Space might be the final frontier as many Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics believe, but it's become the desired frontier at all levels of football. Current offenses consistently look for ways to get their offensive stars out in space one-on-one with linebackers or safeties and force them to make open field tackles regularly. Defensive coordinators don't want linebackers out on the field to chase those quick, speedy offensive players with the ball in their hands.
So, they've countered much of the NFL passing game with sub-package personnel, putting five, six and even seven defensive backs on the field, more often than not. As the 2014 season wore on, the Texans had sub-package personnel out on the field more than 50% of the time.
But, in those schemes, the Texans played a safety, whether D.J Swearinger or Eddie Pleasant, at a linebacker spot next to a Texans three down linebacker. Those two improved throughout the season but quite frankly, the most difficult thing for them is to stand in there and play the run.
Where are the fits? What are the run keys? How do they battle against 300 pound linemen? It's just not ideal for them in there on 3rd and 5 v. 11 personnel.
But, what about finding a fast linebacker that has a ton more experience playing in the box? That solves the problem, right? He plays the run, but then again, the defense is in nickel and/or dime for a reason, right? So, what the defense gives up versus the run, the safeties give back to them in coverage. But, what if there's a guy that does understand run fits, playing the run AND can locate crossers, stick routes or backs out of the backfield in coverage and play effectively in coverage?
The Texans may have found that player in USF linebacker Reshard Cliett.
He's 6'2" and 222 lb., a scant ten pounds heavier than the late great Sean Taylor who played safety like none other, before or since. Like Taylor, though, Cliett ran a 4.4 at his Pro Day and that put him on the radar for a few teams, including the Texans. But, watch him play the run and it's clear that he's a linebacker.
But, he's a linebacker, right? Can he play in coverage? Uh, yeah. Here's a perfect example of just that.
USF's defense aligned in nickel with Cliett aligned to the offense's weakside. There's a X receiver (split end) to the offense's left/Cliett's right.
As the ball was snapped, Cliett started into his drop, but look at his eyes.
If there's a bad habit that all linebackers learn early, it's that they lock in on the quarterback and just drop to an area, regardless of where the receiver is. But, Cliett's first move was to get his eyes out to the receiver on his side. That's really impressive.
Cliett recognized the receiver's route - a stick route to space. This route should be wide open and should be five yards like it's stealing. Easy.
But, it wasn't because Cliett read it perfectly. As soon as he recognized the route, he took off like a shot.
The ball isn't even out of the QB's hand and Cliett knew immediately. Anticipation is perfect and key on a short route like this.
Once the ball did come out of the QB's hand, Cliett already made his break.
Cliett arrived at the same time as the ball and knocked it away for a pass broken up. I can't begin to tell how impressive this is, even though it's just a pass break up on a short route.
You'll have to trust me on the fact that he hunts running backs with his 4.4 speed from his linebacker spot playing the run, but this ultimately shows you that he has a knack for playing in coverage and being effective v. the pass as well.
View photos of the Texans' day three draft picks, including MSU WR Keith Mumphery, USF LB Reshard Cliett, Rice DT Christian Covington and LSU RB Kenny Hilliard.