Andy Heck won't offer guarantees.
Heck, the Jaguars' offensive line coach, said he can't say for sure Will Rackley will develop into an early starter, and he can't be 100 percent certain he will fulfill the potential that made him one of the first 100 players selected in the recent NFL Draft.
What Heck can say is this:
There's no reason Rackley can't do those things.
And there's little reason to think he won't.
And for Heck, that's enough to be excited about Rackley, and what the future – immediate and long-term – holds for the Jaguars' offensive line.
"The thing I like about him is he plays hard," Heck said this week of Rackley, an interior offensive lineman from Lehigh who the Jaguars made a third-round selection in last month's 2011 NFL Draft, the 76thselection overall.
"He's physically kind of a ready-made guy. He's not a huge project who you've got to get way stronger – or you've got to get more this or that. He has the physical abilities to play now."
Rackley, who played at Riverdale (Ga.) High School, started 45 of 46 games for Lehigh, starting as a true freshman at guard, then moving to left tackle. He was the first true freshman to start for Lehigh Head Coach Andy Coen, who had been an offensive line coach or head coach for 20 seasons.
As important to Heck was the opinion of Brett Sawyer, Lehigh's offensive line coach who Heck knew from their time together as graduate assistants at Virginia in 2001.
"He's gotten as strong a recommendation as a player could," Heck said. "Our homework would tell us it's a good fit."
Heck said the Jaguars' research and discussions with those who know Rackley indicate a player with a "great work ethic."
"You see that work ethic in how he plays on the field," Heck said. "He's a hard worker. He comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent person, so I feel confident he'll be able to learn the system. And you can also see he has football intelligence.
"I'd say it (character) is not only not going to be a problem, in his case it's going to be a plus."
The sum total, Heck said, is a player with skills that likely translate to a successful NFL transition, something that Heck said is true regardless of where Rackley played collegiately. Lehigh plays in NCAA Division I, but does so in the Football Championship Subdivision, which was previously known as Division II.
Rackley's small-school background has caused some to question his selection. Heck said he has no such questions.
"It makes it more challenging to evaluate, because there's just a little more projection there," Heck said. "When you're looking at him you're looking at, 'What can he do?' rather than, 'What can't he do?' He's going to shine on most plays, but watching him beat up on a player who he's much superior to I won't be definitely jumping to the conclusion that he'll be doing that to everybody.
"I'll be looking at, 'How can he do that?' He did it with a flat back. He did it with a quick first step. He did it with good hand leverage, and using good technique. That should project to him doing fine against bigger, stronger guys."
Heck said the reality with any lineman or player – Division I or Division II – is there is a "certain amount of guesswork" involved in scouting. A player from a spread offense, for example, might need to develop as a run-blocker. Heck said the key with such a player is targeting a skill set that will translate to the next level. "Rather than say, 'He can't run block,' you say, 'What physical abilities does he have? What can he do? What can he be taught?'" Heck said.
Because of that, Heck said when possible, he likes to work out players personally. One plus in that, Heck said, is it's a chance to talk to the player and get a feel for his personality and how he responds to teaching. The other is that working a player out gives him the opportunity to "feel his punch and feel his powers, feel his anchor."
Heck was able to do that with Rackley during the pre-draft process.
"I could feel it," Heck said. "I could see it on tape. It confirms with me as much as you can confirm that he can physically step in and compete. Now, there will be competition: when will he be one of the five best guys?''
Upon his Rackley's selection, Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith and Director Player Personnel Terry McDonough talked of having selected a potential starter who could compete early. Heck said Rackley without question is a player who will fit well into the Jaguars' offensive line group, and who will compete with a group accustomed to doing just that.
"For me, what makes it fun is having a group of players who want to be the best players they can be, and who – on top of that – are good guys," Heck said. "Anytime we add a good guy, a competitive guy – a guy who wants to be a great player – I know that's going to be a fun guy to coach. We already have those kinds of guys in our room, so he's a welcome addition.
"As a coach, it's also a professional challenge to be given the responsibility of training and developing a young player. When I first started as a lone coach, we had a group of guys who still had to learn every day, but they weren't green rookies.
"Then, we drafted (guard) Uche (Nwaneri in 2007) and (tackles) Eugene (Monroe) and Eben (Britton in 2009), so this is an added challenge, which is fine."