- Ole Miss Safety Cody Prewitt vs. Vanderbilt (2013)
Back end play in the secondary is not just one of the more difficult positions to scout on account of the limitations in coverage responsibility and film available to see the entire field, it's also one of the most mentally challenging positions on the football field to play. There is a lot of required foresight, anticipation, multiple reads being made at once...all this goes without saying the physical tools required to play the back end efficiently as well. I largely came away impressed with what I saw from Prewitt vs. Vanderbilt, who was recommended to me by my friend Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) of Bleacher Report/RealGM/DraftLions:
Prewitt on this shallow post to Jordan Matthews is responsible for a deep 3rd of the field. But because of the offensive alignment (Matthews is alone on the left side of the LOS) Prewitt has a bit of flexibility. This again goes back to "situation awareness" of the position. When Matthews breaks off his stem to the inside, there is no threat for another offensive player to break vertical in Prewitt's zone, so he's free to drive downhill to make a play on the football. Prewitt is in outstanding position here, but Matthews displays great ball skills to snatch a ball that goes over the average receiver's head. Prewitt isn't expecting that and actually leaves his feet to make a play on the ball, leaving Matthews free to run for an extra 10 yards after the catch. While the result of this play itself is a big gain for Vanderbilt, Prewitt shows good understanding of responsibility and liberties and puts himself in a great position to make a play on an overthrow. If the receiver isn't Jordan Matthews or if the ball is thrown lower on target, Prewitt either has a chance for an interception or he's running through the receiver to break up the pass.
One of the biggest keys to a Safety's success at the position is something as simple as the angles he takes. Proper angles make life a lot easier in pursuit and in coverage...too many prospects will leak up field or laterally instead of being efficient and economic in their angles. Prewitt isn't one of those prospects, at least not against Vanderbilt. Jordan Matthews takes the pictured bubble above with 3 defenders closing on his position and just one blocker out in front of him. It would be very easy for Prewitt to collapse this back side pursuit flat along the 45 yard line in anticipation of a cutback; but Prewitt immediately plays this towards the pylon some 45 yards down field. Sure enough, Matthews slips to the outside of the one block he has and breaks down the right sideline for a huge gain. Prewitt catches Matthews at the 5, but Matthews toes the sideline after contact and ends up scoring anyway. This is another positive play result for Vanderbilt despite strong play from Prewitt; who shows great effort, pursuit and takes a strong angle from his spot as the back side safety.
One thing that Ole Miss did quite frequently against Vanderbilt on defense was disguising coverages. This level of complexity is important to see, because surely prospects will be asked to do the same in the NFL. Prewitt here is the top Safety in this Cover 2 alignment out of the huddle. But as the QB starts calling his cadence, Prewitt begins to creep up to the LOS, collapsing down for man coverage against the TE in this 12 package on offense. His fellow safety drifts between the hashes, gaining depth...this is in fact a Cover 1, not a Cover 2. Prewitt's responsible for man coverage on the TE and has 5 yards if he'd like to disrupt the route:
Sure enough, 5 yards off and Prewitt is initiating contact (very physical contact at that) against his man, disrupting the break. Prewitt is attacking across the face from the inside out, he doesn't sit and catch this route or feebly attempt to punch with a hand. Prewitt walks down into the box and times his collision at 5 yards to get physical. This is a very strong play in man coverage. But Prewitt's strongest play in coverage came a bit later in the football game:
Again, Ole Miss is throwing in movement before the snap, rolling Prewitt down into the box. The Rebels appear to be rolling out of Cover 2 alignment and into Cover 3 this time, the boundary corners are off the ball at 9 yards, backpedaling off the snap while the 2nd Safety slides into the middle 3rd of the field between the hashes. Prewitt rolling down into the box gives him flat or hook/curl responsibility...but again Prewitt has good awareness that he's to the single side of a 1x3 alignment. He's going to have help over the top and he's not going to have a second receiver to pull him away from the route, so he can gamble on anything underneath. Matthews runs a slant pattern, which shouldn't have been hard to guess when you consider this: He's the single receiver and he's lined up outside the numbers: there's a TON of space to the inside and not a lot of room to work to the boundary. Odds are his pattern was going to be an in breaking route. Prewitt recognizes this and is quick to break on the pass as the QB hits his back foot, driving into the throwing window and breaking up this pass. If the ball had been thrown accurately, it would have been a touchdown going the other way.
Ole Miss lost this game against Vanderbilt on a heart breaking busted blitz with a minute left to surrender the lead. Prewitt executed his man coverage appropriately against the slot corner, not even realizing the boundary corner had left his man and there was a free running streak behind him on the sideline. This play is not Prewitt's fault, but I did want to highlight the defense putting him in such an awful situation:
Prewitt plays his responsibility and drives on the slant pattern (GIF), but Vanderbilt walks into the end zone to win the game. A very bitter ending to what had been a very strong defensive performance. I feel bad ending such a strong game performance on a busted coverage, so here's one last play for your consideration: Prewitt blowing up Jordan Matthews in the slot. A very entertaining prospect who showed a lot of promise against the Vandals in coverage, on special teams and tackling the ball carrier.
- Iowa Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff vs. Michigan State (2013)
Iowa's Brandon Scherff is one of the more well known offensive line prospects coming into the 2014 season, in the discussion with Cameron Erving, Andrus Peat and Cedric Ogbuehi as one of the top offensive tackles in the class. But against one of the best defenses in the country in 2013 (Michigan State) Scherff posed just as many questions about his game as he did answers in my eyes.
This pass protection is a mixed bag: Scherff plays it properly when his defender tries to duck his shoulder underneath by simply burying him into the ground. But before Scherff bodies his defender into the ground, he was walked back a good 2-3 yards on a bull rush. We'll get into the finer points of why Scherff's base is a problem which needs some refinement if his total body of work is consistent with what he showed in this game a little later, but at this point take this as a play in which Scherff showed good instincts to not allow his defender to slide underneath of him to his the Quarterback. More on Scherff's pass protection base:
As an Offensive Tackle, the proper fundamentals of a kick slide feature posting off the inside leg, reaching back to gain depth and maintain leverage on the perimeter with the outside leg. As you can see above, Scherff showed a habit of posting up on the outside leg against the Spartans; the detrimental effects are numerous. This makes Scherff vulnerable to bull rushes: he is trying to play inside out but his base is playing outside in. It prevents Scherff from getting depth in his pass set, which will force him to lunge and leave his feet behind when engaging defenders trying to run the outside track. And it limits his ability to slide and mirror when confronted with counter moves again because of the balance associated with playing inside out with the incorrect foot holding weight. This issue will pop up again, but in the meantime let's take a look at what Scherff does well:
Moving forward off the line of scrimmage agrees with Scherff much more. Here's he takes a lateral step to clear himself of the defensive tackle shaded on his inside shoulder before coming out onto the second level to absolutely swallow up a linebacker. Scherff has a ton of power in the run game and roots this LB a good 3 yards off the ball on contact before losing his footing. There's a little bit more waist bend than I'd like to see (likely a contributing factor on why he didn't keep his feet) but the movement off the snap and the ability to root out a defender is still a very strong plus on the play.
Now into the 2nd Quarter, Scherff's kick slide is rearing up again. You can see how Scherff has left his feet behind as he reaches out to engage this edge rush. Any time a lineman is not engaged with a defender and you can clearly read his numbers on the edge, something is off. Because Scherff hasn't gotten appropriate depth in his kick slide, he's forced to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line and try to run this rush past the QB, but the defender has a large area to work with in attacking because Scherff has hasn't taken enough depth in his pass set.
A few plays later, this is a MUCH stronger effort in pass protection. Scherff's shoulders are again turned out but this time he's already engaged, he has a strong base and he isn't leaning out or lunging over his toes to punch. It's clearly visible just how better his balance is here. This play I made note of because it was the first pass set of the game that was proper in fundamentals, execution and results. Scherff easily handles this rush, swallowing up his defender with great power and control.
Scherff here in the red zone actually does a very nice job releasing off the line and slipping out into space to get in front of this screen pattern. But Scherff costs the Hawkeyes a touchdown here, throwing himself at Darqueze Dennard's feet and coming down the line of scrimmage too flat. Dennard "ole's" him and makes the tackle, but there was no one else there. The release into space was very well done; the effort once in space left something to be desired. A bit more control, keeping the head up and using length to just get in the way and this play goes for 16 yards and 6 points.
This play is a perfect embodiment of Scherff's strengths. He's run his defender all the way to the sideline and is finishing his block a good 15 yards off the point of engagement. Scherff is a nasty lineman who has the kind of strength with his hands to stun anyone upon contact when he's got a good base and the kind of functional power to run defenders through the whistle.
On the flip side, this play is a perfect embodiment of what I'll be looking for improvement on in 2014. Scherff again is posting up on the outside leg. If not for the brute power Scherff possesses, this defensive rush would turn him into a turnstile, swinging him on that outside leg and leaving the defender on an unimpeded rush to the Quarterback. The end result of this play results in no pressure on the Quarterback...but if the plays highlighted this week had one theme it would be the result of the play as a positive or negative doesn't tell the whole story. There is a lot of work and improvement to be made in the pass protection area of Scherff's game, I'll be eager to watch him in 2014 to see if it's been made.
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