Taco Charlton had a rough introduction to NFL football

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Michigan’s Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick of April’s NFL draft earlier this year. Charlton was only a one year starter in Ann Arbor, but his size, length and athleticism give him the physical tools necessary to be a weapon on the Cowboys defensive line one day.

There are also many question marks surrounding Charlton entering his rookie year, though. He did not play much for the Wolverines during his first few years with them, which leaves many asking why. When he did start in his senior year he showed flashes of brilliance, but also tended to disappear at times. He did not use his size or length to his advantage as much as he should have and even got bullied at times by some of the better tackles he faced.

He got his first taste of NFL action last Thursday during the league’s annual Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals in Canton, and it was a little rough.

Charlton played for almost the entire first quarter and into the second quarter. Both teams benched many of their key players and the rookie was lining up across the Cardinals backup offensive line. He played on both the left and right defensive edge.

He was held at bay for much of the game on both sides of the line by the Cardinals linemen.

On all three of the above plays he got little to no defensive penetration. He was simply out-muscled repeatedly. Charlton has a habit of just lazily diving into a blocker and just trying to shove him off instead of using his longer arms and athleticism to his advantage. Despite his 6’6”, 280lb frame Charlton still does not have the strength to just bulldoze an NFL offensive lineman. He does not leverage his weight well, and it leads to him getting pushed around while defending both the pass and the run.

He did manage to make good use of his spin move that was one of his most feared tactics while at Michigan.

Charlton does a good job balancing his weight while approaching the man blocking him. He squares himself then leans into the block with one shoulder. The rusher then quickly swings his hips and whips around to spin by his man. If done correctly, like Charlton did in the plays above, it can leave a blocker being left in the dust.

If Charlton does not leverage his weight well and fails to really get his feet planted before going into his spin then the move becomes ineffective.

On this play, he comes off the snap and instantly tries to beat the tackle around the edge. He is held at bay, and decides to try to spin back towards the inside to get around him. Charlton stumbles through the spin though, and loses his footing. The tackle is easily able to deal with his spin and force him around the quarterback, removing him from the play.

Charlton was unable to get his footing in the first place because he was simply outmatched by his opponent. It looks like he tried a rip move towards the beginning of his rush, and almost entirely whiffed. He never truly settles his feet or even squares himself and stumbles the entire way while getting bullied by a backup offensive lineman.

The NFL is a much stronger and faster league then anything Charlton has played in the past. Many of his struggles on Thursday can just be attributed to the fact that he is not accustomed to playing at that speed yet. This is an issue many rookies face, and one that he should probably be able to put behind him a few weeks into the regular season if he gets regular playing time.

Arizona tested him late in the first quarter, and Blaine Gabbert left him in the dirt.

The Cardinals are running a read option with Gabbert and running back Kerwynn Williams. They let Charlton run free into the backfield. He initially seems to bite on the fake to Williams, but quickly realizes that Gabbert kept it and is scampering towards the sideline. His mind seems to react, but his body can’t keep up. He can’t get fully turned and ends up losing his balance and just falls to the ground untouched in the Cardinals backfield.

He clearly read the play properly, but got too far ahead of himself and could not adjust in time to chase out Gabbert. The play went for minimal gain anyways, and he did do a great job recovering as he would have been the first man to the ball carrier had Gabbert not just stepped out of bounds.

Charlton did not impress much in his first NFL appearance. It could have gone better, but he did show some flashes of the potential he was drafted on. He has around a month left before week 1 to work on his craft and adjust to the higher level of play. He should only get better from here, and Cowboys fans should keep close watch on his development over the next few weeks of preseason.

 

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In a Disappointing Season, David Johnson Gives the Cardinals Hope

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

David Johnson has quietly been one of the most valuable players in the NFL this season. Despite the Arizona Cardinals overall struggles, Johnson has been a beacon of hope for the future. Johnson has built upon an impressive rookie season and emerged into a crucial role in the Cardinals offense. He leads the team in rushing yards, and is second to only Larry Fitzgerald in receiving this season.

In Sundays matchup against the Washington Redskins, the Cardinals utilized Johnson to his fullest potential as he led the team in both rushing and receiving yards and the Cardinals pulled off an upset against an impressive Redskins team.

Johnson rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries Sunday, 4.6 yards per carry, and although he never broke off for any huge runs, it’s his ability to always manage to fight his way downfield on every carry that makes him such a threat out of the backfield.This is due to both his patience and agility coming out of the backfield allowing him to find holes in the defense to exploit, turning plays that could be nothing more than getting back to the line of scrimmage into a decent pickup to keep the offense moving.

On this third quarter play, Johnson was initially supposed to run between the right tackle and guard. The Redskins defense read the play well, and were all over it. John Wetzel (#73) and Ulrick John (#75) failed to open up any sort of running room for Johnson. Johnson realizes he has no space, and instead of attempting to power through the line for minimal gain, he quickly cuts back towards his left.

After finding room to his left, he quickly makes a move back towards his right to avoid the tackle from the Redskins Preston Smith (#94), and manages to burst forward for 4 yards before Smith trips him up.

Johnson’s patience, agility and quick thinking turned a broken play into a short gain, and got his team closer to the endzone in a tight game.

The Cardinals running back showed off his vision and agility again on a 13 yard run in the fourth quarter.

Johnson takes the hand off out of the backfield, and immediately finds a hole. He then slips through Will Compton (#51) and Ziggy Hood (#90), and cuts up field. A quick short hop to his right helps him avoid a closing down Bashaud Breeland (#26). He then has to shift left again to dodge Josh Norman (#24) who has dove on the ground towards him. Johnson then has to make another cut right as defenders approach him from behind. He fights through Will Blackmon (#41) who needed help from an incoming Quinton Dunbar (#47) to finally bring him down.

This play serves as a testament to Johnson’s vision and field awareness, and his overall athleticism.

Johnson’s skill in open field also translates into the Cardinals passing game. His ability to find space and his awareness of approaching defenders makes him a valuable target to throw screens to.

The Cardinals go ahead touchdown came on a 25 yard catch and run by Johnson on a screen, where he yet again showed off his prowess in the open field.

After catching a pass from Carson Palmer (#3), Johnson bursts through the hole created by his two lead blockers, and sprints down field beating everyone to the endzone for a touchdown.

From this angle it is clear how close Mason Foster (#54) came to turning this play into nothing more than a short gain. Foster comes from his position unblocked, and if not for a quick move towards his right by Johnson, Foster would have managed to trip him up. Duke Ihenacho (#29) is just out of reach as Johnson blows by him and the rest of the Redskins defense for a crucial score.

David Johnson did not have a perfect game, though. His vision and agility usually leads him to finding any hole that may open up in the defense for him to exploit, but his vision failed him late in the first quarter.

On this run, Johnson has a huge hole open up in front of him, but as Will Compton forces his way through a block, he partially closes it. Johnson then turns his attention towards space that has opened up on his right. If Johnson had looked towards his left there was still room to force his way through the middle and up the field for a bigger gain.

Johnson shifts towards the hole on his right, which is quickly occupied by Josh Norman. He now has nowhere to go, and Norman makes a tackle. Despite his error, Johnson still managed to gain four yards on the play, showing even on a broken play he can create something to keep the offense rolling.

The Cardinals have had their fair share of issues this season, and while they had lofty goals to begin the year they are most likely now turning their attention towards the future. They still have a decent team, and David Johnson is a key piece in the offense that they could potentially build a franchise around. Johnson may be one of the best players in the NFL, and he is only getting started.

 

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