Hitting and guts are the currency of respect in the game of football. A football player that can deliver a hit, take a hit, and play with abandon earns respect from teammates, opponents, and fans. When I watch a prospect, these three aspects of football stand out immediately when I see them. Said player may not have the technical or conceptual skills, or physical talent to become an NFL player, but hitting and guts make a great first impression.
Florida running back MIke Gillislee delivered a strong first impression against Texas A&M in the 2012 opener. Although I watched him carry the ball 14 times for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns, the box score only reveals the tip of the iceberg. What the stat line doesn’t show is that Gillislee’s best runs – both statistically and otherwise – came during his final eight carries after he injured his groin in the first offensive series and required an A-C bandage.
Among these impressive displays was a 24-yard run up the right sideline where he turned the corner on three defenders. As he was generating separation up the boundary he made the choice to go out of bounds, because as he opened his stride to his third gear he knew his groin couldn’t handle it. Still, that didn’t stop him from making an incredible run for a game-winning score with said groin injury that left him holding his private parts after the play. I’ll show that play later, because technically this gutsy, balls-out play was my lasting impression of Gilislee.
Awareness and Technique
My first look at the Florida runner came during his initial assignments as a pass protector during the Gators’ opening offensive series. Here is a 1st and 10 from 12 personnel with 10:34 in the first quarter.
What I like most about this play is that the running back has a difficult change of direction to execute. I doubt that Florida’s pass protection assignment on this play was to leave a running back one-on-one with a defensive tackle, especially when the right guard has no one to block. This is a blown assignment at the line of scrimmage and Gillisee’s awareness to spot the defensive end and then address it is smart football.
Watch Gillislee cut to the left and made contact with the defender’s inside knee.This is excellent timing, location, and a strong finish to send the defender crumbling to the ground.
The Gators quarterback completes the short route to the flat for a two-yard reception and another 11 yards after the catch. Since most college running backs I watch either telegraph their cut blocks or dive at the feet of their opponents when they know their assignments before the snap, this split-second adjustment with good technique is a great initial impression of a football player’s potential smarts and awareness on the field. A lot of of players are good in the classroom or the practice field. It’s the fluid nature of the game at its highest level that separates pro prospects from pro players.
Abandon – Part I
This next play brought my wife Alicia into the room. She grew up a sprinter and basketball player, but she’s straight out of the Jack Tatum, Night Train Lane and Hardy Brown School of Hitting Appreciation. I have already laid down the law that if we have a child that plays football, she will not be allowed to attend games until that kid plays varsity because her fiery enthusiasm will be mistaken for maniacal behavior only deemed acceptable in some regions of Texas. I’m not kidding. We watched Alabama-Georgia four years ago and she was ecstatic to see a clothesline and then equally disturbed that the officials threw the flag. Terry Tate Office Linebacker would fake an injury and not leave the locker room for the second half if he got hit by a player with my wife’s mentality.
Anyhow, the Alicia Waldman “That’s What I’m Talkin’ About!” Play of the Game, came on a 3rd and 11 pass from 10 personnel with 8:44 in the first quarter. The quarterback is in shotgun and Gillislee flanks the passer to the right just over the right tackle. The defensive end is cheating to the tackle’s right shoulder, indicating a potential outside rush.
Gillislee’s job even prior to this shift is to chip the defensive end and then release on a pass route as an outlet for his quarterback. After the snap, I like how Gillislee slides a stop to his right before moving down hill towards the line of scrimmage. This is another sign of a player mentally prepared to block a defender and understanding how to gauge the appropriate angle.
Here is the end zone view of Gillislee sliding first, attacking second.
The runner leads with a forearm to the chest of the defensive end. This isn’t the conventional, two-handed punch taught in drills, but when chipping a defensive end a runner can load up. That’s exactly what Gillislee does, putting the the defender on his ass just before releasing up field.
It was a great job of lowering the shoulder and exploding into the defender. Not great form with his hands, but for a chip, which was what this was, it was excellent.
Lapse of Awareness
Not that Gillislee doesn’t have things to learn. With 5:00 in the half, he doesn’t make an adjustment that results in missing a green dog blitz and a sack.
This was just a strange play for Gillislee. I’m not sure what he saw that distracted him from the green dog in front of him but this lack of awareness can’t be a habit in pass protection.
Abandon – Part II
This is 12-yard touchdown is a great example of burst from a player with a groin injury that prevented him from opening his stride completely on a 24-yard run earlier in the second half when he beat his opponents to the right sideline but could not maintain the pace without further damaging his leg. On this 2nd and 3 with 13:14 left and down 13-17 on the road, Gilleslee sells out for the score on this 21 personnel pitch play to right end.
As the play develops below, you can see the fullback getting a nice seal of the outside defender, but the rest of the line fails to reach the second level of the defense and Gillelsee sees that he’s heading towards two unblocked linebackers with strong angles of pursuit to him before he’s even reached the line of scrimmage.
This is where the play takes a turn I wouldn’t have expected. Gillislee, who already passes his seal block outside, opts to plant his inside leg and bounce the run outside. Now he’ll have to give up yards, bend the run around his fullback, and beat two defenders to the corner on a groin wrapped in an A-C bandage.
Although the defenders’ angles are foiled, Gillislee is still running with a bum wheel. This is impressive acceleration for an injured back against three able-bodied defenders.
Gillislee limps to the sideline holding his crotch as a price paid for one of the gutsiest individual plays I’ve seen from a running back this year. I have more to watch before I have a strong conclusion about Gillislee’s NFL prospects, but after this game I have a ton of respect for the Florida Gators senior and I’m intrigued with his upside if this is what he looks like at 80 percent or less.
For more analysis of skill players entering the NFL, download the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse.