Yesterday I wrote about a potential immediate impact player in Kendell Beckwith. I'm outright bullish on Beckwith both now and in the future, but he's hardly the only true freshman who will see significant snaps in 2013. The departures of Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo really open up the depth chart for the DL this season. Freak Johnson is a lock to start, while Jermauria Rasco, Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter are the presumed heirs to the starting roles. But after that, things get murky. Once Logan, Montgomery and Mingo declared, it became apparent that at least one of the incoming freshmen DL recruits would be vying for playing time, possibly more. Veterans Jordan Allen and Justin Maclin have hardly established themselves on the outside and we've seen very little of Quentin Thomas and Mickey Johnson in the middle. Is it possible those four could rise up and become quality rotation players? Absolutely. Even if they do, it's highly likely other freshmen will be seeing rotational time.
In recent seasons, we've witnessed LSU extend their recruiting arms outside of their typical Southeastern/Texan scope to nab players from the Midwest, West Coast and even Northeast. Much like Michigan, USC and Tennessee (to a lesser extent), LSU is now a national recruiting force, proving capable of coming into any team's backyard and stealing their finest assets.
Bower continues that tradition. Hailing from Somerville, New Jersey, Bower is the first Tiger I can remember in a long time (potential ever) to come from the Garden State. Fortunately, he came Housewife-less. [Insert, "you know how I know you are married" joke here].
You'll remember that Bower came as a Signing Day surprise, and the days leading up to his signing, LSU recruiting gurus quietly felt confident about the chances he would make his way to Baton Rouge. After some early morning murmurings about Bower opting to stay on the East coast and head to Florida, he donned the LSU cap in his school library, inked his name and never looked back. By all reports, he's pretty serious about his academics too. He not only donned an LSU hat, but an LSU Ourso School of Business hat. From the video in that link you can tell he's bright and well spoken, which carries not direct correlation to his ability to play football, but it's never something you complain about.
Bower's committment, as mentioned came as a bit of a surprise. He committed to Auburn last summer and remained committed up until the moment he chose LSU. He sported offers country-wide, from FSU to Oklahoma, to Michigan to Notre Dame. In the end, the opportunity for early playing time at a college football superpower proved too much to turn down for Bower.
Unfortunately, there isn't a great deal of free, quality film of Bower available. You can peruse his HUDL highlights, but they are really game packages and the videos do not specify where he is on the field, so can be a little hard to work through. I'll use some practice highlights from the Nike event "The Opening" to shed some insight into what I see from Bower.
Firstly, let's acknowledge that Bower is a solid 6'4" (listed 6'5") and 240 pounds. His first clip comes at the :55 second mark. What I really like out of the gate is that he's got a tremendous stance. To me, this shows a few things. First of all, he's been well coached. Bower is lower, with good knee bend and his ass down. He's also got a nice bend in his elbow, so he's not over extended or stiff. He sits very naturally in a low stance. A lot of taller guys really struggle with getting low into their stance, which puts them at an immediate disadvantage. I also love that he's lined up with his eyes on his target (in this case, the bag). Bower cock-eyed himself slightly inward to establish his angle.
Now, let's get to the snap itself. Let's not that he's up against a 6'6", 300 lb. 4-star UCLA commitment, so this is no slouch competition. He comes out with pretty good burst, and he keeps a good bend in his knee and his ass low enough to maintain a base for explosion. All of this perfectly sets up his bullrush. Which brings me to the first part of Bower that I think makes him a prime candidate for early playing time: brute strength. Look how easily he throws the UCLA OT backward. He absolutely manhandles the guy. Morris probably could have established a stronger base himself, and he seemed to be anticipating Bower making an outside move, which is another indication that Bower set this whole play up. He baited Morris to a bit of a heavy outside step, then blasted into him with pure power. Morris proved no match.
Now go to the 3:13 mark. Stance is still strong. I like the level back. His ass isn't way up in the air, and again good knee bend. Here, we get to see Bower in more of an inside technique (3-tech, outside shoulder of the guard). Bower comes out too upright here. My guess is that it's a natural reaction to him trying to establish his swim move, but it hurts him, as the guard is able to engage his body. The guard, in this case, is an Oregon commit, so again, no slouch. The impressive thing is that Bower sticks with and recovers pretty nicely. Though he's beat on the play, it's a good example of his strength again.
If you comb through the HS tapes, his bullrush is clearly his best move to this point. Obviously he'll need to develop some additional pass rushing moves, but that comes with time and experience. What Bower does possess is unusual strength, good explosion and good flexibility/mobility for his size. I think this skills strongly translate to playing DE at the next level.
What I Like: Long, muscular frame. Good stance and technique. Strong at the point of attack.
What I Don't Like: Inconsistent explosion out of his stance.
What I Don't Know: Recruiting sites list him as a 4.5 guy. While I'm almost certain that's not true, I'm unsure how much speed he possesses. His explosion oscillates from awesome to so-so, depending on the play. I'd like to see more consistency there.
I've stated before that I though Bower could be on the Michael Brockers "RS to beef you up for the inside" type plan, but I'm changing my tune. Bower has a big frame, long arms and a lot of muscle definition. Click through these photos and you'll get a feel for how big he is. He's certainly thicker than Mingo probably ever was. Height, length and good weight make him a candidate for early playing time.
Throughout summer practices, Bower is the only true freshman to see snaps with the upperclassmen every day (this may have changed, but last I read). That's quite a testament to his ability. I think he possesses much more advanced technique than some of his true freshman competition (Herron, Neal, Patterson). While I still think Herron possesses more potential upside, it's hard to deny that Bower is more ready to go right now. By all accounts he's a focused, determined individual.
I'll be very surprised if Bower doesn't see defensive snaps early and often in 2013.
Bower was a huge coup on Signing Day. There's no doubt about that. Not only did he bring depth to a position of need, he's an absolute stud quantity at the position. The fact that he's vying for early playing time supports this.
While I initially believed he may be long for the inside, I think he's looking a lot like a 4-3 DE right now. In HS he was utilized all across the line, likely to give him better matchups and opportunities to get after the QB. I'm sure Chavis will find some unique ways to utilize his abilities as well. I'm not sure Bower will ever be an explosive pass rusher type, but he has the look of a strong, all-around end and a definite force in the run game. I'm anxious to see him get out on the field. I am very likely underrating his athleticism, but there just isn't a large quantity of tape for me to judge and most of what exists are really short area clips.
I see a big impact player here. Multi-year starter.
High End: All-SEC defensive end, 1st day draft pick.
Low End: Multi-year rotational player, like Chancey Aghayere.
Realistic: Multi-year starter that plays a lot of quality minutes for LSU.