Levi Onwuzurike: An exceptional interior talent

01/20/2021
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The NFL’s new prototype in defensive line evaluation is an explosive interior presence with an ability to wreak havoc against the run, and collapse the pocket against the evolving pass game. Levi Onwuzurike, defensive tackle from Washington has exceptional flashes in both of those areas. He is explosive, violent and can play in a variety of different schemes. He will be attending the Reese’s Senior Bowl next week , as that will be an incredible opportunity for him to evolve his game against great competition while possibly pushing him into the early second round conversation. This article will specifically examine where he thrives, while also showing you where he could improve in the NFL. 

Body type

At 6-foot-3 and 288 pounds, Onwuzurike has a cut, lean frame that offers an ability to put on more mass without compromising his twitched up movements. He has exceptional length, and that can be seen by examining his tackle radius and ability to lock out. 

Where he excels

Violent lock out/resetting the line of scrimmage

Against the run, his lock out is precisely on target and he achieves a full extension of his upper body. Weight room correlation is present here as he can bench press offensive linemen away from his body, creating knockback and resetting the line of scrimmage. After he locks out, he shows a deft capability in finding the football while aiming to make a play on the ball carrier. 

 

In the above play, Onwuzurike’s (#95) ability to reset the line of scrimmage with violent intentions is on full display. He is lined up in a 0 technique, head up over the center. After the snap, he stems into the play side A gap and gets full extension into the breastplate of the offensive guard. Knockback is accomplished, and the line of scrimmage is reset due to his power and precise technique. His ability to lock out, yet use his outside harm to clear the offensive lineman from his body is exceptionally advanced and showcases playmaking ability on the interior. 

As stated previously, Onwuzurike’s (#95) body type showcases exceptional length to go along with his size profile. This rep, he again aligns over the center. Pre snap, two tight ends shift to the other side thus altering the strength of the formation. Post snap, he stems into the strong A gap and fully extends into the guard bench pressing his body away from his own. A nuance is visible here, as when he finishes his violent lock out he positions his body so that his play side shoulder is free and he is able to visualize the play and move toward the ball due to his clear, uninhibited path free from bodily traffic. Defensive line techniques are all phased, and they all develop off one another in some way. Locking out, and getting full extension is just the beginning step towards being a dominant presence against the run. Being able to clear an offensive lineman from your latch, find the ball and make the play is a whole different skill that Onwuzurike has in his arsenal. 

Ability to work down the line of scrimmage

As an interior lineman, playing the run brings forth a lot of bodies and traffic to work through when trying to find the ball carrier. Onwuzurike, is adept at making contact with his eyes up while working through traffic laterally to find the ball. The ability to laterally maneuver with explosiveness allows him to be a consistent presence against the fast evolving, varied NFL running games.

On this play, Oregon is aligned in a Pistol formation with an attached tight end. Oregon then aims to execute a pin and pull blocking scheme, where there is a down block by the play side tackle and two pullers going to that direction. The center aims to reach the nose, however Onwuzurike (#95) locks out into the center’s chest and prevents himself from being walled off from the ball carrier. The left tackle down blocks the 4i and knocks him in Onwuzurike’s path, however he does an exceptional job in detaching from his engagement and working through that traffic laterally down the line of scrimmage to find the approaching ball carrier. Using the 4i’s engagement as an impediment for an offensive blocker is quite impressive, and his nimble athleticism for his size ratio also is intriguing. 

It is repeatedly seen that Onwuzurike’s (#95) primary alignments are 0 or a 1 techniques. In this play, he is at 0. USC executes a guard/H-back counter to the right, and due to that the center and the play side guard deuce blocks the nose guard. Onwuzurike combats the double team exceptionally, as he sinks his weight and does not lose ground. When the guard climbs to the flowing back side SAM, the guard leaves the deuce block. When the guard detaches, Onwuzurike does an exceptional job freeing his body from entanglement while working laterally to the play side. His ability to escape a double team, and use the opposing blocking scheme to time his detachment is phenomenal, to which he then works laterally to make a play on the ball carrier. This rep not only shows refinement, it shows effort and the importance of executing all phases of defensive line play.

 

Splitting gaps/maneuvering through zone blocks/condensing bodily surface area

The NFL’s primary running schemes are rapidly evolving, and with that we are seeing a prevalence in zone run schemes. In those schemes, linemen are often working lateral and then upwards, leaving gaps between lineman as they move play side. Working down the line of scrimmage towards the ball is one necessary skill, one in which this prospect is exceptional at. Another way to combat this schematic emergence is having lineman who can explode through these existing gaps to reroute the ball carrier and cause havoc in the backfield. 

Above, Onwuzurike is again aligned as a shaded nose. Oregon is aiming to execute outside zone, which requires blockers to work horizontally before picking up second level defenders. A key to executing this well offensively, is having your linemen gain ground on their steps while also keeping your hips in proximity to your nearby lineman. If that occurs, the preexisting gaps created by the scheme itself are not exploitable by interior defenders. The tackle and guard do a great job in executing that, as the defender only works laterally without any penetration. The center and backside guard however, are not moving with that deliberate nature.

Onwuzurike sees that the center is pushing for his upfield shoulder and works through that before condensing the surface area of his chest and turning his body. He then rips through the gap without a punchable surface, and makes a play on the ball carrier. In the zone heavy NFL working through gaps explosively, and not giving offensive lineman a place to latch will prove advantageous in one’s ability to cause havoc. 

Utah here motions into a formation referred to as “Strong Close,” and schematically they are running a variation of split zone. It is inside the zone to the left, with a split flow path by the fullback. Defensively, they are slanting to the fullback and bringing the overhang player on a blitz in a backside run fit. After the snap, Onwuzurike gets a good lateral jump off the ball and beats the blocker to the spot. He sinks his front knee, alters his body angle to condense surface area and rips through the gap to meet the ball carrier. Not only is this an example of getting skinny through a gap and exploiting the zone blocks, this rep shows obscene ankle flexion and ability to bend. 

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