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Senior Bowl Report: South team’s defense is defined by its line

Doug Farrar
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John Jenkins is a very large -- but surprisingly quick -- young man. (USAT Sports Images)

MOBILE, Ala. -- It's fairly common knowledge that the 2013 draft class is very deep on the defensive line, and the standouts for the South team at Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice bore that out. From well-known to unsung, several players made themselves noticed up front.

Georgia's John Jenkins? Well, let's not get too technical -- he's a REALLY big guy. Jenkins measured 6-foot-4 and 359 pounds at Monday's weigh-in, and while he'd probably do well to mix in a salad now and again, he's not a big fatty -- even with all that weight and an obvious gut, he's long enough in stature to pull it off, and quick enough off the snap to eradicate most concerns about first-step quickness. What happens later in games is another issue, but Jenkins looked pretty fit throughout Tuesday's 90-minute practice.

As you would expect from a man his size, Jenkins' bull-rush is superlative, but where he stands out, and where he reminds me of current Kansas City Chiefs and former Memphis lineman Dontari Poe, is in his ability to get around blockers in multiple gaps with more than just pure weight. He knifed through several double teams, and took Chadron State's Garrett Gilkey out of the picture on more than one play. Shading between center and guard, Jenkins almost demands that double team, though there are times when he loses leverage and can get pushed back by single blockers. However, when he shows off a surprising spin move and gets mobile, there are few linemen who can hold him back. One thing I really like about Jenkins is that he never stops trying to beat blocks -- if you do stand him up, he'll hand-fight or try to loop around the block. Any team that plays a 3-4/4-2-5 hybrid set of schemes would enjoy having him on its roster.

Speaking of hand-fighting, perhaps the most impressive defensive tackle on either squad today was Mississippi State's Josh Boyd. At 6-foot-3 and 312 pounds, Boyd looks every bit the part of the perfect three-technique lineman in any straight 4-3 defense. At his best, he reminds be a bit of Kevin Williams. From drills to 11-on-11, Boyd displayed quick ad violent hands to get around pads and disengage from blockers, and he's also extremely quick to turn and run in short areas. Blockers double-teamed him at times from the three-tech role because they had to. He's more of a run-stopper than a pure pass rusher, and he was eclipsed by Fletcher Cox until the end of the 2011 season, but based on what I've seen so far, Boyd has the look of an every-down interior lineman.

There's been a lot of talk about BYU's Ezekiel Ansah as possibly the next Jason Pierre-Paul, and while you can see the athleticism flash all over the place, there are some real questions about Ansah's ability to deliver a blow and rock people back. There's no question that he's athletic in space and has a good spin move, but he also raises serious questions about his ability to deliver a blow and have it stick. I saw him bounce off blockers without making much of an impact, and until he learns leverage for his position, he may be a "fly-around" guy without much weight to his hits. The good news is that Ansah, a native of Ghana who came to the game of football late and who has more of a track background, has the potential to get there. But for a 6-foot-5, 274-pound man, you'd generally expect more core power than what has been seen.

One player who doesn't have that problem is defensive tackle Everett Dawkins of Florida State. Dawkins has an excellent bull-rush, can create space with his hands, and is surprisingly quick to the ballcarrier in the backfield. At 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, Dawkins doesn't really fit the prototype of the modern three-tech tackle or five-tech and, but a team with a creative line coach should be able to make room for him on its roster.

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