In the Film Room: Zeke Motta

When you listen to college football analysts there is a common theme when comparing northern schools to southern schools. Speed. Southern schools have lots of it and northern schools need a lot more of it. Since Charlie Weis arrived at Notre Dame the speed in the secondary has greatly improved, but the speed in the front seven still lags well behind.

I would love to see Notre Dame go down south and get a fast, athletic, and productive football player from Florida. Oh wait, that's right, they just did. In Zeke Motta the Irish landed one of Florida's best defensive players. Motta was a highly productive high school football player in one of the nation's top three talent hotbeds. The Vero Beach standout amassed over 135 tackles in each of the last two seasons. In 2008 he was the 6A District Player of the Year and was a back-to-back First Team All-State defender in Florida 6A football. The Irish still need quite a talent and speed boost in their front seven and landing Zeke Motta is a very good start.

At this point the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Motta doesn't have ideal linebacker size, but he does possess the ideal frame to grow into that ideal size. Motta has a good overall frame. As I have mentioned in previous film evaluations, I like linebackers to be in the 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3 range. They are tall enough to cover tight ends, have the length to play their zones effectively, and height to gain the weight he would need to play inside or outside linebacker. Obviously it depends on the defensive system the Irish decide to run in the future. He also is low enough to play underneath any blocker. Motta has the kind of body that if the Irish decided to leave him at strong safety he could simply refine his body, stayt in the 215-225 range, and stay off the ball. But he could also use his frame to add significant mass and move to the linebacker position, and with his body he could add a lot of that mass early on without losing any speed or agility. His frame is quite unique in that regard.

Motta is also a naturally strong player but will need to get significantly stronger in order to play linebacker early on at Notre Dame. At this point he doesn't have the strength to consistently take on blocks against bigger and stronger linemen and fullbacks in college. He isn't as strong and powerful when he isn't able to gain a lot of momentum coming from depth. In order to be an effective linebacker at the next level Motta will have to improve his short area strength and burst. This will come as he develops a stronger core and add additional lower body strength. This is difficult to build up as a safety, but when he arrives at Notre Dame and focuses on playing linebacker he'll be able to quickly add this to his frame. Motta has average arm length so he will have to use good technique when engaging blockers.

For a safety Motta has solid speed. He could certainly play strong safety in college. For a linebacker Motta has very good speed. The Florida native is an aggressive football player who flies around the field and plays fast. His speed allows him to close quickly on ball carriers and create havoc for the offense. Motta also has very good foot quickness for a linebacker. It's obvious he has been coached well as you see him being very efficient with his footwork when he plays and shows good side-to-side agility. Motta has a very quick backpedal for a linebacker, and is a quick plant-and-go player. The one athletic criticism I have of Motta is that his hips are a bit stiff, which slows down his change of direction ability just a bit. He's by no means poor in this area but it's not as strong of an area as his other athletic qualities.

This linebacker is much more than just a southern athlete. He's also an instinctive and fundamentally sound football player. It isn't often that Motta is able to show any true linebacker abilities from his safety position; but when he is put in this position he shows natural linebacker abilities. He has natural scrape, flow, and fill tendencies whenever he's allowed to do it. Motta also shows excellent run-pass recognition and gets into coverage quickly. Pass coverage is a definite strength of Motta's. He shows very good ball skills and reads the quarterback/play very well. Zeke is also athletic enough to cover backs and tight ends in man coverage. He's athletic enough that he should also be able to cover slot receivers in certain situations. But it will be in zone coverage where he will use his athleticism, length, instincts, and ball skills to be very disruptive.

Motta also shows good play recognition and reacts well to mis-direction runs and reverses. He is excellent at finding the football and quickly adjusting course if need be. He combines his good athletic ability with a high motor and energy, which makes him very good in pursuit. Motta also takes good angles to the football and attacks ball carriers well. The Vero Beach stand out is asked to blitz quite a bit for his high school team so the high volume of blitzes he'll be asked to execute won't be new for him.

What will be relatively new for him is blitzing from the linebacker position. It will be different blitzing from different angles (outside, inside, stunts) and from a closer alignment. Often times he would blitz from the line of scrimmage, but it was when he came from depth and didn't time the play up well. That's different than blitzing from a closer linebacker position. Motta also needs to keep a better base when he blitzes. At this stage in his development he runs through the line very high and can be rerouted with arm blocks and solid shots really knock him off course. He'll need to be more firm when he blitzes and learn to blitz around blockers (understanding aiming points and running through blockers when need be).

Motta is a strong tackler at the high school level and shows good instincts. He is especially dangerous as a tackler when he is able to get a full head of steam going towards the ball carrier. I discussed previously his motor, pursuit skills, and the fact he takes good angles to the football. He also shows explosiveness and drive as he takes on ball carriers. The additional strength and mass already discussed will allow him to be effective against bigger players as well.

At the collegiate level Motta will have to play with much better leverage and a more solid base. He tends to play high and it costs him power. He's able to get away with it in high school because he tends to be bigger, stronger, and more talented than his opponents. At the next level this will hurt him on tackles and when he is taking on blockers. Consistently having to take on bigger linemen, tight ends, and backs will be a big adjustment for Motta. At this stage of his career he tends to just run by or through blockers. He shows solid instincts and understanding of how to take on a block but needs a lot of refinement in this area.

Developing more strength (especially a stronger core) and learning to play with a better base (better leverage) are two huge steps. But Motta will also have to learn how to properly use his hands to shed blocks and how and when to anchor. Learning to play in a tighter space will be an adjustment for Motta but he shows the instincts and aggressiveness to have a lot of upside here.

It's a great thing for Zeke Motta that he is enrolling early for Notre Dame. He'll have about four months to develop his body, gain strength, and add wanted mass to help his transition to linebacker. Being able to spend spring practice learning the new techniques and adapting to the Irish defensive system will also be a tremendous benefit. He'll have an extra month of coaching from Jon Tenuta to help him prepare for his freshman season.

There are some big question marks at linebacker heading into the 2009 season. Steven Filer has a ton of talent but will he be able to adapt to the new Irish defense since he was a 3-4 inside linebacker in high school. Will he be able to learn the system well enough to translate into consistent and productive play? Will Anthony McDonald be healthy enough to push older players to replace Maurice Crum? Will Brian Smith stay at inside linebacker? Will David Posluszny be physically developed enough to hold up at linebacker? There are a lot of questions. This is a good thing for Zeke Motta. While he's behind the remaining linebackers in physical development and knowledge of the system, the questions and open spots will give him the opportunity to compete for playing time. Motta also was a tremendous special teams player in high school. He was excellent in coverage and blocked eight kicks over the last two seasons. At the very least I'd expect to see him playing a lot of special teams.

Zeke Motta is a unique prospect for the Fighting Irish. He's a talented Florida kid. He's got the body and athletic ability of a safety, and has the hitting ability, frame, and attitude of a linebacker. He also has an obvious desire to excel on special teams. He will give the Irish coaches plenty of options in his Notre Dame career. He began to make a name for himself at the Army All-American game. Let's hope he can continue to develop his reputation during the 2009 season on the field. Top Stories