Foster Files: Episode 1

Scouting a player requires objectivity; any bias or predisposed favoritism can skew the overall assessment of the player under examination, whether that be gargantuan height/weight dimensions, a 40-time that makes you double check the functionality of your Timex, or splits in a three-cone drill that have you questioning if the mutants of X-Men lore are more than a comic book fantasy…

I am writing this article because of a player who forced me to violate my rule of scouting objectivity. A player who is so exciting to watch that I have admittedly had to therapeutically flip on his highlight tape on occasion just to fall asleep at night, which is ironic, because Reuben Foster just might be the Boogie Man…

Explosive Hips

Let me lay some groundwork here from a scouting perspective; the most coveted trait in a linebacker at any level is explosiveness from the hips. It is a trait that lends itself to immediate impact in games through the physical impact imparted on opposing players by the aforementioned ‘backer who possesses such pristine pulverizing pelvic prowess. An LB with “pop” in his hips generates more power, which Isaac Newton would (likely) tell us is the most important Physics application on the gridiron, had he spent some time with Lombardi or Knoll. With this being said, Foster has the most explosive hips I have seen in any linebacker coming out of college in the last decade. The dude has more pop in his hips than a TNT hula-hoop contest…giphy (1)

Sideline to Sideline Speed

The linebacker position has evolved. It used to be that the defining characteristic of a linebacker was the ability to stuff the run. Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, and Mike Singletary were all stalwarts at their position because of their ability to snot-bubble running backs for 70+ snaps. But the game has changed, and so too must the modern LB…teams don’t line up in the Wishbone formation with three raw-meat eaters in the backfield any more. Instead, the majority of plays run by NFL offenses are pass plays with 3+ receiver sets. As such, the modern LB must not only be able to fulfill the traditional role of stuffing the run, but they must also be able to cover tight ends, slot receivers, and running backs out of the backfield. A universally coveted trait is ‘sideline to sideline speed’; It is the ability to play in open space and demonstrate elite closing ability on a ballcarrier. An LB who can rapidly close on an offensive player limits the space they have to work with, and forces their hand to either juke or dip their shoulder much sooner than if they were trotting freely in green pastures with an abundance of real estate in front of them.

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Kickoff Coverage

I want to parlay this analysis of Foster into a rant about kickoffs, which are, in my opinion, the ultimate preservation of ancient warfare. I’m talking cavalry and foot soldiers shoulder to shoulder, where the leadership of each group would trot their ponies out and convene on a pre-selected knoll, and (my guess would be) the discourse went something like this:

“You line up all your dudes and give them swords and maybe some horses, I’ll get all my dudes and perhaps some shields, sharp pointy things, and a couple of catapults and then we’re gunna meet in a field somewhere and line up all across-like, and then when one of us moves and starts running towards y’alls, it’s on.”

Kickoffs are redline rev, pin-the-ears-back, full throttle, no holds barred, cut it loose, nut-up or shutup, button-your-bonnet, animal instinct, alpha dog, hair-on-fire, Mach 2, rodeo clown crazy, pure, 100% adrenaline affairs. It is speed and violence in beautiful harmonious lock-step; controlled chaos that toes the line which defines sanity and then river dances all over it. Kickoff coverage is 2% technique and 98% guts.

Which is exactly why Foster immediately solidified himself as my favorite collegiate player I’ve ever watched with the following clips…

The perfect hit on kickoff coverage is as elusive as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. A single well-timed, well-placed hit has the power to shift the momentum of an entire game. As such, I was baffled the first time I saw Foster’s impact(literal and figurative) on kickoff coverage. To revisit the aforementioned metaphor in context, this man has ridden the rainbow, wrangled the leprechaun, and is now extorting him for all the pots of gold in the leprechaun shire…

He has not one

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…not two

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…not three

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…but FOUR bona fide killshots on kickoff coverage…

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giphy (3)

The lick he lays in “Killshot 4” is momentous. Not only is it the best of the bunch, but Victim 4 Leonard Fournette(#7),  was drafted fourth overall by Jacksonville in April, and is one of the most highly touted RB prospects in years. His thighs look thicker than what Sylvester Stallone was pounding away on in the meat locker during Rocky I. Fournette (who was tipping the scales at around 235), said “It was the biggest hit I’ve ever taken”. That’s coming from a dude who is made out of Porterhouse steaks, diesel fuel, and testosterone.

To put a bow on this whole thing, let’s take it back to where this fascination began…

September 3, 2016

Two of college football’s all-time great programs were duking it out in the early phases of the second quarter. USC held a 3-0 lead over Alabama in one of the premier “Kickoff Games” of the year. The Trojans came out in a Pistol formation with “Trips” into the boundary. Having played linebacker since I was a pup, I am hard-wired to read from the Running Back down through the Guards…it’s a habit I cannot escape, even when casually watching games on TV. As such, I watched as the USC Tailback took the handoff and darted to the left side of the formation, toward open space on the wide-side of the field. In front of him, the Right Guard “pulled”, bypassing the Center to the rear and looking upfield to stifle any generated pressure from the Defensive front-7. In my mind, I could hear the collective voices of every linebacker coach I have ever had hoarsely screaming “SET THE EDGE”, and my eyes somewhat automatically locked onto Alabama’s Mike Backer.

What happened next can best be described as a “ballet of violence”.

The ‘Mike’ (middle) ‘backer took an initial gather step, laterally shuffled once, and then seamlessly flipped his hips into a dead sprint parallel to the line of scrimmage. His eyes remained locked on Jones, the USC tailback, who had altered course in the efforts of bouncing the rock to the outside and cutting upfield. The ‘Mike’ remained on parallel course, stride for stride with the tailback, shifting his gaze only once to ensure he had a clear path in front of him. From there, he took two hard steps upfield, lowered his left shoulder and launched with such velocity that the impact knocked the tailback a full two yards toward his own endzone and onto his hindquarters.

I am relaying the final few seconds of the exchange from film review, because to be honest I blacked out with excitement when watching it live. The audible noise that erupted from my mouth can be likened most closely to Billy Madison’s reaction when he noticed Ernie wet his pants. I rewound, recorded, and re-watched the play countless times on my phone, making a mental note to watch #10 (Foster) roll for The Tide as the season progressed. The mental note evolved to a full-blown fascination. And here I am now, salivating once again over the cut-ups of a man who clinically may be half-man, half-missile. 

Home video of Draft Night at my house:

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