As a fifth round pick, Joe Dahl was limited to spot duty as a rookie. The Washington State product appeared in just six games in 2016, playing predominantly on special teams and recording a mere 20 offensive snaps. His role was similarly limited in 2017 as he continued to ride the pine late into the year, but injuries burned through depth and Dahl was ultimately thrown into the fire in Week 15. He played 100% of the team’s offensive snaps (182) against Chicago, Cincinnati, and Green Bay.
It was not pretty.
But then again, it rarely is for young and inexperienced offensive linemen. Cases like Dahl’s are especially tricky, though. He was a college tackle in Mike Leach’s Air Raid, which means he was playing in a 2-point stance. Now, he’s a converted NFL guard who’s still getting comfortable with a 3-point stance.
The position change inherently benefits Dahl in several respects. First and foremost, the athletes are less explosive along the interior, which means he’s a relatively better athlete there. He also falls short of the baseline arm length thresholds for tackles, so he’s no longer at a disadvantage in that regard. But the transition comes with growing pains, and the kicker is that Dahl is undersized for a guard and is having to play in a 3-point stance more frequently.
Surprisingly, Dahl wasn’t noticeably hindered by playing with a hand down in the run game. He proved to be a competent drive blocker that played with solid leverage, play strength, and leg drive, and a good base. His hand usage was good in that area, as he forklifted into defenders’ breastplates to generate some movement. Zone blocking was another area he proved solid in. Good lateral quickness allowed him to cut off 2-techs and hip flexibility let him swing into place to create creases. I was also impressed with his play speed and angles up to the second level. He looked natural pulling to both his left and right and he burst into the second level and tracked his targets well. I would, however, like him to deliver more of a blow when turning the corner on pulls, and he could keep his head out of blocks and finish at the second level better.
However, pass blocking was another animal entirely. Dahl’s pad level was inconsistent out of a 3-point stance and he was often guilty of oversetting to pick up 3-techs. Marginal change of direction skills created issues for him on twists and counters, and he ‘opened the gate’ far too early when defenders crossed his face. Minor lunging is something he could work on, as well. Once he got on blocks, he tended to deaden his feet, leading him to fall off blocks. His initial punches out of a 3-point stance were peculiar, although he did reset well; his aiming point with his right hand was solid, but he would fit the left (plant) hand high and wide. And a failure to strike while rooted created horrible issues with anchoring, along with a lack of lower body strength and a tendency to expose his chest. Mental processing was also an issue for him. He often got tunnel vision and was resultantly a hair late to pick up blitzes and twists. Exchanges on stunts were a problem for he and Taylor Decker, but a lack of chemistry could account for that.
It’s not all gloom and doom for Dahl, though. I thought he displayed good set quickness in pass protection and showed a plus ability to mirror in the initial stages of the defender’s rush (although redirecting may always be a problem for him). His eyes also became more active with increased reps.
As of right now, I trust Dahl in the run game, but his issues pass protecting and anchoring are far too egregious to merit starting consideration. Dahl will need to iron out his footwork, become more comfortable in a 3-point stance, and, most importantly, become considerably stronger in his lower half. Until then, he should be strictly a backup. That said, Dahl is probably further behind on his development curve than his peers due to the aforementioned considerations about his situation. It’s also not unreasonable to think that a recently-fired offensive line coach may have hindered him some, as well. I think he probably merits a roster spot, but I would like to see considerable improvement this offseason and in Year 3 before letting him live out his rookie contract.