Scout’s notebook: defensive review

Observations and analysis from the sixth week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top defensive prospects.

This Boilermaker packs a punch inside

Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal might be pound for pound the strongest defensive lineman in the nation. At 6-4, 302 pounds, Neal showcases a good initial first step off the snap, but it’s his lower body strength that allows him to overwhelm opposing linemen on contact and drive his way into the backfield. He exhibits an impressive punch and possesses the anchor strength to routinely hold the point of attack vs. the run game. The biggest knock on Neal at this stage is his inability to consistently shed blocks and use his hands to disengage on contact. He always seems to be in position to make plays on the football but too often fails to stack and shed. However, the skill set is certainly there for him to develop into a starting-caliber defensive tackle or even 3-4 end at the next level, and he looks like a guy who, with some good coaching, could really come into his own during his second or third season in the NFL.

Unsung Gator

Florida’s defensive front four consistently was able to overwhelm the LSU offensive line Saturday night, thanks in large part to the play of defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. Fellow DE Carlos Dunlap typically grabs all the attention, although Cunningham is proving to be an effective pass rusher in his own right. He was consistently matched up with LSU LT Ciron Black and proved to be too much for him to handle off the edge. Cunningham not only displays an explosive initial first step that consistently allows him to threaten the corner, he also does a great job dropping his pad level and using his violent hands to keep blockers from getting into his frame. He’s also very sudden, and his short-area quickness allows him to cleanly change directions and side-step blocks in space. He isn’t the type of physically gifted defensive end that Dunlap is, but I could definitely see Cunningham finding a role as a nickel rusher early in his career and eventually maturing into an every-down player.

Where to play this Tiger?

I’m having a tough time trying to figure out what position Auburn DE Antonio Coleman is going to play at the next level. The 6-1, 258-pound lineman hasn’t impressed me at all with his burst or explosion off the edge and he simply doesn’t possess the type of quick-twitch ability to threaten the corner at the next level. He’s a coordinated athlete who does display some short-area quickness and body control when engaged, but he lacks the ability to consistently accelerate away from opposing offensive linemen once he gains a step. I don’t think he’s fluid enough to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and am starting to think that because of his thick body type and natural power that he might be ideally suited to play a 3-4 ILB or 4-3 ILB in a defensive scheme that requires the Mike to attack downhill and fill holes at the line of scrimmage, much like the Eagles. Either way, this isn’t a ringing endorsement for Coleman, who has struggled to be a consistent factor rushing the passer this season.

He’s alive

I took a bit of a shot at Michigan’s lacking pass rush in my Saturday Primer, but the Wolverines’ defense came alive against Iowa, in particular DE Brandon Graham. Graham, who came into the contest with only one sack on the season, finished the game with two sacks, 3

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