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November 10, 2013

Dunning a powerful addition to '15 class

Texas A&M has obtained commitments or signatures from a number of Rivals 250 safeties in the 2013 and 2014 classes including West Mesquite products Kameron Miles and Dylan Sumner-Gardner. However, none of them stand out on a physical level like Whitehouse product Justin Dunning. For one thing, Dunning measured at 6 foot 5 and over 200 pounds at a combine during the summer so he's by far the biggest of the bunch. In addition, he ran a 4.4 forty at that combine and had a vertical leap of 40 inches so he may well be the best pure athlete of the group as well.

However, what really catches your attention about Dunning is his film. He only played in a couple of games this season as he injured his ACL which required season ending surgery but there's plenty of highlights from his sophomore campaign on Hudl in which he recorded 62 solo tackles, five pass interceptions, six pass deflections, and recovered three fumbles.

You'll normally find Dunning playing free safety in cover two or man free situations. He's very good at anticipating where receivers are going in their routes and when they get there it's very much a mismatch due to his size. He can go high up in the air for passes and because of his length it's very difficult for a receiver to be able to outfight him for the ball when it's in the air downfield. He can also change direction better than you would think for a guy his size. On one play, he has the deep half on the left side and when the slot starts outside he begins to turn to run with him on a corner route. However, he sees that the corner to that side has gained sufficient depth to deal with the slot. Instead, he notices that the outside receiver is running a post route underneath his position. He adjusts to the new threat and when the ball is thrown he goes up high over the receiver for the interception.

One another route in man free coverage, the offense has a slot to his side and he's on the hashmark to the boundary. The back to his side in the backfield flares to the sideline for a screen. The cornerback leaves the outside receiver to come up and play the screen and the slot blocks the nickel covering him. However, the outside receiver is left free to run down the field on a go route and the quarterback foregoes the screen for the open receiver. Nonetheless…and to paraphrase someone else….even an open receiver is covered when Dunning is around. He recognizes the go route, jumps the route, and steps in front of the receiver for the interception.

In fact, he's so good at recognizing routes and jumping them that it's almost like he's baiting the quarterbacks into deep throws and it's unfair because it's virtually impossible to throw it over him given his length and leaping ability. He can use his long arms to break up the passes that he doesn't intercept, even when he is behind the receiver, and do it in a manner so that he doesn't draw interference penalties. He doesn't make mistakes in coverage either…he really recognizes routes and where he needs to be relative to multiple receivers coming toward or away from him.

He can cover a lot of ground due to his height and ability to run and this also translates into him being a great centerfielder running down ballcarriers. He can come all the way across the field to hit someone along the opposite sideline. He takes good angles so that he doesn't overrun a play. With his size, he's also capable of delivering a tremendous blow. When he comes up in run support, he just stalemates people at the point of the blow and they go backwards. His long arms mean that he can really wrap them around ball carriers, bring them down even if he doesn't get a good hit on them, and even lift them off of their feet when doing so.

Dunning also plays center for the Whitehouse basketball team and you notice how those skills translate over to the football field. He's a great leaper who understands how to go up, adjust to a ball, and take it away from someone like it's a rebound. However, like A&M's Mike Evans, he's far from a finesse player and seems to enjoy contact.

Overall, Dunning is exactly the type of safety you want patrolling centerfield for your defense. He's not a quick twitch guy who you want to lock up in man coverage near the line of scrimmage but he'll do everything else downfield in terms of preventing big plays and providing big hits with his recognition skills, length, and speed. He's extremely difficult to throw the ball over or run past as a ballcarrier. In addition, his frame suggests that he's going to get much bigger and there's been speculation that he could fill out into a linebacker like former wideout and current Aggie linebacker Nate Askew (who started his career as a receiver). Even so, just based on his film alone, the Aggies have picked themselves up a destroyer type centerfielder that has virtually the ideal skills, size, and hitting ability for the position.

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