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Football: Beginner's Guide to Evaluating High School Prospects: Defense

Now we shift focus to the defense

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After focusing on offense, we'll now shift focus to the defensive positions. The process is similar, but the qualities are different. Quickness is a must at all levels, as is good tackling form. For any defensive player, be sure they don't arm tackle, or just come in and hit without wrapping up. Defenders need to to hit, wrap, and drive through the tackle. Jamal Golden's fumble-causing tackle in the 2014 Orange Bowl is the textbook definition of a tackle. While not all tackles will be that good, that is certainly the Golden(heh) standard for which a high school prospect should strive in his highlight film.


When it comes to Defensive Tackles, there are guys out there who can do it all at the college level. These guys are rare, and end up being 4 or 5 star recruits. Georgia Tech historically hasn't landed these guys at the DT position. The rest of the DT recruits generally fall into 1 of 2 categories: Space Eaters and Disruptors. Over the last few seasons, the Georgia Tech defense has not had a true Space Eater, and it has been a major problem for the defense as a whole. We have, however, done a pretty good job of recruiting Disruptors, the best of which being Adam Gotsis.

A Space Eater is just what it sounds like: a big, strong DT who can eat double teams without being moved from his spot. These players generally weigh 300 lbs right out of high school, or have large frames to which a large amount of weight can be added. When watching one of these players, it's important to see how they engage blocks. If the prospect is to be a Nose Tackle, he will need to attack blockers instead of trying to avoid them. He'll need to show that he can power through double and possibly even triple teams at the high school level. They don't need to add too much of a pass rush, or even make a bunch of tackles in the backfield. They just need to be able to hold their point. It's also important to evaluate the extent to which the player can shed blocks. It's important to hold up against double teams in order to keep the Linebackers clean, but it's also important shed blocks and make tackles at the point of attack.

With the Disruptor, the main thing to look for is a quick first step. The player needs to be able to move quickly after the snap to put themselves in an advantageous position. The job of the Disruptor is to defeat single blocks, stop the flow of the play, and make tackles for loss. They are the primary interior pass rushers as well, a job that often gets overlooked when DE's put up gaudier sack numbers. In addition to the quick first step, these players need to be slippery, and difficult for the OL to get their hands on. They therefore need to have quick hands, flexible hips, and developed pass rushing moves. Look a the types of rushes they use as well. Are they a "one trick pony" and only do a certain move, or do they have an expanded repertoire? It's a huge plus if the prospect uses quickness or strength to win in different situations. Finally, look to see if they have any other examples of athleticism in their tape. Any pick-6es? Any snaps at fullback or TE? These types of plays show the overall athleticism of the the player


The primarily responsibilities of the Defensive End are pass rushing and edge contain. To properly perform both of these roles, proper quickness, length, and size are essential. The first step is even more essential for a DE than it is for a DT. If the DE cannot use quickness to gain an advantage on the OT that is blocking him, his repertoire of pass rushing moves is limited severely, and he will struggle to gain consistent pressure. Like with DT, look for a variety of pass rush techniques, and make sure the player shows flexibility in the hips, as this helps with certain pass rushing moves like the "rip and dip."

For edge contain, the DE won't likely be in many situations where they have to absorb double teams, so look to see how they do against single blocks. Look for plays where the DE engages a single blocker on the edge, uses his arms to gain leverage on that blocker, then sheds the blocker to make the tackle. These skills in combination will help tremendously with setting the edge. Size also helps, of course, so look at the player's frame to figure out roughly how much more weight he will be able to carry.


Linebackers, like DTs, rarely can do it all. For this reason, they are split into Inside LBs and Outside LBs. The tasks required of each depend on the defensive system in which they will play. Here, we will focus on Georgia Tech's 4-3/4-2-5 system.

We'll focus on ILBs first. These players are the enforcers against the run, and are responsible for gap integrity between the tackles. As such, they need to be able to hold up in the trenches against much bigger players. They need to show that they can fire into gaps at the line of scrimmage and take on lead blockers. On film, look to see if they have the ability to engage and stop lead blockers from clearing the hole, and whether or not they can then shed the block and make the tackle on the runner. If he can hit, shed, and tackle all in one play, he has a lot of promise on the interior. Also look for the LB's "range," which is related to pursuit speed. How far outside can the player catch the runner if the play is on the edge? Make sure the player can make stops both inside and outside the tackle box.

For OLBs, the focus is shifted somewhat. It is best for these players to be long and rangy. OLBs are generally playing in space more often, so open field tackling ability is a must. In addition, the player should show skills either in pass coverage or pass rush, ideally both. Look for a quick edge blitz that opposing OTs can't handle in the pass rush. For pass coverage, the ability to close on underneath routes is essential, and look for players that can at least run with TEs in man coverage. Finally, look at how well the OLB prospect moves laterally. There will be many a situation where that player has to flow to the sideline and deal with the ball-carrier in open space. If he can't move laterally with ease, he's doomed.

Since Ted Roof has had a penchant for recruiting a few LBs on the shorter side since he's been here, I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss how length can affect a LBs ability. It's important to keep a player's height in mind when watching their tape. If they are on the shorter side, remember how that can affect their play and see if and how they make up for those shortcomings in other ways. The biggest areas where shorter LBs struggle are block shedding and pass coverage. It's difficult for a shorter defender to get his hands into the chest of a blocker in order to control him, as the taller defender will use his long arms to keep the defender at bay. In pass coverage, just as wide receivers have what is referred to as a "catch radius" defenders have their own "pass defense radius." A taller LB is going to be able to deflect or intercept balls that are further away from him. Additionally, LBs are often tasked with covering TEs, and if they are on the shorter side, they will struggle with jump balls.


I've talked about flexible hips frequently as a desirable trait for players at a lot of positions. However, in no position group is it more important than it is with Defensive Backs. By the nature of the position, both CBs and Safeties must be able to react and shift their bodies to what the offense throws at them, and often have to contort themselves in the air to break up passes at the point of attack.

While Corners and Safeties are different positions, the qualities required for both are similar. Each position simply puts more emphasis in some areas rather than others. Agility, Recovery Speed, and the ability to be isolated on a man are generally more desirable for Corners, while Safeties need size, tackling ability, and the ability to read an offense.

In order to determine whether or not a prospect is a fit at Corner, look to see how often they are left "on an island" with a receiver. If a coach trusts his man to not get beaten 1 on 1, that's a good sign that he has talent. It's also imperative that the prospect be able to "play the man" as well as "play the ball." In high school, a lot of talented players will try to go after the ball in an attempt to make flashy interceptions and pass breakups. These are important, but it's only part of his game at the next level. He must be able to break on the receiver, and be able to either separate the receiver from the ball or tackle him to prevent additional yards.

Back in the article about offensive players, I talked about watching receivers get out of their route breaks to see how much separation they are able to gain. The opposite is true for corners. See how they can minimize the separation out of breaks. More importantly, if a receiver is able to gain separation, how quickly can the defender close the gap? Is it in time to break up the pass, and do they do this consistently? Remember that this is a highlight film, it's important to see a player make plays multiple times.

For Safeties, look for tackling ability, and aggression when attacking the line of scrimmage in run support. It's also important for safeties to drop into zone and break on the ball or the receiver. When breaking on the receiver, it's important for a safety to be physical, and separate the player from the ball by force. Make sure they can do that as well.

Remember again, the hips don't lie....about your ability as a DB.

That's it! Let me know if you have any questions.