One of the prime areas for the Knights to improve would be the depth on the defensive side of the football. In particular, defensive line and cornerback. One of the key components for alleviating the defensive end position would be Lakeland (Fla.) High School’s Keahnist Thompson, 6’4”, 250 pounds.
After going through his senior film, here are some of the key points from seeing his junior film and comparing it to seeing him live in spring practice, summer workouts, fall practices, during this season versus clearwater, and film that’s now available online.
Balance and Change of Direction
One of the most difficult aspects of a defensive end’s job would be playing the option pitch. It could be a run-pass option, it could be a read-option, or even the traditional triple-option play. Any of them require a bit of finesse, as well as a great deal of athleticism for a 250 pound player to take on a much smaller, and usually quicker, quarterback and running back in space.
Watching Thompson run laterally against multiple opponents, as well as during practice, showed looseness in his hips and he does not need to slow down and then redirect body weight before making a change of direction.
Time and time again, Thompson proved he could break down and make a tackle after moving laterally for at least part of the play and stringing out a running back or quarterback.
Hustle and Physicality
Thompson plays hard on every snap. He’s all-out. That’s just this young man’s mentality. Even when he’s a long way from the play, Thompson will go after the runner and chase him across the gridiron.
Watching him run in space is impressive enough, but when he arrives at the ball carrier, that’s when the real fun begins. Well, at least for Thompson.
When striking a ball carrier, Thompson tackles by way of using the power in his hips and legs. Thompson’s hip flexibility aids him in popping a ball carrier and knocking opponents to the ground. Overall, It’s his penchant for contact that really makes him a big-time striker.
Pass Rushing Skills
As a defensive end, Thompson improved his overall pass rush skills exponentially in the last year. Here are some of the notes written down while watching him this spring, summer and during the 2021 season.
**Great bend going around the offensive tackle, good dip, and pressured the quarterback. Only area to really improve would be gaining more ground with his first step to attack the offensive tackle faster.
**Good inside-out pass rush, finished off with a swim move to help him go directly at the quarterback for the sack.
**During a speed rush, Thompson used his flexibility once again and dipped underneath the offensive tackle. While that took place, the quarterback climbed the pocket and then moved behind Thompson. At that point, Thompson spun back around by way of using the offensive tackle as leverage to push off of him and chase down the signal caller.
**When approaching the quarterback, Thompson realized he would not be able to create a sack. The quarterback already began to wind up for a pass. At that point, Thompson leaped up with two hands and tipped the football. The result was a deflection that one of his teammates intercepted. Really smart play.
Because of Thompson’s overall athleticism and natural size, he could play strong side defensive end or weak side defensive end for UCF when in the 4-3 defense. Further, he will be able to play the outside linebacker position whenever UCF decides to operate a 3-4 look, 3-3-5 formation, or a 50 defense, which would be three defensive linemen and two stand up outside linebackers.
Bottom line, Thompson is the type of player that UCF needs to consistently land to play multiple defensive fronts. He’s exactly the body type, athlete and personality necessary to compete at the Power Five level. That’s why schools like Florida, Texas, Alabama, Miami and many others offered Thompson a scholarship.
There will be more learning of techniques, especially with rushing the passer for Thompson. That’s a life-long learning experience that every true defensive edge rusher needs to continually hone his craft. Beyond that, one cannot teach Thompson’s natural gifts, nor his love for the game of football. He should make an early contribution for the Knights.
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