If you’ve been following Will Bazier’s excellent practice notes, you’d have noticed an interesting development. Uber-linebacker, Malcolm Roach is at the ‘R-Linebacker’ position. In case you’re wondering, that’s Malik Jefferson’s old spot. Are you wondering if that’s weird? For starters, Malik Jefferson is an absurd freak of an athlete. You don’t have to look further than Jefferson’s NFL combine numbers to indicate that. Malik ran a 4.52 second forty yard dash, posted a 36 inch vertical and 125 inch broad jump. It’s safe to say, Malik is an explosive athlete. He will be difficult to replace because of his ability to range sideline to sideline, track down ball carriers, and carry receivers the field-over. Now, let’s turn our attention to Malcolm Roach, a favorite recruit of mine from the jump.
If you don’t remember, I wrote about Roach during his recruitment. Back then, I was blown away by Roach’s athleticism and was thrilled Texas landed him. In Roach’s case, he’s a bigger player than Malik, but his athleticism jumps out as well. As a senior in high school, Roach was six foot three inches, weighed 255 pounds and ran a 4.6 second forty yard dash along with a 4.3 second shuttle. That’s amazing. While those aren’t quite ‘Malik numbers’, they are from a bigger athlete. Nevertheless, every fraction of a second counts in the super-fast game of college football. Now, is Roach at ‘R-Linebacker’ a good idea? Questions you have to ask now are, what’s his current weight and what are his current dash and shuttle times? Now, the staff could very well decide that Roach is no longer needed on the defensive line, due to depth. That’s a beautiful thing. It could also indicate the lack of depth at linebacker with Roach being the only end athletic enough to spell time there. That’s not good. For this post’s sake, let’s consider the former to be true.
First things first, if Roach is to play that position, drop weight. Besides, speed and quickness matter more plus or minus 10 pounds, especially if you’re shooting gaps and playing off the line of scrimmage. If Roach can get back to the 250 pound range, he’d approach ‘unstoppable monster’ at the position. You see, the ‘Rover’ can play a ‘middle backer’ in a 3-3 Stack look, a weak side (Will) linebacker in an even (4-2 or 2-4) front, or insert on the defensive line on different front calls. Roach also possesses the speed to run sideline to sideline and carry receivers vertical. The only question is if he possesses the stamina. That’s where losing weight helps. Where Roach proves himself invaluable is his hybrid nature. The fact that he can rush against offensive lineman so well, all across the front, and possesses the traits to range well all over the field is amazing. How does the Rover play in Orlando’s defense?
First, it depends on his skill and attributes. With Malik, Orlando schemed the position more like the Will linebacker position, because of Malik’s strengths tracking ball-carriers with tremendous pace. This is where Roach is a bit different. In my opinion, Roach has always been a more natural linebacker than Malik. Perhaps it’s because he’s a coach’s son. Let’s just say he has a knack for seeing plays develop, finding the ball, and delivering hits. You saw some of that his freshman year, when he played the ‘Fox’ position in Charlie Strong’s defense. Now, you may get to see similar, at a different position, in Todd Orlando’s defense, get some!
All that said, just what in Sam Hell does the Rover do? Well, some of it’s guess work because different players possess different attributes, as stated above. That said, you know me well, and I have my own ideas how to unleash Roach from the Rover position, those follow.
Size vs The Run – It’s been my opinion that Roach is a more natural linebacker than Malik. Where you might notice this is taking on and fighting through blocks at or near the line of scrimmage. Roach’s size (and technique) neutralizes offensive linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks reaching and or leading up to the 2nd level to a greater extent. It’s important to remember, Roach was a damn good middle linebacker in high school. If and when teams decide to pull or lead through interior gaps, they may find themselves tussling with an incredible physical presence.
Interior Gap Pressure – From the Rover position, Roach’s ability to pass rush also exceeds that of his predecessor. Whether it’s on or off the line of scrimmage, Roach can insert himself into gaps along the front, creating havoc and panic for protections. The mere threat of Roach pressuring interior gaps would benefit the other pass rushers on the team, he’s that good. Now, imagine Hager and Roach attacking simultaneously, to the same side, yeah.
Pursuit & Coverage – While not as athletic as his predecessor, Roach pursues, runs, and changes direction very well for a man his size. Now, will he be given more difficult assignments, probably not. However, he would be able to manage maintaining underneath bracket coverage against vertical inside threats, inside-underneath threats (low hole, hook-curl), and pursuing the flat. Also, often times it’s not how fast a guy is, but instead how well he sees the game and anticipates. Roach does this well. He has the athleticism to track and maintain proper leverage relationships with his teammates to make plays and work sideline to sideline. So, while he’s lacking in some speed, a la Gary Johnson, it’s not by as much as you’d think, dude can move!
Now, it’s important to note that Orlando may be trying Roach at Rover out of necessity and that he has zero plans to deploy him there during the 2018 season. At this point, this is conjecture resulting from Will Bazier’s great on site practice reports. On the other hand, if Orlando’s tinkering meaningfully with Roach at Rover, it does provide for interesting discussion. To summarize, the athleticism drop-off between Malik and Roach is significant, though not severe. Roach’s advantage is in his size-athleticism combination. Having a guy that versatile is very hard to come by and in this writer’s opinion, Roach is a more natural defender and middle linebacker than Malik, plays more intuitively in the box. It’s safe to say, Roach will have a great understanding of Orlando’s defense after Spring. If he is to make the move, what better leader could you ask for on the defense, none other than the man that brought the ‘chase the bag’ mentality to the Texas Football program. Time will tell and as always, share your thoughts in the comments section.