Here are my initial reactions from the first week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top defensive prospects.
One versatile Gamecock
South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood picked up right where he left off last season, finishing week one with eight tackles and two sacks. Norwood lacks ideal height, standing only six feet tall, but he really seems to use it to his advantage. He consistently is able to gain leverage on opponents and is so compact that it’s nearly impossible to knock him off balance when he fires off the edge. He’s used all over the South Carolina front seven, and his versatility will only further enhance his stock at the next level.
What to do with this Tulsa standout?
One guy who really jumped out to me last weekend was Tulsa linebacker/safety hybrid James Lockett. Lockett is only 5-11, 203 pounds, but he displays an impressive feel for the game and always seems to be around the football. He finished Friday night’s game with five tackles, two for losses, one sack and was a consistent playmaker in Tulsa’s front seven.
Lockett exhibits impressive natural strength for his size and uses his length and natural leverage to shed blocks and quickly close on the football. He’s also very sudden when asked to get after the passer, and his 8.5 sacks last year are a direct result of that.
He lacks ideal size for the linebacker position and might not be rangy enough to play as a center field-type safety at the next level, but the guy exhibits great instincts in all areas of his game and simply makes too many plays to be overlooked.
San Jose State hybrid defender Justin Cole, rated as one of the top senior linebackers by Blesto and National this year, really struggled in the opener. Cole was consistently handled on the outside by USC OT Charles Brown and was unable to cause any type of pressure off the edge.
I graded out Cole as the seventh best outside linebacker in my preseason rankings and see him more as a guy who could end up making an NFL roster and eventually competing for playing time, not as a high round pick who will become an impact player. Watching him struggle vs. USC this week only solidifies my opinion.
A star in the making
While watching the LSU secondary on Saturday night, I caught my first real glimpse of sophomore CB Patrick Peterson and was absolutely amazed by his physical skill set. Peterson is a man-child at 6-1, 211 pounds and combines the body control and balance to excel in coverage with the power and physicality to really lay the wood as a tackler.
The guy is built like a safety but exhibits impressive fluidity when asked to turn and find the football. There aren’t too many kids who just scream first-round pick the moment you see them, but with Peterson, you just know.
The underrated Tiger
LSU defender Harry Coleman started 13 games for the Tigers at strong safety last season but was moved to strong-side linebacker this year because of his physical style of play inside the box. That type of play was on consistent display Saturday night, as Coleman finished the game with seven tackles, one for loss. He’s a unique athlete who showcases the ability to not only tackle in a phone booth but also close on the ball in space. However, because of his size (6-2, 206), Coleman will likely be asked to make the change back to strong safety at the next level. But with a weak crop of senior strong safeties, he should end up being one of the highest-rated prospects at the position in April.
Ohio State nightmare
Watching Ohio State safety Anderson Russell get victimized by the Navy passing game (I didn’t even think Navy had a passing game) was almost predictable. All the preseason hype surrounding Russell was just that -- hype. If Russell can’t even stay with Navy slot back Marcus Curry in coverage, how is he ever going to stay with NFL-caliber receivers? I had Russell rated as the sixth best senior free safety in the country (a lot lower than most), but now I’m starting to think that even that spot is too high.
I knew coming into this year that the Cal offense was going to score a ton of points, but what I didn’t know was just how impressive their defensive front seven could be. The Golden Bears registered six sacks against Maryland and absolutely tormented QB Chris Turner throughout the game, giving the Terps’ offense no chance of getting on track.
Six different defenders recorded at least half a sack, although the play of defensive lineman Cameron Jordan in particular stood out. His combination of size, length and lateral quickness makes him really tough to block, and he’s consistently able to disengage and make his way toward the ball. He’s definitely a junior defensive end worth keeping an eye on this year as he has the ability to anchor and make plays in both a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme at the next level.
The Alabama defense is absolutely loaded with NFL-caliber talent, but one guy who’s often overlooked is defensive lineman andon Deaderick. Linebacker Orlando McClain and nose tackle Terrence Cody typically grab most of the headlines, but Deaderick is a very talented prospect in his own right.
Even after being shot only days before the Virginia Tech game, he still exhibited impressive power at the point of attack and displayed the body control to sidestep blocks and disengage from opposing linemen wherever he lined up. Deaderick is asked to play both inside and outside on the ‘Bama defensive line, however, his impressive combination of size, power and lateral quickness is starting to make me think that he could end up being the best five-technique defensive end in the 2010 draft.