The NFL Draft was in full swing, and what a crazy night it was for Packer fans as we got a taste of what we will see on the field come training camp this year.

The night started with the Packers selecting Rashan Gary at 12 (which we will talk about in another X’s and O’s piece) and Darnell Savage at 21. Two positions that was desperately needing depth was filled in one night.

When the pick was announced that the Packers took Savage at 21 I was extremely happy. From what I saw on tape, I felt like he could come in to Green Bay and be an instant starter. I try to be as thorough as I can in my draft analysis, but I honestly felt like what I saw on tape will translate well in to Pettine’s defense, especially in the run game. To get a better idea of the kind of player Savage is, let’s go to the tape.

Filling the Alley

Playing the run is one of Savage’s greatest strengths. Time and time again I saw him fly downhill, fill the alley, and stuff the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage. When looking at his position pre-snap, I noticed that he was lined up to the strongside of the field more so than the weak side. Savage defends the field side very well. His quickness allows him to cover a lot of ground and fill gaps quickly, sometimes before the ball carrier makes it to the line of scrimmage.

He looked the most comfortable in a 2 high safety look. Because of personnel last year, I fell like Mike Pettine couldn’t run as much 2 high as he wanted to. With a player like Savage in Green Bay, it opens the door with what Pettine could start to do with this defense. Take the play in the above clip for example. Maryland starts out in a 2 high look pre-snap. Savage reads this play from the get-go and comes down to stuff the B gap. I love a safety who wants to come up and play the run. The Packers have got to be more sound in their run defense this season. Part of the reason it suffered last year was because, again, the defensive backs weren’t involved much in the run game between the tackles.

Notice again that Maryland starts from the 2 high look and Savage spins down to fill the ally. This play was equally as impressive because Savage met the back one on one in the gap. Quick eyes are important for safeties. As soon as Savage sees his read key block out, he knows he can fill.

Temple comes out this time in a 12 personnel look, so the read key for Savage will be the tight end. As soon as his key locks on with the Maryland edge player, Savage is right there to fill his gap. The Temple offense goes with an inside zone look here which will alter the gap that Savage has to fill, but he does a good job playing everything inside-out on this play. With every front ran from a 2 high safety look it changes the gap assignments for the safeties. This tells me, of course, that Savage is a smart football player who knows his assignment pre-snap. Rarely did I see him out of position when playing runs between the tackles.

Setting Force

On most plays in Mike Pettine’s defense, the edge players will be responsible for setting force, which simply means that they are responsible for turning the play back to the inside. When an edge player loses contain, it’s usually up to the safeties to plays as the “secondary force” player. They are the ones that have to come up and make sure that the play gets turned back to the inside and funneled to the inside linebackers. Because of the quickness, athleticism, and intelligence of Savage he was able to do that several times at Maryland.

Take the above clip for example. Savage starts out lined up over the #2 receiver in a 3X1 formation. Texas opts for a speed option look and the edge player is taken out of the play because he is forced to take the quarterback. With the edge vulnerable, Savage makes sure to take on the outside shoulder of the blocker and make sure that this play gets turned inside. Had he ducked inside and tried to make a tackle, this play would be toast. I’d rather see defensive backs playing fundamental football and doing their job and give up 8 yards  rather than trying to be a hero and giving up 20.

The Longhorns show the same look offensively here with a speed option. Maryland again has a post high safety look with Savage lined up over the #2. I can see how it would be so easy for Savage to dip in and try to make a play. Notice though how he continues to fight to the outside and allow for the weakside inside linebacker to scrape over from the backside to make the play.

Closing Angles

When evaluating defensive players, one of the things I always want to make an important note of is the angles that they take when closing in on the ball. This was one part of Savage’s game that I liked the most. He’s so quick to close in on runs, outside runs specifically. With as many stretch plays and tosses that we see in the league anymore, its important that defenses stress their defensive backs getting to the edge and making the play in the open field. Every angle should be flat, crisp and quick. Exactly like what we see in the clip above.

The Packers run defense has been up and down in recent years. The thing I’m looking for at this point is consistency. When evaluating run defense, it’s more than just looking at the front and seeing how they match up. Every position on the field has a job to do when defending the run. With Savage on the field, I feel like the defense has a good chance to improve when defending the run across the board.

Look for my X’s and O’s column over Savage’s pass defense to soon follow.

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