by David Syvertsen (you can follow him on Twitter)
Texas A&M and Missouri were given their respective welcome parties to the toughest conference in college football this past weekend. I watched, and re-watched these game and have some opening thoughts on some of the SEC’s newest members.
I have to at the very least mention the A&M offensive tackles. They are probably the best pair you will see on one line this year in college football.
· On the left side, junior Luke Joeckel had a nice day. So consistent from beginning to end. I thought I’d go in and watch a finesse blocker that can mirror the speed of Florida and technique-his way in to a strong performance. That he did, but Joeckel actually showed an impressive physical element to his game. While he doesn’t drive defenders off the ball, he locks on to linebackers and defensive ends and controls them throughout the engagement. Play after play he is in control with a wide, strong, balanced stance. Very natural bend to his lower half with an upright torso. It’s early, but Joeckel has been the top left tackle I’ve seen in game action this year.
· On the the right side is Jake Matthews, another junior. Matthews has found his home, and I don’t believe he will make the move to the left side in the NFL. He might be athletic enough, but the consistency as a pass blocker isn’t quite there. What he does have however is stifling power as a run blocker. If he gets his hand to the inside position and has the base squared up, the defender is done. He will be tested by future NFL defensive ends in the coming months and will be interesting to see if the lack of quick twitch in space can be exploited.
Aggies running back Christine Michael is an interesting story. He burst on to the scene in 2009 and won Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Unfortunately, a broken leg in 2010 and torn ACL in 2011 ended both seasons prematurely. Michael is a big, thick back at 5’11/220. For a guy coming off a torn up knee, Michael looked impressive. He has a five yard split I would put up against anyone in college football right now. When he needs to reach the line of scrimmage in a hurry, he can make himself small and use power/explosion to get those tough yards. Very savvy runner that can see things develop in front of him before they open up. This will be a huge year for him and priority number one is staying healthy. If that’s the case, his tool set will land him in the middle of the draft.
LB Sean Porter has been put on the radar because of a huge 2011 season production-wise. He led the team in sacks and added 17 tackles for loss last year. The comparisons to former Aggie Von Miller have been made. Truth is, Porter is a completely different player. I did not see a guy that will make a huge difference off the edge at the next level. He’s at his best in space where he can pursue from the weak side. He has elite speed and quickness.
Eventually Porter will need to add some bulk but that will come in time once he is put in to an NFL weight training program. While his game is based on athleticism, he showed on a few occasions the aggression to fill the lane hard and clog the hole. He excels in coverage. Often matched up against receivers that are 30 pounds lighter than him but he, at the very least, can stay close enough to them to make a play with the ball in the air. Good player, but not the elite talent that got Miller drafted second overall in 2011.
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At Missouri, two defenders were the focal point for me when I re-watched the game. Overall, I left disappointed in their inaugural SEC performances.
· Weak side linebacker Zaviar Gooden certainly looks the part. Gooden will end up with some of the better workout numbers next winter/spring leading up to the draft. His speed/agility translates to the field and for that reason, he will be sought after because every coach wants the opportunity to mold an athlete in a to a football player. However, the impressive physical traits is where it ends with Gooden.
Gooden moves better than he thinks. What I mean by that is that he lacks the football instincts that put a linebacker in position to succeed. He is easily fooled on play-action and counters, leaving his lanes wide open. There is also a lack of physical presence against the run. Very little impact made as a run stuffer, as you see most of his tackles come via pursuit. There will be a wide grade discrepancy among evaluators with Gooden.
· Sheldon Richardson made big news with his quote about the SEC being a weaker-than-advertised conference. Not smart. He is also an active talker on the field, constantly trying to draw attention to himself. However at the end of the night, I left unimpressed by him, playing like a typical middle round lineman. He gets off the snap well, which I like up the middle. Quick hands and showed a few moves to free himself and break through the pocket. However, when he was on the field, the impact was minimal. He did not have a physical presence at all. Zero impact upon contact with the blocker. Richardson is a young player with tools. But he’ll need to make more plays if he wants to reach the level he thinks he is at.