Al Blades Jr signed with the Miami Hurricanes as part of the 2018 class out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Blades, a former four-star blue chip prospect, is heading into his junior season at Miami. Blue chip signees come in with a ton of potential and Blades has played well and played often as an underclassman. At six-foot-one, 186 pounds Blades has the length most college coaches are looking for in a defensive back.
As a freshman, Blades played in 13 games making 13 tackles without an interception or pass defensed. As a sophomore in 2019, blades stepped into a starting role playing in 12 games, logging 28 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups. Blades was expected to be starting by his sophomore year and has shown a head for the game and leadership on the field in most circumstances.
Miami in general was a bad tackling team in 2019. Above, you can watch the defensive backs work on tackling the wheel onto a pad during spring practice. I love the drill until the contact is made. If the player doesn’t learn to buzz his or her feet 2-3 yards prior to contact they’re going to miss a lot of tackles. As a tackler, you have to come to balance as you coil and shoot your hips through a tackle.
Defensive players have three jobs to perform on every play: align, assign, execute (thank you Coach Jerry Gordon). Align means to get lined up right. If it’s cover 2- as a CB you should have an outside shade on the wide receiver. If it’s cover 3, you should have inside leverage. Assign means to carry out your assignment. ID your threat pre-snap, and carry out the coverage assignment post-snap. If the Safety is reading #2 (typically a TE or slot) to #1 (typically an outside WR) then carry it out.
Execute is broken down into three parts: shed, pursue, finish. Shed means to get off of a block or pick, pursue means to track the defender or ball, and finish means to either make the tackle, sack, interception or pass break up by playing two steps after the whistle.
In the images above (and the GIF is below) you can watch a poor job of pursuit and finish. Blades overruns the pursuit which doesn’t make sense with the target being so close to the sideline, just let the boundary make the play by forcing him out. Blades is working too fast, and off balance. He does a tremendous job of coming to balance, as Blades has won the DNA lottery (Al Senior, RIP, was an NFL defender himself). But it’s the lack of working on leverage and buzzing the feet that catches up to Al Junior as he comes in high and misses the tackle.
But Blades Jr does a lot of good things at CB, too. He’s one of the stronger communicators on the field. During the Florida game (clips of Blades play are below) he’s rotating coverages and talking to the other defensive backs. He also marks his man well. The Gators tendency began to attempt to get Blades to the nub side (TE only to that side, 3 WR’s to the far side) to run at him and avoid running outside to Trajan Bandy’s side. However in the passing game, Florida did their best to avoid Blades and throw to Bandy and the other CB’s.
In the GIF above, you can see how well Blades marks his man and runs with him causing an incompletion. It’s one of the few times the Gators really went after Blades in the passing game. Florida began to see the weaknesses in Gilbert Frierson, and the linebackers and pick on them instead. And it worked.
Al Blades is a leader in this football program and I expect him to take a huge step forward in 2020. It’s a shame that Malek Young had to retire due to medical reasons because he would have pushed the defensive back room into another level. But now that’s Blades’ job as COVID has taken the players away from each other and put them back in small groups. Now is the time where having leaders in the locker room matters more than ever.
So how do you improve movement patterns? First by training proper movement. Second by programming your field work away from COD (closed drills, start and stop on a set course) and focusing on agility (open ended, read and react drills). In other words, dump your agility ladder work for working on drills that replicate the game of football.
I’m hoping that in 2020 we see all of the defenders, but especially the defensive backs, move more efficiently and tackle better. The strength and conditioning staff can improve movement efficiency but focusing on movement patterns, and showing the same coaching discipline they expect the players to workout and practice with. Mental toughness is the ability to focus 100% of your attention when under extreme pressure.
Does your movement breakdown in key situations? You fall back to the level of your training when under duress. If the training both in the weight room and on the field is disciplined you won’t fall far. In the image above, the wounded man keeps his finger off of the trigger and his firearm pointed down and away- that is falling back on your training.
Prediction: All-ACC 2nd team cornerback