by Tommy Lawlor
* Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o is playing terrific football and it looks like he made a great decision to return for his Senior season. Against Michigan he had 8 total tackles, a TFL, and 2 INTs. That now gives him 3 INTs for the season…and his career. He created another INT by getting good pressure on the QB. Te’o is playing the best football of his career. He finally is living up to the hype. In the past, he was good, but not as good as some would make him out to be. This year he’s the real deal.
Te’o isn’t an instinctive player. He goes on what he sees, not feels or anticipates. He’s at his best attacking upfield. He is moving better laterally than in the past, but that still is an issue. He loves to open his hips and run or to go upfield. That affects his tackling. There were several plays vs Michigan when he was off balance and dove for the ball carrier and missed.
I’m impressed with how he uses his hands to fight off blockers. That’s important. Keep yourself clean so you can get to the football. Te’o remains a good athlete and he can hit with the best of ’em. I’m not sure about his ability to diagnose plays. Michigan does a lot of option and creative stuff on offense so that can be tricky. It will be interesting to see if teams prefer Te’o at ILB or OLB.
* Another LB having a banner year is Penn State’s Michael Mauti, he of 2 ACL injuries. This year Mauti is healthy and he’s playing really well. He was lights out vs Illinois. He was in on 6 tackles, had 1/2 a sack, and picked off 2 passes. The picks were impressive, too. He jumped routes over the middle both times. He read the QB and attacked the ball. That’s great pass defense.
Mauti is an OLB, but PSU lines him up inside in plenty of looks. Heck, they put him all over the place. They have him get on the LOS and blitz off the edge (this is how he got the sack vs ILL). They have him out wide against spread looks. Sometimes Mauti sits in the middle. Against Illinois there was a short yardage play where he got in the A-gap and helped stuff the play. You really are getting a complete LB.
The thing I like most is that he’s smart. Mauti is able to diagnose plays and get to the right spot. He can fly upfield, move laterally, or drop and move with receivers. He plays under control, but has a great motor. Mauti is a good tackler and physical player. He’ll mix it up with OL when needed. I’m excited to see how he’ll perform against top athletes like Braxton Miller, Montee Ball, and guys like that.
* Let’s jump to the other side of the ball. Florida State RB Chris Thompson is having a breakout season. He broke his back against Wake Forest in 2011, but is back healthy now and running like you wouldn’t believe. Thompson barely got the ball in the first 2 games, both crazy blowouts. Against Wake, he had 9 carries for 197 yards…in the 1st half. He sat the rest of the game. I figured that had to be a fluke. I just knew that Clemson would control him. Thompson was 15-103 with 2 TDs against them. He also caught 8 passes for 79 yards.
Thompson has explosive speed. He is running as fast as any RB I can recall. His acceleration is like something from a bad movie. He pulls away from defenders with ease. Thompson is 5-8, 187. He is Charlie Garner, but with even better speed. The huge factor with him will be how NFL medical types grade his back/neck. He’s showing no effects right now, but they’ll test the living crap out of him.
Forget my words. Check out the speed in this video.
* A Junior RB that stood out to me on Saturday was Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State. I get nervous about some guys who light it up in the spread, but Randle really impressed me. He showed excellent vision and patience as he read his blocks and let plays develop. He also showed real good power down in the Red Zone when he knocked over a defender. Randle was 25-199-2 in that game. He’s currently 6th in the nation in rushing. He’s not just a finesse guy thriving in the spread. Talented runner with some toughness.
* Now let’s talk about a blocker. Dallas Thomas started 25 games in a row at LT for Tennessee, but this year they threw us a curveball and moved him to LG. He still goes to LT for a series here and there, but LG is his primary position. Thomas is 6-5, 310. Really good feet. Anchors exceptionally well. Balanced blocker that will mirror the rusher and use his arms to keep defenders away from his body and under control. Thomas isn’t natural at the 2nd level, but that makes sense for a guy who’s more of a LT than a G. I’m sure Thomas will play OT at the Senior Bowl and would expect him to play there in the NFL. Look for #71 the next time you watch Tennessee play.
* Dion Jordan is one interesting player. Look at the numbers and you’ll say “no big deal”. He’s got 12.5 sacks, 2 FFs and 2 PBUs…in his career. Look at the tape and you see a gifted athlete with incredible potential. Oregon uses him at DE, stand-up LB, and even as a LB out covering slot receivers. Oregon lists him at 6-7, 243. There are times when he takes 2 steps and seems to be on the complete other side of the formation. But he’s not some gangly, stiff guy. I think it was the Fresno State game when he turned and ran with a WR 25 yards downfield. Jordan got in the guy’s hip pocket and stayed right with him. That’s crazy.
Jordan is a talented college player, but I don’t know that I’d even call him a star. He’s got the potential to be a superstar in the NFL. He needs to go to a team that will use him creatively. He’s too good to plunk down at one spot and use in a limited way. You must embrace his versatility. And Jordan isn’t just an athlete. He’s a football player. He’s not shy of contact. He can play the run, rush the passer, or drop back and cover. He does it all. I’m really looking forward to seeing him against Stanford and USC.
* CB David Amerson had a phenomenal season in 2011, picking off 13 passes. Expectations were sky high for him entering his Junior season. NC State opened the season vs Tennessee and he had the chance to face NFL type WRs. Amerson was beaten for TDs in that game and he has struggled since. He has picked off 3 passes, but has given up more plays than he has made. It sounds like he is trying to do too much and that is leading him to take chances. Any talk of him as a 1st round prospect is gone. If Amerson is smart, he’ll return for 2013 and try to rehab his status so he can make a run at the 1st round. He’s just not having a good year right now. Miami scored 44 points on NCSU last Saturday and Amerson had a big hand in that.
* I watched Michigan State battle Ohio State so I could check out a couple of Spartans stars. RB Le’Veon Bell did not impress me. He’s big and strong. He can break some tackles. He doesn’t go down easy. The problem is that Bell is built for college, not the NFL. I didn’t see good agility. He doesn’t move well laterally. He can’t make guys miss in space. Bell is a straight-ahead power runner. I think he’ll be a role player in the NFL. Even big guys must be somewhat elusive.
DE William Gholston, a Junior like Bell, failed to impress. He had some good moments, but overall didn’t look special. He’s huge. Looks like a solid athlete. Last year he had 16.5 TFLs. This year he’s got 4. He did play much better at LDE than RDE. I don’t know if that had to do with a lesser blocker or just him being more comfortable. I watched Gholston some last year and was really impressed at times. I hope I just caught him on a bad day. Big DEs like him aren’t easy to find.