For this column I decided to break down Timmy Jernigan, starting defensive tackle for the reigning BCS champion Florida State Seminoles. This breakdown comes from his play vs. Nevada, Clemson, NC State, Florida and Auburn. Those games represent the second game of the year, two games in the middle of the season, the last game of the regular season and the BCS Championship Game, respectively.
He's got the power
Jernigan is a grown-ass man, dawg.
That's what stuck out the most to me while watching his film. You watch any five consecutive plays in any of those games, and you'll see Jernigan hip-tossing an offensive lineman off his feet on at least one of them. It's. Not. Supposed. To. Look. That. Easy!
Jernigan's power is evident in almost every facet of his game. His pass-rush moves are almost always based off some type of power rushes down the middle of the blocker or swatting him to the side. Even when Jernigan is doing run stunts laterally, it's usually the fact that he uses a power rip to finish the move that helps him win, more so than his quickness. I don't care how many times he lifted 225 at the combine (although it was a respectable 27) -- it's obvious that when it came to functional strength, Jernigan was an absolute beast on the field.
(via Tomahawk Nation)
What I also loved about watching his film is that Jernigan plays with an edge, and he's something of a mauler. He abused offensive linemen every chance he got. If the play was almost over but he and the blocker were engaged, Jernigan almost always tried to finish the guy off and put him on his back. During a turnover, opposing offensive linemen would've done well to look up Jernigan; he almost always found a way to catch somebody slipping with a vicious, decleating block.
These were all legal things. I wouldn't say they were dirty, but it was obvious that Jernigan didn't take any shit off anybody.
And if a lineman was fortunate enough to catch him slipping and pancake him during a play, as the center for Florida was able to do, then they had better buckle their chinstrap before the next play. Jernigan knocked that center from Florida five yards into the backfield and damn near into the quarterback right off the snap on the next play. And then he had a few words with him as well.
You want to see a guy get pissed off and do something (legally) about it when a blocker gets the best of him on a play. I saw a few plays where an opposing offensive lineman won a battle, but in every game, Jernigan won the war by the final whistle.
Slow and tight
Florida State played a kind of hybrid 3-4/4-3 scheme this season, and Jernigan was primarily a nose tackle in either alignment. When FSU lined up in a 4-3, he was almost always in the A gap between the center and one of the guards. When the Seminoles lined up in a 3-4, Jernigan might be anywhere from a three-technique (between one of the guards and the offensive tackle to his side) to a zero nose tackle (head up on the center).
Between Jernigan being double-teamed in the 4-3 alignment and two-gapping quite a bit in the 3-4 alignment, it was rare to see him have an opportunity to get off the ball and push the pocket back into the quarterback's lap. Instead, he had to get off slow so he could read the blocks and then go.
The few opportunities he did have, I didn't see a lot of explosion coming off the ball. At the combine he officially ran a 5.06 in the 40, which is more than decent for a man his size, but his 10-yard time was 1.72 seconds. That isn't terrible, but for comparison's sake my top-rated three-technique defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, ran the first 10 yards of his 40 in 1.59 seconds. That is a significant difference for just 10 yards, and as defensive linemen, those first 10 are generally more important to our position than the last 30.
The faster you can get off the ball and get upfield in a 4-3 fast-flow defense, the faster you can get to the quarterback or make a tackle for a loss. Most of the impact plays defensive linemen make come behind the line of scrimmage, so the longer it takes you to get upfield, the lower the likelihood that you are going to make a big play.
Most interior pass rushers also need to have a good get-off in order to make offensive linemen respect their speed. That allows the pass rusher to set up the blocker for counter moves over the course of a game. If the offensive lineman never has to step out to defend speed, his job is easier, because all he has to do is sit down and not allow a bull/power rush or an inside move.
That's part of the reason why Jernigan is strictly a nose tackle in a fast-flowing 4-3 or a two-gapping defensive tackle in any other scheme. I know the Broncos, for instance, like to run a 4-3, but have both their defensive tackles two-gap on some early downs. That kind of scheme would be perfect for Jernigan to thrive in.
I don't think at 6'1 and 298 pounds that Jernigan has the kind of heft you would normally like to see out of a 3-4 nose tackle. I do think he is strong enough, but at that position the old saying is true that you're going to have to "bring some ass to kick some ass," especially when dealing with all those double-teams while two gapping. Jernigan would need to eat a lot more peanut butter sandwiches before I'd think he was heavy enough to succeed at zero nose on a consistent basis in the NFL.
The other part of the reason why I don't see Jernigan as a three-technique in a fast-flowing 4-3 defense is his hips are tiiiiiiiiiiight. I'm not talking about him doing drills at the combine either; I'm talking about on film, his hips are just about always parallel to the line of scrimmage. He just doesn't ever turn them on purpose.
This is other side, the bad side, of the double-edged sword that is Jernigan being so powerful in his core. Much of his power when he is rag-dolling offensive linemen comes from his hips (hip toss, get it?), but it's also why he has such a hard time turning his hips when he's trying to change direction after he's already off the ball.
Jernigan is fine making guys miss right off the snap with movement, because he doesn't have to turn his hips to do that. He just uses his power to swat the blockers to the side while he moves laterally in the opposite direction. Where it showed up quite a bit is when they asked him to loop outside for contain on a pass rush or blitzes.
That's when I saw Jernigan have his toughest time with trying to change directions. His loops would be so wide that he wouldn't even challenge the offensive tackle to that side. His hips were keeping his body going in a straight line when he needed to be running a curve to have any shot of getting to the quarterback.
A lot of it probably also has to do with the fact that he doesn't bend his knees well after he comes out of his stance. He is okay at first because he is powerful at the point of attack, but once he has to run a few steps upfield, he starts popping up a little. His knee bend, or lack thereof, when running full speed is not the type of thing that I think is easily correctable, because it involves the way he runs naturally.
That means he is going to have to really work his ass off at trying to correct it as soon as possible, or else some pass-rush schemes and run stunts are going to give him fits at the next level.
I can tell you this much: you need guys like Timmy Jernigan on your defense if you really want to intimidate people. Most stories of offensive guys being scared of a particular team's defense are likely overblown, but when you have a bunch of guys who are strong, physical and all run to the ball like their hair's on fire, opponents do sit up and take notice.
Jernigan is always looking to make a play, whether it be in the backfield, at the line of scrimmage or 10 yards down the field. That isn't something you see a lot from 300-pound guys, especially at the collegiate level.
I saw him trying to chase down screens (above).
I saw him chasing quarterbacks who had broken contain.
Hell, I even saw him run 30-something yards downfield to make a play against NC State. Had he not made it, the guy might have scored.
This kind of effort is going to make Jernigan a very productive player on the next level if he doesn't tail off. He won't be flashy most of the time, but he will keep working and working and working after the snap until he gets to the play. He'll line up on the next play and do it again.
I would expect that motor will also help him be an every-down player, rather than just a run-down player like most nose tackles. He won't have a bunch of flashy moves, but he will use his power well enough to force a double team with the center helping the guard to his side, leaving the three-technique with a one-on-one. When they decide not to double him, his power rushes should be enough for him to push the pocket back into the quarterback and make a play.
My biggest concern when it comes to drafting Jernigan in the first round is how well his power translates against NFL offensive linemen. So much of his game is built off being stronger than the other guys and using good leverage, but what happens when the blocker is as strong or stronger than him or is too heavy to just toss around?
First of all, a team will have to ask if he ever brings value as a pass rusher on third down. I think he can do some damage with his power rushes, but what happens if he can't get the same kind of push on the next level that he got all the time in the five games I broke down? (All of his power rushes aren't just bull rushes. He uses that swat move not only to play the run, but also to get after the quarterback.)
The difference: whereas a guy like Donald will swat away the hands of the blocker to get by him, Jernigan tended to always swat at shoulders. You have to be, like, gorilla-strong to win with that move consistently in college, and he did. It's going to be a different universe for him when he tries to do that move on, say, 49ers guard Mike Iupati, however. Yeah, he won't quit on the rush, but what difference does it make if he is running in place?
You just don't see many guys who rely so heavily on their power do well in the pros unless they are still able to toss their opponents around. Most of them can't all of a sudden become finesse players after being power guys for so long, and I doubt Jernigan would be any different in that regard.
At the end of the day, does it behoove a team to draft a defensive tackle in the first round who has to come off the field on passing downs in a passing league?
I would have to say no.
The benefit of a doubt
As for me, I would take that chance on Jernigan if I were picking in the second half of the first round. That guy is a tempo-setter in game, and I would imagine on the practice field too. He instantly gives your defense more of an edge and a guy who is probably ready to play.
Photo: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Watching him do all of those hip tosses reminded me of former Raiders, Saints, Cowboys and Rams defensive tackle La'Roi Glover. If you never watched any of Glover's film, you wouldn't understand, but they both move so well in tight areas, they both use their power to swat guys out of their way and they both run really high with no knee bend.
Glover was a 4-3 three-technique, and he was able to find a way to make it work to the tune of six Pro Bowls during his career. There is a chance that Jernigan could find similar success if he really works on getting his hips turned on his movements. Even if it doesn't translate into six Pro Bowls, I see plenty of reason to believe improvement in that one area (along with getting off the ball just a hair quicker) could make him a very productive pass rusher as well as run stopper during his NFL career.