both in height and in weight, the wingspan and the size of a guys hands. But that's why we are fans. Good coaches take note of those things as well, but there are more important factors that they consider in evaluating linemen.
At the top of the list for any coach worth his salt is flexibility, particularly in the hips and the ankles. Can he get down into his stance without his heel staying flat on the ground? Can he get down into a proper stance at all? If the answer to either question is no then that player is going to struggle to be an effective player on the offensive line.
Idarius Ray checks all of the boxes. He is 6'7" and is a relatively skinny 310 pounds, and his wingspan is enormous. He is also incredibly flexible for his size, and you can tell that in two different ways. One is that he has absolutely no trouble hunting down and enveloping smaller defenders in space. The first play of his highlight is him check releasing for a screen pass and absolutely burying a corner, springing his receiver for a long gain. The other way you can tell that is that he plays with a very low pad level. For a guy of Ray's height to play with a pad level that low requires great flexibility. The long and short of it is that Idarius Ray has all of the tools for the job of being a FBS caliber offensive lineman.
That being said Idarius Ray does have some work to do. He can come in an be an effective run blocker at this level right away, but he has a lot of work to do on his pass blocking. Pass blocking is all about finesse and technique. The goal, especially for a tackle, is to delay contact with the defender until the moment the defensive end tries to turn the corner down onto the quarterback. At which point a good tackle will nudge the end, almost gently, onto a course that will carry him wide of the quarterback.
It is, in essence, a race between the tackle and the end to get to that spot on the field, the interception point. Quickness is a factor, the tackle could just run back there as fast as possible, but that opens the way for the end to make a move to defeat the tackle and put the quarterback on the ground. They have to get to that point quickly, yes. But they also have to get to that point under control, on balance and capable of countering any move the defensive end might make. The way to get to the interception point is a technique that is known as the Kick Slide.
Idarius Ray doesn't have a kick slide. In fact he does exactly what you are not supposed to do in pass protection. He runs backwards as far as he can, and when he gets close to the defensive end he simply lunges at their legs. That isn't an every down occurrence, but you see it clearly three different times in his highlight.
What that suggests to me is that Ray has not been the subject of much intense or quality coaching in his career as an offensive lineman. You don't often see that kick slide technique employed at the high school and lower college level, and that's for a very good reason. Defenders at those levels are not as routinely dangerous as they are at the college and professional levels. Because of that there is no need to develop that skill at the high school level, its a counter to a threat that doesn't exist but in the rarest of circumstances. The fact that quarterbacks are generally less important at the high school level than they are in college and the NFL plays a part as well. Getting your quarterback injured in high school is bad, but getting your quarterback hurt in college or the NFL can easily cost you your job.
Idarius Ray hasn't been taught the Kick Slide, and probably quite a few other things besides so far in his career. That matters in the micro because it puts him a little bit behind the eight ball relative to his teammates, especially those expected to be in the rotation next year. But in the macro that might not end up mattering at all, because he has all the tools needed to master the techniques needed to become a capable pass protector at this level. A guy who has no trouble at all picking off a corner on a screen pass, or pulling from the backside tackle and burying a linebacker in the hole should be able to master those techniques. All it takes is time an repetitions.