Independence Bowl primer

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
Georgia vs. Texas A&M
Today, 5 p.m. EST, ESPN 2

Prospects to keep an eye on:

A big performance could go a long way

One of my favorite defensive tackles coming into the year was Georgia’s Geno Atkins. His combination of explosion, lateral range and work rate consistently allowed him to penetrate his way into the backfield and make plays in pursuit. However, he hasn’t had nearly the type of year I envisioned after watching tape of him last summer as a junior. Atkins has struggled holding the point of attack inside when the run comes to him and doesn’t use his length and hands well enough to disengage on contact once an opposing lineman gets into his frame. There’s no denying the guy has the type of skill set needed to eventually develop into a starting-caliber one-gap lineman at the next level, but his draft stock has taken a hit this season and he needs to have a good showing today to start building some momentum

Key line matchup

Standing in Atkins’ way is Texas A&M center Kevin Matthews, who in my opinion is the most underrated center prospect in the country. Matthews showcases elite hand quickness and is consistently able to gain inside position on contact while maintaining leverage through the play. He isn’t the most athletic or powerful center in the run game, but he showcases the ability to snap and step quickly and is the definition of a Velcro player, consistently sticking to opposing lineman throughout the play. It will be interesting to see how he handles the quick-twitch ability of Atkins inside. This is a good matchup of contrasting styles, with the key being Matthews’ ability to get his hands on Atkins initially off the snap.

Hybrid comes calling

The Texas A&M defense relies on its ability to create pressure off the edge and get after the passer, and no one has done it better than hybrid DE/OLB Von Miller. Miller is a really interesting prospect who stands 6-3, 240 pounds and consistently lines up in a two-point stance off the edge. However, the guy is an explosive pass rusher who has the initial burst to quickly get on top of opposing linemen in the pass game and threaten the corner. Yet, what makes him so effective is his ability to stop on a dime and use his length and body control to redirect past blockers. Miller also displays a good feel as a pass rusher and possesses the instincts to sniff out the double team/chip and work his pass rush away from the additional attention. He isn’t he most physical of defenders in the run game and can be washed out easily at times on contact, but the guy simply knows how to get after the passer and is one of the most impressive pass-rushing prospects I’ve seen this year. Looks like a legit impact 3-4 OLB at the next level.

Boling: small but good

Opposing Miller is Georgia’s athletic left tackle, Clint Boling. Boling is an undersized tackle at 6-5, 295 pounds, but he exhibits good coordination in pass protection and has the type of athleticism needed to redirect and hold his own in space. He’ll definitely be one of the most athletic offensive linemen Miller has faced this season, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments Miller makes to create pressure.

Double trouble

The Georgia Bulldogs also have a pair of big defensive tackles inside in Jeff Owens and Kade Weston, who both have the ability to work their way into NFL rotations. Owens was one of the nation’s top-rated senior defensive tackles coming into 2008 until he saw his season derailed by an ACL tear in the first game of the year. However, he has recovered well and displays the ability to really sit into his stance and anchor vs. the run game. Plus, he’s a pretty gifted athlete for his size (6-1, 306) and has some upside as a pass rusher, but as of now he’s still very raw in that stage of his development. On the other hand, Weston is a massive 6-5, 325-pound prospect who is one of the few linemen in next year’s draft with the size to eventually develop into an NFL caliber 3-4-nose tackle. He’s a powerful guy who possesses good natural lower body strength, but he needs to learn to play with a much lower base if he hopes to mature into a player at the next level. Both tackles have intriguing upside to their games and are definitely worth a watch in this one.

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