Our post-draft Q&A series has been taking a look at each of the newly-drafted Jacksonville Jaguars rookies by getting insights from those within the SB Nation network who have covered these players throughout their college careers. However, there isn’t exactly a long list of individuals, or a specific SB Nation blog, that was on the beat for Division III St. John’s (Minnesota) — which is of course where Jacksonville’s fourth-round pick, offensive lineman Ben Bartch, went to school.
So, for this piece, we got someone with even more understanding of the game, especially when it comes to offensive line play. Owen Riese is a graduate assistant offensive line coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, also a Division III school. He actually coached against Bartch in the 2019 Division III playoffs. Additionally, Owen writes for Bucky’s 5th Quarter — SB Nation’s Wisconsin Badgers website.
What are the Jaguars getting in Bartch? Let’s find out:
1. Obviously, Bartch was a little known commodity out of Division III St, John’s (Minnesota) before making waves at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. What exactly are the Jaguars getting from Bartch, and do you expect NFL competition to be too much of a step up for him, or do you see him succeeding at this level?
Owen: They’re getting a developmental offensive tackle prospect who has the athleticism and technique to become a starter down the road in the NFL. While he’s not an overly punishing run blocker, he’s very adept in pass protection (something he did a ton at St. John’s) and has good upside due to his athleticism.
2. What are Bartch’s biggest strengths and what areas of the game do you think he needs to work on in the pros?
Owen: His biggest strength by far is his pass protection prowess. St. John’s threw the ball as much as any Division III program in the country and he got a lot of reps at it. He’s able as a run blocker, but still developing in that aspect. His technique is also still a work in progress, though far ahead of what you’d anticipate from a player who’s only been at the position for two seasons. His physicality in the run game will never be his calling card, but as he continues to get more comfortable, it should continue to improve. It’ll also be a bit of an adjustment dealing with the consistent power and size he’ll see at the NFL level, though he played well at the Senior Bowl during the practices.
3. Bartch made the transition from tight end to offensive tackle after adding weight by consuming a disgusting smoothie every day. He projects as a guard at the NFL level, but how does a tight end skill set help offensive linemen, and do you see it as a benefit?
Owen: Well, truthfully the way that St. John’s uses their tight ends, not a whole lot. They’re mostly receiving threats. However, I see no real reason he can’t stay at tackle to begin with, until he shows that he can’t play out there. However, to answer the question, as receiving threats in the Johnnies’ offense, his athleticism was his most easily transferable skill moving from tight end to left tackle. Dealing with defensive ends and outside linebackers was likely an easy transition for him, as that’s also who he was mostly dealing with as a blocker when asked to do so as a tight end.
4. Why do you think Bartch was so lightly recruited out of high school, and never ended up transferring to an FBS or even FCS school? Do you believe bigger schools ever even had interest in Bartch?
Owen: Well, from what I know about him, he’s originally from Oregon, and came to St. John’s because he has some family in the area. He was listed at 6-feet-six-inches tall and 230 pounds as a freshman, and unless he was a freak player in high school, he likely fell through the cracks. St. John’s recruits nationally, so they had a better chance to land him than most other Division III schools in the country outside of those on the west coast. He never ended up transferring because prior to moving to offensive line, he had four receptions as a tight end. He was going to be their third-string tight end heading into his junior year, about as nondescript as you can get. Even after his first year as a starter as an offensive tackle, one year starting at a Division III school, no matter how good you played, isn’t much leverage. I don’t know if bigger schools ever had interest in him out of high school, but as far as trying to get him to transfer or something in college, that wouldn’t have happened until prior to his senior year.
5. From a technique standpoint, Bartch is still new to the offensive line, and doesn’t have much experience (if any) playing guard. As an offensive line expert, how would you coach him up to make sure he succeeds in the NFL, and what would your advice be to Jacksonville’s coaching staff?
Owen: Yeah, to my knowledge he’s never taken a snap in a game other than at left tackle, so the projection to guard confused me a bit, in particular for someone so new to the position. I think one of the most important differences when considering moving someone from tackle to the interior is how much faster things occur inside. Eric Stoner (a friend of Big Cat Country) always compared the difference from tackle to interior offensive line play as comparing ballet to a mosh pit. Both are types of dancing, but are very different and pace is starkly contrasted. It’d definitely be an adjustment in pass protection dealing with different body types inside, but in the run game I think he’d be fine for the most part. My advive to the Jaguars’ staff would be to leave him at tackle until he can prove he can’t stick out there. It’s literally all he knows at this point.
6. Anything else readers should know about Bartch (character, work ethic, accolades, etc.)?
Owen: He was a really nice kid to talk to down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. I was actually fortunate enough to get to coach against him in the Division III semifinals (Editor’s Note: UW-Whitewater defeated St. John’s 35-32), and he was the best player on the field for them, impressive when considering their quarterback was a Penn State transfer. We put our best pass rusher on the opposite side of him and we had seven sacks against them and none of them were Bartch’s fault. I have no doubts he’ll end up as a nice NFL player. Work ethic shouldn’t be a concern, as anyone who’s willing to ruin his physique to play a position no one appreciates shows a dedication that’s impressive on any level.