It all started with a tweet from The Waterboy.
On Monday night, @SPTeezy, who publicly identifies himself as "Bobby Boucher", brought some confusion to Browns twitterdom by announcing he was headed to Cleveland. A half hour of sleuthing revealed that Mr. Boucher actually is Sidney Tarver, a little-known linebacker out of Tennessee State.
Eager to know more about the new Cleveland Brown, I gathered all of the TSU tape I could find and took a close look at the strongside linebacker. In a three game study, I saw an intriguing athlete who could latch on as a special teamer and, in time, become a capable NFL linebacker.
Tarver's best trait is his impressive length. The 6'3 1/2" linebacker has vines for arms, which become very useful when he takes on blockers. His strong upper body and quick hands allow him to control a tight end, then shed in time to bring down the ball-carrier. And while he doesn't possess the flexibility to bend the edge like DeMarcus Ware (or even Kam Wimbley), he does a decent job in coverage, using his long arms to redirect tight ends off their routes.
However, while he excelled against his Ohio Valley Conference competition, Tarver will have to show marked improvement in his technique and overall strength before his game truly will be NFL-ready.
Because he was bigger and stronger than the tight ends he faced, Tarver didn't have to deploy perfect technique. He simply could use his raw strength to ragdoll the slot receiver-sized blocker opposite him, even if he initially allowed the other guy to get the upper hand. To succeed at the next level, he'll have to deliver a better initial jolt and improve his lower body strength, both by bending his knees more and adding some muscle to his rail-thin legs. With more pop and power, he could become a much better overall player and prove capable of logging some snaps on an NFL defense.
In addition, he'll have to learn to play with more discipline. The son of a high school coach, Tarver generally plays smart, but he does have a tendency to bite on misdirection plays. And when he overpursues, the issue is amplified by his below average change of direction ability. At his pro day, Tarver clocked a rather unimpressive 7.45 3-cone time, and the poor agility time is matched with some stiffness on the field. On occasion, he'll attempt to reverse course but instead end up on the turf. He may never be able to eliminate that athletic limitation, but improving his read & react ability certainly could help mask it.
In the near term, Tarver's best shot at making the squad is by impressing on special teams, something he's more than capable of doing. His 4.65 speed shows up on punt coverage, where he was one of the first guys down the field and chased down more than a few returners. His long arms make it easy for him to wrap up and make open field tackles. Also, he's shown some trick play ability: in the Tennessee Tech game, he successfully executed a fake field goal play by catching a pitch and taking it upfield for a first down.
Like most small schoolers, Tarver is more of a developmental prospect than a plug-and-play rookie. But after watching a few games, I can understand why the team's bringing him to Cleveland. Hopefully, he'll impress in camp and earn himself a gig, either on the 53 man roster or on the practice squad while he gets ready for the big leagues.