Like Fred Givens, Fletcher is no small fry, but at 274 pounds, he's about three bowling balls lighter than his fellow mass of muscle in the middle. With great athleticism and room to grow into a 6-foot-6 frame, however, coaches think Fletcher can become a special player for the Cowboys. The big question on the minds of fans this season, though, is whether he is ready for his new role right now.
Last year, Fletcher came off the bench to play in nine games. He posted only nine tackles but showed off his athleticism and strength with three tackles for a loss and an impressive two sacks. And while those numbers foreshadow good things to come, what has coaches truly excited is the big man's general football demeanor.
"He…has a great defensive attitude," Head Coach Joe Glenn said about Fletcher. Experts agree. Trusted Foxsports.com analyst Pete Fuitak touted Fletcher's impressive "motor," calling the sophomore a possible future "star."
His versatile resume makes him a unique player at the defensive tackle position. In high school, Fletcher played linebacker and went utterly bananas on opposing teams' offenses his senior year, posting an almost unheard-of 150 total tackles, along with six sacks and two interceptions. On offense, he was equally impressive, racking up 16 total touchdowns on more than 1100 all-purpose yards--as a quarterback. A four-year starter, three-time Colorado all-state selection and a three-year team captain, Fletcher did practically everything for his high school squad, even taking snaps as the team's punter. He led Ralston Valley to a combined 40-8 (.833) record during his four years on the team.
And while we haven't seen enough of him to know for sure what to expect on the division one level, we do know that Fletcher will likely be a more athletic defender than most of the offensive tackles he'll line up against. If he shows the same kind of knack for penetrating the line of scrimmage that he exhibited in limited time last season, he'll also probably draw a few double teams, which will free things up for the rest of the front seven. The problem is that he may not have had enough time to develop the skills coaches are confident he will one day display. Either way, look for Fletcher to at least have flashes of brilliance and eventually provide consistent production from the tackle spot in 2007.
Fletcher's 2007 keys to success:
1. Stay healthy. Fletcher missed most of spring training this year because of a fractured finger. This makes him a fairly large question mark even if he is completely healthy by September 1 because we can't be sure what kind of shape he's in. It also begs the question of whether this is a player who will be prone to injury throughout his career. We don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill; it was a just a broken finger. But with all the pounding a defensive lineman can take on this level, let's hope he doesn't have any more problems getting hurt.
2. Get in the backfield. With two sacks in very limited field time last year, Fletcher showed enough to make fans who know about him keep an eye on him in ‘07. At the same time, as a sophomore and new to the starting lineup, he has the advantage of being far from the center of attention on a defense that finished ninth in the nation a year ago. That should mean two things: First, any kind of production he provides, especially in the way of sacks and tackles for a loss, will be gravy in the eyes of UW coaches. And second, with opposing coaches likely less concerned with the Cowboys' defensive line than with their impressive group of linebackers and corners, Fletcher could quietly rack up a few sacks before teams begin to take notice of his impressive athletic abilities. Then again, we could be completely wrong about this, and coaches might send two or three lineman against him on every down. Either way, if he can get in the backfield early, good things will happen for the UW defense.
Fletcher's ‘06 stats:
5 solo tackles, 4 assists, 9 total, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks.
D-line at a Glance: John Fletcher
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