Scout’s notebook: defensive review

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

Another Texas three-step

Sergio Kindle, DE (6-4, 255)

Going into the Red River Rivalry matchup, the one guy I was really excited to watch was Texas DE Sergio Kindle. But even through he finished with a strong stat line (six tackles, three tackles for loss, two QB hurries), I came away less than impressed with his overall pass-rush ability. Kindle displays a good first step and has an ability to get on top of tackles quickly off the edge and shoot gaps inside vs. the run game. But what was so frustrating when watching his game was his inability to disengage from blocks once an opposing lineman got his hands on him. Kindle wasn’t fluid or sudden when trying to redirect off his initial burst and wasn’t effective at all using his hands to shed blocks. He still looks more like a 3-4 OLB at the next level to me because of his ability to break down and tackle in space, but I don’t see him being an impact pass rusher until he becomes more than a one-trick pony off the edge.

Earl Thomas, S (5-10, 197)

If there’s one guy who absolutely jumped out at me Saturday it was Texas safety Earl Thomas. Thomas finished with seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble forced, one interception and three pass breakups against Oklahoma and was simply a ball hawk in all areas of the game. He’s a bit undersized at 5-10 and 197 pounds, but he showcases great footwork and body control in coverage and exhibits the range to quickly close on the throw. He’s also very instinctive and does a great job reading his run/pass keys quickly and always seems to put himself in position to make plays on the football. Thomas is only a red-shirt sophomore, but he’s eligible for the 2010 draft. If he declares, his combination of fluidity, range and instincts will definitely make him one of the nation’s top safety prospects.

Lamarr Houston, DT (6-2, 300)

Coming into the year, I admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Texas DT Lamarr Houston because I thought he lacked the frame and overall balance to be a factor inside. However, after watching Houston for the first time this season, it’s clear that the additional weight he’s put on has done wonders for his game. He showcases a much stronger base at the point of attack and did a great job consistently creating havoc in the Sooners backfield. His combination of burst and lateral quickness off the snap makes him tough to block inside, and he’s doing a much better job using his length to control opposing linemen on contact. In what’s considered a very deep and talented senior defensive tackle class, Houston definitely looks like one of the nation’s best and should mature into a starting-caliber defensive tackle at the next level.

He’s for real

I talked about Louisiana-Monroe DE Aaron Morgan in week three of my scout’s notebook as a guy who deserved a mention for his play (five sacks in three games) early in the season. Well, I finally got a chance to watch Morgan last Tuesday vs. Arkansas State and came away very impressed. Morgan plays defensive end in the Warhawks’ 3-3-5 alignment at 6-4, 235 and is consistently bombarded with double-teams and chips inside. However, he’s very violent and powerful with his arms and does a great job working his hands and feet in rhythm while shedding blocks in the pass game. He isn’t the most stout of athletes on contact, which can be expected for a guy who weights only 235 pounds, but he plays with a great motor and showcases impressive range in pursuit. His body type says 3-4 OLB, but he looks so natural with his hand on the ground that I think he could end up maturing into an every-down defensive end with time. I graded him out as a 6.1, which reads:

A clean prospect who will need time and development in order to contribute…Physically, this player has all the tools to be a starter in the NFL but has not yet developed the skills necessary due to level of competition, offensive or defensive schemes, injury, grades or lack of playing time…TRUE DEVELOPMENTAL PLAYER who has the potential to become a starter.

I really believe that with some good NFL coaching, Morgan could become one of those small-school gems who could contribute to an NFL defense.

Tiger on the prowl

Auburn ILB Josh Bynes might be the most complete middle linebacker in the country. His ability to not only be physical inside the box but also cleanly redirect in space and make plays on the ball in coverage really jumps out on tape. At 6-2, 238 pounds, Bynes showcases impressive power at the point of attack when asked to keep himself clean along the line of scrimmage and does a great job breaking down as an open-field tackler. He’s a gifted athlete with impressive range and instincts in zone coverage and has a real feel for the pass game. Bynes finished with nine tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry vs. Kentucky and has been one of the top linebacker prospects in the country so far this season.

Press on

Brian Jackson, CB, Oklahoma (6-1, 202)

I absolutely love physical corners who have the ability to get up in the face of opposing receivers and use their size and power to effectively press off the line. And no one did it better last weekend than Sooners cornerback Brian Jackson. Jackson was able to consistently out-muscle and blanket Texas WR Jordan Shipley all over the field Saturday, holding one of the nation’s most productive receivers to only four catches for 22 yards. Jackson does a great job maintaining his balanced while extending long arms and getting his hands into the body of receivers, making it difficult for them to get into their routes. He isn’t particularly gifted or fluid in coverage, but he displays good coordination when adjusting to the football and looks like a guy who could hold his own on the outside as a press corner at the next level.

Kevin Thomas, CB, USC (6-1, 190)

Thomas is another guy who does a great job using his size and length to get up in the grill of receivers and really disrupt their timing in the pass game. He, like Jackson, isn’t the most fluid or explosive of athletes in space, but he has a good feel in coverage, a nose for the ball and is tough to separate from off the line. Thomas looks like another guy who might be overlooked come draft time because of his lack of ideal fluidity and speed. But he reminds me a bit of former Trojan and current New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas and could be a guy who can hold his own on the outside in press coverage at the next level.

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