For those Saints fans that had been concerned about the development of rookie defensive end / edge pass rusher and the team's top 2018 (and 2019) draft pick Marcus Davenport prior to the team's impressive 36-7 rout of the Los Angeles Chargers the other night, you can go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief.
After much trepidation surrounding the status of the impressive young defensive star for whom the franchise traded away its top pick in next year's 2019 NFL Draft to the Green Bay Packers to, just so they could move up and take him with the #13 overall pick out of the University of Texas-San Antonio; it became quickly evident the other night in Southern California that the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder's impressive debut performance had put to rest any lingering doubts about his ability.
But despite what I saw from the youngster the other night, I can't always get a full appreciation for what actually was happening with the soon-to-be 22 year old.
Which is exactly why for the purpose of this morning's article in particular, I'm relying on the observations of the two men whom I believe are THE TWO SMARTESTand most knowledgeable members of "Saints Media" that I know personally, with regards to breaking down "X's and "O"s: New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhilland Canal Street Chronicles Co-Editor / Film Analyst Walter "Deuce" Windham.
Now, from my own personal observation, I thought the young man was particularly impressive as far as the obvious amount of speed and quickness that he displayed off the outside edge; and his 3 tackles, 2 QB pressures, half of a sack (that he shared with 3rd year defensive tackle David Onyemata) and 1 tackle-for-loss in the backfield on 15 total snaps; were a compelling testament to that very fact.
But — what was it that the two "X"s and "O"s experts saw from a technique / overall performance perspective from the rookie, that I didn't?
In his insightful article (click HERE to read) detailing his observations of Davenport's performance, Underhill says that the rookie made a handful of plays and probably looked his best in the running game, where he made an athletic open-field tackle on a pitch play and later shed a block to drop running back Chargers RB Detrez Newsom for a loss of 2 yards.
Davenport also picked up two pressures right before halftime by beating Chargers offensive left tackle Sam Tevi on consecutive snaps, but Underhill said that he appeared a step slow getting off when the ball was snapped; which then carried his rush a little wide and was blocked out of the play — until Trey Hendrickson, who created the initial pressure on Chargers #2 quarterback Cardale Jones, knocked Davenport’s man off of him.
Onyemata then wrapped up Jones, and Davenport helped knock him down to get credit for the half of a sack.
Underhill adds that Davenport is new to rushing out of a three-point stance after standing up mostly in college, so he said there is still some settling in going on. Nick also adds that it was also interesting to see Davenport stand up and drop into a zone on a goal-line play. Davenport actually did some of that in college, so it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was another sign of his athletic ability — and it might show that he’s a little farther along in his understanding of the Saints defense than expected.
All in all, Underhill says that it was a fine debut for the rookie, and it should ease some concerns about where he is so early in his development.
So what about those Saints fans that remain unconvinced or unimpressed, despite Underhill's very notable expertise?
Simple: it's time for some reinforcement from Canal Street Chronicle's "Deuce" Windham, who in his brilliant article yesterday that includes his film breakdown and analysis of Davenport's performance (click HERE to read); says that the rookie's first performance in the Black and Gold showed off the “rawness” that was his buzzword following the draft.
But nevertheless: it also relieved a lot of the restlessness among Saints fans (including even some of the more skeptical ones) as everyone finally was able to see him take the field.
There are 2 very specific areas where Windham breaks down Davenport's performance, which of course are defending against the running game and rushing the quarterback.
With regard to defending the run, Windham says that during the 1st quarter with the starters still present, the Chargers ran a wide receiver end around that forced Marcus to defend against the run.
In that situation, Marcus had what is known as "containment". The responsibility of containment is to be prepared against plays such as an "end around", that Windham cautions can threaten the backside. But Davenport was able to keep good gap integrity, and was able to successfully force the play to the outside where he then made a hard but fundamentally sound tackle.
Overall, Windham says that Davenport displayed an understanding of his responsibility in multiple play calls and situations, that involve the ability to capably defend against the run.
And what about rushing the passer, and getting pressure off of the outside edge against the QB?
Windham says that Davenport seemed a bit rusty (not surprisingly with the amount of time that he's missed with the groin injury that kept him out of action for the past few weeks) and needed to get back on track. Davenport allowed his pad level to rise a bit high, which gives an opposing offensive lineman greater surface area on a defender's frame to engage and latch onto.
But Windham says that as the game progressed and Davenport got more reps, he began to better acclimate to the speed of the game. Bottom line, Windham says that Davenport showed that he was able to get quicker off the ball at the snap as the game went along, and slowly but confidently became more comfortable in his role off the edge.
For his part, Davenport said he thought he could have played better, and told Underhill and the rest of Saints Media after the game that there was actually an entire list of things he felt he could have done better, which included "finishing on the quarterback, closing better, using more rush moves."
"I still have to work on it sometimes, I still have to refine my technique because of how I change it up," Davenport said. "Sometimes in game I change it up, but it's feeling pretty good."
After that brief but still impressive performance, most Saints fans are feeling pretty good about him, too.