[With the NFL Draft approaching, we wanted to take the time to look back at our departing seniors. Remember the good times and preview what skills they can and will bring to future NFL teams. The other day, we look at Tyson Alualu. Today, we look at Syd'Quan Thompson]
TwistNHook: And GO!
Yellow Fever: My first memory of him is, "Doesn't that guy know he's not supposed to let Tennessee's wide receivers run right past him to the end zone?"
TwistNHook: Yes, that was frustrating. That said, the experience of that year helped him turn into one of the greatest Cal DBs of all time! What impressed me the most about Syd'Quan was his open field tackling ability. Especially for somebody who wasn't the biggest guy out there, he certainly hit like one!
HydroTech: You know, this comment is ironic. Syd had great open field tackling ability. Yet that was his worst area of his game in the 2006 Tennessee game - and it was because of that cast on his hand.
A lot of people don't remember that. People just remember Tennessee scoring on Syd, but not HOW it happened. It happened not because Syd was messing up his coverages, but merely because he couldn't tackle the WRs.
It's always kind of bothered me that people reamed Syd for that game when it was clear that his coverage abilities weren't really the problem, but it was merely his tackling due to his cast.
Yellow Fever: Full disclosure - I actually missed the first 3/4 of the game because I was busy moving to New York. So by the time I managed to turn on the TV, we were already getting smoked. So I admit I don't remember that many of the details.
Avinash: What most struck me about the Squid (a nickname that tragically never caught on--those tenticle-like dreads made it second-nature for me) was his anticipation. He was always good at recognizing patterns and routes, recognizing when the ball was about to land in his man's arms. He broke up 24 passes in his final two seasons, with 18 defended passes in 2008, tied for fifth overall nationwide.
Also, Syd could take more risks in '08 because of the strength of the linebacking corps--everyone covered their responsibilities, which in turn allowed him to roam and gamble a little, play close on his man, do all the things that made him look so so good.
Unfortunately, he became so good in 2009 that it became second-nature to throw the other way. We saw hints of it in the Minnesota game and it avalanched against Oregon. Almost like Asomugha in Oakland, it didn't matter that Thompson had one side of the field shut down--half the field ain't all the field, and good quarterbacks and coaches made sure that the Squid wasn't going to be wrapping around any of his receivers with the game in doubt.
Thus the most noise we made with Syd was in run support. And as Hydro alluded to earlier, he was an excellent open field tackler, one who could lower his head and make the hit in space. Pretty remarkable for a guy about two inches and ten pounds lighter than a typical cornerback.
Unfortunately, his fellow defenders just weren't up to the task, and he was often left out of position to make the play. 2009 Cal Football was a perfect example of how individuals can't carry a team on the gridiron.
Yellow Fever: It's worth mentioning that KC Joyner absolutely loves Squid's work. It's also worth noting that Joyner's observations in that link were based on the first two games of the year, when everyone loved everyone on our team, but still, there's a lot to like here:
Thompson's metrics in the Maryland and Minnesota contests were excellent. He allowed only 22 yards on eight passes thrown his way, or a minuscule 3.1 yards per attempt. Thompson knocked down three of the incompletions, so it wasn't a matter of poor passes or drops. He was dominant, albeit in a small sample size.
Thompson also performed quite well against the run. He won three of the five point of attack (POA) blocks he was involved in and he also had two of what I call "crashes." A crash is credited when a cornerback is lined up in an outside position at the snap (i.e. he isn't in the box) and closes to make contact with the ball carrier within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. This is the way I measure a cornerback's run-stuffing ability on plays where he isn't blocked. Thompson showed absolutely no hesitation to stick his head into a runner and it is a key reason he is among the leading tacklers on the Golden Bears.
NorCalNick: I'm sure it happened, but I really can't recall Syd ever whiffing on a tackle. I know we've talked about it plenty already, but his form was just amazing - he never wasted any time with weak arm tackles, he never got juked. He hit the man in the perfect place to upset his balance, and wrapped up to be sure he didn't get away. It's the main reason why I think he'll have a chance to succeed in the NFL.
My personal favorite memory, oddly, is a game in which he couldn't contribute much. An ankle injury hampered his ability to contribute and Syd only collected two tackles and one bass breakup. But watching Syd swing his dreads around while joyous Cal fans carried him around at Stanford Stadium was a perfect cap to a stellar four year career - and for me one of the sights that defined one of the better Big Games ever:
Berkelium97: My fondest memories of Syd came in the 2008 game against Michigan St. He was all over the field disrupting their offense. He showed his excellent run support against the NFL-bound Javon Ringer, broke up several passes, and had a crucial interception to stop a driving MSU from scoring a touchdown in the waning moments of the first half. But what most stood out to me that day was Syd's open field tackle against Michigan St tight end Charlie Gantt. Gantt, weighing in at 250lbs, had at least a 60 or 70 lb advantage over Syd. Early in the game MSU QB Brian Hoyer threw a short pass to Gantt who ended up being one-on-one against Syd. Ordinarily, I'd expect a cornerback with such a large weight disadvantage to get bowled over or require some assistance before he brings down his man. But Syd somehow managed not only to tackle this beast by himself, but to bring him to a dead halt when he hit him. There were no yards gained after the hit. Syd hit Gantt and stopped him completely. I was amazed at Syd's strength in open-field tackling, something he would continue to show in run support later in the season and in the following season. See the 25 second mark of the first video above for his hit against Gantt.
That entire game (and season) demonstrated that despite his size, Syd played a huge role in Cal's defense. From blitzes to run support to lockdown coverage of receivers, Syd had a tremendous impact on defense. Like Avi said, the 2009 defense did not allow him to demonstrate fully his tremendous abilities, but he should nonetheless be a versatile pickup for any team in this year's draft. Those willing to look past his relatively small stature shall be rewarded with a fantastic cornerback.
TwistNHook: Don't they say that the closest barometer to NFL success is sometimes college experience. If that is the case, Syd'Quan will be a star, because he set a record for most Cal games started at 52 (which is to say every possible game). Sure, it took a rather brutal injury to Tim Mixon, but he has the most experience a college player could have!
Looking at his stats, they do not look all that stellar. For example, in 2009 he only had 1 interception. In 13 games played. To me, that is indicative of a situation where he truly was stellar. He was so amazing that the offenses would not throw against him. They would pick on the other side of the field, so he never got amazing stats.
SBN's Mocking The Draft had these positive to note about Syd'Quan:
Strengths: Likes to get physical at the line of scrimmage and is solid jamming his opponent. Gets his hands in on a lot of plays (broke up a career 36 passes). Has good but not great hands. Makes his plays by reading the quarterback and getting a break on the ball. Can flip his hips and turn with ease. Gets up to his top speed quickly. Very durable. Started 52 consecutive games for Cal. Likes to hit and is a solid tackler.
HydroTech: My first memories of Syd'Quan Thompson was his performance against Tennessee. Most Cal fans will remember it wasn't good. Tennessee was scoring touchdowns on him. The aftermath of his performance was devastating. People were ripping him left and right saying how bad he sucks and how he shouldn't be playing. But what a lot of those people didn't realize was that Syd's problems against Tennessee were because he was wearing a cast on one of his wrists and he couldn't tackle. The problems weren't that he was blowing coverages. And if my memory serves me correctly, I don't think Tennessee really scored a touchdown over Syd; their touchdowns came from underneath passes where their WRs sort of ran over Syd's one handed attempts to pull them down. In other words, Syd's problems weren't really his coverage abilities. I'm not sure many Cal fans realized that though.
In my eyes, when I saw Syd see his first real reps in practice and on the field in 2006, my opinion was that Syd was a solid practice player. He covered his men well, and was around the ball when it was headed in his direction. He seemed like a solid player with a pretty good chance at being a great CB. A lot of Cal fans thought to the contrary though.
(Photo from The Daily Nathan)
I had no idea Syd'Quan Thompson would be as good as he is today but I got my first hint that he might be this good at the 2006 Cal Football Awards banquet. At that banquet Daymeion Hughes (now Dante Hughes) won one of the defensive player awards.
When he took the stage to accept his award, he went through the usual thanks to family, coaches, and friends. Then he did something a little different. He went on to encourage the younger CBs to keep at it, practice hard, and don't give up. He said they could be as good as him. Then he singled out Syd'Quan Thompson. He said to Syd, in front of the entire banquet, that Syd could be better than him. He said it many times. "Syd, you can be better than me." He said it with conviction. He knew it.
I've talked about this many times before, but when somebody really good at their trade points out that someone else can be just as good or even better, you better listen. Those that are some of the best at their trade know what it takes to become the best, and who has what it comes to be the best. In 2006, Dante Hughes was one of the best CBs in the nation. He knew what it takes to get there, and he saw that Syd'Quan Thompson had it too.
Back when I wrote my The Next Greatest post about Micheal Kendricks, I alluded to two players whom were singled out by their peers as being the next greatest:
[W]hen I hear a player go out of his way to say something like "you can be the next greatest player," it really means something.
... I've heard former players say those same words about two other Cal players. Those are stories that I'll share in the future. But let me just say that those two players who were deemed by their peers to be the next greatest, are very talented, are doing very well in the college game, and will probably have NFL careers.
Syd'Quan Thompson was one of those players. He will have an NFL career. Dante Hughes saw this coming way back in 2006. Best of luck to Syd'Quan Thompson in the NFL. Thank you for being Cal's greatest cornerback from 2007-2009.