When considering the Chiefs’ choice to draft Dontari Poe, it’s hard for the average football fan to ignore his lack of college production, or the negative connotations of being labeled a “workout warrior.” One thing is clear, however: Poe’s lot in the NFL will be made, first and foremost, at the NT position. As we get closer to training camp (a/k/a the first time this year that our linemen can actually, you know, HIT one another), let’s take an in-depth look at Poe and the road ahead.
Romeo Crennel will be the first to point out that Poe did a whole lot of line jumping in college. It’s actually hard to recall if Poe ever lined up in the same “technique” in consecutive plays during his time in Memphis. As Poe’s college coaches and coordinators often played him at several spots throughout the line each and every game, the case could be made that this position jumping is the cause of Poe’s lack of college production. It may even be fair, to an extent, to at least allow some of Poe’s line jumping to account for his lack of college production… but while the tape shows the jumping, it also shows that Poe needs to work on and refine the technical skills (moves) needed by a defensive lineman.
Watching Poe’s tape, you may occasionally see an effective spin move or a well-executed stunt, but he seems to show signs of not having been entirely taught proper execution of the moves and/or which moves are most effectively used in which situations. DL moves other than spin moves and stunts include rip moves, swim moves, speed rushes, bull rushes, shucks and shivers.
From the NT position, the chance to use a spin move (at least effectively and without blowing your assignment) is slim to nil; such opportunities may arise, but not enough that this should be a focus for Poe early on in KC. The same can be said with a speed rush. Lining up head to head on a player (for NTs on the Center, this is often referred to as a “zero technique”), swim moves also carry their risks, as a swim move will bring the D-Lineman up a little higher, in turn allowing the blocker the opportunity to get squarely underneath the DL’s pads and win the leverage war. Stunts* are a more advanced technique and, while I’m sure Poe will eventually be taught and repped on these until he can perform them expertly, I don’t see him attempting these too often this year (at least in the earlier part) unless out of desperation or for the sake of “mixing it up” Crennel calls a play directing Poe to do so. Shucks and shivers are a little difficult to explain in writing, and are slightly more advanced than rips and bull rushes, so I won’t get into them too much now.
*”Stunt” as used here is not in reference to the two types of stunts as described here. Rather I’m referring to the “4-3 Stunt” as utilized and popularized by “Mean” Joe Greene, wherein the DT lines up at an angle and bull rushes the first OL he’s facing with the goal of driving that OL into his neighboring OL(s). The camera work on Poe’s infamous Tulane tape isn’t always at great angles for checking out Poe, but there’s one really good shot of Poe performing a well-executed, successful, Mean-Joe-Greene-style stunt. This happened in some of his other college games too, with the same promising result. In a 3-4, this won’t be the first thing on the coaching staff’s list of things to work on and perfect with Poe, but may come in handy down the line (think 2-4-5 in an obvious passing situation: with added coverage already downfield, if Poe’s able to take out 2-3 OL on his own, it would spell trouble for opposing QBs, especially with the likes of Hali, Houston & Berry on the field… and we’re not talking “taking out” 2-3 OL by being double-teamed or triple-teamed, in that scenario one could always break off to pick up a blitzer. No, we’re talking TAKING OUT as in 2-3 OL suddenly on their asses wondering “Who dat? Who dere?”). Look for this ability to be groomed in the longer term Evolution of Poe.
So, other moves aside, we’re left with the rip, and the bull rush … and our first expectation. Expect these moves to be the first technical skills that Romeo and DL Coach Anthony Pleasant drill into Dontari. How and why these moves work is simple to understand, and should be quick for Poe to pick up in that respect. Knowing when and how to execute these moves well will take time and repetition until the moves becomes more natural and fluid. Priority One in developing Poe will likely be to jump on the live-action thrill of drilling him in these moves.
As I believe most casual fans will know what a rip move is and why it’s used (thank you for making my job easier, EA Sports), I’ll spare going into those details.
A bull rush is also fairly common and self-explanatory, and while I won’t go into too much detail, it’s important to note that bull rushes should play to Poe’s advantage well and should (read: darn well better) become one of his earliest playing strengths. Poe’s size and strength give him an edge in bull rushing, but it’s also important not to gloss over some finer points in the technique in practice (which, given his size and strength, I suspect his Memphis coaches kinda relied on Poe getting by with those attributes alone and didn’t care to coach him more in depth). You can be big and strong in the NFL and still make only a small splash of impact if not taught how to use your size and strength to your advantage. With the bull rush in particular, size and strength could be a huge advantage, but it takes combining that size and strength with body positioning (coming up out of your stance, hand placement, getting low, etc.) to really start seeing great results. Coaches on varying levels may not allow some of their players to rep bull rushes in practice under the misguided notion that size and strength alone will be enough for a player to translate into good bull rushing talent come gameday. Not really. Coaches Crennel and Pleasant will know this, and they’ll be sure to rep and develop Poe into a player capable of making the most out of his bull rushing capabilities.
While teaching, drilling and repping Poe through these activities on the practice field, expect for Crennel and Pleasant to also be teaching him the mental aspects of the position in the film room: what assignments he’ll have in which plays, when to clog, when to penetrate, when move X is more likely to make your assignment, and when move Y is better, etc.
One thing to bear in mind is that “trench warfare” isn’t as rudimentary as it may appear (as if you haven’t gathered that from above). On either side of the ball, each lineman possesses his own strengths and weaknesses according to his physical attributes and technical skills which affect how he plays the game. When squaring off, it takes time to figure out your competitor’s nuances and adjust accordingly (an ongoing battle, as with each adjustment you make to your competitor, your competitor will adjust to deal with your adjustments).
So, Poe’s college stats weren’t too impressive, and his tape looks “average”? Consider this: Poe likely squared off with every offensive lineman Conference USA had to offer. And with each lineman, Poe had to learn new nuances and adjust accordingly, all while facing different blocking schemes at different techniques along the line with different defensive assignments… Altogether, it makes it hard for the common observer to tell what kind of player he’ll become.
So, Poe’s college stats don’t look special. He only appears to show “flashes” in his college tape. Know this: the difficulties and intricacies of line play are greater and more plentiful than meets the eye, and are largely unappreciated by the masses. But one thing’s for sure, with his rare physical attributes, AND the opportunity to line up and take most snaps at one position, AND squaring off against fewer competitors in a game, AND being under the guidance and tutelage of both Coaches Crennel and Pleasant, Poe is much more likely to succeed than to bust.