Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence is a popular name in this year's talent pool. The nose tackle has been touted as a potential top selection seemingly since he stepped foot onto campus with the Tigers. Yet last season was a frustrating one, as Lawrence was rigid and immobile for the better part of Clemson's run into the CFB Playoff.
Lawrence himself admitted health was an issue, one that directly impacted his quality of play. Fair enough. But to live up to the reputation he's developed? Lawrence will need to play lights out and be much more of a high impact defender.
So far, so good. Lawrence looked especially good in Clemson's narrow win over the Texas A&M Aggies this past weekend. With the Tigers facing a lull in the schedule until mid-October, seeing Lawrence maintain this quality of play is essential to justifying the whispers that he may be a high-valued prospect.
Several plays against Texas A&M stood out for all the right reasons. First and foremost, Lawrence offered excellent push in the middle. That can be applied to both defense and special teams.
Here, against 309 pound Center Erik McCoy, Lawrence is able to push the pocket and collapse into the lap of QB Kellen Mond. Things to note:
- Press and extension in the hands to reset the line of scrimmage
- Placement of the hands, properly aligned to optimize control of his blocker
- Leg drive to continue to roll momentum through initial press and into collapse
From a fundamentals perspective, this is a textbook power pass rush. Lawrence appears to consider pulling McCoy off his spot, but the momentum and push is so strong that there's no reason to engage in a follow through move.
Even when Lawrence wasn't able to get home as a pass rusher, he was able to offer value with his lateral mobility and size.
These are the caliber of plays Lawrence is going to have to make to win in the NFL. Like it or not, 330+ pound defenders aren't going to predominantly be gap penetrators. So polished hand fits, explosive counters and awareness of the quarterback in the pocket are key for Lawrence's pro projection.
The Aggies game boiled down to the final minute, a failed 2-point conversion from A&M preventing this game from going to overtime. But Lawrence was also directly responsible for 3 points coming off the board for the opposition.
Lawrence, just as he did in his interior power rush, showcases great leg drive and admirable acceleration through contact here. In doing so, he's able to fully compromise the protection for this 50-yard attempt in the first half. Maybe 2017 Dexter Lawrence resets the line of scrimmage this well, but I don't think last year's version has the linear burst to generate push and block the kick.
It was a constant theme for Lawrence when he was afforded one on one looks in pass rush situations: getting home.
This is another strong rip/collapse of the pocket, late in the game. No, Lawrence doesn't finish as he's unable to disengage from his blocker. But there is also a missing element of complimentary rushing from his teammates! Teammate Clelin Ferrell (who was a monster in this game) takes an aggressive, ambitious pass rush track, carrying him ten yards into the backfield.
The result is Mond now has space to flush to his left, away from the collapsing Lawrence.
Regardless of the lack of finish, I love seeing this level of play strength. Add in the effort out of such a big man late in the game? Good stuff.
My impressions from this summer on Lawrence were generally founded in skepticism. But Lawrence has been a much, much improved player thus far in 2018. He'll need to sustain that to maximize his value to pro teams when he enters the Draft.