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Progress Report: How DJ Fluker fared in his 1st season as a guard

Kyle Posey breaks down how D.J. Fluker progressed after making a position change.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I'd like to look back at all the recent Charger rookies and see how they're progressing. This week I thought it would be fun to review the 3 contributors of the 2013 draft class. Today we start with the 1st round pick from that draft class, D.J. Fluker. There are few players that I've been an apologist for over the last decade. "Players who I would be willing to die on a hill for", you could say. Antonio Cromartie, Vincent Jackson, Stephen Cooper, and Darren Sproles come to mind. In this case, it's a little bit different. I didn't like the Fluker pick at all. I think that was the general feeling amongst most fans. I can't help but appreciate his style of play, though.

Evaluating Fluker in 2015 is basically like evaluating a rookie after he played right guard for the first time in his life. That has to factor in when assessing how Fluker performed last year. Him missing 4 games, 3 against AFC West opponents, was critical to his development or lack thereof. So just how did Fluker perform last year? As a refresher, I watched him against each of the AFC West opponents he played against. Let's get into it.

Where he showed promise

  • Playing in space
  • Power
  • Finding work
  • Outstanding effort
Fluker has long thought to be a below average athlete that doesn't operate well in space. Moving him inside at guard there many of us were worried how he would do when asked to pull and operate on the move. I was pleasantly surprised how DJ operated when asked to move. He showed good awareness when it came to locating targets, whether moving laterally when pulling or climbing to the 2nd level. On "ace" blocks, where Fluker is blocking in combination with the center, he's solid at sealing the 1st level and getting to the linebacker. This is a big part of the Chargers scheme and getting there is half the battle. It comes back to the effort he plays with and his will to finish through the whistle.

Power shouldn't surprise anyone. When he plays with proper technique, he gets the kind of movement that some of the best guards in the league do. Even when he doesn't, you can see the natural strength Fluker has. He was beaten initially quite a bit but because of his strength, he was able to withstand getting beat throughout the entirety of the play. This trait of his was enough to keep him afloat this past year. Circling back to his effort, it's really a testament to how admirable of a job he did considering it was apparent he was a "rookie."

Watching a couple games over again I was very impressed with Fluker was uncovered in pass protection and helped both the center and the tackle out. He did a fine job of playing with his head on a swivel and looking for work. There were a handful of times where he just unloaded on a defensive lineman and sent them into the ground. I understand that it can't be like this every game but the Chargers could maximize their protection schemes by sliding their protection towards Orlando Franklin and leaving Fluker uncovered as the guy that can help. Even in 1-on-1 situations, Fluker was consistent with his lower body and keeping the defender in front of him. You'll see some numbers on this in a little bit, but Fluker really didn't have many issues in pass protection. He's definitely starter material.

Where he has to improve

  • Technique
  • Harnessing his aggression
  • Running his feet on contact
  • Technique
Let's start with the 2nd bullet point. With Fluker, especially if it's a target he knows he can overpower, like a linebacker, he reminds of a bull when 1 of those guys are holding a big red flag. He wants to go full speed and decapitate them. What Fluker needs to understand is that every block doesn't need to be him pancaking the defender. Neutral blocks are more than acceptable as is getting in the way or simply slowing down the guy you're trying to block.

Before we get into technique, here is how Fluker fared against AFC West competition in 7 games last year compared to his teammates.

Player Games Played Blown Block (R) Blown Block (P) Plus blocks QB Hit Sack Penalty
Hairston 7 2 7 2 5 2
Franklin 4 5 4 2 1
Wiggins 7 13.5 11 1 2 1
Robinson 7 9 11 1 2.5 3
Watt 1 4 5 3 3
Fluker 7 12 3.5 7 1 5
Barksdale 7 5 7 3 3 1
Dunlap 2 4 1 2 1

This is a mess due to the different offensive line combinations that were thrown out there. Chris Hairston appeared in each of the 7 games, 9 of Chris Watt's blown blocks came in 1 game against the Steelers. He was a disaster that game. Kenny Wiggins, well. Trevor Robinson? Hopefully, we never have to speak about him again. Anyways, you get the picture.

As for Fluker, him getting definitively beat in pass protection just did not happen often. Ironically in the run game is where is issues stem from. A lot of that is due to his technique. In the run game, DJ does a good job of making initial contact, but he does a poor job of running his feet on and through contact.

There are some good examples in the clip above. The final clip when he's pulling is the best example. Fluker is just too damn powerful to not consistently get movement in the run game. Whether it's stopping his feet on contact, not continuing to work his feet when he needs to seal a guy, or "jump" out of his stance, Fluker plays with below average technique. You can see the "jump" out of his stance in the 1st clip. That goes back to harnessing his aggression and playing under control. In the running game, DJ needs to bring his entire lower body with him much better moving forward. If he can run his feet and bring his hips, he'll be much improved. That'll help his balance and allow him to play with better leverage.

In the passing game, Fluker didn't get beat but he still had some issues he needs to clean up. His hands are way too far outside. I don't have to tell you he's strong like bull but when your hands are outside and you allow defenders to play through your chest and get their hands on you then you're not giving yourself much of a chance. This is an extreme example below but this is what happens when your hands are on their shoulders.

You end up on your rear end.

What to expect moving forward

Fluker is an interesting case. In the run game, his lower body is an issue. In the passing game, it's his hands and upper body that cause him trouble. He plays through the whistle on every snap, hustles on all of his assignments, and will finish you if he has the chance. Where I'd like to see Fluker improve is playing under control and hopefully,that leads to better pad level and less blown blocks. I do give him more leeway considering he's never done this before. If I had to bet on one area where Fluker would improve it would be playing with his hands inside. If he does that, he'll be more than serviceable. If he can continue to keep Philip Rivers clean, and help other linemen out, that alone will allow Fluker to stay on the field. Health and penalties are his biggest issues. The tools are there for Fluker to be more than competent starter.