With the Cardinals' decision to move on from Levi Brown, let's take a look at who they're moving on to. Bradley Sowell will get his first career start against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but he's been around the league a couple of years, spending 2012 in Indianapolis with Cardinals' current head coach Bruce Arians. Sowell played sparingly for that team but saw extensive snaps in their wild card playoff game against the Ravens. What did he show in that game, and what should expectations be going forward?
The following .gif's may look familiar. The man you want to watch is the right tackle, #60.
You might not be able to tell, but this is a different play. Kruger does this to him a few times. Sowell really struggles to get outside to pick up the speed edge rush. Remind anyone of a certain other left tackle the Cardinals recently traded away?
It looks more like a technique problem than a physical limitation. He needs to get out farther and faster on his kick step, and he needs to do a better job placing his hands and latching on to defenders.
Sowell earns some redemption by denying Courtney Upshaw's nifty spin move.
Paul Kruger uses a bull rush to drive Sowell directly into Andrew Luck on one of his first plays in the game.
Remember that play.
Kruger and Suggs did an excellent job disengaging from Sowell's blocks with rips and swims. Again, this seems like a technique issue. Sowell needs to figure out what to do with his hands.
Sowell is a patient blocker, allowing defenders to come to him as the play develops. He doesn't overcommit to blocks one way or the other, meaning he's usually in position to make the block. This trait helps him in blitz pick-up, as he is often aware of and prepared to take on extra or late rushers.
Blocking in space
Unfortunately, Sowell's patience holds him back at times as well. When asked to make second-level blocks, he appears hesitant and lacks aggressiveness.
It's not all bad. He moves well enough in space -- there's a reason Arians likes to use him as a big tight end -- and in the following clip he connects with a solid block on a linebacker. He can do it, he just needs to do it more consistently.
Point of attack
Sowell does well enough at the point of attack. When he keeps his feet moving he can move bodies off the line.
Here he shows upper body strength and wrestler's savvy, powering a Baltimore defensive end to the ground in a convincing manner.
Remember Kruger's bull-rush from earlier? He tries the same thing again. You can see how it turns out for him this time.
Sowell is able to re-anchor and not only re-establishes his block but tosses Kruger to the ground, out away form the pocket, with relative ease. This is an important play for Sowell for two reasons. Firstly, it shows he's not helpless against power rushers. Secondly, it shows that he's using his head and learning on the fly. For a player with limited experience, growing pains are to be expected, but if Sowell can continue to learn from his mistakes, there is reason for hope.
Know where your help is
One of Levi Brown's favorite hobbies was surrendering pressures to the opposite side that he had help on. Tight end chipping outside? Count on Brown to lose inside technique and let the blitzer walk right into the pocket.
Sowell doesn't seem to have that problem. This tells us that he understands his responsibilities within the scheme, another important sign from an inexperienced player.
Expectations against Carolina
The Panthers defense has a dominant front seven, like most of the teams the Cardinals have played so far this season. Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei and Greg Hardy have all been playing extremely well early in the season, and that's to say nothing of the linebackers. Sowell, and the rest of the Cardinals' offensive line, will be busy... as usual.
After Levi Brown trade, sources say Bradley Sowell will start at LT. On whether Sowell is an upgrade, source says: "No worse, more effort."— Paul Calvisi (@PaulCalvisi) October 2, 2013
According to ProFootballFocus, Levi Brown was the 60th-worst tackle to play in 2013. There shouldn't be much of a drop-off, if any, without him. Bruce Arians says the same thing in this illuminating interview, where he also mentions Sowell's game against Paul Kruger.
That's not to say that Sowell will step in without any struggles. He won't. As Steve Keim says in the interview linked above, he's not going to look like Joe Thomas week one. Remember how Bobby Massie looked in his first few games with the Cardinals? Expect a similar performance against the Panthers from Sowell. It could get ugly, but it's been ugly with Brown, and Sowell is a lot cheaper.
It's a great opportunity for Sowell. There will be mis-steps, but like Massie's rookie campaign, he has the chance to show he can improve and is worth keeping around for more than a year.
In many ways, this will be another tune-up game for the Cardinals. On defense, Daryl Washington returns to the starting line-up, and will get back up to playing speed by chasing Cam Newton all over the field. The offensive line will look to get on the same page with a new left tackle in Sowell. With the 49ers and Seahawks next on the schedule, playing at home against the Panthers is the best possible scenario for the Cardinals to put these changes into effect, and the team's last chance to get it right before facing off against the powerhouses of the NFC West.