It can be said that leadership is a quality that all people are born with, but only the rare few have the courage to use it at times when it is needed the most.
For Illinois offensive lineman Kendrick Green, that moment came last summer, when racial tensions were as high as it had ever been, and when the Black Lives Matter movement was in full swing. Green decided at this time to bring awareness to social inequality. Using the power of social media, he organized a Black Lives Matter march on the 31st of August, 2020- a day that was supposed to be just another practice day.
To organize such an event that brought together different races, genders, ages and backgrounds, one has to wonder where that type of leadership comes from? For a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was once anchored for a decade by the recently-retired center Maurkice Pouncey, Green's leadership may exactly be what they need to help guide an offensive line that has seen many changes in the last few months.
As a true freshman in 2017, Green came to the Fighting Illini program as a defensive tackle but redshirted that year. The following year, Green switched to offensive line and became an immediate contributor. In his sophomore year, he started in 12 games, one of which he played at the center position. For his efforts that season, he earned All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media, and All-America honorable mention from Pro Football Focus. In his junior year, he took his performance to another level as he earned second-team All-America honors from USA TODAY, consensus All-Big Ten first team, and was rated the third-highest guard in the nation by Pro Football Focus. Of his eight starts, three of them came at the center position.
Green was one of the most versatile offensive lineman available in this year's draft class. Yet what sets him apart is his ability to play every snap with the type of intensity and tenor which can overwhelm opposing defensive linemen. Though he does not have the greatest size, he continuously dominated opponents with his unique blend of physicality and finesse.
Mobility in Space
If one were to pick Green's greatest strength, it would have to be his mobility. His ability to explode out of his stance and accelerate in open space is partly why he is a unique specimen. When he makes his move, he always has his target in mind. Once he locates his target, he is quick to neutralize him.
In this clip, the Illinois offensive is showing an unbalanced line formation, with Green positioned at the left guard position. Generally, when there is an overload on one side of the offensive line, it would mean either a Counter or Power sequence is likely to come. When the ball is snapped, Green pulls from his spot and accelerates towards the Nebraska edge rusher on the right side. Notice the technique and power he uses to seal him outside, creating ample space for the Fighting Illini center and running back to go through. The Power sequence creates a huge gap for the running back go through, nearly resulting in a touchdown.
Pass Protection Technique
Green's abilities in pass protection deserves much attention. Firstly, he is excellent at keeping his pad level low during an entire blocking sequence; at the beginning coming out of his stance, the middle while sustaining his block, and at the end when the play ends. Secondly, his hand placement allows him to win leverage against bigger offensive linemen. Thirdly, his ability to drop anchor and establish a strong base. Lastly his fluid hips which he uses effectively to move laterally. As much he is known for his gritty, run blocking, his pass protection technique is just as impressive.
Playing A Center
From what we saw, Green's natural position is at center. At this spot, Green showed increased spatial awareness, the ability to impose himself physically against opposing defensive linemen, and the space to make use of his mobility.
In this sequence, Green is seen at center. When he snaps the ball, the explodes into the opposing Penn State defensive lineman. Note, his lower pad level enabled him to get underneath the opposing lineman's shoulder pads, the ideal position to win leverage. From this point, Green uses his strength to take control of his movements, eventually driving him back several yards. If there is one clip that defines Green's ability to impose his will on the opposition, this would be it.
Wearing the Steelers no. 53 jersey comes with high expectations. Pouncey was an integral part of the offense for over a decade, and is viewed by many as one of the greatest centers to ever play.
Green has all the characteristics of a player that can be successful as both a player on the field, and a leader in the locker. For this team, improving their run offense means winning battles upfront. If there is any player that one would want in the trenches, Green is that guy.