- All star game week featured a number of impressive performances by Texas A&M commits. In fact, you had could have a lively argument over who was the best prospect not just for the week overall but even in each individual game.
The Semper Fidelis Bowl closed out the week last night and the game included a number of Aggie commits and targets. Nederland four star defensive tackle DeShawn Washington was the latest to stake his claim as the best of the best in the class of 2014. Washington doesn't do a lot of interviews and he plays in southeast Texas away from major media markets. Thus, other than Hudl highlights it's been hard to gain much perspective on how good he is other than being the best defensive tackle in the state for 2014 (and there's not exactly a bumper crop of prospects at the position this season).
After last night, there's no question that if you included Washington in A&M's defensive tackle class of 2013 (which produced two players that started games as true freshmen), he would make a push for being the best prospect in the group. He's a not a true nosetackle like Isaiah Golden and lacks his size but more of a three technique like Justin Manning. Washington is a much more explosive player coming of the ball and provides an element that A&M was really missing at the position this season outside of Ivan Robinson….a first step guy who can make plays in the opponent's backfield.
In fact, that's where Washington spent virtually his entire night. Washington lined up at right defensive tackle for the West squad and made his presence felt on the very first play of the game. The East ran a trap with the guard opposite Washington pulling to the outside out of a pistol look in the backfield. That meant that either the right tackle (on a down block) or the center (on a reach block) needed to cut off Washington from following the guard through the gap he created by pulling into the backfield. In this instance, the tackle attempted to down block Washington who got off the ball and had a quick enough first step so that the tackle didn't have a good angle to stalemate when he made contact. Washington absorbed the blow with his shoulder, kept going, and hit the back behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.
In the Southeastern Conference, it's imperative for teams to have defenders who can beat those types of down and reach blocks because everyone likes to run power plays with pulling linemen This is true of A&M's opponents in the West and especially true of Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State who run versions of the spread option and use pulling linemen. The Aggies lacked those types of defensive linemen this season which is the primary reason that they finished dead last in the SEC in rushing defense. In contrast, Missouri led the conference in tackles for loss and went to the SEC title game and until the debacle against Auburn were one of the best defenses in the league versus the run.
Of all of the linemen who played for the West squad, Washington was the most notable by far for his ability to get off the ball and disrupt plays. You saw number 90 seemingly in the backfield every time you looked up. In fact, when you didn't see him in the backfield you were bound to see him either being doubled teamed or a yellow flag somewhere because he was constantly being held when he was single blocked in order to prevent him from making a play.
Washington also has great lateral mobility and the ability to chase plays from behind. He was lifted on the first drive of the game to get a breather but on his first play back in on the drive the quarterback threw the ball behind the running back on a swing pass. It turned out to be a fumble and Washington hustled outside and beat all of the perimeter defenders to the ball.
Washington doesn't just offer great get off. He also has quick hands and has such flexibility in his hips and knees that he comes off the ball lower than the offensive lineman and wins pad level almost every time. In addition, earlier in the evaluation process, there were concerns about his size because he wasn't someone that appeared at camps and people weren't allowed to come by his school to see him. However, after last night, there's no question that he's a legitimate 6 foot 3 and has the frame to be as big as you need him to be. Because of his size, he's very difficult to handle when attacks an opponent's shoulder; there's a low center of gravity combined with a lot of mass that you need to turn. He's got a big base so he's going to be able to support adding a lot more weight. In addition, his combination of size and quickness demands a double team and frees up the linebackers behind him to make plays.
Overall, Washington is eventually going to be a perfect complement to someone like Golden. Golden can hold up in the middle against double teams and Washington can use his quickness to beat blocks and make plays in the backfield. The Aggies will finally have a starting duo in place that A&M fans have seen the likes of against LSU and Florida…tackles that can make plays in the backfield and force offenses to play to the perimeter instead of through the middle.
- The remaining A&M targets and commits weren't as noteworthy last night but that's due primarily to the fact that the camera angles didn't make for easy viewing of the defensive backfield. In addition, highly-touted pass rusher Qualen Cunningham didn't play due to injury.
Las Vegas Bishop offensive lineman Nick Gates had a nice game at right tackle. At this point of his career, Gates appears to be more of a technician with good feet than someone who's overpowering. He's certainly not as big as the other tackles who were playing for the West last night but he gets his hands up quickly and inside on an opponent and also does a good job of keeping the opponent's hands off of his body. He has good feet as well and positioned himself well both on zone blocks in the running game and on pass protection. He's certainly someone who needs a redshirt year in order to put on more weight.
Jenks safety Steven Parker spent most of his night playing centerfield. Occasionally he came down to the line of scrimmage to play up on a slot. When he did so, he displayed why he's such a highly touted prospect. On a bubble screen in the first quarter in which he found himself face to face with the receiver with no help at the line of scrimmage, Parker used his quick feet to cut off the receiver from getting upfield and his length to take the receiver down. In addition, later on he stopped a long gain on a run downfield by positioning himself in front of the runner and taking him down as he ran into him. Although he didn't lay into the guy like a lot of people would have liked to have seen, he did make the stop which is something that couldn't be said a lot of time of A&M's secondary defenders on such plays in the 2013 season. Mostly, Parker has great length, range, and the smarts to direct traffic. Overall, he reminds me of former West Mesquite safety and current freshman Kameron Miles except that he's probably faster.
Finally, we didn't get much of a look at River Ridge safety Mattrell McGraw. He played mostly in the slot but got beat in man coverage on a deep throw and also fumbled a punt. He's not as big as most SEC safeties but seems to be able to anticipate well in his highlights and make plays in coverage. He strikes me as a bigger, more athletic version of Toney Hurd as he lines up on a slot most of the time and can cover them in the short zones.