I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with former NFL Pro Bowler and founder of O-Line Performance, LeCharles Bentley. As a six year pro football veteran and the Owner of O-Line Performance, he had insights to share on meaty topics like the industry of training young athletes for the NFL and the Cowboys offensive line situation. Naturally, the conversation also headed toward the draft, and Bentley was in a giving mood as he offered up information regarding a sleeper pick who could be an immediate difference-maker for the Dallas Cowboys in the running game.
Read on for the entire transcript of our conversation, and don’t hesitate to leave your own follow-up questions in the comments section below.
Matt Thornton: Can you tell us a little about your company O-Line Performance and provide us with some background as to what exactly you do?
LeCharles Bentley: It’s the first offensive line specific training center in the country. I first opened it in Cleveland, Ohio because that’s where I was born and raised. After five years I developed a high level of NFL clientele and that’s what brought us down to Scottsdale, Arizona. We’ve been here two years and we continue to grow. We’ve got Nike in as a corporate partner and it’s been really exciting to watch the business grow into something that can have a positive impact on player’s lives and careers.
Matt Thornton: I saw a tweet from O-Line Performance’s Director of Player Personnel Duke Manyweather warning athletes about the dangers of social media by citing how the Minnesota Vikings have “red flagged” five 2014 draft prospects for things they have said on Twitter. Does O-Line Performance teach life skills to offensive lineman too or do you just typically focus on technique?
LeCharles Bentley: I think the most important aspect of O-Line Performance is that our scope expands beyond just what happens on the field. Myself being a former player, (former Dallas Cowboys guard) Montrae Holland being a former player and Duke Manyweather having been a collegiate coach means that we all have a very keen understanding of what it takes to get to that “next level.” It extends so much further beyond what takes place on the field. Once a player becomes a professional, what’s most important is their overall self awareness and what they do away from the facility which is going to directly impact the way they are able to perform. We are very selective as to who will become a part of the O-Line Performance family. We don’t take just anyone. We coach on the nutrition aspect, the technique, the maturity, and just life in general. We cover everything under the sun that a player could encounter in the NFL. My team and I spend a lot of time watching guys snap after snap, watching film, having guys studying, doing scouting reports; we’re each player’s P.F.F., or pro football focus. We are evaluating the player, their diets and what they are doing in the offseason.
Matt Thornton: I know you’re familiar with the Dallas Cowboys offensive line situation. They didn’t do a terrible job of protecting quarterback Tony Romo last season, but the team was almost last in the league in rushing offense. What do you think they need to improve?
LeCharles Bentley: I think the Cowboys are good at center and tackle. Where they could really use some young talent in my mind is at the guard position.
Matt Thornton: Speaking of young offensive line talent, do you have any players in the draft you feel might be a good fit for the Cowboys at guard?
LeCharles Bentley: I do have a guy for you. His name is Craig Watts from West Texas A&M. He’s a sleeper who many folks haven’t heard of, but I think he is a top tier talent.
Matt Thornton: Interesting! What makes Craig special as a player in your mind?
LeCharles Bentley: Craig Watts is a guy who popped on my radar because the coach at Ohio Dominican is an old friend of mine. He called me and said he had just played a player in the playoffs at West Texas A&M who I needed to check out. So I watched the film and the first thing that popped out at me was that Craig is a big guy. He’s 6-foot-4 335 pounds and he can flat out run. The style of offense he was playing in at WT was not necessarily conducive to Craig’s strengths; he’s really a more power running type of athlete. But the fact that he was still able to excel told me that although he was a fish out of water, he was a really big fish, and once you put this player in the right position to be successful, he will thrive even more. So I met Craig, and the kid has an incredible football build, but he is also an elite level person too. He’s extremely coachable and the kid is one of the best offensive line athletes that I have ever been around. He’s a very lean athlete who’s got powerful, strong arms, all the physical gifts you would want from an offensive lineman. But Craig also brings some intangibles to the table too. He has a high work ethic and a switch that he can turn on which allows him to go to another level to get things done. I believe that switch comes from his military upbringing.
Matt Thornton: If the kid is as elite as you say, then why did he end up at Division II in the Lone Star Conference?
LeCharles Bentley: He is a military brat who grew up in Germany and for most of his life he was a soccer player. He has great agility and I think that comes from his soccer days. Once his family moved to Texas, he realized that in Texas, at his size, you played football. He didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school. Much of the recruiting now happens at the sophomore year, so he went under most school’s radars. He was a late bloomer, and that’s why I believe he didn’t end up at Texas A&M (in) College Station instead of WT. So, I think both the fact that he didn’t start playing football until late, and also he grew up internationally which gives athletes a different outlook and mindset, both contributed to his attending a small school. The late start is a positive to me because he didn’t develop any bad habits which will allow him to be a better player at the NFL level.
Matt Thornton: Do you believe Craig Watts is a better fit at left guard or right guard?
LeCharles Bentley: That’s a good question, and there’s a cool answer to that question. He’s ambidextrous! He played some center in college, and he can snap with both his left hand and his right hand. He can play both left guard and right guard. I believe he actually has the capability to be a swing tackle at some point in time in his career, but as far as it goes on the interior, it really allows him to excel at either side. Many guys have a hard time transitioning from right guard to left guard. It’s not as easy as some people think. The mechanics are different, the way you place your hands and your stance is different, but his ability allows him to make the transition easily.
Matt Thornton: Is Watts better suited in a zone blocking or man blocking scheme? New Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s base is the Coryell Offense with primarily power running between the tackles.
LeCharles Bentley: He can play either, but I think Watts skill set is better suited for a downhill running power blocking scheme. But he can adapt easily to either scheme because he’s such a complete player. In today’s game, it’s so important to get guys like Watts who are versatile and can block for guys like Marshawn Lynch in Seattle who run between the tackles, but can also support the edges runners too.
Matt Thornton: Who do you compare Craig Watts to in the NFL today?
LeCharles Bentley: I’m going to say what my friend Montrae Holland says because I think he’s right; Watts is a lot like New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans. Montrae spent time with Jahri in New Orleans and he said their mental makeup is very similar, their frames are similar, their movement skills, they both have off-the-charts intangibles, long arms, high motors and they both went to Division II schools which I think makes them work harder. I saw the guard class this year at the Senior Bowl, and I think Craig is in the conversation as a top three guard in this year’s draft, without a doubt. If he would have gone to a bigger college, I think he would have been a top half of the draft projection.
Matt Thornton: Can he make the transition and play at the speed of the NFL?
LeCharles Bentley: Every player, even guys like me who played at Ohio State, we all struggle adapting to the speed of the National Football League. The bottom line is that if a kid from a small school has the skills, and has the intangibles, he will make the transition. Once the Division I and Division II guys are rookies in the NFL, everyone is at the same level. They’re all rookies! There are many guys who I have seen who were elite in college and can’t make the transition, then you have guys like Larry Allen for example who played at Division II and thrived in the NFL. Now, I’m not comparing Watts to Larry, but I’m just saying that if the guy has the skills to play, he is going to excel. I think he will not have any problem transitioning and adapting to the NFL game.
Further analysis on Craig Watts revealed that he earned first team all-conference player awards and was the 2013 Lone Star Conference offensive lineman of the year. He blocked for West Texas A&M quarterback Dustin Vaughn who was the only quarterback at any college level this year to pass for more than 5,000 yards (5,401) and his 53 touchdowns also led the nation. According to NFL Draft Scout, Watts started all 14 games and in 691 pass attempts, he didn’t allow one sack. The fact that Watts grew up in Germany playing soccer, and didn’t pick up a football until his junior year in high school validates why he was far off of any college or professional scout’s radar. I wrote in this article yesterday that I believe this is an immensely athletic offensive line draft class, and Craig Watts is another reason why I believe that to be the case.
Follow Matt Thornton on Twitter: @MattsCowboys
Follow Matt Thornton on the internet http://www.mattscowboys.com