November 23, 2009

Nelson proves his future position not set in stone

Texas A&M scored quite a coup this summer when the A&M staff secured a commitment from four-star Dallas Skyline linebacker Corey Nelson. Nelson was the highest-rated defensive prospect that A&M had signed in years. Not only that, Nelson chose the Aggies over offers from programs such as Texas, Oklahoma and LSU that had been winning similar battles for quality defenders against A&M for many years.

Nelson had been named All-State as a 183-pound sophomore defensive end when he registered 75 tackles and 12 sacks. He was moved to outside linebacker prior to the start of his junior campaign and made a successful transition with 156 tackles (19 for loss), 12 sacks and an astonishing nine blocked kicks, earning All-State honors once again in the process.

Nelson helped lead Skyline to the fourth round of the playoffs last season before the Raiders bowed out to Round Rock Stony Point. This season, expectations were sky high as Skyline returned most of its starting 22 from the prior season. The linebacking trio of Nelson, Domonique Patterson (also committed to A&M) and junior Anthony Wallace combined to form one of the better linebacking combos in the country. Nelson again looked to be on his way to All-State honors as he racked up 83 tackles (28 for loss) and five sacks in helping the Raiders to a 11-0 start and a No. 2 ranking in the state this season.

Nelson plays the Sam or strongside linebacker in Skyline's nomenclature while Patterson plays the Will or weakside linebacker. This means that Patterson often walks outside the tackle box to line up on a slot receiver while Nelson and Wallace stay in the tackle box with Nelson lining up in the guard-tackle gap on the strong side of the formation. In some alignments, Nelson lined up outside of the defensive end and blizted off the edge or stunted inside through a gap on passing downs.

Since Nelson has spent most of the season lining up as a linebacker off of the line of scrimmage he also has some coverage responsibilities, particularly in the middle of the field against slot receivers and running backs. He has improved his backpedal over the past two years, but his strong suit remains moving laterally from sideline to sideline against the run and rushing the passer via the blitz. In particular, his acceleration is second to none among a linebacker crop that is particularly deep this year.

However, Nelson's roots are at defensive end and everyone who watches this is reminded of it every time he goes into pass rush mode. Interestingly enough, the A&M staff created a new position in their new defense prior to the start of spring practice earlier this year called the Jack. It was a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker who could either rush the passer or drop into coverage. The position was created especially for Von Miller, a former four-star defensive end coming out of high school who had been tried at linebacker as a sophomore due to the fact that he appeared to be a bit undersized to be a full time, over the tackle defensive end.

As it turned out, Miller has been a force as a jack this season. Miller has 15.5 sacks going into the season finale against Texas and has used a quick first step and excellent hands to compensate for a lack of size.

A&M recruited Rowlett defensive end Damontre Moore to be the jack in its 2010 class and told Nelson that he would be a Will linebacker (roughly equivalent to the Sam linebacker that Nelson plays at Skyline). However, a few weeks ago, the A&M coaching sraff told Nelson that they wouldn't mind playing him some at the jack position once he got to the A&M campus. Although he is used as an edge rusher at Skyline, Nelson is even smaller than Miller was coming out of high school and it was thought that he would be best suited to a more traditonal linebacker role where most schools were recruiting him.

Until Saturday night, that is.

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