With recruiting momentum building for the ‘22 class, we’ll start to see a few of the players that I’ve profiled over the last year make their decisions. Not only that, but many of these guys have another season of tape for me to breakdown, so to keep you folks up-to-date, I’ll be revisiting my breakdowns to see how the staff’s early scouting of these recruits panned out.
Next up, our most recent in-state OL commit, Vega Ioane.
UPDATED (6/16/21): Vega Ioane (iOL, 6’4” 330, Graham-Kapowsin HS, WA)
For the 2022 class of linemen, work on size, strength, and conditioning are what really separated the risers from the fallers during the long pandemic offseason, and Vega Ioane is no exception. Fortunately for UW, it looks like Ioane’s work should make him a riser. Similar to recent UW OL commit Mark Nabou, Ioane spent the offseason bulking up, adding somewhere between 30-50 lbs to his already large frame. Depending on the recruiting site, I’ve seen him listed anywhere from 6-4 310 lbs, all the way up to 6-5.5 340 lbs, so there’s quite a bit of variance. However, at a minimum, he’s got a iOL build with the potential to get thrown out on the perimeter. A lot of that potential/ceiling will be riding on how well he adjusts to his bulking by the time he hits Montlake.
Last year when I was first writing his recruiting profile, I was really impressed by his quick feet, violent pop/hands, and his mobility on tougher moving blocks (pulling, screens, etc.). Now after seeing his offseason bulking, my first question was how it might’ve affected those traits. As a sophomore, Ioane had a fairly lean build for being 280 lbs, but now in the 310+ lb range, he noticeably carries his weight in low in a powerful base. That stronger base has come at the expense of a step or two laterally, but overall I didn’t see much drop off in his straight line explosiveness (ex. shooting out of his stance off the LOS) or his mobility on pulling plays. It was to be expected that adding that much weight was going to slow him down a little, but for it to be considered “good” weight, Ioane needed to see gains in other areas of his game.
Fortunately, his bulking has translated on the field into more consistent drive blocking and wins in 1-on-1 run blocking situations. This is a good improvement as I had taken note last year that this was an area he had to work on heading into his junior year.
...he doesn’t have overwhelming lower body drive or explosive pop, so having the athleticism and experience to execute these more athletic types of blocks is important. Ioane’s potential in a wide/stretch zone scheme is especially intriguing as he’s shown the consistent ability to win sealing position in the run game when most big guys have to resort to attempts at driving opponents out of the play.
He had relied too heavily on throwing his weight around and gambling that the initial impact would land opponents on the ground. Now, he is able to pair the improved drive with some of the pop off the line that he had built his run game around. What he’ll have to be careful of and continue to work on is his leverage. With the extra bulk, Ioane does not have the same natural flexibility in the hips and knees to maintain his leverage, and as a taller lineman (I’d bet he’ll show up around 6-6) he needs to be extra aware of pad level in the run game. I can tell he’s been coached on it before by the way he keeps his pads down when blocking DL in front of him, but he consistently pops his pad level up when pulling and down blocking defenders one or more gaps over. It’ll be up to Coach Socha and Coach Huff to get Ioane dialed in physically and technically to fully utilize his skill set in our diverse run scheme.
In pass protection, Ioane has made some decent progression on the edge that I’d probably attribute to better hand fighting techniques and comfort in space. On one of the earlier plays in his hudl below (1:10), Ioane uses a “chop” technique to throw the DE lunging off balance for an easy block. This is a pretty well known technique that DEs typically use to get the OTs hands off of them, but it can also be used by OTs to counter bull rushes. Its a technique that relies on timing up the “chop” with the DE’s initial bull rush pop to get their momentum off balance. If an OT is not comfortable sitting back in his stance waiting for the defender to make his move, then this doesn’t work, so its a good sign that the game is slowing down for him.
That last point about the game slowing down is even more important for Ioane than I initially thought. Only after his recruiting picked up in the last year did it come out that last year was only Ioane’s 3rd year playing football after picking it up mid-way through his freshman year. With a player that raw, it is impressive that he’s gotten comfortable enough with multiple blocking techniques to start applying them on the field in different situations. What he’ll need to be careful of is getting sloppy with his fundamentals as he layers these additional techniques. Too often does he try to throw opponents in pass protection rather than maintaining his block. That won’t work with more physically gifted opponents, and he’ll get called for holding. It was something that Myles Murao had to work on, so it can be a bad habit that even the best technicians coming out of HS need to work on. He also seems to run out of steam later in plays despite a mauling mentality, so he’ll need to refocus on the conditioning.
Projecting Ioane out to when he arrives on Montlake, I’m leaning more towards my Bainivalu comparison than my Wattenberg comparison. Outside of the possible growth spurt that has yet to be verified, the overall build, OT-to-iOL projected transition, and skill set are fairly similar. Ioane has a nastier mean streak in the run game than Bainivalu exhibits, and Bainivalu maintained his quick feet a little better while bulking than Ioane has so far, but the projectable traits are the same. Ioane can be a versatile and mobile battering ram up the middle, and he’s progressing as a pass blocker where a move to the interior early can speed up his path to playing time. I can see a scenario where Ioane trims down a few pounds (sub 320), his 6’-6” height is verified, and Huff takes a long look at him as an inside-outside option at swing tackle. Ioane’s projectable floor will probably be similar to Bainivalu as an OT-to-iOL lineman, but things could align where his ceiling is as a bigger power-oriented OT that starts his career on the interior like Kirkland.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the UWDP Recruiting Notebook series in the stream below.
Feel free to leave a comment with suggestions of recruits you’d like to see next in the series.
ORIGINAL (9/17/20): Vega Ioane (iOL, 6’4” 280, Graham-Kapowsin, WA)
Continuing with my series breaking down the 2022 in-state offensive line recruiting class, we have Vega Ioane. Ioane has elite athletic traits as a solid all-around OL prospect that plays OT in HS. After watching his tape, I was left with the impression that he was a talented, well-rounded athlete without a clear limiting trait. Listed at a stout 6-4 and 280 lbs, with more recent listings/posts having him up to 6-5.5 and 310 lbs, Ioane has clear P5 OL size, and he carries his weight really well. Based on what his sophomore tape, an extra inch or two of growth and ~30 additional pounds should still look relatively lean on his lanky frame. It also shouldn’t hinder the basketball-type athleticism that he’s flashed several times on tape. My first thought was that we were looking at him at iOL based on his height listing, but this growth should earn him a longer look on the perimeter at OT.
I have operated on the belief that OT is a hard enough position to fill that you want to try as many guys at the position as possible, and a good OL coach should be able to turn an average OT prospect into excellent iOL. Guys like Luke Wattenberg, Matteo Mele, and Henry Bainivalu have all taken the OT-to-iOL route, and Huff’s preference for cross-training makes me think that there are many others who have done the same behind the scenes (*cough* Fautanu *cough*).
Wattenberg and Bainivalu are good comparison from a playing-style perspective and can illustrate Ioane’s potential even if he can’t stick at OT (I still think he could). Like Ioane, both were another former HS OTs who had the athleticism to be scheme versatile and could execute a variety of blocks at a high level in HS (pulling, traps, screens, reach blocks, etc.). However, neither were considered a maulers in the run game and could be overwhelmed by more powerful DTs. Despite this, all both have become solid contributors in the run game through our use of wide/stretch zone and pulling plays. Ioane should arrive in college college with a little more functional strength than Wattenberg, but he doesn’t have overwhelming lower body drive or explosive pop, so having the athleticism and experience to execute these more athletic types of blocks is important. Ioane’s potential in a wide/stretch zone scheme is especially intriguing as he’s shown the consistent ability to win sealing position in the run game when most big guys have to resort to attempts at driving opponents out of the play.
In pass protection, Ioane doesn’t have major holes in his technique (relative to most sophomores). He has decently active feet and violent hands, but he’ll need to keep his feet more consistently active to avoid getting beat by speed rushers. At times he can look a bit stiff and mechanical in his pass protection technique, and at other times he abandons his technique but looks very natural engaging and neutralizing rushers. It’s a bit like QBs and their throwing motions. A motion with every coaching point dialed in can still look clunky if it doesn’t work with natural mechanics, and repetition helps to bridge the gap and smooth it over. Ioane will have to work through those reps to incorporate those techniques cohesively into his pass protection and to be comfortable relying on them on the field.
Obviously, there is still plenty of time for Ioane to continue growing and developing, but I think he has the tools to be an above average multi-year starter. It might be a reach, but he could be an all-conference talent.