BERKELEY, Calif. -- There was little reason for 2017 El Cerrito (Calif.) offensive tackle Aaron Banks to camp for three days at California this past weekend.
He already had an offer from the Bears – as well as offers from Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State. He’s already well regarded as one of the top tackles out West in the 2017 class. He had a sprained right wrist (suffered the Saturday before he came to camp), and as a right tackle, having a sprained right wrist might as well be the same as playing with his right arm tied behind his back.
But, Banks came out, and though he got hit in the mouth a bit, it was his response that showed just what kind of ceiling the 6-foot-6, 305-pounder has.
Saturday, the second day of camp, emphasized the run game, and Banks showed good knee bend – though not consistent – in his two-point stance, and engaged defenders well, though most of those defenders were markedly smaller than him. When the defenders got bigger, he got meaner. In individual work, Banks showed good punch, despite the wrist injury, and got more and more aggressive and yet, still more and more precise in his movements, as the morning went on. He took to heart the coaching of Brandon Jones.
“My step when I run block, the way that I run block -- I’ve got to keep my heels down,” Banks said, “because that way, I’ll have more power for run blocks … He really pushes us to work, really hard, to not give up, to play as hard as we can, and I like that. You can always try harder.”
Banks showed good explosion and used his hands well, saying he didn’t even feel the wrist anymore, by the time the first break rolled around. The stage was set for one-on-ones.
“It’s definitely harder, just using one hand, but I’m still doing good with one hand,” Banks said on Saturday.
Given how Banks talked about the Bears following his offer several weeks ago, the chance to play on the Memorial Stadium turf was an exciting proposition.
“It’s pretty cool; it’s like a preview, of if I would go here,” Banks said. “It’s kind of a preview.”
What happened in one-on-ones, though, was something Banks would hope not to repeat.
Quick and scrappy Grant Chachere -- the son of Cal linebackers coach Garret Chachere -- stunned Banks on two straight one-on-one reps, despite giving up about 150 pounds to Banks.
After going against some of the best defensive ends in the nation at The Opening Regional in San Leandro, Calif., Banks knew better than to let his size do all the talking.
“[The Opening] showed me that it’s more about my technique, and getting my hands up and punching, more than just being that big, strong guy,” Banks said. “It showed me that it has more technique to it. When you’re going against guys who aren’t as good as that, size works, but the technique is what is really important,”
When Banks went back to his dorm on Saturday night, he knew he’d have to do better, because simply size wouldn’t win. To Banks’s credit, he didn’t blame his hand. He didn’t blame the fact that his 6-foot-6 frame didn’t fit on the dormitory bed. He just got beat.
Sunday was come-to-church day for Banks, as he took the field with renewed vigor and nastiness. Having been challenged the day before, he responded in spades, driving back defenders, burying defensive ends in the turf on run blocks and setting a hard edge on the right side.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth,” Banks said Sunday of the one-on-one reps. “I didn’t do as well as I could have. I had to come back and show what I could do today … My team was into it. They were really hyped today, so they brought a lot of energy.”
In the first drive of full team 11-on-11 work facing Gabriel Cherry out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Bakersfield Catholic – a long, rangy, quick defensive end whose athleticism was a good test for Banks -- he tallied two drive blocks and two pancake blocks. On the first play of the next drive, he completely took another end out of the play, diverting him out and around, 10 yards behind the pocket.
Two plays into his next drive, he tallied yet another pancake block out of a very sharp pass set, clearing the way for a completed pass. Next snap, Banks kept Cherry engaged long enough for a deep pass down field. His punches got better, and at one point, he drove the opposing defensive end from the right hash to the numbers to clear out the right side. He picked up blitzes and adjusted to defensive linemen shaded inside and outside.
Banks was the aggressor, not the reactor, and was far from passive on his second day, getting up into opposing defenders and playing with good pad level and superb leverage, not getting out over his skis, as some longer tackles tend to do if they’ve faced smaller opposition regularly.
“I felt a whole lot more like myself,” Banks said.
Banks went from meek to mauler in one day. If you can’t see consistent performance out of a prospect, the next best thing – particularly if they’re as young as Banks – is to see them respond to adversity. Banks – though a soft-spoken giant – did just that.