Improved Defensive front
After watching any player not named Atkins or Dunlap struggled to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback last season, the addition of players like Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson feels like a breath of fresh air. Willis generated 11.5 sacks at Kansas State and added 17.5 tackles for loss, largely because of his quickness off the line and high motor. He demonstrates stiffness when trying to bend around the edge, often taking wide arcs in attempting to get into the backfield.
Luckily, he has the physical tools to be molded into something great. If the coaching staff can manage to teach him some counter moves and refine his technique he could have instant pass-rush impact as a rookie.
Lawson is the prospect that I am really excited about. Lawson was tagged by some as a first round talent but ended up sliding into the fourth round due to his injury history, short arms, and lack of flexibility. Injuries may be a concern to some, but his cracked hip gets me excited- and here’s why. His ankle flexion is impressive which paired with the cracked hip leads me to believe he can improve his flexibility in his hips more than your typical rookie.
With a wide array of pass-rush moves, Lawson is close to being a top-notch pass rusher if he could just dip around the edge and demonstrate a little more hip flexibility. What is truly encouraging is his hand use which is spectacular for a kid coming out of college. This demonstrates his willingness to hone his technique and implement it in his game. Look for him to have an immediate impact on passing downs.
Then, of course, there is Andrew Billings. The guy is strong as an ox– let’s start with that. At 18 he benched 500lbs, deadlifted 705lbs, and squatted 805lbs. His monstrous stature and strength are noticeable right away, but Billings isn’t your ordinary gap-plugger. He is surprisingly agile for his size and has an impeccable motor.
Billings also is often the first to make contact after the ball is snapped demonstrating his physicality. I’m not holding out hope that he is also going to occupy the spot next to Geno on passing downs anytime soon. But Billings has the strength to force linemen back toward their quarterback to collapse the pocket and apply pressure. Stripes in the opposing backfield? Sign me up.
This improved defensive front leads into my next reason for optimism which is…