Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
The 2012 Virginia Tech and Florida State game featured a riveting matchup on the edge between 2013 draft prospect Menelik Watson, taken by the Raiders with the 42nd overall pick, and 2014 prospect James Gayle.
On the first Seminole drive, Watson is getting the better of Gayle. Watson is clearly the more powerful of the two and is using that to his advantage as a run blocker. On Gayle’s second pass rush attempt he tries to bullrush the stout Watson to no avail. Gayle is using that to set up future moves though, which shows high level understanding for the intricacies of rushing the passer.
Gayle leaves Watson in his wake for the first time in the middle of the first quarter.
The Seminoles have a play-action pass called. The protection scheme calls for a step to the right first to sell the play action before popping up as pass blockers. As you can see, Watson has Gayle to himself because the fullback, Lonnie Pryor, will come back across the formation to help block off the left side.
Gayle takes a stutter step on the snap trying to diagnose the play and shoots the inside gap of Watson. Watson has clearly overset to his outside and has failed to come to balance. Gayle gets his hand to the outside of Watson’s shoulder and it’s all over for Watson.
Gayle is able to blow right past Watson and forces E.J. Manuel to make a throw off his back foot. Manuel wants the deep ball and severely underthrows it because of Gayle’s pressure. Gayle beats Watson on this play because of his patience and ability to fire his hands to take advantage of Watson’s misstep.
Watson begins to settle in and is anticipating the every move of Gayle now. Gayle’s issue is a lack of explosiveness. He’s unable to get Watson off his balance point and overextended because he cannot explode off the snap to get around the corner. When it’s James Gayle vs. Menelik Watson in a battle of strength on first contact, it’s no contest. Watson gets help on a few occasions with chips on the edge, but for the most part is now handling Gayle completely.
James Gayle gets a one on one matchup with Watson on this third and short play. Neither O’Leary or Wilder will chip Gayle, which means he should be licking his chops.
Gayle is trying to convert power to speed on this occasion. He wants to knock Watson back onto his heels on initial contact before shooting to the outside and bending around the corner. The problem is that Watson is just too strong for him and has a base too powerful to be compromised by Gayle, whose pad level is far too high.
When Gayle redirects to the outside, Watson is able to quickly plant his inside foot and redirect outside to mirror him the whole way. This play highlights a few of the shortcomings of James Gayle and how they affect him when going up against a strong, stout tackle like Menelik Watson.
Later in the fourth Gayle gets the best of Watson, or at least the best of a poor pass protection scheme.
Florida State is running play action with Pryor coming back across the formation to help on the backside. The guard to Menelik Watson’s left is pulling to the left, which means Watson must step down to protect his inside first (which he does). Notice how there is no immediate blitzing threat pre-snap. Bruce Taylor is lined up over the guard, but is flat-footed and not walked up to the line.
This is where the protection fails for the Seminoles. Watson should have his eyes on Taylor as soon as the ball is snapped. If Taylor were to blitz the backside A gap, Watson would step down and pick him up. That would leave James Gayle to Lonnie Pryor and an edge blitzer would come free. Taylor chops his feet while reading the play though, he’s tracking the guard the whole way. As soon as Watson sees that, he should be stepping back out towards Gayle. On this occasion, the Hokies are blitzing their backside linebacker, which is what is going to wreak havoc on the FSU play design.
Lonnie Pryor has the blitzer picked up the whole way. The problem is that Watson and Pryor aren’t on the same page. Watson is simply leaving Gayle the whole way, even though he has no threat to his inside. Gayle puts a swim move on the one hand of Watson and his eyes light up.
You can see in the first frame that Watson has no intention of blocking James Gayle. Gayle is then free to chase E.J. Manuel off his spot and eventually to haul him down for the sack. This enigmatic protection scheme of Florida State got them into trouble here. On the surface, it simply appears to be a mental lapse from Watson. Those who have dug deep into Menelik Watson videos or film know that is actually part of their scheme. This play was actually designed for Pryor to pick up Gayle, who was going to come free the whole way. This tells me that Menelik Watson may struggle with communication at the line or with complex protection schemes. It seems more prudent for Watson to step down and fan back out to Gayle by design. In that case, the center or guard can make a call pre-snap if a threat presents itself to Watson’s inside gap, in which he can step down when he gets the call. In making their protection scheme too simplistic, they left Watson blocking nobody while Pryor was left with two rushers. This example shows the lack of trust Jimbo Fisher had in Menelik Watson. This simplistic approach shows up in countless other occasions as well. Raiders fans should be concerned about this.
Gayle flipped over to right defensive end on Florida State’s crucial final offensive drive to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, and his matchups with Watson came to an end. Watson bested Gayle for most of the game. The blips of Watson showed just how raw a tackle he is, which is expected of a first-year starter. Watson won this battle overall because of his pure strength to control initial contact. Gayle was completely held in check in their run play matchups. Gayle was opportunistic in their pass play matchups, but was unable to keep Watson on his heels and guessing. His inability to get off the snap with a quick first step kept Watson in his comfort zone and kept E.J. Manuel clean for the most part.
All screenshots are courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com. You may watch the full video here