Earlier this week, Chip Kelly announced that Michael Vick had beaten out Nick Foles for the starting QB job this season. If there were a similar competition for the starting NT job between veteran free agent Isaac Sopoaga and 3rd round pick Bennie Logan based on the first two preseason games, the starter would be Bennie Logan.
Throughout training camp, it has been somewhat of a mystery where Logan would line up along the defensive line, as he can play a multitude of positions. Logan is listed at "just" 309 pounds, whereas Sopoaga tips the scales at 330. Ideally, every 3-4 team out there would love to have a guy like Haloti Ngata, who is not only 340 pounds, but is light on his feet. Specimens like Ngata don't grow on trees.
There are still a decent number of teams who employ 330+ pound NTs, but there are a growing number of teams who are beginning to sacrifice some size for quicker players at the position. Here is a list of projected starting 3-4 NTs around the NFL. If you were to insert Bennie Logan into the group, he would be heavier than 5 projected starting NTs, and only 9 pounds under the average weight:
There were 3 facets of Logan's game that have stood out so far throughout the first 2 preseason games: His up-and-down ability to anchor, his good quickness, and his outstanding awareness. We'll tackle all three.
First, let's start with Logan's worst play of the preseason, which was his first snap of the game against Carolina. The Panthers are running the ball. Logan is circled:
The RG blows him way off the line of scrimmage. This is not good:
However, that was just one play, and it's not as if Logan was manhandled on run plays with regularity. In fact, he showed some very promising signs in terms of being able to anchor against the run. Here's another run play against Carolina. Logan is circled below (you can only see his butt in this shot), but notice that the C and LG are double-teaming him:
Logan does a good job holding his ground, and the C tries to get to the second level to block a linebacker, while the LG stays engaged on Logan:
Logan sheds the block and makes the tackle. Very well done.
Anchoring is an area where Sopoaga should be better than Logan, as he is carrying 20 more pounds, but I haven't seen much evidence that he is.
Here's Logan as a pass rusher. Logan is being blocked by the LG, and he does a great job using his hands to get the LG off balance. Getting the blocker a little off balance is only half the battle. Many NTs around the league can overpower the guy across from them, but do they have the quickness to run by them once they have that advantage?
Bennie Logan does. He's able to get around the LG and get a free path to the QB:
Cam Newton is able to get the ball away, but takes a shot from Logan. Again, very well done.
Here's Logan chasing down a screen play against the Patriots. Logan rushed upfield at the Pats' QB, who dumped it to Sheen Vereen. Logan is trailing by about 5 or 6 yards.
Vereen spins away from the initial tackle and heads upfield with Logan in pursuit.
Logan isn't going to win that footrace, but he will if the RB has to make a cut. Vereen is forced back to the inside by Kenny Phillips, and a hustling Bennie Logan makes the tackle.
Logan showed a great motor and very good quickness for a NT on that play.
What has impressed me most about Logan so far is his awareness. Here he is bull-rushing the center, but he's also keeping an eye on the QB while doing so:
How do I know he was keeping an eye on the QB? Because as soon as Cam Newton loaded up to throw, Logan's hand shot up in the air to try to bat down the throw. This was not a case of Logan just standing around trying to play volleyball. He was bull-rushing the QB, collapsing the pocket, and had the presence to get his hand up mid-rush. Impressive. On this occasion, he didn't get a hand on the ball, and most times he probably won't. However, the more batted passes he can accumulate, the more chances for huge plays on deflected balls on the back end.
Here's another example of exactly that from the Patriots game. Logan is bull-rushing again, but the Patriots called a quick pass. The ball is out of Ryan Mallett's hand in 1.7 seconds, but Logan is ready with his hand in the air, despite the quick throw:
And finally, Logan gets his batted pass. Look at Logan staring down Newton while rushing:
Newton throws, and the hand goes up.
As an added bonus, on the very next play, the Panthers are running a draw. Logan reads it, and does not bull-rush. Instead, he keeps leverage on his man and waits for the RB to commit to either one of his gap assignments:
The RB runs to the left:
And Logan is able to shed the block and make the tackle.
Again, very well done.
If there's a player to keep an eye on tonight in Jacksonville, it's number 96. You might be seeing a lot of him this season.