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Muench's Trenches: Who has the edge?

11/1/2013


On Saturday, Georgia Tech defensive end/outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu recorded four tackles and two sacks in addition to forcing a fumble in the Ramblin Wreck's 35-25 win over Virginia. His quick first step gave Virginia's right offensive tackle Eric Smith problems, and there was a lot to like about Attaochu's motor whether he was chasing the run or rushing the passer. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, he also did a nice job of getting to depth and showed above-average range dropping into coverage.

That said, there is a difference between producing against a true freshman in Smith and producing against an early-round draft prospect in left offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who got the better of his matchup with Attaochu. Moses used his lateral quickness and length to protect the edge when Attaochu lined up outside the tight end and rushed from a wide alignment. He did it without sacrificing the B-gap as he countered well when Attaochu redirected inside. Even when Moses gave ground on speed-to-power or didn't get great initial hand placement, he recovered well.

As far as the ground game was concerned, Moses can do a better job of sinking his hips and driving his legs, but he sealed Attaochu long enough to create seams for the ball carrier and washed Attaochu down the line of scrimmage at times. Moses also played with more of an edge and finished better than I've seen on other tapes.

Here's a look at three trench matchups that jump out at me heading into Week 10. Remember, defenders frequently move around. Even though these players won't butt heads on every snap, it will be productive to watch when they do.

Virginia LT Morgan Moses vs. Clemson DE Vic Beasley

Listed at 6-3, 225 pounds, Beasley, much like Attaochu, is another undersized defensive end/outside linebacker prospect who relies on his quickness and athletic ability to get the job done. Yet there are key differences between last Saturday and this Saturday that will make this more of a challenge for Moses.

For starters, Beasley is a quarter-count quicker and uses his hands better, so Moses' margin for error is lower, especially in pass protection. If he continues to set high, Beasley is capable of getting into his frame, driving him back and disengaging in time to make the play. It's also important that Moses' footwork remain sound and he doesn't try to do too much against Beasley, who is tied for the Football Bowl Subdivision lead in sacks with 10.

Another notable difference is the way Clemson uses Beasley versus the way Georgia Tech uses Attaochu. The Yellow Jackets drop Attaochu into coverage and move him around. The Tigers don't move Beasley around or drop him into coverage as much, so Moses should see a lot more of him than Attaochu and consistency comes into play. Additionally, Attaochu chiefly lines up in a two-point stance and lines up off the line at times while Beasley predominantly lines up at defensive end and explodes out of a three-point or four-point stance. He'll reach Moses that much quicker.

Michigan LT Taylor Lewan vs. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun and OLB Denicos Allen

Calhoun is a redshirt sophomore with the potential to develop into a legitimate NFL prospect. He's not there yet though, and he's going to have his hands full going up against a projected first-round pick in Lewan. At 6-4, 250 pounds, Calhoun has above-average upper-body strength and length, but he hasn't filled out that frame and plays a little too high. Lewan is a powerful drive blocker at his best moving defenders off the ball, and he won't let down once he locks onto Calhoun's frame.

As far as the passing game goes, Calhoun doesn't have the torso flexibility or initial quickness to turn the corner and lacks the lower body strength to drive Lewan into the backfield. The one aspect of his game that could give Lewan problems is his effective inside rip move because Lewan doesn't always redirect well.

I'm more interested to see what happens if and when Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi rushes Allen off the edge and whether Lewan can match up athletically. Don't be fooled by Allen's 5-11, 218 pound frame. His size is a concern and he'll have a hard time recovering when he doesn't win initially, but he's a dangerous edge rusher nonetheless. His first-step quickness, low center of gravity and closing speed make it tough for offensive tackles to get their hands on him. Lewan gets overaggressive and can lunge in an effort to ride edge rushers past the pocket. One of Allen's greatest assets as pass-rusher is his instincts and the way he reads blockers. He will work inside if he sees Lewan cheating outside and has the lateral burst to exploit any false steps from Lewan.

Tennessee RT Ja'Wuan James vs. Missouri DE Michael Sam

At 6-6, 318 pounds, James has a substantial size advantage over the 6-2, 255-pound Sam. Just as important, James is quick enough to get into position and make the most of it as a run-blocker. However, technique is an issue. He drives his legs once in position but is a waist-bender who plays high and leans on defenders, so he slips off blocks. He's not afraid of risking getting flagged for holding when he starts to lose a defender either.

Sam is an effective hand-fighter who plays with aggressiveness and great effort. He's capable of quickly slipping top-heavy offensive linemen, and he makes it tough to hold him without drawing the attention of the officials. James is capable of riding Sam past the quarterback and has a strong punch capable of knocking Sam off balance when he tries to turn the corner as a pass-rusher.

Working inside, whether it's right off the snap or a redirection, shouldn't be easy either. Sam is an average athlete for a defensive end prospect. James has above-average foot speed and the wide frame to stay in front of athletic edge rushers when his footwork is sound. However, James is bit of a swinging gate. He can turn his shoulders instead of sliding outside, which cuts down the angle to the quarterback and makes it easier for edge rushers to beat him around the outside. Sam has the burst to take advantage of this weakness. In addition, it's worth noting that Sam has long arms for his frame, so the difference in length isn't as great as you might think. He uses those long arms and low center of gravity to post up offensive tackles and drive them back. If James doesn't get his hands inside and extend quickly, his advantage when it comes to length will disappear.

Working inside whether it's right off the snap or a redirection shouldn't be easy for Sam. Sam is an average athlete for a defensive end prospect. James has above-average foot speed and the wide frame to stay in front of athletic edge rushers when his footwork is sound.