If you talk about an undersized Broncos defensive end who uses his size and leverage as a tool to defeat blockers, a guy who has played both standing up and with his hand on the ground, who comes to mind? Elvis Dumervil is the obvious choice. Von Miller has many of those qualities - he played the ‘Joker’ position (which is also a pun on his attitude in the locker room) during his senior year at Texas A&M, and played LB/DE, standing and with his hand down. Miller’s speed around the corner and his ability to cut with his body low to the ground make his pass-rushing skills unique. But to complete the list you’d have to add one player, a DE that Denver added at the very end of the 2011 Draft. Jeremy Beal has a lot of similarities to Doom and some to Robert Ayers, and the Broncos are counting on that to ensure the 247th-overall pick some success in the NFL. Some are concerned with his height and weight - 6’2”, 262 lb. I tend to look at his production.
Beal had a total of 29 sacks over his college career in the Big 12 while playing for Oklahoma. He racked up a few awards, too -
- Three-Time 1st-team All-Big 12
- Hendricks Award finalist, junior year
- AP second-team All-American
- Four tackles and a sack in the Senior Bowl
- Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2010
Making Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2010 was quite a feat. Over that senior year, he notched 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Beal was considered a second-round talent before a poor showing at the Combine dropped him down the charts. While any seventh-round pick is a ‘maybe’ at best, Beal compares favorably with a lot of NFL players when you go back and look at the film of Oklahoma in 2010. Many observers have suggested that Beal would be best at Mike in a 3-4, or even in a 4-3. Denver has Nate Irving heading their list there, and Beal isn’t the body type that John Fox and Dennis Allen prefer at that position, anyway. But he’s not a bad fit at all as a backup to Doom and Ayers - he’s got a lot of the same kinds of skills. You have to wonder why he fell so far, but the answer is easy.
The Combine matters. It’s where you find out who has the athleticism that usually puts players into the NFL. Beal had a poor Combine. He also didn’t have a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl, although he had a very good game. But film matters a lot more, when you come down to it. No one cares what Beal ran in the 40 while wearing shorts if he can run down the QB on Sunday in pads. If his leverage comes from an unusual size or approach, that’s fine. Doom is 5’11 and only 248 lb, yet his long arms and unusual physical strength make him a matchup nightmare for offensive tackles and tight ends. Beal is taller, heavier and yet also exhibits naturally strong leverage - he is one inch shorter than Robert Ayers and just a few pounds lighter, but he’s adept at both technique and at using angles to defeat larger players. If he tested well at Combine, we’d be having a different conversation, but there’s no shortage of top players in the NFL who didn’t have a good Combine. I’d be slow to consider him as a weak candidate for Denver. He’s just going to have to use the gifts that he has rather than the ones that most players depend on. Doom has done it. Ayers is doing it. Beal could follow in their footsteps.
This kind of a challenge won’t be new to Beal. Born on December 2, 1987, Beal attended Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas. As a senior in one of the biggest high school football states in the country, he was an all-state linebacker. He recorded 127 tackles, two sacks and had one interception return for a touchdown. He was ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and was listed as the No. 19 strongside defensive end prospect in the class of 2006.
Even so, he didn’t attend Oklahoma on a scholarship at first, for the same reasons that plague him now - he wasn’t considered athletic enough, not fast enough, and the belief was that he was not what they were looking for him to be. As a redshirt freshman who was moved to DE from linebacker, he made some waves quickly and achieved five tackles for loss and a sack. He then started every game as a sophomore, junior and senior. He’s very durable, versatile, and has not only played standing up and with his hand in the dirt, but moved to ILB when injuries created a weakness there. He loves the game, and he’ll do whatever he’s asked to help the team. If you look at his measurables, you have to wonder how he does it. Somehow, every year he improves.
He made All-Big 12 three years running and then he topped the list of Defensive Lineman in 2010. Beal was a Hendricks Award finalist in 2009 and coaches' second-team All-Big 12 pick (many publications had him as a first-teamer) the same year, when he had 70 tackles, 19 for loss, 11 sacks and three forced fumbles. As a senior, those numbers were 66 tackles, three forced fumbles and six passes defensed, in addition to the 18 TFL and 8.5 sacks.
Here’s how he does it: He’s exceptionally hard working, leads by example and has a high football IQ - he’s rarely beaten on play recognition. He holds the edge well, is patient in watching the play develop and has unusual functional strength. Unlike Doom, who puts out those long, strong arms and big hands and redirects or bull rushes whoever is in front of him, Beal is all about angles - that’s where his leverage and strength come from. It’s not that Beal lacks in those areas that Doom lives by - he has 33-inch arms and 9.7-inch hands and he’s strong, while not the kind of physical anomaly that Doom is. He’s just a hard worker in the weight room and the film room, and in the final analysis, his production can’t be underestimated. It doesn’t really matter how he manages to achieve so well - only that he does.
Still, making the jump to the NFL won’t be easy for Jeremy. Exactly one #247 pick is still in the league - he’s a defensive tackle from the 2010 Draft, Brandon Deaderick of New England, and he was placed on the suspended list for missing meetings and similar behavior, despite a promising start with the team - but Beal is unique. He’s one of those players who will do whatever you ask of him, and who puts all of his effort into each play. He plays to the whistle and doesn’t take plays off. He’s done well in coverage against tight ends - although faster running backs would be more of a challenge for him. He reads screens well, though, and tackles with good form, especially in the open field - by staying low and rarely biting on juke moves. He doesn’t have great straight-line speed, but has excellent lateral movement, which is more important at his position. If you only look at his Combine numbers, you’d wonder how he created all of those tackles for loss and sacks. The answer is surprisingly simple.
He works hard on performing within his skills. He’s relentless in pass rushing, he knows the technique to move tackles by attacking their outside shoulder and he’s learned to keep his legs clear from cut blocks by running backs. A lot of athletic players try to get by on their physical gifts, but Beal has had to learn technique, which goes a lot further in the NFL. He needs to add to his repertoire of pass-rushing moves, like most rookies. None of the RBs in the Big 12 could even slow him with a standup block, though. He’s intense on the field and likable off of it.
He gets most of his sacks on deeper drops - the 5- and 7-step varieties - but his TFLs on running backs result from holding his edge, defeating OTs and TEs and by maintaining excellent gap discipline. He likes to try and strip the ball whenever it doesn’t interfere with making the tackle. He spends a lot of time in the film room, and knows how his opponents will be, what their tendencies are and how to beat them. He’s an effort player, a man used to outplaying expectations through hard work, talent and study. He may fit better at strongside, backing up Ayers. He’s in some ways a combination of the skillsets of Ayers and Doom - which isn’t a bad place to be.
There’s another factor at play here, and there’s some great research backing it up. A Florida State psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson, looked into the common belief that the Wonderlic, for example, is a reasonable tool in football player evaluation - particularly at QB, where height, 40-yard dash speed and the Wonderlic are given great consideration. Ericsson's research showed that it isn't all that useful, and his work further questioned just what is a good tool for QB evaluation. He found some interesting answers that also cover other positions and even other professions.
His research showed the belief that the Wonderlic is helpful to be not only false but misleading - and the project revealed that what does tend to make a better player. He found that it’s not IQ, but EQ - the player’s emotional ‘body’, if you will. A lot of research has suggested that the human emotional body processes vast amounts of information that the conscious psyche can’t handle.
Great players aren’t really born, although genetic physical skill traits are obviously reflected in success. But sheer work ethic is what made Tom Brady, who struggled at times at Michigan, into one of the best players in the game. Ericsson’s conclusion was that a minimum of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice - not tossing the ball in the backyard, but, for example, working endlessly on throwing the ball through a tire while moving to the right - is required to develop expert skill in any given area. (Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling Outliers later popularized this notion.) The ‘best of the best’ use 10,000 hours as a starting point - nothing more - and keep on working that hard. That kind of deliberate practice also develops the EQ - the instinctive part of the human psyche. It means that a player with a certain weakness - and I’ve ragged at length on the fact that most scouts list a negative that they see on a certain play or game, and it never leaves the scouting report even if the player has long since overcome it - can develop past that weakness. There are limits to this, it’s true, but it’s more far-reaching than we’ve ever really understood.
Ericsson’s work is backed up by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth. Duckworth was asked by the Army to create a test or model for predicting success, measured by the number of cadets graduating from West Point. She was able to create a measurement tool that has been nearly flawless - and she simply refers to what her test measures as ‘grit’. Immortalized by John Wayne and Kim Darby in cinema, grit is the difference between making it and not making it in almost any profession. Take two players with very similar physical skills and you can predict, using her test, which of them will be more successful. It’s all about the willingness to put oneself through constant, long-term effort, the ability to perform mind-numbingly repetitive practices over and over until they are instinctive.
Tim Tebow is doing that by refusing to take shotgun snaps this offseason - he’ll hit the 10,000-hour mark on QB drops far ahead of most players. We’re all too familiar with highly skilled players who tanked in the NFL because they didn’t take their profession seriously. Grit is taking it seriously over an extended period of time. It’s a nearly perfect indicator of success at West Point, and it also explains a lot of other situations in life.
Beal may or may not make the team, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be from lack of effort. He’s gotten to this point by working endlessly, and taking pleasure as well as pride in doing so. It’s developed his EQ through constant effort and mind-numbing practice. He’s put in those hours. If he does succeed, Denver gets a hard-working, bright, high-character player who likes the weight room, film room and practice field as well as the Sunday games. He isn’t the kind of guy who creates problems - he was very well-liked at Oklahoma by players and coaches alike. He isn’t a glory hound. He’s the polar opposite of a me-first guy and he doesn’t make waves - just tackles, sacks and forced fumbles.
He’s just the kind of player that you want on your team - solid, disciplined, hard working and productive. Add his intelligence and high character to that, and you have a guy that I couldn’t bring myself to root against. I look forward to seeing him trying to make that final roster. So far, betting against him has been a fool’s game.
Note: A great example of Duckworth and Ericsson’s research conclusions came up this week. Adrian Foster, RB out of the Texans, was on the practice squad in 2009. What changed? According to him, he did. He said thoughtfully, “I remember looking into the mirror in the locker room and thinking, ‘You want to play, but you’re not in the best physical condition that you could be by any means.'” He made changes, put in the hours and hours of deliberate practice that success demands in his profession, reshaped his body and developed his skillset to a level above what he’d ever been able to play at. He rushed for 1,616 yards with 18 TDs and 66 receptions. Constant practice is the price of real success - I hope Denver has a lot of guys who feel that way this year. Could end up a fun season.