Transitioning into the NFL from college is tough. Transitioning into the NFL from a small-school college on top of making a position switch might be tougher, but Jacksonville Jaguars rookie offensive lineman Ben Bartch isn’t worried, living out his dream to play professional football.
“I think growing up as a kid playing football, and loving the game, developing that passion for the game it’s something that you always loved in high school and it grows,” Bartch told Big Cat Country on Wednesday. “Then I had the opportunity to play in college and continue playing the sport I love ... I think for me it’s a dream come true and it’s a continued process.”
Bartch was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Saint Johns (Minn.), a division-III school. What it takes to get from any level of football to the pros is a process, and that’s something Bartch is focused on first and foremost.
This offseason was a “learning experience,” Bartch says. Not only did he have to make a quick transition, he had to do so under the most unprecedented of circumstances. Rookies weren’t given instruction at the facility during a rookie minicamp, nor were they afforded any OTAs, all of his instruction and coaching .
“A lot of listening over talking, and just learning to adapt.”
During the offseason, Bartch trained with his college strength and conditioning coach Justin Roth, someone he calls a “guru,” focusing on his speed, strength and technique. Roth also helped the young offensive lineman complete his transition from a tight end who weighed 220 pounds as a freshman in college, to a 6-foot-6 left tackle who weighed 306 pounds as a senior.
With the help of Roth and the Jaguars’ strength and conditioning staff, led by head strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski, Bartch is around 315 to 317 pounds, according to Jaguars offensive line coach George Warhop, who spoke with the media last week. When the team drafted Bartch, he weighed in at 308 to 309 pounds.
Going into the draft process, Warhop says he was impressed with Bartch from the start. While his college tape was good, however, considering the level of competition he was facing, there wasn’t a clear indicator of what he could be. However, most of that was cast aside when Bartch competed at the Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year, “I thought he competed extremely well there,” Warhop said.
“He has some tenacity. He’s a bright kid. I think it’s really just him getting comfortable. He hasn’t shied away from the competition, just technically getting used to how we want to play, making the transition from tackle to guard. It’s not as easy when you don’t have a spring, so he’s fighting through the early parts of making that adjustment.”
For Bartch, Warhop has been “excellent,” he said frankly, and while learning on the fly has been good, it has also been a “big learning experience.”
“You just be open minded, learn every day, work hard and control your end of it, and ultimately, you know, your coaches are going to do everything they can to help you succeed.”
As a former offensive line coach and offensive lineman himself, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone knows first hand what it takes to become a dominant lineman in this league.
When speaking to reporters earlier this month, Marrone made sure to note that whether a player is from Saint John’s University or a Division-I school, it doesn’t matter. If you can play, you can play.
“Ben specifically has the power, has the ability. So, I’m really excited about him,” Marrone said when asked about the rookie offensive lineman. “A lot of times with linemen — sometimes when you’re always trying to do things the right way, you tend to overthink a little bit and it kind of holds you back and you’ve got to work yourself out of that. I think he’s done a really nice job.”
“I think that he’s a guy that can play multiple positions. I think he can play guard, we’ve got him training at center and then obviously we’ve seen him play tackle before, so we feel [really] comfortable. He’s done a good job.”
The transition from the exterior to the interior of an offensive line can be daunting, especially when you transition from left to right. Making that change can be difficult and it is a lot faster in the interior, Bartch says, “but just like anything you know you improve the small things every day.”
Bartch has impressed his coaches and spectators on the field in full pads. During his first day of one-on-ones, the rookie was tasked with taking on seven-year veteran Timmy Jernigan, and the match up didn’t appear at first glance to be much of a challenge for Bartch, especially considering he’s only just learned the position.
While he hasn’t won every rep, Bartch has continued to improve day in and day out. Although some players could be intimidated by who they’re going up against, especially as a rookie, Bartch isn’t phased, it’s the next man up, and he wants to go up against as good of competition as he can.
“I don’t really pay a lot of attention to who it is (he’s going up against) exactly,” said Bartch. “Right now, we’re just focused on getting better every day and becoming a team. But I think it’s it’s a good experience, and as a competitor you welcome greater competition.”
For now, Bartch is soaking up all of the knowledge he can get from veterans on the team, a “good room,” he calls it as he continues through his rookie training camp.
“It’s a marathon, it’s not an exact sprint, and you just work hard and improve every day.”