On Monday, defensive end / outside linebacker prospect Damien Dozier verbally committed to Virginia Tech, making him the second front-seven edge player, along with Trevon Hill, to commit to the Hokies in a three-day span. Defensive end and potential backer/whip players are positions where the Hokie defense needs additional depth, and Dozier will look to contribute early as he plans to enroll in January and participate in spring football.
Dozier's final high school season with Virginia Episcopal School exhibited his versatility and effectiveness in space. At nearly 6-4 215, Dozier is a long player with tremendous reach (listed on his highlight video as a 92 inch wingspan, which would be the normal wingspan of someone who is well over 7 feet tall). The VES coaches recognized that Dozier may have defensive end size, but he was much more effective playing off the edge in space. In space, his combination of speed and length made it very difficult for opponents to gain the edge, and he was effective as a blitzer. Plus, his defensive coaches could move Dozier around to take advantage of matchups. The VES film features Dozier playing as a true outside linebacker in a 3-4, some inside linebacker, and occasionally at different spots defensive line.
When Dozier closes on plays, he has a gangly awkward style. Arms and elbows are sort of flopping all over the place, and his stride doesn't particularly look fast. But, when you identify the contact point and re-watch the clip, you quickly recognize that Dozier's unorthodox style is very effective at closing the gap. His speed and length allow him to beat ball carriers and blockers to the angle and make the tackle. When you watch him running around, he looks very similar to Dadi Nicolas running around as a rush linebacker against Pittsburgh. Before watching any clips of Dozier, watch Dadi here against Pittsburgh. Keep this clip in mind when you watch Dozier run down plays on the edge.
Now, let's watch Dozier (No. 7) in a similar situation. Dozier's alignment is as an outside linebacker to the wide side of the field. He delays then blitzes.
Like Dadi, he doesn't take the best angle and that allows the quarterback to break contain. However, like Dadi, Dozier closes the space and uses his tremendous reach to pull down the quarterback before he can break a play. Dozier's technique may be a little undisciplined and raw, but you can't teach his ability to take away space. Both Dadi and Xavier Adibi were both players who didn't always have the best technique, but who could wreak havoc with their range.
Here, Dozier aligns as the hybrid outside linebacker blitzing off the edge. The offense tries to pull a guard to pick up Dozier.
Dozier flies past the pulling guard, and the quarterback doesn't even have an opportunity to set up on the bootleg. You can teach technique and add strength, but you can't teach raw athleticism.
That doesn't mean Dozier is devoid of technique. On this play, Dozier moves inside as a nose tackle for a short yardage stop.
He throws a nasty swim move on the center. Then, all the above attributes come into play. Dozier's length and closing speed fills up the gap formed on the inside trap, and the back has nowhere to go other than push straight forward and hope Dozier can't hold on.
While Dozier's range, athleticism, and versatility stand out, he will need to continue to refine his technique. He told Thekeyplay.com's Mark Trible as much in May.
"I'd like to focus on mastering my position," Dozier says. "I want to make sure I know the game. With my positions and roles, I've been all over the field in high school football."
During his sophomore year, Dozier used very little leverage technique as a 3-4 defensive end. For the most part, he would either try to run around or run through blockers. As a linebacker, there were some highlights where his fundamentals would make a coach cringe. Linebackers are taught to step laterally with their play-side leg, shuffle, then turn and run. Every bag and agility drill associated with linebacker play emphasizes that the first step can't be a crossover step (stepping with the left foot across the body if moving right, or stepping with the right foot going left) because you lose your balance and vertical base. Here, Dozier is playing a left inside linebacker. The offense runs to his right.
At the snap, Dozier takes a little false step backwards with his left foot. That slows his reaction (although it may be the proper technique if he has pass defense responsibility.) Then he plants his left foot, turns right, and steps with his left foot across his body and toward the right sideline. This has two effects. One; his feet are crossed up and if a blocker hits him, he doesn't have the vertical base to overpower or dodge the block. Second, he has committed to running all the way to the sideline. If the running back cuts back, Dozier will over-pursue the play. This is a coaching-teaching point for the linebacker on the back side to shuffle-shuffle and then commit. Based on the film, I think this is more an issue of inexperience at the position, he will get the proper coaching in Blacksburg.
You can't coach up raw ability. Dozier's quickness and versatility give Coach Foster some interesting possibilities if he chooses to use Dozier as a rushing DE-whip hybrid. When Dadi Nicolas played whip against Pitt, he essentially was playing as a stand up defensive lineman who rushed the quarterback on almost every play. Dozier gives Foster the flexibility to either bring an extra pass rusher, or perhaps draw attention in a pressure scheme, and then sneak back into a zone while the undiagnosed blitz comes from another area. Here, Dozier has basic outside linebacker responsibility on a tight end "Y dump" off of a veer release.
Normal defensive end technique would feature the end chucking the tight end before slipping outside, but here the d-end doesn't touch the tight end. That puts Dozier, who has to take away the underneath throw, at a serious disadvantage. The tight end initially beats Dozier by getting inside leverage. Dozier is able to recover, press off his plant leg, and deflect the pass coming in low. This is an outstanding recover by Dozier that even Coach Gray could be proud of, and it showcases Dozier's athleticism. As a big mobile player, the film shows that Dozier can also contribute in kick and especially punt coverage, where the Hokies lack of athleticism from their back up defensive linemen (which hurt them badly against Alabama) forced Coach Beamer to use starters in coverage.
Dozier is a tough player to project. You can clearly see that his athleticism and wingspan have all kinds of potential roles. He takes space away from the offense, and Foster has a proven track record of finding players that have those unique skills, then finding ways to utilize them without exposing their weaknesses. At the same time, Dozier will need to refine his fundamentals to earn the trust of the coaching staff and demonstrate that he can make these plays while defeating ACC caliber blocking. It may take a little more time for Dozier to get onto the field, but you can expect that Foster will figure out a way to put him in position to make plays.