The selection of Jalyn Holmes was a bit polarizing among Vikings nation. First, Rick Spielman traded out of the third round, which spawned some groans. Then he took a step further by drafting the tweener defensive end who had modest production at Ohio State.
But Spielman came out quickly and made his feelings clear:
“You can’t teach that length,” he said. “You can’t teach that athleticism. …We want to continue to develop inside pass rush.”
There was better pass rush talent on the board, there were better pure defensive tackles on the board. But with Holmes, Rick Spielman chose to pursue a ball of clay, one that could be molded into something he has only been in spurts. And based on Spielman’s post-draft comments, it appears that will be as a three-technique defensive tackle.
The upside of this move is intriguing. Holmes has great size and length to rush the passer, but lacks typical edge athleticism and speed. He does, however, have unexpected strength and heavy hands. Plus, he is already 275-ish pounds with the frame to add even more weight. Physically, the move inside makes sense.
Holmes also has experience rushing the passer from inside. Ohio State utilized a “Rush Man” package with all defensive ends on the line of scrimmage. As one of their biggest ends, Holmes was typically tasked with getting interior pressure. That experience coupled with the Vikings’ lack of depth inside gives credence to the position change.
However, Holmes did not enter the draft as a tackle, but as an end. His whole college career, he was an end and his style and technique match that role. As such, there are things the Vikings’ coaching staff will have to work with Holmes to ensure a successful transition.
Let’s go to the tape to see how Holmes as a defensive tackle can work.
This is a good foundation to build on. Holmes (11) uses his long arms very well. Though he does not get to the quarterback on this play, it is a good example of how, even on the edge, he is able to keep separation and clear the lineman’s hands.
On the edge, Holmes has decent burst off the line. When bumped inside, however, it is a little less explosive. Despite having his hand on the ground in the three-technique, he stands pretty tall out of his stance and attacks the A-gap blind. This is essentially an edge rush style moved in a couple of feet. Holmes will have to alter his anchor, dropping his weight more and leading with his hands and his head up. A speed rush like this works with a quicker get-off, but Holmes’ is only adequate in this clip.
This second clip is better. He (working 72) is quick off the snap with a lower anchor, which allows him to put the move on and sink around the corner.
Speaking of which, Holmes already has a couple of go-to moves that have proven to work out of the three-technique. In the above clip, he gets a first punch to set up a nice swim. Below (working 74), he fires a little high, but his quick punch sets up the spin nicely. Were it not Baker Mayfield at quarterback, he may have had a sack.
Speed to Power
We have not seen a lot of pure bull rushes from Holmes on the inside, because his general philosophy as an interior pass rusher was “I’m quicker than any guard so that’s how I will beat them.” On the outside, his power rushes involve more hands than legs. But there is some optimism that Holmes can be a competent bull rusher, so long as he develops better habits with his pad level. When he properly sinks his hips and drives with his legs, he is able to push the pocket with solid speed-to-power conversion. It is not yet his natural pass rushing method, but the potential is there.
Holmes length and strength will immediately work in his favor on the inside, but he will have to alter technique a little bit. Assuming he adds 10-to-15 pounds, he will be able to at least stand his ground to find the football on the (presumably rare) instances where he is on the field in run defense. The point of contention with him early on will, again, be how he attacks the first moments off the snap.
Holmes (working 72) is a little slow out of his stance in this clip, and subsequently stands and receives the block, rather than reacting and attacking. He is strong enough to not be blown back, but the initial hole is right under his man, so he loses a playmaking opportunity.
It is a cliche term, but NFL tackles can make a lot happen simply through effort. Most snaps, while the play is alive, Holmes stays active. In the below clip, he continually fights one of the nation’s best tackles, Orlando Brown, now with the Ravens. Though he is stonewalled initially, he does not give up on the play and eventually makes a first down-saving tackle on Mayfield.
The theory with Holmes is that, at the very least, he can take on the passing down three-technique role Brian Robison has held. But there also appears to be hope that Holmes can become more than that. Beyond Sheldon Richardson, the Vikings have a lot of questions at three-technique. If Holmes can become a multiple-down answer with versatility, it would take a lot of pressure off of Richardson and Linval Joseph.
The questions are twofold: Can he add some weight and can he alter his style to fit the defensive tackle mold. This is certainly not a one-year project. Holmes may not crack the rotation until 2019. But the potential is there and the switch in position helps both Holmes’ chances in the NFL and the Vikings at a position of need.
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