Almost at random on the morning of June 7, CuseNation.com learned that an unknown linebacker out of Miami (Fla.) Central had committed to Syracuse. Marqez Hodge, who stands a solid 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, was the player that chose the Orange over other Big East and ACC schools. While his offer-list was solid, there wasn't much information on his skills or video evidence to truly gauge what SU had found.
Shortly after he committed, Hodge and his Rockets teammates hit the camp, combine and 7-on-7 scene as most programs do as the summer progresses, and FOX Sports NEXT kept an eye out for him. What we saw without pads on, a big, athletic versatile ‘backer – we liked enough to bump him up to a three-star prospect. Since, things have been quiet.
Alas, Central's 2012 season kicked off and we got to see the Syracuse pledge in action – even against arguably the best team in America less than two weeks ago when the Miami squad traveled to Loganville, Georgia to take on mighty Grayson High and No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche. CuseNation.com got ahold of that game as well as some excerpts from others on the way to putting together the following tape evaluation of Hodge.
The first thing about Hodge on film is his natural ability, literally, from the beginning of the play until after the whistle. First off, he has a great knee-bend in his middle linebacker stance – which actually translates to his first step and the way he moves. Most high schoolers don't understand the necessity of keeping a lower center of gravity, and Hodge accomplishes the feat no matter what the play forces him to do. The next phase of the play is that instinct factor that all good linebackers possess. Hodge is in that group, displaying a top-notch first step towards the flow of the play.
With solid technique before and during the initial stages of a play, Hodge also has that next step that comes from his football IQ. He does an above-average job diagnosing plays and reacts to them accordingly. Once in motion, his 200-plus pound frame enables him to use good acceleration to come down hill against blockers and ball carriers.
Hodge's quickness allows him to get to the final phase of good linebacker play, the finish. He's as sure a tackler as you'll see at this level, and he can bring the lumber at times in the process. Hodge doesn't rely simply on his explosiveness to make the play, he brings technique – including that initial knee-bend - more times than not and secures stops with leverage and by wrapping-up. This process repeats itself several times in a game, considering how Hodge can rack up the tackles despite making most of his plays in congested areas.
Still needs work
Most of the good traits Hodge possesses have a counter that still needs some work to compete at the next level. While he is a solid fast-flow linebacker good at diagnosing plays with a great first step, it also makes him susceptible to play-action scenarios. This happened several times against Grayson, who runs the Wing-T system that primarily relies on running the ball much more than passing it.
The next step where his natural talent betrays him a bit is in his downhill motor. While he certainly gets to the point of attack quickly, his low center of gravity and good pad level goes backward against big blockers. Several Ram offensive linemen got the better of Hodge both in the hole and in space, and he had a hard time getting off of the blocks – sometimes even after the ball carrier ran by.
His final flaw isn't technical at all. It's his speed. Hodge is mighty quick for his size and position, but if his technique doesn't lead him to a downhill tackle or one where he meets the ball carrier in the hole and/or slightly after, he likely won't be in on the play. The senior lacks good pursuit speed or that classic "sideline-to-sideline" label often placed on middle linebackers.
The good news with Hodge is that most of his flaws are correctable with good coaching and natural development at the college level, though we still haven't seen him in coverage as much as we'd like to. He will constantly be taught how to get off blocks with force or quickness, and film study will help him to read his keys better to determine the run-pass scenario on every play without his fast-flow or quick-twitch skill being used against him. With that in mind, his projection is better suited at the middle linebacker spot. He lacks the ability to run with running backs and slot wideouts, though he can have his way with fullbacks and tight ends.
Hodge's strong tackling ability and above-average instincts will make him a good fit down the road at Syracuse, especially with the aggressive nature that coordinator Scott Shafer employs with his middle linebackers – often giving them A-gap to A-gap responsibilities on set plays and blitzes. Adding a bit of weight to his frame shouldn't be a problem at a BCS-level program, either.