COLUMBIA — As he played his final season at South Carolina, Brandon Shell was evaluated not just by his coaches, but by another set of eyes watching from suburban Atlanta. And during a break in the Gamecocks’ schedule, the offensive tackle received personal instruction from one of the best ever to man the position.
“We went on the field and worked on some things, and watched some film together,” said NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell. “I would ask him questions: ‘What are you thinking here? What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’ And then I would also ask him what he did wrong, and what he needed to do to make adjustments. He’s a good learner. He’s a smart kid. That’s one thing he has going for him.”
The former Raiders great has long taken an interest in his great nephew’s football career, dating back to Brandon’s days at Goose Creek High School. Now, Art Shell is among those the Gamecocks’ former left tackle relies on for advice entering the NFL draft, where the younger Shell is projected to be taken Saturday in the later rounds.
A Charleston native who attended the former Bonds-Wilson High School, Art Shell played in the NFL for 15 seasons and coached for 19 more. He graded Brandon off the television during his nephew’s final season at USC, worked him out for three days outside Atlanta, spoke to him before the NFL combine in February, and plans to brief him on what to expect before he heads to his first minicamp.
“The key thing that Brandon has going for him is, he’s a good kid,” Art said from his home in Monroe, Ga. “He’s a guy who has a lot of ability. I think if he gets with a team with a good offensive line coach, he has a chance to be a player in the league for a long time, because he has that kind of talent. It may not have come to the forefront in his years at (USC), but he does have it.”
At 6-6 and 328 pounds, Brandon was a fixture on USC’s offensive line for four seasons, making 48 career starts and shifting from right to left tackle as a senior. Some have also envisioned the younger Shell as a guard, and Art Shell — who won 56 games in two stints as Raiders head coach — said Brandon’s ability to play three positions could prove valuable to NFL teams, which typically carry just two backup offensive linemen on game days.
But the key to an offensive lineman making it in the NFL, Art believes, is mastering the technique needed to handle faster defensive players. “I found this out when I went into the league — people who learn technique quickly are the ones who are going to last a long time,” he said.
“At tackle, you’re going to see a guy coming off that edge running a 4.5 or 4.6 sometimes. That’s a lot of speed. ... That’s where the technique comes in, getting yourself in the right position so you can compete. When that guy comes off the ball, you’ve got to be in the best position.”
Brandon Shell is one of three former USC players expected to be taken in this weekend’s draft. Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, who left school after his junior season, is projected as a second-round selection. Tight end Jerell Adams, who has impressed scouts with his pre-draft workouts, could go in the third. Shell is forecast to go in the sixth round — but just wants to hear his name called.
“God willing, I hope so,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, I’ve just got to go and prove myself, and I’m willing to do that.”
Shell, who plans to watch the draft in Goose Creek with his family, was scheduled to work out with the Panthers and Ravens, and meet with the 49ers. But as his uncle Art can attest, the process can be unpredictable. The future Hall of Famer said he filled out questionnaires for the Chargers, Cowboys and 49ers, and then was taken in the third round of the 1968 draft by the Raiders — who had sent him only a Christmas card.
“It could be somebody from out of the blue,” Art said. “Everybody in the league knows every single player, where they are, who they are, and what they’ve done. Every team has a board, and they all look at people differently ... . So you just have to wait it out, and hopefully you’ll get your name called quickly.”