Mobile, Ala. — There are a number of different ways to successfully run the football, but the easiest way might simply be for an offensive line to be bigger and stronger than the guys lined up across from them.
And few are bigger than former UTEP guard Will Hernandez, who tipped the scales at a hearty 340 pounds this week at the Senior Bowl.
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn has invested heavily in his line since joining the organization in 2016, but the results have yet to reflect that investment. With center Travis Swanson set to be an unrestricted free agent, and coming off a second consecutive year where he was sidelined at least four games with a concussion, the rebuild up front could need a final piece.
And why not Hernandez, a second-team All-American with a nasty demeanor on the field?
“I think that’s the only way to play, all-out and violent and trying to take someone’s head off within the role, and, of course, with some technique involved,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez isn’t a master technician. He thrives in a phone booth, but if he gets his hands into the chest of his assignment, more often than not, it’s over.
“That’s my game there,” he said. “At the same time, I’m been working a lot of my technique, being able to move my feet and do a lot of things, being a little more versatile.”
No one knows exactly what the Lions offensive line will look like next season. While much of the offensive coaching staff is expected to be retained by Matt Patricia, when his hiring is formally announced after the Super Bowl, a new offensive line coach will be one of his first orders of business. The man who previously held the job, Ron Price, was dismissed the day after the season ended.
And for good reason. The Lions finished last in the league in rushing, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, all while surrendering 47 sacks, the most quarterback Matthew Stafford has absorbed in his career.
The next coach will inherit a promising young left tackle in Taylor Decker, an accomplished, veteran right side made up of Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang, both signed as free agents last offseason, and an interior chess piece in Graham Glasgow, who would ideally slide from left guard to center if Quinn is looking to add a rookie to the mix.
Hernandez’s playing style has drawn comparisons to Richie Incognito. And it makes sense, since the prospect has been studying Incognito’s film the past three years. Sean Kugler, the Denver Broncos offensive line coach working with Hernandez’s North Team at the Senior Bowl, loves the comparison. And Kugler should know since he coached Hernandez at UTEP and Incognito with the Buffalo Bills.
“Physicality, explosiveness and they’ll battle until the end of the play,” Kugler said when asked how the players were similar. “It’s a great comparison, because they’re very similar.”
Hernandez is expected to be drafted on the second day of the draft — in the second or third round. In addition to his obvious physical gifts, he’s coming in hungrier than most players.
No, not because he’s 340 pounds, but because he’s starving for success. He’s coming off a season where his team didn’t win a game, a mentally exhausting reality for any athlete.
“It was a horrible season,” Hernandez said. “But it did teach me a lot. Now, going through that, anything I get hit with, any adversity I get hit with, I can handle it so much better than I could have before I went through that. I’m so hungry for a win right now. You’re not going to find a guy more hungry for a win here than me.
“Even if it’s just the Senior Bowl, I just want to win. I just want to get that feeling.”
The Lions shouldn’t be going winless again any time soon, and with an improved offensive line, especially the run blocking, the team’s offense has the potential to be potent. That’s something Hernandez could really sink his teeth into.