It’s dangerous scouting defensive linemen these days. Too many projects and projections. Can he learn how to use his hands, scouts ask? Is he a fit in a 1-gap 3-4 defense as an end or linebacker, scouts wonder? They’re asking every question in the book and getting few answers because at the end of the day, they just don’t know. Nobody really does. Nobody knows anything. Yet decisions have to be made.
One of those decisions will be on Kony Ealy’s position.
Personnel men are split on the Missouri 4-3 defensive end’s talent and what position he should play. Some say he’s a base end with the ability to slide inside to the three technique, which is a good fit in a four-man front. Others counter that he’s better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker because he’s 6’4″ tall and possesses adequate athleticism to drop into coverage like he occasionally did in college. Then there’s a few who believe he’s a 3-4 defensive end, where he can dominate offensive guards from a reduced split at the three-technique. It’s not much different than in a four-man front, except he’ll have more room to work with and potentially be more dangerous on stunts.
Of all the positions, he has the potential to be most disruptive at the three-technique in a 3-4 front. He has the raw skills to transition to the position, possessing underrated quickness, power, and technique. He flashes his potential frequently, but not consistently.
Against Georgia in his junior season, he displayed an array of pass-rush skills, including a club move.
Early into the fourth quarter, Ealy lined up in a four-point stance at weak-side defensive end outside of left tackle Kenarious Gates.
It was first-and-10 when Ealy burst across the line of scrimmage and squared his shoulders before shaking them from left to right. He shook them to generate power and then brought his chest back as his right arm swung around, punching Gates’ left shoulder.
The punch froze Gates for a split-second, allowing Ealy to turn his left shoulder inside and dip it underneath the blocker’s hands. Ealy bent his knees, creating separation, and circled around the corner. As he turned, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stepped forward and threw the ball, barely avoiding Ealy (6:30).
What’s impressive about Ealy is that (at times) he has variety in his pass rush. Variety is vital, especially at the pro level where offensive tackles prepare intensely. Some pass rushers will have up to three or four moves that they can go to when fighting with blockers.
In Ealy’s case, he’s flashed a speed-rush, bull-rush, and swim move. None of them are consistent at the moment, but they have the potential to be. They can all be very deadly from the three-technique, where he can do damage as seen against Florida.
Late into the fourth quarter of Missouri’s blowout win, Ealy slid inside when the defense went to a four-man front featuring two three techniques. This front created a one-on-one matchup for him against Florida left guard Kyle Koehne.
At the snap, Ealy patiently came off the line and stepped to his right. Koehne followed, sliding in the same direction, doing exactly what Ealy hoped. Ealy pushed him aside with his left hand and brought his right arm over the blocker’s head barely enough to slide by. Next he burst past the blocker and into the backfield, flushing the quarterback out of the pocket for a throwaway (8:54).
The swim move wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Ealy still has to get his outside arm over quicker and learn to work through the contact better. It’s part of being a young defensive lineman who is still learning the game and is playing a position he’s unfamiliar with.
If he does transition to the three-technique, he’s going to have to rush with more consistency as well as learn how to handle cut blocks and identify ball-carriers. The latter is particularly vital to an interior defensive lineman because he has to stop the run.
Throughout games there are plays when Ealy isn’t a factor against the run because he doesn’t locate the ball-carrier, as seen in the game against Georgia.
Halfway through the first quarter, Ealy lined up at weak-side left defensive end in a four-point stance and attacked left guard Dallas Lee. Georgia slid their offensive line left at the snap, essentially shifting a position over and forcing Ealy to matchup with the guard.
It was an ideal matchup for him. But when Murray handed the ball off, Ealy didn’t see the ball-carrier, who ran by him. Instead he was entrenched three yards into the backfield. He finally noticed the run when the ball-carrier crossed the line of scrimmage. By then, it was too late to prevent a first down (:46).
Most collegiate defensive linemen struggle locating the ball-carrier because they’re taught to simply rush upfield. After a couple years in the pros getting gashed on the ground, some learn how to read the backfield and the flow of the ball-carrier. Others don’t. There’s no telling if Ealy ever will despite his potential as a three-technique.
That’s what makes projecting defensive linemen so tough.