Broncography: LB Kevin Alexander

Kevin Alexander is a man with the odds stacked against him.

Brought into a tough Broncos camp as an undrafted free agent earlier this year, Alexander knows what the oddsmakers against the ‘tweener’ LB from Clemson might say. On the other hand, good things are already starting to happen for the 6’4”, 265 lb former DE/OLB. He was given a chance to take some reps with the first team in OTAs, and although he did not make final cuts, Denver signed him to its practice squad. Following the recent rash of injuries at linebacker, the Broncos on Saturday added Alexander to the 53-man roster, and he dressed for the next day’s game versus the Jets. It doesn’t take much watching to find out why Alexander is being given a second look by the Broncos.

Born on July 1, 1988, in Lake Butler, Florida, Kevin Alexander came into a family that loved football. He started playing while in second grade in a Pop Warner league, playing running back to start and adding his time at linebacker quickly after, maintaining those two positions all through high school. He attended Union County High, where he was a classmate of Bills RB CJ Spiller, a player with whom he would attend Clemson University.

His high school numbers were good - splitting time between linebacker, safety and running back, he managed to roll up 389 tackles, with 282 of the solo variety. He was a two-time all-state pick under Head Coach Buddy Nobles, and during his sophomore year, the high school team, which was never well known, managed to win three straight late in the season to reach the state finals and face national powerhouse Pahokee High School. UCHS lost that game, but gave a solid accounting of themselves during it. Alexander says that he will always recall the never-say-die attitude that the members of the team had together, and that is something that may benefit him as he fights the odds to try and remain a Denver Bronco.

Being in football came naturally to Kevin, but a lot of that was based on his affection for his brother, Bernie, who played defensive back under Steve Spurrier at Florida from 1997 to 2001 after graduating from UCHS.

“If I was not watching Bennie from the stands I would not be playing today,” admitted Kevin. “His success drove me to get out there and play.”

While he was approached by Auburn, Louisville, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State and Tennessee, when Alexander visited Clemson, “It just felt like home,” he smiled. A two-year starter for the Tigers, Alexander waited behind future NFL player Phillip Merling (now with the Miami Dolphins) at the DE slot until his junior year. Kevin made the Academic Honor Roll for the Spring of 2009, showing the kind of intellect that Josh McDaniels wants from his players and was, predictably at this point, a leader among the defensive players. Although he spent his college career usually at DE with his hand in the dirt, he’s using his tremendous strength, tweener physique and his natural skills to make himself an asset to the Broncos at OLB. He brings several advantages with him.

The first advantage is simply that he is abnormally strong, especially for a player just out of school. The fact that he’s looking at breaking into the NFL as a linebacker makes his accomplishment even more impressive - his last recorded bench press in college was 470, best on the team among the defensive ends and second-best among the entire Clemson team (on his Pro Day, he raised 225 28 times). There was a good reason for that high mark, too - Alexander was a hard-working weight room regular who was named for an award given to the top weight-room performer for DEs in 2009. Hard work, he knows, pays off. His brother, Bennie, was a starting cornerback at Florida under Steve Spurrier, constantly showed hard work to get and stay there and was a constant inspiration to the younger player.  Kevin Alexander has the advantage of being hungry for the Broncos job, and moving to a position that may well suit him better than DE could help make that dream a reality.

The second advantage is that Alexander appears to still be growing, at least by the standards that I can find printed. Placed on a timeline, each time he’s been weighed and measured, Alexander seems to have gotten bigger. He’s currently up to 6’4” and 265 lb, right about where Josh McDaniels, who tends to eschew lighter linebackers, wants his players to be. McD prefers the bigger LBs even over the usual variations on the Bullough 3-4/5-2 that he and Wink Martindale play. McDaniels frets when a linebacker is under 255, so Alexander’s size and strength are clearly something that Coach Josh obviously wanted an early look at when he gave Alexander some first-team reps along with Jarvis Moss while Robert Ayers sat and learned a lesson about conduct during one of his OTAs.

Another advantage for Alexander is sheer toughness. He doesn’t just like to push weights - he likes to push people around and he doesn’t like to miss game or practice time. You could even say that he hates it - Alexander has never missed a single game to injury, and while he started for his junior and senior years, he made at least one tackle in each of his last 39 (some sources say 40) games with the Clemson Tigers. By the end of his stint at Clemson, he had racked up 125 tackles (70 solo), 12.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 5.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one fumble. As a senior, Alexander had 54 tackles with 34 of them solo and notched 3.5 sacks with 6 TFL.

He was the co-first-team bandit end, a position that he shared with Ricky Sapp, who himself was drafted by the Eagles in the 5th round this year. The kind of durability Alexander showed at Clemson doesn’t always translate into the pros, but it never hurts when hunting for a position with an NFL team.

Like every college UDFA, Kevin has weaknesses in his game. Alexander has had a tendency to overrun his responsibilities and leaves his gap at times. While that won’t work in the NFL, it also leads to very good backside pursuit when he reads the play correctly. He needs to recognize and react much better, but that might be something that can be taught. It’s worth noting that Alexander saw increased playing time after Ricky Sapp suffered a torn ACL at Virginia during their senior year.  He’s an outstanding special teams player who had 10 special teams tackles in 2009, third-most on the team. Since that’s something that McDaniels looks for in non-starting players, and since Darcel McBath, who led the 2009 Broncos with 10 ST tackles is now injured, Kevin might have an advantage there:  If you can’t start, you’d better be able to play special teams.

As stated, Alexander has some things going against him. He tends toward over-pursuit at times, but he also fires hard up the field. His biggest weakness is play recognition - he shows hesitation at times, and then overruns to make up for it, taking himself out of the play. On the good side, he uses his hands well to keep his legs clean and he gives everything on every single play. He is described as very athletic; he’s certainly intelligent and yet he hasn’t quite matured into the kind of player that everything else shows that he can be, although he developed rapidly during his senior year. He’ll have to step up quickly to remain a Bronco.

At Clemson’s Pro Day, Alexander ran 10 yards in 1.72 seconds and the 40-yard dash in 4.74 seconds. He also measured a 9’10” broad jump twice and completed 28 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press. It’s safe to say that he’s more quick than fast, as the 1.76 10-yard dash shows. Arm length of 33 7/8 inches is good for an OLB, broad jump is adequate and the bench press is good, but doesn’t show off his strength, being more of a test of endurance.

To give you an idea of how much this player is still developing, he came to Clemson at 6’2” and 218 lb. By his senior year, he was up to 6’2.5” and 250 lb. A year later, he’s up to 265 and any player on the Broncos can tell you that it’s not fat. His height is up to 6’4” as well - this young man is still growing. You can up your muscle mass artificially with chemicals - as Brian Cushing, and many others, apparently did - but that won’t change your height. If anyone worries about how he’s gaining weight, recognizing that his height continues to grow will put your mind at rest. He’s just a big guy who’s continuing to get bigger.

These are from Sports Illustrated:

Positives: Size/speed prospect with an undeveloped game. Breaks down well, uses his hands to protect himself, and chases the action hard. Fires up the field in run defense and shows ability in pursuit.

Negatives: Indecisive and shows hesitation in his game. Overruns the action and removes himself from plays.

Analysis: Alexander is a relatively athletic prospect yet marginally productive on the college level. He’s a developmental prospect who must quickly pull the pieces together to make it out of summer.

I think that this is a pretty fair, very brief analysis of where he is. He’s got a lot of things on his side, and some problems with his game. It will be up to Coaches Martindale and McDaniels to decide if the upside overcomes the problems. There’s a distinct difference in the Broncos’ depth that was missing 2-3 years ago - the level of competition means that more players who fans become invested in are cut from the team because there are players who are playing and/or developing better. That’s a change that every fan should learn to love. Perhaps Kevin Alexander can step in and show that he’s worth holding a space on the 53-man roster in the NFL. I’ll be rooting for him - with the injuries, we need better LBs right now!

Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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