Hunting for 5-Techs: Rashan Gary

The Seattle Seahawks are on the hunt for a new 5-technique. After one full season of Michael Bennett’s departure, the team has yet to find a clear replacement. 2018 saw the coaching staff “platoon” the position with a cast of players. Recently-drafted defensive lineman Rasheem Green showed promise in his inaugural NFL preseason, but an ankle injury put a stall to his not necessarily expected (so soon anyway) — but welcomed — rise. Dion Jordan was unable to follow up a very exciting, albeit limited, 2017 season with lingering injuries of his own. Quinton Jefferson factored in heavily, but was strapped by his apparent talent and skill level not equaling the prowess of Bennett’s. Branden Jackson saw himself rotated in and out of the spot as well. Collectively, this group played varying shades of “okay” with some flashing more than others, and some providing more reliability and consistency — perhaps Jefferson the latter, and Green the former.

While the jury is out on none of these players (especially so for Green of whom the team is banking on being a productive player as he grows into his NFL body), Pete Carroll is nonetheless looking for a blue chip caliber lineman to facilitate the restoration of his dominant front seven. With the upcoming draft proving to be arguably deeper at defensive line than it has been in decades, Seattle has plenty of options to choose (or draft) from in the early rounds.

While the need has proven itself obvious, the team has given tacit confirmation to the idea with two of their top-30 draftee visits being L.J. Collier of TCU and Michigan’s highest profile name: Rashan Gary. Both linemen are facially archetypal of the role that Carroll has placed opposite the LEO end in his fronts for years.

The 5-technique is a position — or rather a role — that is central to the functioning of Pete Carroll’s defensive fronts as well as crucial to providing efficiency to the roster-building process in light of cap restraints and limited spots. Ideally, it asks one player to be able to play nearly all elements of the defensive end position in modern football — from techniques 3 through 9.

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More specifically, the breadth of the role’s requirements are as follows:

  • Operate primarily from 5-technique (inside foot aligned across outside shoulder or foot of offensive tackle) in base defense, being able to rush the offensive tackle and set a hard edge against the run
  • Reset the line of scrimmage from 4-technique and 6-technique, two-gapping while directly aligned across from offensive tackles and tight ends respectively
  • Reduce to the 4i (inside shoulder of the tackle) and 3 (outside shoulder of the guard) techniques in passing situations as a rush defensive-tackle or run oriented end in “double-eagle” and “bear” fronts (occuring rarely in their base-under front)
  • Widen to the 9-technique in a pinch and not be a complete disaster in space so as to avoid exploitation via offensive scheme

This is all easier said than done to be sure. To achieve this skill set you’re looking for an athlete that has the play-strength of someone close to 290 pounds with the mobility of something closer to what a classic 4-3 defensive-end possesses. This pairing amounts to a lineman too quick for offensive guards, yet too brutish for offensive tackles to block one on one. Essentially peak Michael Bennett — again, easier said than done.

Despite these specificities, there is more than one way to skin a cat and Carroll has a replete history of accommodating different skill sets at the position. There are a number of players in the draft that roughly fit these descriptors, but remain unique nonetheless. Among them: Rashan Gary, Charles Omenihu, Zach Allen, Dre’mont Jones, Anthony Nelson, L.J. Collier and Joe Jackson. These players have been selected as options for the Seahawks due to their promising talents as well as their chances of availability when the Seahawks are on the clock.

Not listed though are Jerry Tillery and Clelin Ferrell. Both have a high chance of going in the top twenty and with the likelihood that Seattle trades back to the late first at the earliest, they could be well out of reach despite their nigh-ideal fits in Seattle’s scheme. The juxtaposition of these two players’ skillsets and styles is also exemplary of the range of personnel types that Carroll can target for this role. In short, the 6’5” Jerry Tillery’s 290 pounds is more geared toward the interior despite being able to play across tackles, and the 6’4” 264 pound Ferrell is more of a big but classic 4-3 end whose skillset makes the prospect of him playing a rush 3-technique more of a conceivable projection than already observed reality. It would be a dream come true if Seattle could trade back to the late first round, collect an extra day two pick, and still a come away with either of these names, especially Tillery, who has the makings of an elite interior pass rusher and is an unrepentant badass against the run.

But let’s not get our hopes up (like that will stop us).

With that established, Rashan Gary will be the first recipient of our attention, given the team’s reported interest along with the general buzz surrounding him. Like Tillery and Ferrell, there is potential for Gary to go well before Seattle realistically picks. But the team’s interest in him leads me to believe there is a somewhat realistic chance he can slide to them.

Let’s get started.

Introduction

Gary is coming out of Michigan as a junior standing at 6’4 3/8”, with 34 1/8” arms, and weighing 277 pounds, despite playing in the 280s in college. He tested extremely well at the combine and his tape is littered with eye-popping athletic feats. His vertical and broad jumps of 38 and 120 inches were 95th and 87th percentile respectively, with his 4.58-second 40-yard dash beating out 97 percent of his positional classmates. His 3-cone drill wasn’t as blistering, but, at 7.26 seconds and testing in the 66th percentile, he is much more nimble and agile than most athletes in his weight class and position.

Unfortunately, Gary was not able to round out his collegiate career with an improved junior season to follow an already underwhelming sophomore campaign. Generally speaking, he lacked the pass rush moves and plan to have been wildly productive at Michigan. Most of his sacks, pressures, and TFLs came from simply out-matching his opposition physically.

While Rashan’s play did not match his athleticism, I do not believe that he is to be hastily put in the same bucket with other recent “freaks” at defensive line that were drafted in the first round on athleticism and hope alone. Some examples of this are Robert Nkemdiche and Taven Bryan. Gary contrasts from them in that he actually was a factor in the run game, playing with much more leverage and awareness as to what the backfield was up to. Additionally, and not to imply the aforementioned were particularly lacking in this arena, Gary can play with a relentless motor, routinely chasing runners to the sideline and always working to the ball. He also doesn’t “take plays off” as the saying goes. It stands to reason that Gary doesn’t carry the same foundational concerns of others that he’s been grouped with and instead has the traits necessary that don’t disqualify him from channeling his potential out of hand.

This does not change the reality, however, that his tape showed some concerning deficiencies in his play. Before focusing on that, let’s look at what he can do.

Rushing the Arc

The first thing that jumps off the screen with Gary are his get-off and explosion through his first few steps.  Take this play against Notre Dame, in which he is aligned at left defensive-end:

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Gary’s jump immediately stresses the right tackle’s pass set, forcing him to play catch-up all the way through. He is never able to settle and land a punch to Gary’s chest. Rashan is able to dip and get into his rip move at a fairly shallow depth of 5 yards.  From there he shows decent bend, just drifting a yard or two upfield as he flattens. The quarterback’s immediate step-up allows him to evade a sack-sandwich (Editor’s Note: Nearly delicious).

Gary doesn’t just use his rip-through for good measure when he wins against sets. In scenarios where his get-off isn’t as devastating and, correspondingly, depth on the tackle not as great, he can still transition to his rip and dip in which he sustains contact and bends to the passer:

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Gary’s get-off here isn’t quite as severe as the prior example but still remains decent. The right-tackle is still stressed by his speed, but is able to stay more even. Rashan’s strength in his rip allows him to maintain separation and explode through as he bends at the top of his rush-path.

While the plays selected are meant to exhibit his ludicrous explosion and implicit strength when speed-rushing, notice that neither clips feature a knock-down move to a tackle’s punch. Gary simply lacks an outside move that isn’t a speed-dip, and he failed to routinely display the necessary tilt to capitalize on his get-off.

When tackles shot their hands at his chest, Gary couldn’t preempt them with a well-timed chop or swipe and once a tackle’s punch landed, he struggled even more to fight to keep his pads clean thereafter.

A sizable portion of Gary’s pass-reps ended up looking like this:

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Gary simply couldn’t win when rushing an explicit speed-path unless his get-off alone was able to secure him position on the tackle to keep his pads relatively clean.

The good news, though, is that nearly everything else is in place. The get-off, sustained speed up the arc, progressively churned hips to provide beneficial angles to the passer, and decent ankle flexibility (considering his mass) are all there. If Gary could’ve developed an even half-decent stab-chop or jab-step (a hesitation move or single stutter step) followed up with a swipe to outstretched hands, he would have cornered on tackles at an astronomically high rate. These techniques, though, do not come easy and show why some pass rushers in the NFL are elite and some are not.

Gary wasn’t entirely limited to speed-dip-n-rips when trying to secure the edge though. When rushing a more straight-line path toward the quarterback (opposed to the more up-field path toward the end-zone before bending and engaging “half-man”) and forced to engage the tackle earlier and more head on, Gary did show the ability to transition to the tackle’s outside-half.

Take this example from right defensive end:

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Gary explodes out of his stance, drops his pads, lands his hands inside the tackle’s chest, and creates separation. He then takes advantage of said separation and laterally expands, while keeping his hips turned toward the opposing signal caller. He then re-lands a stab with his inside arm to maintain separation and closes unabated to the quarterback. Again, no heavy club move is featured here to soften the edge, but Gary’s power and mobility are inevitable.

Here is a similar example of Gary transitioning to half-man from a heads-up rush path:

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Gary is actually aligned out wide here at right 9-technique with plans to rush speed. The left tackle “quick-sets” Gary, forcing an early engagement. After a few steps, Gary reads this and immediately converts to power. He is able to get low and win inside hands on the tackle. Rashan’s mobility and strength carry the lineman upfield. The tackle ends up leaning too long, allowing Gary to rip through and flatten. While this doesn’t necessarily register as a pressure, it is certainly a “win” for Rashan.

Unfortunately, these two shining examples were far from the norm. More often than not, Gary couldn’t establish leverage and ended up being both locked up and ran off.

Rushing Power and Counters

Gary’s ability to convert speed to power is easily the best aspect of his tape.

At his best, it is legitimately horrifying.

Aligned at right 9-technique, Gary shows off his unreal get-off, gains depth in a hurry with his first five steps, plants, turns it in, gets his hands in the chest of a tackle with a high and somewhat narrow base, and…

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…simply dismisses his opponent beyond the depth of the quarterback, landing a devastating hit.

In addition to using his bull rush to open up the inside, Gary can rush straight all the way to the quarterback with the tasteless, but profane method of just really fucking linemen up.

Take this consecutive two-snap, two-gif sequence from left-end:

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Rashan’s get-off is late, but still explosive. He gets upfield, sinks his hips, gains inside hands on the tackle and powers him back easily. Unfortunately, the quarterback isn’t impacted as much as you’d hope due to the pressure being just a tick late.

But Gary knows he can wreck this guy. What happens next will shock you (tackles and quarterbacks alike hate him):

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On the following snap, Rashan times his jump better. This causing the right tackle to kick and shuffle hard to stay even with the rusher’s depth, leaving him even more vulnerable to a conversion to power. Unfortunately for him, Gary does just that. Rashan converts and flings the poor tackle into the dirt, getting a true hurry on the quarterback who checks down and kills the drive. It’s in Gary to body folks.

Additionally, Rashan possesses a long-arm move to counter to the inside as well:

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Here, Gary makes a proper read of the left tackle’s horizontal set (chest facing the line of scrimmage, as opposed to the sideline in a vertical set), which gives up the lineman’s chest, allowing him to be powered early in the rep. Rashan lands his inside-arm stab, jolting the lineman back a yard immediately and opening up the inside.

But there is a flip-side.

Gary can also rush a power-path (straight toward the tackle’s center after they’ve gained width in their pass set) with no real plan. Here he seems to commit to an inside counter too late after a clumsy attempt to drum-roll his way to freezing the tackle.

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It is easy to see Gary’s highs and drool, but it cannot be stressed enough the duality that he exists in. For every snap of frothing-at-the-mouth-worthiness, there are five times as many reps of his bull-rush being stalled due to poor pad level or hand placement or inability to set up tackles with footwork to catch them off-balanced. We already covered the ways in which he can and certainly cannot win when rushing outside with his technique limitations. It’s disingenuous to imply that the pass rushers never have bad reps or reps that don’t affect the quarterback, but it is apparent that Gary’s toolkit and rush-plan are severely lacking in ways to fully apply his insane athleticism.

Rushing from the Interior

Michigan placed Gary inside at times as well. He was less effective here, but his traits still proved applicable in spots.

Here, Rashan bull-rushes the right guard from the 3-technique straight out of his stance:

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Gary is unable to generate any pressure in a snap that is a microcosm of much of his interior work. There is no attempt to manipulate the guard’s set with a jab-step to shorten the corner in an already tight space, nor a stutter step before powering to get the tackle off-balance and susceptible to it. He created varying degrees of knock-back on guards with these attempts when bull-rushing straight out of his stance, but ultimately registered little pressure.

Contrast that with this snap where he takes advantage of his agility and puts the right tackle on the fritz before attempting to power him from left defensive end:

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Rashan combos his footwork with an immediate speed-path to the tackle’s outside, feigns to the inside so as to cross face, and then adjusts one last time toward the guard’s midline. This sequence doesn’t let the lineman settle, narrowing his base. Gary shoots his left hand into the tackle’s chest and drives him all the way into the quarterback for a near sack.

While this next snap isn’t from an interior alignment, it shows the potential for Gary to develop a reliable move or two when rushing there. From left end:

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At the snap, Rashan loops into the A-gap, but after initially pressing the right-guard’s outside half which causes him to stop his feet and brace for contact. He follows this up with an incredible display of lateral suddenness and a heavy club, clearing the guard’s inside shoulder and getting him into the A-gap. Gary follows this up with a scorching beeline toward the quarterback. While he isn’t able to corral the passer, his penetration does nuke the play.

In both successful interior rush snaps, Gary relied on space to set up both of his moves. In many of the Seattle’s pass-rush packages, they feature “loose” 3 and 4i-technqiue alignments — instead of the inside foot aligned with the guard’s outside shoulder, it sees the defensive tackle’s inside foot in the B-gap itself or even a touch wider. They used this for years with Michael Bennett to rush these gaps from a wider alignment so as to force guards to play in space. These would be scenarios in which Gary could thrive in with time.

Run Defense

Most of this piece has centered on Gary’s pass rushing abilities. The modern game relies far more on pass defense than run defense to be effective, but Carroll will never not stress the importance of both gap soundness and the general toughness that stout run defense represents. Fortunately for Gary, he is not lacking in these respects. While he is not stoutest of the names listed at the fore of this article, he has an adequate anchor, block-control, block-shed, and pursuit.

Positioned at left end, at the 6-technique across from the tight end, Gary rolls out of his hips, stacks the blocker up, and violently performs a snatch-rip to shed the block and get to the ball.

Here Gary shows his ability to operate in space, dodging the cut block and tearing after the ball carrier with backside pursuit:

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Conclusions

Taking Rashan Gary in the first round is a risky proposition. His athleticism and functional power make him a strong upside pick, but there is no guarantee that his sky-high potential will be fulfilled. For Seattle’s current purposes, they probably need an immediate contributor more than a project.

A cause for hope, though, is found in Rasheem Green. In college, Green had issues stemming from terrible pad level in the run game and possessed an array of pass rush moves even less impressive than Gary’s. And yet, in his first preseason with Seattle, he started whipping out stab-chops, and jab-step to club-rip combos like he had mastered them years ago.

Assuming the Seahawks trust their coaching staff, they may stand a chance at unlocking Gary’s potential should he fall to their draft position after the inevitable yearly trade down.

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