"Turning Up the Pressure"
During the Cotton Bowl practices in December of 2005 and January of 2006, the Red Raider defensive coaching staff began an experiment that culminated in the move of rush end Keyunta Dawson to Strong (or Sam) linebacker. Dawson's instincts and speed at defensive end led him to become a dangerous roving presence with the potential to disrupt offenses in a way that Tech fans hadn't seen in years. But with the departure of several defensive linemen and the improved play of senior linebacker Kellen Tillman, the defensive coaching staff has begun scheming to move Dawson around the defense. This change has been interpreted by some as a permanent move of Dawson back to defensive end and a regression of the play of the defense. This weeks "Fish with Trent" will explore the reasons why the coaching staff would move Dawson and the advantages that it provides to the defense.
During the last three seasons, Keyunta has demonstrated that he has a serious nose for the football. During the Houston bowl as a freshman, Key picked up a fumble and rumbled nearly 35 yards to thwart Navy's only serious scoring attempt of the first half. As a sophomore Keyunta showed that he was ready to be the next great rush end while leading the Raiders in sacks with 6.5. His two biggest moments were easily his fumble recovery and return against TCU for a touchdown and his manhandling of California's starting LT, as he recorded two sacks and a game changing tackle for loss. His presence along the line continued to impress last season but he began to show as the season progressed that he was very dangerous in space as well as rushing the passer. Against Texas A&M, Key didn't record a sack, but was putting pressure on the passer and chasing down former Aggie quarterback Reggie McNeal. Possibly the play that illustrated this best was Dawson running stride-for-stride with McNeal in the third quarter, which prevented him from taking off down the field.
When the Cotton Bowl rolled around, the coaching staff began getting Dawson some practice at Strong linebacker, and he began to flourish there. While he didn't play this position during the Cotton Bowl, he was there throughout Spring practice. With the loss of both McKinner Dixon and Rashad Hunt, the coaching staff has started to move Dawson around the defense allowing him to give opposing offenses multiple looks. When the defense is in the 4-3, Dawson is normally lined up as the Strong side linebacker and will be lined up over the tight end. When the defense moves to the Nickel or Dime packages, Key then shifts to one of the defensive end spots to give the opposing offense a different look. As an example, let's say that Tech is in the 3-4 defense with Seth Nitschmann, Chris Hudler, and Jake Ratliff as the down linemen. Fletcher Session, Paul Williams, Kellen Tillman, and Keyunta Dawson are the linebackers. Right before the snap, Jake Ratliff moves inside and Key drops into the strong side end position.
Conversely, Dawson has been utilized as a defensive end that can become a linebacker at a moment's notice. There have been many plays in the Fall practices in which Dawson has lined up at Strong or Weak side DE and dropped back into coverage. Furthermore, Keyunta has lined up halfway in between the linebackers and defensive line several times, giving him the prime position to adjust to the play. As a LB, Keyunta was responsible for the running back if he blitzed. However, by changing where he is on the field by only a few feet, he can force the offense to completely change their pass protection or run blocking. This can result in delay of game penalties or confusion and poor play by the offensive line. The flexibility that Keyunta brings to the table also allows Tech to have a deeper rotation at the DE and DT position, allowing players like Jake Ratliff to play all across the line and maximize their ability to affect opposing offenses.
Keyunta Dawson is the definition of a game-changing player on defense. Even our own offense is having trouble dealing with him in practice, and they are fully aware of his abilities and his playing style as a hybrid DE/LB. Dawson's new position looks to be fully capable of maximizing his potential and disrupting the gameplans of offensive coordinators everywhere. Dawson should be fun to watch this season.
- Mitchell Fish/Trent Wycoff