Offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff came ready-made to the University of Utah in a lot of ways, but that didn’t guarantee he’d make it to the NFL.
A recruit out of Shelton, Wash., Schlauderaff was already nearly 300 pounds during his redshirt season. With a background as a power-lifter, he didn’t need the multiple years of strength training a lot of young linemen need to compete at the Division I level.
He also was smart, with loads of academic honors that he continued to compile throughout his college days.
Most impressive to Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, Schlauderaff came to the college game with a nasty streak that allowed him to start as a redshirt freshman at left guard and never give up his spot for four years.
“That’s something I always liked,” Whittingham said. “He’ll get after you. He does a great job finishing blocks.
“It’s ingrained. He’s not a cheap-shot guy. I don’t want to paint that picture, because he was never a guy that had excessive penalties or anything like that, but he’s a guy that will play through the whistle, no doubt about it.”
Despite possessing so many tools early, however, Schlauderaff was no lock for the pros. Ready-made for the NCAAs or not, scores of linemen develop traits like Schlauderaff’s by the end of their careers, yet, not all get drafted.
So how did Schlauderaff distinguish himself enough for the Packers to select him in the sixth round with the 179th overall pick late last month? In two ways.
First, he proved while still relatively young that he could compete with some of the top players in the country.
In the final game of Schlauderaff’s 2008 sophomore season, Utah faced Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme didn’t have a defender matched up directly against Schlauderaff, so on most plays he was responsible for blocking one of three people – 350-pound nose guard Terrence Cody, inside linebacker Rolando McClain or fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
It’s difficult to quantify an offensive lineman’s performance in any given game, but some numbers attached to both the contest and those opposing players help. Utah won the game, 31-17, as quarterback Brian Johnson passed for 336 yards and was sacked just twice in 41 attempts. Also, McClain became a first-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 2010, the eighth overall pick. Cody went in the second round that year to Baltimore. Hightower, who missed the 2009 season with an injury or he likely would have been drafted by now as well, could be one of the top linebackers in the 2012 draft.
“It started to become apparent after the sophomore season that perhaps he had a chance to play at the next level,” Whittingham said. “He’s lined up against some good people and been up to the challenge each and every time.”
Second, Schlauderaff developed the pass-protection skills to complement the strength, smarts and nastiness, rounding out his game. In the old-fashioned way, he drilled the fundamentals of moving his feet, staying square and developing a punch until they were as second-nature as a mauling run-block.
In fact, Schlauderaff became so reliable as a pass-blocker that last spring Whittingham slotted the experienced guard – who the coach says never missed a practice or a weight workout – as the Utes’ No. 3 tackle.
“If we had one of our tackles go down, he was the next guy up,” Whittingham said. “He spent the spring before his senior year getting reps at tackle, and he had the feet and athleticism to do a good job there.
“He’s extremely intelligent, so playing at tackle, he was able to assimilate and absorb and digest all the different things scheme-wise that go with that. He was very perceptive and could figure things out.”
It turned out he wasn’t needed at tackle and he’s expected to remain an interior lineman for the Packers, but the ease with which he made the temporary shift speaks to his football IQ and the other qualities Schlauderaff has possessed for some time now.
“It was the steady grind – you get the same guy every day,” Whittingham said of what he’ll remember most about Schlauderaff. “He doesn’t have ups and downs. You get the same focus and concentration on a daily basis, and that more than anything else I believe is what’s allowed him to be in the position he is today.”
For more feature stories on the 2011 draft class, click here.