By Michael Hurley, CBS dangolka
dangolka (CBS) — Yearly in the course of the draft, soccer followers prefer to get excited. A giant-time playmaker on offense, a dominant defensive participant, or — in the event that they’re fortunate — a shiny new quarterback can get followers of even essentially the most moribund franchises to hop aboard the offseason pleasure practice.
Hardly ever does that infusion of enthusiasm happen, although, when a workforce drafts an offensive lineman. Particularly when an offensive lineman is drafed within the sixth spherical. Such a choose is mostly checked out as a camp physique and never rather more.
So, for those who didn’t fairly catch the information in April that the Patriots drafted Mike Onwenu out of Michigan, you actually weren’t alone. However after three weeks of the season, it’s turn into very clear that “Large Mike” will quickly be a reputation identified to all who observe the Patriots frequently.
The 6-foot-3, 350-pound Onwenu has displayed a really uncommon versatility already, getting in work at proper sort out within the first two video games earlier than seamlessly stepping in as a left guard in Sunday’s win over the Raiders. Contemplating he performed largely proper guard in school, that capacity to play a number of positions so rapidly — and with no preseason reps, besides — actually doesn’t present itself too typically.
“Mike’s finished a superb job. He’s a wise child, he learns rapidly,” Invoice Belichick mentioned of the rookie on Wednesday. “He performed proper guard at Michigan — he’s performed that some [with the Patriots], however he’s performed the opposite two extra. So, his capacity to adapt and regulate his footwork based mostly on whether or not he’s taking part in sort out or taking part in on the left facet of the road and all that has been fairly spectacular.”
Onwenu was actually noticeable by means of the primary two weeks, however sliding in seamlessly for Joe Thuney so the All-Professional may fill in at middle vs. the Raiders was actually Onwenu’s standout efficiency.
He’s unsurprisingly drawn the reward of all of his coaches.
“Mike’s finished an incredible job and he’s a extremely sharp man. He actually works laborious at his craft and so long as he retains working the best way he’s doing I believe he’s going to have an incredible profession,” offensive line coach Cole Popovich mentioned this week. “Again to the digital offseason and people conferences, I believed he did a very nice job of selecting up our system and studying it. You would inform he was actually placing within the time to be taught it. So conceptually, he understood fairly nicely what was happening round him, not only one place. And as soon as we acquired right here, the best way he labored within the drill work, you simply see some issues and query, ‘Might this man do that or not?’ Give him some one-on-one reps, then began getting some workforce reps, and it sort of builds from there. I wouldn’t say it’s anybody factor, if you wish to level to something it’s most likely the work ethic that he has. That’s most likely the No. 1 factor that we noticed early on.”
Onwenu not solely acquired the beginning on Sunday however he was on the sector for 100 % of the workforce’s offensive snaps — a big soar from 40.Three % in Week 2 and 34.Four % in Week 1. Based mostly on the reward heaped upon him by his coaches and teammates, it doesn’t sound like that quantity will probably be coming down any time quickly.
“I’m completely satisfied for him to get his first begin and have a superb sport,” proper guard Shaq Mason mentioned. “Exhausting employee. He is available in daily along with his laborious hat on. Asks plenty of questions each day to every of us — not simply the guards. He was taking part in guard and sort out, so he’s asking continuously. He’s at all times making an attempt to achieve extra information. That’s all you possibly can ask for a younger man coming in.”
Onwenu’s caught the eye of not simply these inside the constructing however from nationwide evaluators, together with Professional Soccer Focus, which ranked him as the highest performing offensive member of your complete 2020 rookie class up to now within the 2020 season.
Highest-Graded Offensive Rookies by means of W3:
1. Michael Onwenu – 87.6
2. Justin Jefferson – 85.3
3. Mekhi Becton – 76.9
4. James Robinson – 76.4
5. Joe Burrow – 76.1 pic.twitter.com/9b3jk2g2vv
— PFF (@PFF) September 29, 2020
Guards might not produce “spotlight reels” in the best way that receivers do, however nonetheless, Onwenu’s efficiency on Sunday clearly marked a shift from “stable” to “downright spectacular.”
Watch right here as he helps Thuney with the sort out earlier than stepping again to cease the push of Cory Littelton, thus giving Cam Newton a clear pocket and a transparent avenue to ship a bullet to Julian Edelman:
On Rex Burkhead’s longest run of the day, Onwenu pulled and cleared the trail for the working again:
Newton acquired proper behind the Onwenu-Thuney double workforce to select up three yards on a second-and-1 QB sneak:
He proved able to successful easy 1-on-1 go safety battles, like this one towards the 310-pound Maliek Collins:
He climbed to the second degree to take out Littleton — a would-be tackler — on one in every of Burkhead’s landing runs:
And on the Patriots’ longest play of the day, Onwenu did a extremely large job of getting his complete physique round Collins to wall off the D-tackle from the play. Watch Onwenu’s quickness right here, in reside pace after which in slow-motion:
Belichick mentioned making the shift from proper guard to left guard is akin to taking part in left-handed as an alternative of right-handed, and he stays impressed with the work finished by the rookie up to now.
“Mike’s finished a superb job. Day after day, he’s simply spectacular. His consistency is spectacular,” Belichick mentioned. “He’s a really robust participant with good ft, good stability and likes soccer and understands soccer. Issues come fairly simply to him when it comes to instinctively on the sector. Clearly, our system just isn’t the simplest system to be taught at any place, however simply instinctively when he has to decide, he has to determine how rapidly to combo to degree two, what angle to take to dam down on the man, so forth. He simply does lots of little issues nicely and does them proper. He’s finished a superb job for us.”
Onwenu is clearly simply part of a bigger offensive unit, however he’s nonetheless been a contributor to an offense that has averaged a league-leading 178 yards per sport and 5.1 yards per carry. The workforce has scored a league-high seven touchdowns on the bottom, too. Contemplating they ranked 18th in dashing yards per sport a 12 months in the past, the workforce has come alongside means. Cam Newton will be the No. 1 purpose for that surge, but it surely’s merely not occurring if not for improved play on the offensive line.
With simply three weeks gone, there’s clearly a complete lot of season left. However because it stands now, Belichick and Co. want to have discovered a real steal late on day three of the draft.
You possibly can electronic mail Michael Hurley or discover him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.