Previously in our “Grinding the Tape” series we looked at the Bucs’ draft additions. This week we will be transitioning to the rest of the Bucs’ off-season additions starting with new right guard Shaq Mason. Mason was acquired in a trade with New England for a fifth-round draft pick. He will step in immediately to fill the void left by departing free agent Alex Cappa. So how will Mason impact Tampa Bay’s offensive line? What are the strengths and weaknesses of his game? Well, as you have hopefully come to find with this series, we are going to dive into the tape to find out!
Who Is Shaq Mason?
But before we get to the clips let’s talk a little about who we think the Bucs are getting in Mason. He wasn’t always the highly-regarded offensive lineman he is now. Originally drafted late in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, Mason certainly had pros coming out of Georgia Tech. However, there were some major red flags to his game as well. The two biggest concerns centered around his lack of ideal size and his lack of pass protection experience in Georgia Tech’s run-heavy system.
Bucs G Shaq Mason – Photo by: USA Today
Entering his eighth season in the NFL, Mason has certainly shown the ability to overcome those question marks. At 6-foot-1, Mason’s height will always require him to use elite technique to handle bigger, longer defenders. Additionally, after thousands of reps at the NFL level he has proven he can handle professional pass rushers.
As a blocker at the pro-level Mason continues to hang his hat on his abilities in the run game. According to Pro Football Focus, Mason has registered a higher run-blocking grade than pass-blocking in all but one season since entering the NFL. This includes elite run-blocking grades above 80 in five of the last six seasons. Now as a pass blocker, Mason’s rookie season was rough, logging a pass-blocking grade of 37.7. Since then, he has improved that number to regularly coming in above 70.
Now let’s take a look at the traits Mason shows that help him produce such favorable grades from PFF throughout the rest of this article. I watched six games from Mason’s 2021 season. They included Indianapolis, Miami, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Carolina, and New York (Jets). These accounted for three of his top-graded and three of his bottom-graded performances last year according to PFF. What did the Bucs see specifically in Mason’s game that made them so excited to add him to the roster?
Mason made his bones in college as a run blocker, and it continues to be his calling card. It makes sense for us to begin there, right? As a smaller guard, Mason doesn’t win with overwhelming size and strength. But he does win in such a fun way.
I dare you to find someone in the NFL who fires off the snap quicker than Mason. This is one area of Mason’s game that Scott Reynolds and I both love watching. His explosiveness jumps off the screen and it was evident in his athletic testing when he logged a 32-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-2 broad jump. Take a look at a few of these run block reps and tell me you and the Bucs aren’t excited to see this in red and pewter next year.
I tried to go super slow-motion on this one to show just how quickly Mason shoots off the line compared to Buffalo’s defenders. He is able to get to the lineman’s inside shoulder to chip him for right tackle Trent Brown before getting to the second-level to wall off the linebacker.
Here we see it again against Jacksonville. Mason is able to jump out of his stance and lunge forward to get into DaVon Hamilton’s chest before the tackle can get into the “A” gap to try and split Mason and center David Andrews. He drives through Hamilton with his left shoulder and knocks him off center and away from running back. Imagine this level of play paired with Bucs center Ryan Jensen. Getting excited? So am I.
There it is again! Mason launches off the line and is able to get and stay ahead of DeForest Buckner laterally. But in addition to that, his get-off shoots him forward vertically to put him parallel to Buckner. This helps him seal the lane that Rhamondre Stevenson eventually navigates for a healthy gain.
Mason’s ability to explode out of his stance allows him to often times dictate the point of attack in the running game. This should bode well for the Bucs running game, whether it be Mason setting up lanes by driving defenders back in duo sets, or getting to zones and marks in the team’s ever-expanding outside zone plays.
Okay, last one – I promise. Watch as Mason shoots out right off the snap so quickly that he actually had to slow down to ensure that he is able to cover up and seal off the linebacker. This creates the seal that running back Damien Harris shoots through for a huge gain.
Moving in Space
It’s not just Mason’s get-off that is impressive in the way he moves. He is able to maintain that speed even as he works further away from the beginning of the play.
Here you see the get-off against Carolina just as we saw above. But look how he maintains and even accelerates as he gets to the second level. That’s linebacker Shaq Thompson he is running with and getting to. He is able to get his hands on Thompson to pushing him away from the line of scrimmage. By altering Thompson’s pursuit angle, the Patriots were able to get the edge and rattle off an 8-yard gain.
While Mason’s size can work against him when facing long-limbed defenders in the passing game, it can also work to his benefit in the running game. The low man wins in football. And the shorter you are the easier it is to keep a low pad-level and maintain leverage.
Look at Mason go up against 6-foot-5 Derrick Brown. Right off the bat he was able to get lower than Brown, get into his chest and stone him. Brown then tries to re-establish a new path to the play by redirecting to the inside and ripping Mason’s arms down. But the stellar right guard isn’t having it. He maintains his low pad level, keeps his grip and continues to drive Brown backwards.
Here we go again against Jaguars defensive tackle D.J. Smoot, who is closer to Mason’s height at 6-foot-3. But he has just as much trouble trying to get lower than Mason. Smoot tries to get to Mason’s inside, but Mason gets a good grip and a nice chip from Andrews. As Smoot tries to redirect to Mason’s right, Mason keeps his grip and twists with Smoot to keep his body in between the defender and the ball-carrier. Bucs offensive line coach Joe Gilbert is going to love this aspect of Mason’s game.
While Mason’s run-blocking has never been in question, he has had to work at his pass blocking craft. The biggest reason why is that Mason lacks a great anchor. This causes him to struggle against powerful interior rushers who can move him with a good bull rush. Take a look:
Here Adam Gotsis of the Jaguars is able to long-arm Mason, landing a solid punch and then driving Mason back. Mason is unable to lock his lower half and push back. And so, he gets worked back into quarterback Mac Jones, forcing him to have to scramble out of the pocket. Give Mason credit though. Despite the initial loss he frantically tries to recover and makes a last-ditch push that enables Jones to escape the almost-certain sack.
Here again Mason allows the defensive tackle to control the rep by getting his longer arms in on Mason’s chest and then drive Mason back into Jones. It is clear that even eight years in, Mason feels more comfortable going forward than backwards. And I get it. His best quality is the explosive get-off we profiled earlier. It is difficult for an interior lineman to duplicate that launch in a pass set.
Learning To Win In Pass Pro
Despite lacking the ability to physically dominate on a play-in, play-out basis, Mason is still a plus pass blocker. How does he do it? He has developed the knack of being an absolute technician. Footwork, hand-fighting, and awareness are all keys to his game that allow him to win more often than not. You can see those efforts on this next rep against Carolina.
Mason immediately recognizes that the tackle is selling out for the outside rush. He immediately uses his quick feet to keep a wide base and mirror the tackle’s movements. This keeps him squarely in between his defender and his quarterback. While his feet are mirroring his hands are working. Mason is able to get a good punch with his right hand initially while his left is able to push the tackle’s right shoulder just a moment later, slowing him down and opening his frame. Out of the six rushers Carolina sent on this play, Mason’s was the furthest from Jones by the time left his hand.
This rep doesn’t start nearly as well for Mason. Dayo Odeyingbo gets a good jump off the snap, slaps away Mason’s punch and immediately gets into his core. This starts to drive Mason back. But this guy keeps his wits and locks in his anchor. But what really allows him to turn this around is his grip strength. With vice-like hands, he keeps a hold of and forces Odeyingbo to commit to a move to try and get around Mason. Odeyingbo opts for a swim move that gets him nowhere. Mason maintains grip and forces Odeyingbo to end up rotating away from Jones.
Finally, one more rep against Jacksonville and Gotsis. Off the snap Gotsis tries to win to Mason’s outside shoulder. Mason is able to kick-slide to the outside and immediately block of Gotsis’ route. So Gotsis tries to re-direct to the inside by dipping his shoulder. But Mason’s grip keeps Gotsis’ pad level high and slows his rush to a halt.
So there you have it. Shaq Mason is not a mauler. He doesn’t physically impose himself on defenders. You wont see him create too many of those soul-snatching, drive him into the ground type of blocks. It’s not his game. He is a short, explosive athlete who uses incredible – and at times flawless – technique to compensate for a lack of anchor. This is what the Bucs should expect in 2022. A strong run blocker who isn’t a liability in pass protection. But just because he isn’t the “glass-eating” mauler that bigger linemen may be doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a mean streak. I’ll leave you with this last clip for a bit of fun.
I sure hope defensive tackle Blake Cashman was able to process his mail forwarding before Mason helped relocate him to that new zip code.