Deontae Skinner is a rookie linebacker having, literally, an up-and-down first NFL season, having started a game and been released. Now on the New England Patriots practice squad, Inside The Pylon’s Brian Filipiak looks at Skinner’s performance against the Bears for the good and the “needs improvement”.
Undrafted earlier this year, the Mississippi State linebacker signed with New England before being released in final cuts at the end of training camp in late August. The team re-signed him September 1, assigned him to the practice squad, and promoted him to the 53-man roster two weeks later. Skinner made his NFL debut in Week 2 in Minnesota with a pair of tackles. He earned his first career start in Week 5 against the Bengals, then was pressed into service for 36 snaps in Buffalo after LB Jerod Mayo suffered a season-ending knee injury. Skinner also saw duty on New England’s special teams units during kick returns.
But the life of a fringe roster player in the NFL has its peaks and valleys; following New England’s October 26 win over the Bears, Skinner found himself on the street again when the Patriots cut him to create roster space for newly-signed defensive tackle Alan Branch. Within 48 hours he was back and once more on the New England practice squad having cleared waivers. It’s a sign that the team still views him as a developing talent, but it also suggests he’s a work in progress.
Against the Bears the rookie showed both sides of that evaluation, including the second play of the game. Skinner and his fellow linebackers demonstrate patience in their flow to the play-side and execute proper run fits — only the end result is marred when Skinner misses the tackle. Seen below, the Bears face 2nd and 5 from their own 25-yard line and they deploy heavy personnel, bringing in an extra offensive lineman and form an unbalanced line to the left.
The Patriots swap out nickel personnel for their 4-3 defense with defensive end Dominique Easley in a two-point stance outside the tight end. Out of the shotgun, Chicago will use an inside zone run play, in which the ball carrier will read his blocks between the tackles in search of the best crease to enter while uncovered linemen look to help covered linemen on blocks:
At the snap, Chicago executes three double-team blocks. Instead of plugging their gaps after the handoff, the linebackers stay steady in their respective running lanes — avoiding second-level blocks by keeping a measured distance before they have to commit to the ball carrier:
The display of patience pays the most dividends for strong-side linebacker Skinner. By not shooting the gap too quickly, he allows the extra lineman and acting tight end (#62) to follow through with the double block on the defensive end. If Skinner flows forward right away, it may alert the blocker to ignore the double-team and move ahead to the second level.
Because of the effective run fits, no matter what door Forte chooses, he will likely meet a free linebacker across the threshold. Fortunately for him, the door he does select — Skinner’s — is not slammed shut. The rookie whiffs on the tackle and turns a would-be zero- or one-yard gain into four, setting up an easy-to-convert 3rd and 1.
Despite the missed tackle by Skinner, this play was another good example of linebackers not getting caught up in the wash of the blocking action and instead putting themselves in position to make plays as a result of patience and proper run fits.
Skinner displayed solid fundamentals for most of this play, maintaining both alignment and separation to position himself for a key stop. His failure to seal the deal in the end was not terribly costly, but is a sign that there’s room for improvement. Time will tell whether Skinner gets another shot at the Patriots’ active roster in 2014.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.