A closer look at Lonny Powell

Elsa

Beast Mode comin'.

I surfed through the comments on Lonny Powell last week, and there were a fair amount of people wondering why he won't play linebacker at Cal, especially with these statistics:

But if you look closely, there isn't really a pressing need for him at that side of the ball right now. Linebacker is already our most stable position group, with Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson, and Michael Barton all returning with starting experience.

To that trio, we were able to add four more recruits this last class: Aisea Tongilava, Chandler Leniu, Devante Downs, and Hamilton A'noai, all of whom will have ample time to progress and work their way up. Maybe Leniu gets on the two deep or one of the guys forces the issue and sees the field, but otherwise, I'm figuring they'll get to redshirt this fall and develop under Cachere and Kaufman. That's not even mentioning the fairly successful transitions of Ray Davison and Maximo Espitia to linebacker, or the return of Jason Gibson and Nathan Broussard from injury.

All in all, it looks like there's enough bodies to go around here, although the jury is obviously still out on what they do with that talent in years to come. So, to running back he goes.

Marc Tausend and I had some fun with the nickname game already.

The tape

Hudl highlights, if you want to follow along. I'll be paying more attention to the running back clips, obviously.

First off, props to whoever filled Powell's tape with the inception BLAAAAARGH noise, because it is wildly appropriate. The kid brings pure, unadulterated destruction, in the same way I used to say about Johnny Ragin.

Okay, granted, Powell may not play against the best competition, and may have a bit of the man-among-boys look for that reason. I am actually wondering myself how much of a role that played in him looking so dominant, myself. Still, it's hard not to be impressed by that display of strength and savagery, especially on defense, where he's sniffing out the ballcarrier or the quarterback, only to leave them in pieces. I mean, he's even taking on the center one on one with one arm [1:37].

Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, hand in the dirt defensive end, whatever. His athleticism lets him line up in a variety of places for Sac High, and he produces wherever that happens to be, bursting through to ruin plays that are designed to run away from or out wide. Heck, even the small glimpses at him dropping back -- there are only two -- look okay.

I do not, however, mean to imply that that's all he'll bring. The speed and power just happen to be much more evident. 1:58 is a good clip that shows he knows how to play with some patience, too. With the offense in an offset I, and trying to run a lead left behind a whole mess of bodies, it would be easy for him to try blow things up, essentially playing himself out of position. Playing MIKE, Powell instead hangs back for things to develop, working his way out of all the traffic, and when he's able to locate the ball, he's careful to get around the outside of the back -- so that if he misses, the ballcarrier must stay in the middle of the field where other defenders are -- to make the tackle.

Personally, I prefer him at linebacker, just like the rest of you -- but I do understand the reason why they want him on offense:

  • Strong. Violent. You certainly don't need my eyes to tell you that. Powell runs with a freaking vengeance, like he's allergic to grass or something...and not at all like a guy who is 6'1, 230 pounds. There's some very good quickness and agility there for a guy of that size -- a fantastic size already, I might add.
  • He's got the skills to be a receiving threat. This is a huge, huge bonus for any Bear Raid back, since it opens up the possibility of lining up in the slot against a linebacker in certain packages. You saw this with Khalfani Muhammad last year, and to a certain extent, Brendan Bigelow [sigh]. On tape, Sac High puts Powell in similar actions already, whether that's running a slant right behind the linebackers, or taking a tunnel screen in space. A very attractive quality to have. Then you have a play like at 3:30, where he just looks like a regular wide receiver. It's not a particularly well run route or anything, but having a 6'1 back who will go up and get the football the way he does right there? That's a plus too.
  • There's even a couple plays where Powell plays Wildcat quarterback. Remember that for the future, because it's something we continue to mess around with using Kyle Boehm and Chris Harper, although that latter look hasn't premiered in a game yet, to my memory.
  • Still, I'd like to see more tape of him next year, particularly on offense. What's here is a very, very small sample in terms of offensive plays, and also doesn't tell much about whether or not he can run between the tackles consistently, read keys, pass block, or other things like that. Yes, Sac High schemes for him to get out in space, and runs him off-tackle to utilize his tremendous athleticism, but that gap is probably going to shrink significantly in college, where getting to the edge is less likely to result in a runaway touchdown. Everything here is bounced outside consistently, telling us only a little bit about the rest of his running back skill set. We'll get a look at some of his senior film later, though.
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