When Texas A&M announced that star offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was moving from left tackle to right tackle prior to last week's Auburn game, I immediately thought it was an admission by the Aggies' coaching staff that the senior standout was unable to handle the rigors of playing the marquee position on the offensive line at the highest level.
Left tackles are viewed as the crown jewels of the offensive line in the NFL. Teams customarily place their most athletic and skilled offensive lineman at the position to serve as the blindside protector for the quarterback.
Thus, I'm not buying Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin's suggestion that moving Ogbuehi back to right tackle (Ogbuehi spent 2013 as the team's starting right tackle) wasn't a reflection of his star tackle's ability to play the more prestigious left tackle spot.
For as a long as I've been around the game, coaches place the team's top offensive lineman at left tackle, if the quarterback is right-handed, to match up against the defense's most athletic and explosive pass rusher. If the left tackle is able to handle one-on-one matchups on the backside, the offense can slide protection in the opposite direction to protect an inferior player on the right. This is standard operating procedure at every level, so I can't fully buy what Sumlin is selling, especially after seeing the Aggies recently produce a pair of offensive tackles drafted in the top 10 (Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) after honing their respective skills at left tackle during their final collegiate season.
Matthews moved to left tackle during his senior year after serving as the Aggies' right tackle for most of his career. He seamlessly made the transition to left tackle, exhibiting flawless footwork and hand skills while snuffing out explosive pass rushers off the edge. With Ogbuehi expected to make a similar transition after reportedly receiving a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board last January, the scrapped experiment suggests that he struggled making the switch to the left side and the Aggies were more comfortable moving an interior blocker (Jarvis Harrison) to left tackle instead of reshuffling the offensive line around Ogbuehi.
In fact, Sumlin's comment that Harrison "has a better (skill) set" at left tackle leads me to believe that the senior was simply struggling at his new position. The injury to Germain Ifedi gave the Aggies an opportunity to put Ogbuehi at his most comfortable position to help him regain the confidence that made him one of the top tackle prospects in the 2015 draft class.
Looking at Ogbuehi's tape from the 2013 and 2014 seasons, I certainly believe that he wasn't playing to his potential at left tackle. Although he is one of the most agile players that I've seen at the position, he didn't consistently display the balance and body control to handle speed rushers or power maneuvers off the edge. He was occasionally walked back by low-leverage players before dropping his anchor and neutralizing penetration.
While most offensive line prospects face similar challenges moving to the pro game, the fact that Ogbuehi experienced his fair share of struggles on the left side after rarely exhibiting those issues as a junior suggests he might not be ready to play the marquee spot along the line early in his career.
Now, that might ding his draft stock a little, but scouts will still view the 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior as an intriguing prospect due to his combination of size, athleticism and skill. While he isn't quite ready for prime time at left tackle, he remains a premier right tackle prospect and the pass-centric nature of the NFL makes it imperative to have a pair of athletic offensive tackles along the line to thrive against elite defenses.
At this point, given the lack of athletic offensive tackles currently dotting several rosters around the NFL, I still believe that Ogbuehi will carry a solid Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) grade (starter by the end of rookie season) as a right tackle prospect, but a strong postseason could push him back up the charts when it is all said and done.