Draft Spotlight: OLB Sean Lee – Penn State By ConPublished: March 11, 2010 http://www.universaldraft.com/2010/03/11/2010-draft-spotlight-olb-sean-lee-penn-state/ Posted in: Draft, Previews, Prospects Tags: Draft, Draft Review, Linebacker, Penn State, Prospect, Rookie By Richard Lines Penn State has long been known as “Linebacker U” as the school and Patriarch Joe Paterno have a long history of turning out NFL caliber linebackers. The 2010 Draft features 3 Penn State linebackers, all with varying degrees of talent. Sean Leewas probably the most consistent member of the unit when he was healthy. Lee won the 2005 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette High School Male Athlete-of-the-Year award. The Pittsburgh native was named to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 25 in 2005, and played in the Big 33 Classic against Ohio that same year. I have mentioned that I believe Sean Lee to be a pretty scheme diverse linebacker even though he may not in fact be the best athlete at the position on his team. As you watch the video, you should note that Lee does not have elite speed, nor is he blessed with fluid hips that allow him to change direction without hesitation. This is not to say that Lee is a sluggish player, as he does cover ground although he is not a sideline to sideline player in my opinion. Lee relies more on his film study and football IQ to get himself into position more than his physical gifts alone. The former Nittany Lion is adequate in coverage, but will likely struggle to cover athletic tight ends and backs in man coverage at the next level. Lee does do well when he is allowed to drop into a zone, where he can attack the ball coming forwards. Some teams may have Lee rated as a two down player simply due to their requirements for the position, but Lee can stay on the field on all three downs due to his football IQ. However, I will delve into Lee’s coverage abilities a little more later in the text. Lee really is just a football player, who knows what to do and where he needs to be on the field. One reason I believe Sean Lee can possibly play either outside or inside at the next level is his ability to play at the point of attack. Unlike many collegiate outside linebackers, Sean Lee has shown that he has no difficulty in engaging offensive linemen. As you watch the first portion of the video, you should take note of Lee attacking the line of scrimmage, the way he uses his hands to disengage, and the force which he generates on impact. The first play I would like to highlight occurs at 1:02 of the video. This play provides a good example of Sean Lee’s willingness to engage offensive linemen at the point of attack. Here Lee comes up and takes on #65 Lyle Hitt, a 296lb offensive lineman from LSU. On the initial contact you can see that Lee does not slow down, and readily engages Hitt as he comes up the field. Lee does do a good job of generating a solid jolt on initial contact, although he could do to show more lower body flexibility by bending through his knees more; allowing himself to play with more leverage. Regardless, Lee does a good job of extending his arms after the initial contact; creating separation from Hitt. He then works his way towards the ball carrier, albeit he does not fully disengage or make the tackle. Lee does give some ground in the exchange, but in no way can this be construed as being blown off the ball. Overall, the offensive player does a good job tying Lee up, and staying with him. Lee was unable to disengage cleanly and this is one area that I will touch on. I think Lee does have issues with is when he must slide laterally whilst engaged with a blocker. Earlier I mentioned that Sean Lee is not the most physically gifted player in terms of foot speed and ability to open his hips freely. Personally I think Lee’s lack of ideal explosion moving forwards and overall foot speed can prohibit him from being as effective when he must move laterally. Some other examples can be seen at 1:10 and 2:48 of the video. Now, as I said Lee wasn’t driven off the ball, but he does have difficulty disengaging from Hitt as he is forced to move laterally. Another factor to consider is that in these instances Lee is not playing off his initial pop on contact; which as has been noted, provides him with the ability to disengage with ease. Lee’s hands are still active enough, however his lack of foot speed and burst are making it difficult for him to play as effectively. Lee’s arms measured in at 32’’ at the Combine, so arm length is not an overwhelming issue in this situation. It seems as though Lee cannot run away from his blockers when he is moving laterally; his foot speed will simply not allow it. Lee does have decent straight line speed, but no one could ever consider him a quick twitch player. His footwork is generally pretty good, but he does not run away from blockers very well and remains tied up longer than he really should given his ability to shed blockers quickly in other situations. The next play I would like to highlight occurs at the 1:40 mark of the video. On this play Lee is forced to engage a pulling lineman as he comes up to fill the hole. Immediately after the snap Lee is driving forwards towards the line of scrimmage and meets #72 Mark Huyhe, a 288lbs Junior offensive lineman in the hole. Again, you could make a case that Lee could stand to get his helmet a little lower on initial contact than he does, but what is truly worthy of mention is how he simply stops Huyhe’s advance on contact. Lee never slowed down and met Huyhe head on and delivered a stunning blow that stopped Huyhe in the hole. Having the ability to take on blockers in the hole is one thing, playing off that block and making the tackle is another, and on this play Lee does just that. After the initial contact, Lee flashes his hands, shuffles his feet and makes the tackle on the ball carrier. Lee’s hands are an important factor in his ability to shed blockers quickly and effectively. The Penn State product plays with a high degree of arm extension without allowing his hands to become static in the process. Instead, his hands are active and he will use any means necessary to disengage from his opponent. Lee does use a swim and arm over to work his way free, but predominantly relies on taking on a blocker squarely, jolting his opponent on impact, then extending and pushing off from his opponent. Regardless of his position or technique of choice, Lee’s hand movements are powerful and quick – belying the fact that he does weigh less than 240 lbs. Lee is able to generate more power than you might expect given a quick glance at his dimensions because he plays with a wide base. Lee’s base allows him effectively hold his ground on initial contact; making sure he is not often driven off the ball. A clear example of Lee’s base width can be seen at the 1:56 mark of the video. If you wish to see a play that encompasses all of the afore mentioned aspects; base width, hand use and the ability to hold his ground at the point of attack, examine the play at 2:17 of the video. Here Lee takes on two prospective blockers. He readily engages both players stacking and shedding them in succession. His feet are adequately spaced, his quick and powerful hands are on clear display as he easily deals with the two Syracuse offensive players, ripping through both in an instant. At this point I would like to re visit Sean Lee’s mobility as it pertains to pass coverage. Lee is not exceptionally fast or explosive but he generally gets himself in a position to make plays on the ball carrier. As you examine the next portion of the video, you should notice that Lee will struggle when he is already moving forward and has to adjust his route. It is evident that he does not open his hips well, and that he must turn his trunk in order to make such a move and he must take smaller steps. The former Penn State star has enough speed to gain some depth in a zone, but I don’t think Lee has enough to make himself a viable option for a Tampa 2 or Cover 2 scheme. This is not to say that Lee is immobile and will have to come out on passing downs, but his ability to stay on the field will depend on what he is asked to do on such occasions. For instance if you find the play at the 4:12 mark, you will see that Lee is asked to carry TE Kevin Koger, #86 down the field. The problem for Lee is that he simply cannot come out of his back pedal fast enough to stay close to Koger. Lee has already given Koger a 6 yard cushion from the start of the play and Lee is moving backwards immediately. He does relatively well to stay with the Michigan tight end, but as the play progresses down the field, Lee loses ground. It simply takes too long for Lee to turn; leaving him searching for the ball in the air and struggling to close the distance between himself and Koger. After the first 10-12 yards of the route by Koger, Lee becomes a non factor and is clearly beaten on the play. In all fairness to Lee, my point in bringing this play up is to highlight his issues with mobility, not to call attention to the fact that he had trouble playing the ball in the air. Over the course of the three games used for this spotlight Lee has shown that he will make more plays on the ball than he allows to be completed unfettered. The next play I want to highlight occurs at 4:01 of the video. This play provides a good example of how Lee lacks true explosion in his movements. He can move well enough to not be a liability in zone coverage, but he would likely be a target in man to man against the more athletic tight ends at the next level. This play does show that Lee does move “well enough” but the real purpose of highlighting this play can be seen at the end of the play when Lee is forced to react and adjust his line to the ball carrier. Lee simply lacks the ability to plant and drive that can be seen in more athletic prospects in the 2010 Draft such as Sean Weatherspoon. The next play that can highlight Lee’s agility issues occurs at 5:02 of the video. On this play Lee initially comes forward but then is forced to redirect and retrace his steps down the field. Once again Lee requires an extra step to truly gather himself before he redirects. Granted, the field is simply atrocious, but Lee doesn’t slip until after he takes the extra step and attempts to push off. The next play I want to highlight can be found at the 5:32 mark and shows Lee’s lack of great straight line speed. Once again, I am not saying that Lee is a plodding linebacker; simply that he lacks a true top gear associated with top level athletic prospects. Once Lee sees where the ball is going, he drives towards that point, however, his lack of top end speed shows up. Another play that provides an even better example can be seen at 4:52 of the video. On this play Lee initially disappears off the screen, but as Tate Forcier scrambles outside the pocket, Lee comes back into frame. Lee is not jogging to the quarterback, he is running hard to make the play, but he simply is not fast enough to close down the distance and influence the outcome of the play. Lee’s lack of good top end speed prevents him from being a sideline to sideline player in my opinion. Now, for all of my concerns regarding his speed or lack thereof in certain situations Lee does do well when he is allowed to attack the ball coming forward. When #45 can drop into a short zone and attack, he can be a physical presence. Two plays that illustrate my point occur at 6:32 and 6:56 of the video. In both instances, Lee is allowed to view the play unfolding in front of him; allowing him to attack the ball carrier. Over the course of this section of the video Lee can often be seen intently watching the eyes of the quarterback and adjusting his positioning accordingly. Other players may be faster, but very few react faster to a quarterback working through his progressions. This brings me another point regarding Lee’s game; he has a good football IQ, and uses it to get himself in position to make plays rather than relying on physical gifts alone. Some players run fast without truly knowing where they are actually going, and others seem to always be where they should be even though they are not as physically gifted – Sean Lee is the latter. The last section of the video is dedicated to showing how Lee reads the action in front of him. For the most part Lee does a very good job of finding the football. However, he can find himself following the motion of the guards and full back too rigidly at times. This is not to say that he overruns plays frequently, or gets caught up watching the play develop without attacking the line of scrimmage. Only that he can find himself following the run action instead of truly focusing on the ball. One such example can be found at the 7:50 mark of the video. Again, this doesn’t mean that Lee is wildly out of position, only that he does his job sometimes too rigidly. Maybe the best analogy I can provide involves the game of Poker. Good players are a little easier to bluff because they know when they should lay down hands as opposed to a “fish” who never lays down a hand. The better poker player can be bluffed because he is good at what he does and does his “job” when he has to. On this play you can see Sean Lee flowing to his left mirroring the right guard on the play even though Trindon Holliday breaks the opposite direction immediately after the snap of the ball. Now, Lee must stay home to avoid a play fake with the quarterback keeping the ball and gaining yardage. As you can see from the replay, if the quarterback had in fact kept the ball, he had a wide open field to his right regardless of Lee’s presence. Lee is in fact one of the last defenders to react to where the ball is actually going. Over the course of these 3 games there was more than one occurrence where Lee was just a bit too zealous in adhering to fundamental football. Regardless of these moments, Lee does a good job of finding the football and making plays, especially when he can move forward. The next play I’d like to highlight occurs at 8:10 of the video, and Lee is in pass coverage. LSU runs a wide receiver screen; a play they ran a few times in this game and Lee simply eats the play up. Lee quickly reads the offensive line, and immediately switches his focus to #80 Terrance Toliver on the outside. The instant he sees the receiver break inside Lee attacks what he sees. If you watch the play closely, you will see that Lee is moving towards Toliver before the quarterback begins his throwing motion. This play was dead from the start due to Lee’s understanding of what was happening in front of him. He quickly read how the offensive line and quarterback come off the line of scrimmage and reacted. Lee is rarely caught thinking on the field, showing good instincts for the football and this play is a classic example of how intelligent football players make up for a lack of elite measurables. Another play that illustrates how Lee reads the action can be seen at the 8:39 mark where Lee reads the guard, center and fullback coming off the ball, comes downhill getting in the hole to make the tackle. Lee does not hesitate, he reacts instantly. The play is actually blocked very well at the point of attack by the Syracuse offensive line in my opinion, save for the tight end not reaching Lee. However, part of the reason the tight end cannot reach Lee is because he has taken a few steps forward already. The key for Lee is how quickly he reacted to what the offensive line was trying to do with the right guard trying to seal the inside shoulder of the defensive tackle and the center getting to the second level. If Lee does not fill the hole as effectively as he does, this play would have been a 4-5 yard gain in all likelihood instead of a 2 yard gain. Lee’s aggression does cause problems at times; he can find himself taking a few steps forward on play action fakes. This by itself would be not be a serious issue as he certainly makes more plays than he gives up, as most would live with a few mistakes to keep his aggressive downhill play intact. However, due to Lee’s stiff hips and lesser degree of explosion, he can be taken advantage of. His ability to diagnose plays does save him a little as he does recognize that he has been fooled, and reacts quickly to rectify the mistake. But, the fact remains that he does not have the athleticism to make up any ground lost easily. An example of how he does react to his initial misreads can be seen at 4:44 (which applies to play action as well) and 9:19. In both instances, Lee has taken a false step and must recover. In the end Sean Lee has shown himself to be a “safe” pick in many ways, as he plays the game with a good football IQ and in a hardnosed fashion. He is dependable, gets himself into the right position and is a physical presence although he does not always drive completely through a tackle on occasion. However, he does have athletic limitations that may preclude him from being a 3 down player in the eyes of some teams. This is not to say that Lee is a lumbering player, only that he does not have elite speed and fluid hips. I believe that if he is allowed to function within a zone based scheme rather than a system that requires him to play one on one coverage a good deal he can be productive. His best value may come on the inside in a 3-4 defense as he can stack and shed effectively and generally plays in a downhill manner. The team that drafts Lee will get a solid if unspectacular player, who should come in and contribute right away, as he was also a special teams standout while at State College.