I could write an entire evaluation on the technique issues that LaLota has to work on. Then I have to remind myself this young man has played only one year of football. Then I see things that make me think this kid has as much upside as any player on Notre Dame's board. Once again I have to remind myself he has only played one year of football. When it comes down to it the opinion I come up with is this young man oozes potential, but whoever signs him must be sure to coach him up as well as anyone they've ever coached a defensive lineman. Patience will be the key, but in the end I believe that patience will pay off for whoever lands Anthony LaLota.
I'm going to begin this evaluation discussing the main technique issues that the Princeton, NJ native will need the most work. After that I'll spend the rest of the article discussing all the things that make me think so highly of LaLota as a prospect.
There is a lot of work to be done with LaLota's game. He is very, very raw right now as a football player. To begin with LaLota needs some work in his stance. It appears that he is leaning back a bit in his stance and is inconsistent in how he lines up. I'd like to see LaLota lift his hips up a bit and line up with a bit more forward lean. This will allow him to come off the ball with better leverage and cover more ground initially. That leads me to my next two critiques. LaLota doesn't consistently play with good leverage. He comes out of his stance high and doesn't get as good of a jump as he can. He also isn't very efficient with his footwork and gets choppy with his feet. That is a direct result of his inexperience. It takes him too many steps to cover ground at the snap. Once he gets going or he is able to just run he covers quite a bit of ground and does it quickly.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end also needs a lot of working in his tackling technique. The effort is absolutely there. There is no apprehensiveness, lack of effort, or lack of desire for contact. In my own experiences with converted basketball players I've noticed it takes them awhile to get used to the idea of hitting or being hit. I don't see any reservations about that with LaLota. The effort is there but he really doesn't know how to do it right at this point. To begin with the Hun School standout needs to learn to drive through ball carriers and quarterbacks. He has a bad tendency to leave his feet when he goes to tackle ball carriers. He will also reach for guys rather than go through them. As he gets the hang of things I'd like to see him learn to drive his hips through those ball carriers and look to drive them to the ground. You can tell he isn't comfortable with how to tackle despite his willingness to get after it. The toughest thing for him to learn might be taking proper angles to ball carriers. He shows a knack for it at times which makes me feel much better about his potential in this regard.
Now on to the good stuff and there is plenty of that. First things first you have to love the size LaLota brings to the table. You can't teach 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. This young man has a very large frame, and as he matures and does football workouts, his body will continue to be redefined. He has the frame to be massive. LaLota also has relatively long arms that you would expect from a player with his height and length. The Princeton native also has good natural strength. He will need to develop his upper body strength quite a bit but he has the natural tools. I don't see strength being an issue for him down the road. The issue is more about developing the upper body and learning how to use his natural power to his advantage. That will come as he develops the techniques needed to play the defensive end in college.
Athletically you have to like LaLota's abilities. As I mentioned earlier he will need a lot of work with his footwork. But he comes off the ball quickly and has very good feet for such a big player. The problem is he doesn't chew up as much ground as he should based on the technique issues already discussed. When he comes off the ball the right way he just blows past people. Whether it be a tackle attempting to keep him from the quarterback or a double team, when LaLota gets his feet moving at the snap he's unblockable at the high school level. Once he gets going he can really move. He also has active feet and never stops churning his legs. It fits into his whole style of play which is active and high energy. LaLota also possesses good closing speed and shows the ability to change direction well. Once he gets moving he really tracks the quarterback and ball carriers well.
There are some technique aspects that LaLota possesses that actually surprised me. It's another one of the reasons I think so highly of his potential. For such a raw and inexperienced player LaLota really uses his hands well. His technique is not good at all, but he really is active with his hands. He shoots his hands quickly and does a really good job of extending on blockers and keeping separation. He is able to easily shed the high school blockers he goes against at this point. The other thing I really liked was how easily he sheds cut blocks. From the film I saw he recognizes cut blocks well and shoots quick and low protecting his legs. I'd like to see LaLota give a better initial punch, and at this point his hands and feet don't always work well together, but again, that's due to his inexperience. The fact he has the ability and shows the knack already to use his hands well I'm encouraged this will become a strength of his as he develops as a player.
Another instinct he shows which I didn't expect is his ability to keep extended on a blocker, scrape down the line while staying square to the line, and make a play on the ball carrier. LaLota uses his size, strength, and quickness to be very disruptive against the run. If he develops the way I expect he will be very difficult against the run. His size, strength, and athletic package will make it hard for teams to try to block him with one player. That's exactly what you want out of a 3-4 defensive end.
He will need to learn how to anchor better when blockers get into him. Due to the fact he plays so high when blockers do get into his chest he has trouble getting off that block. Against the pass LaLota shows just as much potential. As he develops better techniques his biggest gains likely will come as a pass rusher. He shows natural instincts already in the pass game. He uses his speed to beat players off the ball but hasn't yet learned how to beat them to an edge. At this point LaLota will just slam into blockers and toss them aside using a bull rush. I did see an ability to use a nice out-and-inside double move to beat a tackle. With his strength, long arms, and quick hands I believe LaLota will be able to develop a variety of pass rush moves (club, swim, rip).
The Hun School standout is one of the most "raw" players I've ever seen on film. But he also has one of the best natural skill sets in this class. He is far from being a dominant football player at this point in time, but he has all the skills to be a dominant football player. Let's not forget that this young man was intelligent enough to get admitted to Notre Dame and Stanford. That's yet another reason I believe he'll be able to learn the techniques needed to be successful in college. As I said whoever signs LaLota must be patient with him, but if he figures it all out he could be exciting. At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds he's also the proto-type 3-4 defensive end. He can play the run, rush the passer, and demands double teams. He'd be a great fit at Notre Dame in their defense.
In the Film Room: Anthony LaLota
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