Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
A pair of Senior Bowl attendees squared off in a back and forth matchup earlier this season. Miami’s Seantrel Henderson and Virginia Tech’s James Gayle both entered 2013 with notable question marks to their game, and neither entirely answered them over the course of their senior seasons. Their matchup from November put on display some of the positive and negative traits that will be worth looking out for going into Senior Bowl week.
At 6’8” 345, Seantrel Henderson holds a big size advantage on any edge defender he goes up against relative to the normal disparity between these defenders and offensive tackles. The 6’4” 255 lb. James Gayle is the prototypical 4-3 end size if not on the leaner side.
Neither prospect had come into this matchup having spectacular seasons by any means. James Gayle had only recorded 3 sacks and 16 hurries in his first 9 games. The going had been even tougher for Henderson to this point. He entered the Virginia Tech game coming off a one game suspension and a long stint being rotated in and out of the starting lineup despite his talent.
The matchup between these two is interesting stylistically. Henderson is a physical mauler up front who is aggressive with his hands and has some nastiness to him, especially as a run blocker. He doesn’t measure up in terms of technique though, where he’s still very raw. James Gayle is more of a finesse rusher on the outside but lacks significant acceleration off the ball or flexibility on the edge. Instead, he’s more effective as a technician using his hands as a rusher. Gayle also flashes an array of pass rush moves in some games, but isn’t overly unpredictable.
Seantrel Henderson gets off to a good start. On the Hurricanes’ second offensive snap, he leads to the outside on a WR screen and walls off a cornerback to spring an 81 yard touchdown. Henderson did well to stay under control in the open field and maximize contact on the block by squaring up the defensive back. When a man of his size can move into the open field like that, it’s eye-catching. GIF: http://gfycat.com/PoisedPiercingHalcyon
Henderson’s first 3rd down clash with Gayle went the way of the right tackle. He keeps his hands on the inside of Gayle’s frame to negate the power rush and stands Gayle up on the edge. A noticeable part of the play is the way Henderson gets off the line of scrimmage in pass protection. He picks up his right foot and puts it back down without getting any depth with it on his first step. Whether that’s coached or just a tendency of Henderson, it’s worth keeping an eye on and shows up throughout the game. Henderson does bend at the waist a bit on this occasion, really letting his shoulders get too far forward on contact. Gayle isn’t able to take advantage because he doesn’t win with his hands, but it’s concerning for the big tackle. GIF: http://gfycat.com/UnlawfulPertinentDrongo
James Gayle’s first big play comes shortly thereafter. He’s left as the unblocked backside end on an outside zone, which is common. Penetration from the Hokies front side defensive tackle forces a cutback and Gayle is waiting for it. The discipline to keep from overrunning the play and the job Gayle did to break down in space and wrestle the back to the ground are both notable. On the other side of the coin, Seantrel Henderson appears to be aiming for a personal foul penalty on an illegal chop block. GIF: http://gfycat.com/FaithfulGenerousBlueandgoldmackaw
With Gayle off the field, Henderson again has issues. As the front side tackle on a lead, he does well to get outside leverage and turn the defensive end. The end slides off to the inside though and Henderson doesn’t let go, which puts him in danger of getting flagged for holding. He doesn’t in the end, but a tendency to grab ahold like that can mean trouble. GIF: http://gfycat.com/CautiousCapitalBurro
Henderson gets the job done on Gayle in another pass set, but some technical issues are still showing up.
Miami has a tight end next to Henderson, but he releases without paying mind to James Gayle. Stephen Morris is going to have a half field read on the left side which basically makes the right side the blind side for all intents and purposes.
Inconsistencies with Henderson’s first step show up again. He’s taken an aggressive step here, almost entirely horizontal. That’s not a problem considering the tight alignment James Gayle is playing. He does let his base get too wide on his first step though, ending up flat footed with nowhere to move. A pass rusher who fires into contact and attacks his chest could give him issues with such a wide base.
Henderson’s waist-bending is not as bad here. The shot on the left is from the second play I described in this matchup. The one on the right is the currently described play. Even though Henderson doesn’t land his hands on Gayle, the balance he generates from bending at the knees keeps him in front of the rusher. GIF: http://gfycat.com/CrazyTornBarnacle
For James Gayle, it’s another unproductive rush where he neither presses the tackle on the corner nor utilizes power to the frame of the tackle. Ensuing plays indicate that Gayle may be picking up on Henderson’s tendency to expose his chest though.
The stiffness to James Gayle on the edge showed up later in the second quarter. Miami runs play action from shotgun and pulls the left guard to pick up Gayle. Because he comes off the ball so well on this play he has a chance to bend around the block and make a play on Stephen Morris. He tries to dip his shoulder but doesn’t have enough balance to pull it off. GIF: http://gfycat.com/AgreeableNaiveGangesdolphin
Once Miami got the ball back with a minute left in the half, James Gayle squashed their plans to drive down and get points.
Virginia Tech shows five man pressure before the snap but only brings three. Stephen Morris wants the corner route the whole way. It doesn’t come open, and Morris holds onto the ball just long enough for Gayle.
Gayle comes off the ball with acceleration and presses Henderson for depth. This causes Henderson to bring his right hand up to try and keep Gayle from the corner. Just as this happens, Gayle plants his outside food and drives into the chest of the tackle.
By dropping his pads so low, Gayle doesn’t give Henderson any chance of landing his hands. The power he generates from speed knocks the massive tackle from his balance point. James Gayle now has the upper hand and just has to finish. He does so by creating space with his hands to keep Henderson from resetting. As soon as Morris steps up in the pocket, Gayle slides off to make the sack with Henderson stumbling on his heels. GIF: http://gfycat.com/SadMagnificentAfricangroundhornbill
There’s no question that run blocking is what Seantrel Henderson does best at this stage. He shows that open the third quarter.
Henderson is the front side tackle on an outside zone. The tight end flanking him will put minimal contact on Gayle, more or less climbing upfield straight for the linebacker. Henderson is asked to work laterally and square up the defensive end without giving ground. With Gayle aligned head up on the tight end, it’s not the easiest task.
With a slight chip from the tight end, Henderson gets his head on Gayle’s and fires his hands to establish control. Even though he’s bent at the waist a bit, Henderson is able to maintain his balance and sustain the block by latching with his hands
He then drives Gayle from the play completely. Had interior penetration not caused a cutback, the ball carrier would have been in business cutting upfield behind the block of Seantrel Henderson. GIF: http://gfycat.com/IllustriousColossalHousefly
Resistance strength to stand up blocks at the line of scrimmage is not James Gayle’s best trait. That last play showed it. It wasn’t the case a few plays later in this one though. Gayle does a better job coming off the ball, keeping his pads down, and driving back Henderson with power to set an edge. GIF: http://gfycat.com/LightheartedGrimyGoldenretriever
As the game wears on, Seantrel Henderson is more and more precise with his hands. He keeps them inside the frame of defenders and keeps the hands of defenders off his own frame. His length is substantial enough that if he lands his hands in pass protection, he’s an exponentially better blocker.
Henderson’s mobility to the second level shows up on a combo block. After the defensive tackle is easily caved down, he redirects to the inside linebacker. He stays under enough control to get his hands on the backer and completely engulf him. GIF: http://gfycat.com/OblongZestyBrahmancow
Virginia Tech works a few stunts over the course of the game, both of which Seantrel Henderson picks up on well. He passes Gayle to the inside and quickly redirects with fine balance to pick up the outside stunt.
James Gayle would get one last laugh in the matchup though, with an inside rush past Henderson to put a hit on Stephen Morris. From a head up alignment, Gayle works to the inside immediately off the snap, dipping his shoulder and ripping through to work right past Henderson. If Stephen Morris holds the ball a half second longer he goes down for a sack. GIF: http://gfycat.com/FatNearEider
After batting down a wide receiver screen, Gayle goes back to the well on Henderson. He takes advantage of the tackle’s poor hand usage once more to bullrush him back into the pocket. Henderson does a better job maintaining his balance and getting his hands back in place this time around, but not after allowing the pocket to collapse from the right side. GIF: http://gfycat.com/GlitteringSevereGhostshrimp
James Gayle would be flagged for offside a play later while trying to time up the snap on the outside. It would be the end of meaningful matchups for he and Seantrel Henderson in a battle that went back and forth, showing some of the strengths and weaknesses each possesses as prospects.
The technical deficiencies of Seantrel Henderson in terms of hand usage and balance on contact gave him issues on multiple occasions against James Gayle. His power and natural athleticism were also on display, especially as a run blocker.
James Gayle’s lean frame and stiffness prove to limit his effectiveness as a pass rusher. When he can convert speed to power on the outside and attack the chest of offensive tackles with his hands, he’s far more disruptive. Gayle seems to be the type of end who could stand to put on weight (easier said than done) and become more of a power-centric edge defender.
As both Gayle and Henderson take the stage during Senior Bowl week, some of these finer points of their play will come into focus. Each has a lot to prove and has a big opportunity ahead of them.
Screenshots and gifs courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com. Seantrel Henderson vs. Virginia Tech can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xy3ZpozCzY