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July 11, 2013

Texas defensive ends crop loaded for 2014

The defensive end crop in the state of Texas is strong this year, probably stronger than it's been in a while. That may be something of a surprising statement since the spread offense has taken hold across the state and you would expect pass rushers and corners to be as necessary on the defensive side of the ball as are left tackles, quarterbacks, and receivers on offense.

1. Myles Garrett, Arlington Martin

2. Solomon Thomas, Coppell

3. Jarrett Johnson, Katy Seven Lakes (committed to Texas A&M)

4. Derick Roberson, San Antonio Brennan (committed to Texas)

5. Grant Blankenship, The Colony (committed to Notre Dame)

6. Jake McMillon, Abliene (committed to Texas)

7. Jarrell Owens, Palestine (committed to TCU)

8. Zach Vaughan, Round Rock McNeil (committed to Houston)

9. L.J. Collier, Munday (committed to Texas Tech)

10. Sione Teuhema, Keller (committed to Texas)

Although there's always been a number of guys in the 240 to 250 pound range that go from 6 foot 2 to 6 foot 4 and have the size to play the strong side, there's typically a premium on weakside/edge guys who put pressure on the quarterback and make negative plays. There's rarely enough edge guys to go around and many times you find linebacker sized prospects who played the position in high school recruited at the position even though they may be too small for it at the college level. Many years, there's only a couple of guys who fit the bill at weakside end in terms of their quickness off the ball and even worse those guys sometimes don't pan out at all. The margin of error at the position is normally very narrow.

This year is a little bit of a different story. You've got a few guys who can fit the bill on the weakside; not only that, some of the strongside guys can also bring pressure off the edge and even the weakside prospects have the size to play on the strongside.

It's a close race between Garrett and Thomas for the number one spot with Garrett getting a slight edge due to his length and burst. He can play either spot and may grow into a strongside end with his 6 foot 4 to 6 foot 5 frame. He has a really good first step for a guy his size and he accelerates to the ball like a much smaller guy. He can be relentless at times in his pursuit of it. He has also great lateral movement and can take one step and avoid the first push of the blocker opposite him. He's also very disciplined and doesn't overrun plays and make himself susceptible to misdirection. Right now, he relies on his athleticism to get past blockers and make plays so he doesn't use his hands as much as he should. However, when he does, he has a great punch and his length enables him to keep blockers off of his body.

Thomas is very strong and almost resembles a three tech defensive tackle in physical appearance. He also has a quick first step and has great flexibility in his knees and hips. As a result, he comes off the ball low, hard, and fast and is almost always able to obtain leverage on a defender. He's also very advanced in terms of technique as he showed at the Rivals Five Star Challenge. He likes to attack one side of a blocker with his shoulder but he can also use his hands to fend off them or get them inside and escape.

Johnson is rated as a three star by Rivals.com but has the length and athleticism of a four star. He's listed at 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds but appears to be larger on film and has a long wingspan. He doesn't have Roberson's pure speed but he still has a very good burst off the ball. In addition, due to his long arms, he can get leverage on blockers pretty easily, keep them away from them, and eventually shed them to make plays. He's also very coordinated and has a knack for shooting gaps and avoiding blockers.

Roberson is more of a classic weakside end in terms of size and speed. He's really good at accelerating to the quarterback. He usually comes off the ball quickly with a little shake. He's also got good hand/eye coordination. He doesn't have a lot of moves on film but that's because he hasn't needed them. He's got some length to him as well and has long arms.

Blankenship is more of your classic strongside end. He's 6 foot 6 so he's got a lot of length and a frame to eventually be much bigger. He's not a first step guy but he can come off the ball, get his hands inside of the blockers', and drive them back. His long arms enable him to engulf ball carriers and cause fumbles and he's rangy enough to cover lots of ground. He is also well coordinated and despite his height can stay on his feet when someone tries to cut him.

McMillon is also not a first step guy but he's got very good punch. He accelerates to the ball and he's relentless in pursuit. He's a smart player who understands angles and how to shoot gaps. Owens plays running back for Palestine and from a physical standpoint he's got the tools…length, ability to run, etc. However, he's going to need lots of work in his technique.

Out of state players with A&M interest:

There's a couple of out of state targets that would be in the mix for the designation of the top defensive end in the state. Arizona's Qualen Cunningham is the son of former A&M player Rick Cunningham. Physically, he is lot like Jarrett Johnson at 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds and he has a really good first step. However, Cunningham uses his hands very well and doesn't allow blockers to get their hands on him. He has a number of pass rush moves including a spin move which he displayed at the Rivals Five Star Challenge. Technically, he's far more advanced than just about anyone on the list. He's got great flexibility in his hips and knees and comes off the ball low. New Orleans Edna Karr's Gerald Willis III is physically similar to Thomas. He's a first step guy who is very good at avoiding blockers and uses his hands very well to push people around or disengage from them. He's very coordinated and can run people down from behind.

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