August 26, 2011

Analysis: Ben Braden v. Lowell

LOWELL, MI - an early-season "clash of the titans" between West Michigan powers Rockford and Lowell turned out to be a real dud, as the host Red Arrows ran the opposition off the field. Rockford turn the ball over twice on their first five touches of the ball, and senior quarterback Gabe Dean led Lowell to a 21-0 lead before the Rams had a true offensive possession.

The sloppy play didn't end in the first quarter for Rockford, with penalties spread throughout the contest. The Rams had two kickoff returns - including on for a touchdown - negated by penalties, and consistently faced long-yardage situations thanks to a host of minor infractions.

Lowell built a 28-0 lead by halftime, thanks to the leg (and arm) of Dean. Rockford settled in after the half, but when starting quarterback and free safety Mark LaPrairie left the game with a foot injury, comeback chances were slim. The Rams managed a sustained touchdown drive in the third quarter, but were stopped on downs inside the ten yard-line on their only other scoring chance in the fourth.


Though his team didn't have much offensive success, it's hard to fault Michigan commitment Ben Braden. The senior - who looked really big even on an enormous Rockford line - didn't allow any sacks or QB pressures, and paved the way for a successful ground attack until the game circumstances forced Rockford into pass-only mode.

Braden has filled out a lot over the course of the summer, and he has also shifted to left tackle, after playing on the right side last year. He seemed to be getting used to those changes still, as some of his movements weren't quite as fluid as you'd expect (and as they'll probably be later in the year).

However, that doesn't mean his movement skills are lacking. He looked very solid as a pulling lineman and on outside zone running plays. For a guy as enormous as he is, the agility he demonstrated was outstanding.

There were a couple negatives to his game, however. One of the biggest knocks on Ben is the lack of a real mean streak, and I definitely saw evidence of that. There were a few times that he had a defensive lineman under control, and one big burst could have buried the kid. He only did that on a couple of occasions, and missed some opportunities to deliver a knockout blow.

His pass protection was also just OK. Part of that is the competition he was facing, as the defensive ends for Lowell were all little guys (probably six-foot at the biggest), and didn't try any techniques other than a bull rush. That let Braden be a little complacent in his protection, and just leaning up against the kid to not give any ground. It did the trick last night, but against better competition, he's going to have to be sure to keep his blocking base underneath his upper body.

Video: Ben Braden v. Lowell

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