Former Falcons great Chuck Smith, one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers of the 1990s, has turned into the Pass-Rush Whisperer in retirement.
Over the past few years, he’s been hired as a personal trainer to help some of the top NFL candidates get ready for the combine and for their pre-draft workouts.
Of the top pass-rushers eligible for the coming NFL draft, which is set for April 30-May 2, he’s trained Missouri’s Shane Ray and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. However, he’s studied all of the prospects and believes this is a stellar group.
The Falcons, who have the eighth pick in the draft, have heavily scouted the group of edge-rusher and appear very likely to select one with their first-round pick.
Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree, along with Ray and Gregory, are considered the top five edge-rushing prospects in the draft.
“He’s played against some great competition,” Smith said of Fowler he’s a confident kid. He has good range and the ability to be true 4-3 defensive end. He has good explosion. His upside is really high.”
Smith played for the Falcons (1992-99) and with Carolina (2000). He was on the franchise’s only Super Bowl team and finished his career with 58.5 sacks.
Beasley finished his career as Clemson’s all-time sack leader.
“Vic is a really hybrid (defensive/outside linebacker),” Smith said. “His movement is more built to blitz, rush and get up field. He’s quick, but he’s still developing. He has to develop some signature pass-rushing techniques.”
Smith had an interesting comparison when discussing Beasley.
“I would play him like a DeMarcus Ware,” Smith said. “He’s a rusher. I don’t ever need to put him coverage. He’s like a missile when he gets going.”
The question about Beasley is could he play defensive end against the run in a 4-3 defense.
“Everything was about size this year, when last year, some of the guys that were hybrids like (Khalil) Mack and (Anthony) Barr, they didn’t have that issue,” Smith said. “You really just play Vic Beasley like the Raiders are going to play Khalil Mack. You put him on that line and he’s coming. He’s your primary rusher.”
Ray, the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at Missouri’s Pro Day. But Smith is not overly concerned with his speed.
“(Former Georgia standout) Jarvis Jones ran a 4.95, and he wasn’t even that big,” Smith said. “If you go back and look at some of the speed-rushers who hit the corner … it has to do with technique, but speed only applies in a phone booth. He only has to be fast in that 10-yard box. He’s quick enough. He’s fast enough.”
Smith believes that Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s freakish 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds last season has raised the bar for edge-rushers.
“It’s about his quick twitch,” Smith insisted. “Shane Ray has an explosive quick twitch and he is fast. I don’t look at it like a 4.68 is slow. I’m just absolutely floored by the people who are saying that.”
Smith also likes Ray’s on-field demeanor. “He has that dog in him,” he said. He also likes his pass-rush moves.
“The guys at Missouri use signature pass-rush moves all the time,” Smith said. “He used his rip move, and he uses his hands.”
Gregory is considered a top-five talent, but failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine. It was noted by NFL Radio analyst Pat Kirwan that Falcons president Rich McKay was the general manager at Tampa Bay when the Bucs selected Warren Sapp (12th overall in 1995), after allegations surfaced that he flunked a drug test.
Also, Scott Pioli, the Falcons’ assistant general manager, drafted former Georgia standout Justin Houston (third round, 70th overall in 2011) after he failed a drug test.
Gregory could be sitting at eight for the Falcons.
The Gregory camp has closed ranks after the disclosure. Smith, Gregory’s dad, a military man, and his agent Deryk Gilmore, have all spoken to him at length.
“Randy Gregory is going to show that he’s a great example of player who can take care of his business,” Smith said. “He can become a classic example of a guy who knows how to do all of the right things. It’s just a matter of him growing up a little bit.”
Everyone sees great potential in Gregory to become a destructive force.
“As far as his skill set, Randy is different than any of these other guys,” Smith said. “Randy is a true 3-4 classic pass-rushing outside linebacker. Randy Gregory is special. … He moves like a defensive back.”
Smith went so far as to say that Gregory could be used periodically as a secret weapon to cover a tight end.
With Gregory’s stock falling, some believe the Falcons, who have shown a penchant to take players without any major character issues, will settle for Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree with the eighth pick.
“He’s fast and he’s explosive,” Smith said. “He’s got to continue to develop.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock doesn’t see the Falcons taking Gregory and seems to lean toward thinking they will take Dupree.
“His ceiling is as high as any edge-rusher in the draft, including Dante Fowler,” said Mayock of Gregory. “If you take Randy Gregory and the baggage that goes with him, I’m not sure that’s an Arthur Blank-Thomas Dimitroff move. Regardless of how overwhelming the talent may be.”
Mayock isn’t the only analyst linking Dupree, who played at Wilkinson County High, to the Falcons.
“The Falcons brought in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as head coach to bring some intensity and pass rush,” according to Rob Rang of nfldraftscout.com. “Dupree isn’t as technically refined yet as some of his competitors, but he has the tools Quinn can develop.”
Others don’t believe Dupree, because of his inconsistent play on film, is worthy of such a high pick.
“I keep hearing him being elevated,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “If there is a run on pass-rushers, someone may elevate him up there. I’ll put it to you this way, if Atlanta is sitting there in (the) eighth (slot) and Fowler, Ray and Beasley are gone, Bud Dupree could be bounced into that top 10.
”D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 12:00 a.m. Saturday, April 18, 2015 Atlanta Falcons
“What if Noah Spence played for Ohio State in 2014?” will go down as an all-time hypothetical in Buckeyes football lore.
Ohio State won a national championship without his help, but imagine if Ohio State added an elite pass-rusher alongside defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackles Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett. Spence led the team in sacks with 8.0 in 2013 and had 14.5 tackles for loss. Teaming him with Bosa would have been unsafe for opposing quarterbacks.
After being ruled permanently ineligible for Big Ten play in 2014, Spence moved on to Eastern Kentucky. He entered the draft in 2016 and was chosen by Tampa Bay. By all accounts, Spence seems to be as big a handful as ever.
Despite playing hurt for most of his rookie season, Spence finished with 5.5 sacks. According to Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, Spence could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
Spence has used the time away from the field to change his body. He’s noticeably leaner and pictures of his new body next to the old one have circulated on the internet. It’s a major transformation, with his body fat now down below 10 percent.
“I eat clean now,” he said. “I wanted to be faster. I cut out a lot of stuff. I eat prepared meals and go to Whole Foods and stuff like that. I feel a lot better.”
As a rookie, Spence had 5.5 sacks. That’s a nice start, but his skill set gives Tampa Bay hope he can double that this season — at the least. He spends his off time working with pass-rush guru Chuck Smith in Atlanta, which helps with his technique and get off.
His hard work is why teammate Robert Ayers already predicted Spence could get 15 sacks this season. Last season, Atlanta’s Vic Beasley went from four sacks as a rookie to 15.5 in 2016 to lead the NFL. That jump is possible for Spence.
It is no secret that next Thursday night the Atlanta Falcons will likely be in the market to select a player who can rush the quarterback on a consistent basis, when they pick eighth overall in the first round of the NFL Draft. Luckily for them, this year’s class seemingly has a good number of players that could help them out.
What some may not know is that a local former Falcon has been helping some of these players who could put on the red and black next season. He is former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith.
Smith has been helping out former Missouri defensive end’s Shane Ray/Markus Golden, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, and Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton this offseason in their quest to land an NFL job. Ray and Gregory are likely going to play outside linebacker on the next level, however the other two players are likely going to stay where they are.
As you would expect, Smith is very high on this group of talent coming into the league. They all have unique qualities that he feels can translate to the next level.
Smith would also tell you that the jump to the NFL is a huge adjustment for some players. He feels one thing is very important for a young pass rusher.
“Sometimes you go to a team and it’s not a good fit,” Smith said. “Say if you go to a 3-4 team and all they do is blitz. How do you ever develop as a pass rusher, if you never get to truly rush and develop in the one on one sense? Say all the sudden the next year your team goes to a 4-3? Now you have to win the one on one’s and you’re not generating pressure with just blitzes.”
That definitely makes sense for a young player in the league. After all, there’s an adjustment for all players at every position when they enter the NFL.
A huge key for these players and all players entering the league will be the work they put in away from the practice time with their coaches. Smith says this isn’t an NFL unique scenario, but applies to all levels of play.
“There’s only so much time in a day that a coach has to truly work on all those things,” Smith said. “So, there has to be a part of it where you have to learn, put your time in, and do your own research to get out there to rep it over, over, and over.”
Two qualities that Smith preaches to the players he works with is to “use their hands” and develop a “signature pass rush move that makes them hard to stop.” This falls right in line with the people who influenced him during his nine year career in the NFL with the Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
During his time in Atlanta, Smith says he was influenced by his defensive line coach Bill Kollar (currently in same capacity with the Houston Texans). During those years in Atlanta he was also helped out by teammates like defensive end Pierce Holt and defensive tackle James “Jumpy” Geathers.
One of the major influences Smith learned from came in 1994, when a certain defensive end joined the Falcons.
“One of the greatest things that ever happened to me and those guys when we played with Atlanta was Chris Doleman,” Smith said. “(He) came in with an unparalleled ammunition of rush moves that worked on size tackles and we mastered the same moves.”
Those are some great people to learn from and this is a huge reason why Smith teaches his players the way that he does.
You probably want to know about the players that could be potential Falcons and what Smith thinks of their ability don’t you? Let’s start with Shane Ray.
Ray was only a starter for one season at Missouri, because he found himself backing up Kony Ealy and Michael Sam for his first two years. He was still able to put up good numbers in terms of tackles for a loss and sacks in the other seasons. He made the most of 2014, with 22.5 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. That sack total broke the school record held by Sam and current San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith. Ray was also named an All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Smith as you would expect believes a lot in Ray and here’s why.
“The first thing I noticed is that he went to his pro day at 250 (pounds), but I think he can be a 4-3 defensive end if the team needed him to get a little bigger,” Smith said. “But also that he is really passionate about the game and gives great effort. That’s really one thing that jumps out.”
That passion got Ray into a tough situation against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, when he was ejected for a targeting call for a hit on then quarterback Blake Sims on a 65 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndrew White.
Smith cites his “explosiveness” as being a real asset towards becoming an effective pass rusher on the next level.
Ray’s teammate and fellow defensive end Markus Golden isn’t expected to go as high as him in the draft. However, Smith feels like Golden could follow the same path as some other NFL pass rushers that didn’t come into the league with a ton of hype.
“He’s a James Harrison/Elvis Dumervil kind of rusher,” Smith said. “He’s explosive, physical, and play low to the ground. But he also unlike those two guys can play a 4-3 defensive end I believe in the NFL.”
Harrison went completely undrafted out of Kent State, while Dumervil was a fourth round pick of the Denver Broncos out of Louisville.
Not only does Smith think that Golden could be successful in the NFL he also believes that he could become a starter within a couple of years in the league.
Another player that Smith had under his tutelage this winter was Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. He like the other players showed that he could get to the quarterback. But Smith thinks he also has another skillset in his arsenal that makes him attractive to NFL teams.
“He has the ability to play in space, in coverage,” Smith said. “I think Randy showed that, which I think was a surprise to most when you saw what he did at the combine and on his pro day. He can change directions at the stop of a dime, which is the key to being able to have coverage skills.”
These skills are very valuable for a player who many believe would be primarily brought in to get to the quarterback in a rushing capacity.
Smith didn’t directly compare Gregory to the player that he mentioned as an example of someone who can do both rush the quarterback and cover. But, this name would lead you to become pretty excited about what the Cornhusker pass rusher could do at the next level. That’s Broncos pass rusher Von Miller
“If you asked Von Miller what he plays, he’d tell you that he’s ‘Will’ (weakside) linebacker that just has a pass rush skill,” Smith said. “The point is, you can put Von Miller out there one on one on guys to cover if you need to. But his skillset as a pass rusher is so great it supersedes any coverage that they ever want to truly have. They want him rushing the passer.”
This leads us to our final player to look at, in Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton. He is not likely on the Falcons radar, however Smith feels like he’s not a traditional player at his position.
Shelton measures up at 6’2” and 339 pounds. That would lead you to believe by those numbers that he’s a prototypical nose tackle that would be a strength in stopping the run. Smith says he’s much more than that.
“He was leading his team in sacks, he was one of the top pass rushers in America,” Smith said. “The difference is what we worked with Danny on was that (he’s) not just a space eater, you can use your hips and explosive moves/technique to work to get up field.”
Shelton proved as much this past season for the Huskies with 16.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, and five fumble recoveries.
We could very well see one of these players having their name called on by the Falcons when they make their pick at number eight overall next Thursday night in Chicago. Because, if you believe what we’ve heard from head coach Dan Quinn and others on his staff, they are looking for someone to disrupt the opposing quarterback. Smith thinks their commitment to this is huge.
“I think (Quinn) and (defensive line coach) Bryan Cox whoever they get, that player will be in good position to have an opportunity because they believe in pass rush,” Smith said. “That’s the first thing. If you’re going to have a belief that sacks, eating up quarterbacks, playing at a high energy, and high tempo rate, that’s a start.”
While we’ve heard on the offensive end the goals are to protect quarterback Matt Ryan and get the running game to perform at a higher level, we do know on defense they’re looking for players like the ones that Smith trained. Maybe we will have one of those names called?
If you’re excited to see the fully healthy, leaned-up, ultra-explosive version of Bud Dupree this season, imagine the feeling of the guy who’s trained him the last few years.
Former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith, the modern-day pass-rush guru who’s trained Dupree in Atlanta the past two offseasons, is on the verge of jubilation.
Smith went back to the beginning to discuss Dupree’s development.
“Initially, Bud had an injury at his pro day which limited his training coming out of college,” Smith said. “His agent called me and told me, ‘Chuck, I got this dude, super-charged athlete.’ But he wanted to train in Kentucky. So I followed Bud, kept up with him, and then last summer we connected. Bud came in and had an incredible summer, was absolutely amazing here.”
Dupree was raw coming out of college, but was such a ridiculously explosive athlete with a superb frame that he was almost universally considered a first-round prospect coming out of Kentucky, at least among analysts in the media. The Steelers certainly thought so, selecting Dupree in the first round in the hope of developing him into their next star outside linebacker.
The transformation wasn’t going to be immediate; however, as Dupree struggled to turn the corner and win at the top of the arc as a rookie, and showed the same lack of success in his bull rush that he did in college. Without a go-to move and with little refinement to his hand usage, Dupree was forced to out-athlete blockers to be successful – not a long-term recipe for success in the NFL.
But ask Smith about any of this trainees, and he has several around the NFL – including Stephon Tuitt – and he’ll tell you with raw, passionate honesty about where they were and where they’re headed as players. Dupree is no exception, as Smith was as excited about his potential as anyone, but also knows that it can go to waste quickly without proper attention to detail.
“I’m a big believer that the only way for me to judge a guy is by what he does on the floor here (at his facility),” said Smith. “For Bud, he was obviously an explosive edge rusher, but there were a lot of things he needed to work on. We worked heavily on his pass rush IQ and pass rush movement so that he could best utilize the tools he has. There’s a misconception out there that because a guy is a great athlete he doesn’t need development like everyone else. That’s not true, and Bud is a great example of that, along with being a great person, teammate, and everything you want in someone you’re training.”
Smith threw the kitchen sink at Dupree, and the young edge rusher responded with an exceptional work ethic and intense demeanor about his work. Determined not to leave any stone unturned in his development, Dupree set out to establish a full repertoire of moves and abilities as a pass rusher, with Smith guiding him every step of the way.
“What stood out to me was how fast Bud picked up everything,” said Smith. “We were working on change of direction, lateral movement, rip moves, head fakes, all this stuff and he was picking things up so quickly, I was amazed. He showed up to training camp in Pittsburgh in the best shape of his life. He was gonna get double-digit sacks and be the guy the Steelers drafted him to be, and then the groin injury happened (last year).”
The injury caused Dupree to miss most of camp and the first ten weeks of the season, eventually returning for the Steelers’ Week 11 contest against Cleveland. Dupree ended the season well, with 4.5 sacks in the final four regular-season games to eclipse his total of four from the year before. But the late start killed any chance of a true breakout year.
That’s expected to happen this year.
“Honestly, he just came in harder to work this offseason,” said Smith. “We worked on moves, film, change-of-direction, vision, his pass rush IQ and how to study film of your opponents as a pass rusher, because a lot of the things he saw, especially within AFC North play, won’t change much this season. A lot of offensive coordinators will keep most of their tendencies, so we tried to pick out what those were in protections and prepare him to win in those situations.”
“The biggest thing with Bud is that he’d never been taught any of these things. There’s another misconception out there that just because you’re fast you’re also a great athlete. That’s not true. There’s a thing called lateral movement that is crucial to great athleticism. Bud had to learn that, in addition to playing with better knee flexion because he rushed too high when he got in here. We fixed Bud’s stance, that was one of the biggest things we worked on. If you watch guys like Von Miller and other great ones, their stance is critical, but it isn’t all bent over either. Bud was popping up and rushing too high, so we taught him how to stay low, keep leverage, and work the hands.”
Dupree will be the first to echo Smith’s assessment of coming from college as a underdeveloped pass rusher with a great first step and plenty of speed up the arc, but with very little idea of how to use those abilities. He mentions Smith’s name almost every chance he’s given, crediting the former Atlanta Falcon for taking his clay and molding it into something potentially great.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Chuck is to keep my eyes on my work,” Dupree said. “Using my hands and my eyes at the same time. That’s the biggest thing with pass rushing, you’ve got to use your eyes well with your hands. I wasn’t doing that in the past, but I’m trying to do it now.”
The work has paid off in the opinion of both men, culminating in what should be a true breakout season for the third-year edge defender. Dupree has added a physicality to his rush game that he promises will be on display this season, but Smith may have even higher hopes for his young pupil.
“What you’re gonna see from Bud this season is that he added in the bull rush,” said Smith. “Honestly, Bud can be Khalil Mack. Physically, movement-wise, he’s got all the tools to be Khalil Mack. I told him, all great pass-rushers have signature moves, but they also achieve those moves by having a lot of variety. Bud has everything in his arsenal that he needs, all the tools in the toolbox. Now it’s just up to him to go put it all together.”
When told about the comparison to Mack, Dupree laughed, but not in a dismissive way. He knows exactly what is expected of him in Pittsburgh and is fully aware of the type of talent he possesses, regardless of his unassuming demeanor.
“I think it’s good (to be compared to Mack),” said Dupree. “I just gotta keep going hard though. I try to get better each day, and working with Chuck, he makes you focus on the details of fine-tuning the skills you already have, which is huge.”
“I’m a smarter player, more explosive. Better hands, better feet. I’m gonna be all around the field in different positions to make plays. Got a bull rush I’m ready to bring, ready to put it in my repertoire.”
Smith understands that the best defenses should be built on their ability to get to the quarterback, especially at the edge-rusher position. Run defense and coverage ability are important, but Dupree and those that play his position will make their money as pass-rushers who can win one-on-one against blockers, something Pittsburgh has sorely lacked in recent seasons.
The Steelers haven’t had a pass rusher with double-digit sacks in a single season since James Harrison and Lamar Woodley both reached 10 in 2010, an issue that has forced the defensive staff to alter its approach and rely heavily on blitzes to bust the pocket. Dupree was acquired to be the man to change all of that, and unlike recent drafted failures at the same position the Georgia native always had the ability to be a high-level performer. Now he hopes to have the polish.
“He was so humble, just an open book coming in,” said Smith. “Bud told me straight up, ‘I need help.’ That’s rare to see these days, especially from a kid with his natural gifts. But he wanted to learn, and he’d just never been taught. Teams with great pass rushers have a culture of it, and the Steelers have been searching for new young pass-rushers to re-start that culture. I’m hopeful that Bud and J.J. Watt’s little brother (T.J.) can be the guys who do that.”
Stephon Tuitt, who played defensive end at Notre Dame, is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tuitt will take you through the process of training for the NFL Combine, his pro day in South Bend, Ind. and the anticipation for draft day.
Right now I’m at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. and I’ve been here for the last six weeks. I have a few days left before the NFL Combine. I’ve been here working and watching my weight.
To get there I had to take the soul food out of my diet. IMG Academy has an incredible nutrition program here to teach me what to eat, how to pay attention to carbs and how to take in more fiber. I now understand what the good oils and fats are that I can put in my body. Now I feel full by eating less because I’ve trained my body to do that. It’s all about training hard and eating right. I admit, though, I’m still in the process but I’m learning more each day. There would be times when I’d have a craving for a BLT burger, but now it’s all about chicken breast and vegetables. I now have the proper education on how to be a fit athlete because of the tremendous amount of resources here. The time spent with the nutritionist, dietician and strength and conditioning coaches here have been invaluable.
I love the people I’m training with. They’re some of the best guys in college football like Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert just to name a few. We’re all competitors and believe that we’re the best at what we do.
During my time here, I’ve become so much faster and quicker. I feel myself improving in the drills that I’ll do in Indy. My goal is to be one of the best at my position and I want to be well known when I leave.
I’m excited for the Combine and I’m looking forward to performing well. I’m excited to get out there and compete against some of the best athletes in the world. I’m a competitor. I really won’t be nervous in Indy. The time that I’ve spent investing into this is why I won’t be nervous. There may be some anxiety, but I think that’s normal. It’s like the butterflies in your stomach before a big game, but I’ll be having fun and I’ll be myself.
I literally have worked my butt off since I got here. When I get to the Combine I want to surprise myself. I know that I can do incredible things because of all the effort I have put into this.
A few things about me is I’m extremely driven. I’m a hardworking, dedicated individual and I want to be as successful as I can. I’ve been going so hard the past month and a half. I will not be overrun by somebody else.
At the end of the day I remember who I do this for. It’s for myself, my family and my religion. To have the opportunity to do something that I have dreamed about is surreal.
It will mean the world if I can one day provide for my family. I spend a lot of time thinking and I always remember when I grew up in Dade County. I remember not being able to play PeeWee football because I was too big. Thinking about it now, I laugh all the time. I wonder how things could be different if I started playing then, but I didn’t start playing football until high school. That’s when I moved to Georgia. I went to Monroe High School and I loved being on the field. There’s nothing like making a play on the field. When my team gets the recognition and praise that we deserve, there’s nothing in the world like it. During high school, I would spend my time away watching college football and following my favorite players. In fact, I wanted to be a quarterback, but now I play on defense so something must have gone wrong.
I love getting coached up to reach my potential. I remember my coach in high school and he introduced me to the word toughness. He taught me what it means to be mentally strong. It was crazy. He was very intense and he loved the game. He helped me so much by bringing out the intensity needed to play this game. He played my position on defensive line. He instilled so many great qualities in me like hustling, being the best and getting up when you’re knocked down. When I went to college, it just carried over.
Chuck Smith helped me with the technical part of the game. He helped me with the mindset, ability to pass rush, what to look at, how to be smart at the game and to know the defense. Those two together increased my game tremendously.
As anticipation builds for the combine I have such a strong drive and deep hunger to be the best. I can’t wait to be in front of the bright lights in Indianapolis.
Feb 17, 2014 at 9:48a ET
With Moats attempting to squeeze the B gap, Tuitt executes a well-timed scrape/replace with the outside linebacker, punching right guard Brandon Brooks (#79) before hustling outside to contain running back Ryan Mathews (#24). As the ball carrier bounces outside, there is Tuitt, busting his tail to chase down Mathews for a minimal gain.
It’s an exceptional play, not just because of the sheer athleticism required for a man that size to cover that much ground so quickly, but also because Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler obviously trusts Tuitt to gap-exchange and still be able to complete such a difficult assignment. The third-year defensive end’s unique skill set and elite range allows Pittsburgh to offer a variety of schematic options up front that make the Steelers that much tougher for offenses to prepare for during the week and execute against. As Tuitt continues to grow as a pass rusher, thanks in large part to his work in the offseason with pass-rushing guru Chuck Smith, expect to see this young defender rapidly evolve into one of the league’s premier defensive linemen in 2016.
November 6, 2015
Yannick Ngakoue peered out of a radio booth high above Byrd Stadium and fulfilled his long list of media obligations, politely shrugging off questions about his place among the best defensive ends in college football.
He doesn’t feel pressure to secure the 21/2 sacks he needs to tie Maryland’s single-season record, he said in a soft tone. At one point, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior looked over his shoulder and smiled at a public relations official after telling a reporter that he’s given no thought to potentially declaring for the NFL draft this spring.
As usual, Ngakoue was prepared. With a straight face, he sat up in his chair to outline his primary ambition: to help Maryland reach a bowl game for a third consecutive season. He knows it’s a long shot. Maryland (2-6 overall, 0-4 Big Ten), which has lost five straight and enters Saturday’s home game against Wisconsin as an 11 1/2 -point underdog, would have to win all four of its remaining games to become eligible.
His 10 1/2 sacks are tied for second in major college football, and on Saturday he could become the first Maryland player to record at least 11 sacks in a season in 30 years.
While roughly half of Ngakoue’s 20 tackles have come from sacks, he’s vowed to continue improving in run support. He considers the pass-rushing component of his game as more of an art form, which he learned last spring after saving money to travel to Georgia and train under former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith.
It has paid immediate dividends: Ngakoue has recorded a sack in each of the team’s past four games against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa. He finished last week’s game with 1 1/2 sacks and helped Maryland’s defense hold the Hawkeyes to less than 300 total yards.