Broncography: Mike Mohamed

Denver draftee Mike Mohamed understands the role of a linebacker acquired as a sixth-round pick (189 overall) in the modern NFL. He’s going to have to start out on special teams and show that he can be a core player for that squad. Special teams are 80% about desire and inner fire. It’s how a player gets noticed by the coaches.

“Yeah, definitely,” Mohamed said. “I already know that’s kind of my ticket. I’ve done them all throughout my college career. Like I said (earlier), I’ll go in wherever they need me.”

Born on March 11, 1988, Mohamed grew up in Brawley, CA and attended Brawley High School, where he played linebacker and tight end for head coach John Bishop. Mohamed was a natural leader from an early age and he led his Wildcats squad to the CIF section championship game and semifinals during his junior and senior seasons. For his efforts, he was named the Imperial Valley Defensive Player of the Year and was the team MVP as a senior, registering 62 tackles, five sacks, 14 tackles for loss and six blocked punts. He was a First-Team All-Imperial Valley League selection and a second-team medium schools All-State choice by CalHiSports, and was also made a member of the San Diego Hall of Champions defensive team. Mike was offered scholarships from both San Diego State and California. A natural athlete, Mohamed had also played forward on the basketball team as a junior. Always a top scholar, Mike was also chosen for the San Diego Union Tribune All-Academic team as a high school senior.

Mike chose to take his game to Cal. A Business Administration major, Mohamed also chose to take a redshirt year as a freshman to work out, mature and to get a leg up on his studies. Mohamed was one-quarter of the Cal Bears' linebacking group that was called the ‘Wrecking Crew’ (see YouTubes below) - a group that included Zack Follett, currently of the Detroit Lions, Worrell Williams, the younger brother of D.J. Williams, who was briefly with the Broncos in training camp last year and Anthony Felder, who played for the Chargers during the 2009 preseason. Mohamed was usually at inside LB in that group and has played in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, and he’s shown himself to be the best of the four based on two things - instincts and tackling. It’s been 16 years since a Cal LB had as many tackles as Mohamed - 340 tackles (Denver's official site lists it as 339), seven sacks, four forced fumbles, 20 TFL and seven interceptions over his four seasons there.

Mohamed’s scholarship was also recognized - he was one of 16 finalists (along with Colorado alum Nate Solder, OT) for the “Academic Heisman”: the William V. Campbell Trophy, and he was the recipient of a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award and an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship. Intellect - and football IQ/intelligence, often called FBI by the coaches, is a big part of Mohamed’s game - he’s a heady, cerebral player who also loves to hit. He’s also played both inside and outside linebacker, so Denver is hoping that he’ll be able to back up both Von Miller at Sam and be a third option at Mike. Where he plays doesn’t concern him.

"Wherever I play, that's where I'll fit in," he commented. He also noted, “I think the first thing that stands out is that I’m a ball hawk. I’m relentless”. Relentless is good.

The Broncos have been clear on their expectations of the players who stay with the team - they want speedy, disruptive, ball-hawking players who have more than a little attitude on the field, and they want them to show their worth on special teams. At 6’3 and 245 lb, Mohamed is more quick than speedy - he varied among 4.60, 4.65 and 4.78 on his three tries at the 40 at Combine - but he was the fastest ILB at Combine in the three-cone drill (at 6.70), one of the two better measures of quickness and success at LB along with the 20-yard short shuttle, in which he was also first with a time of 4.00. Neither drill replaces film analysis, but they are helpful in evaluating  raw talent. He averaged 8.6 tackles per game over his junior and senior seasons (with 112 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PD, 3 INT and 1 FF over 13 games in 2009, and 95 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, INT (returned for TD) in 2010, in only 11 games), and he put together a laundry list of accolades that included being a quarterfinalist for the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy.

Just as importantly, he only missed one game to injury (a toe injury) in four years, although he was somewhat limited in two others. All in all, he played in 50 of a possible 51 games for the Golden Bears. Given the all-out way that he plays the linebacker position, that’s a very good mark. You can put the credit squarely on Mohamed’s constant emphasis on maintaining his conditioning - he’s always acted like a professional when it comes to taking care of his body. He also has an on-field motor that just won’t quit.

There was a single play against Washington State in which running back Logwone Mitz tries to stuff the ball into the endzone and finds himself in Mohamed’s waiting arms. It’s not a great television shot, but I added it to emphasize something about Mike’s play - he’s smart, quick and crafty. He reads plays quickly and has the short-area speed to fill holes and stop running backs before they get started. He’s also as tough as a two-dollar steak. Like nearly every rookie LB, he needs to live in the weight room and to improve his functional strength - while he tackled well at the college level, he needs to play with more ‘pop’ than he does right now in the NFL and he really needs to develop his lower body strength. Given his work ethic, though, that’s unlikely to be a problem.

Denver has declared that they’re looking for players who are ballhawks, and Mohamed fits that description surprisingly well for a sixth-round pick. One way to disrupt an offense is to take the ball away from them, and Mohamed has shown a talent in that department.

This highlights collection starts off with him grabbing one of his seven INTs while at Cal, this one for a pick six TD. Mike also ended his college career with 42 tackles over his last three games, including a career-high 16 to go with a sack for a five-yard loss vs. top-ranked Oregon that earned him Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honors for the fourth time in his career and honorable mention Linebacker Performer of the Week recognition from the College Football Performance Awards for the second time in 2010.

To be clear, this piece of highlight film can be deceiving - it’s highlight film, after all. Mohamed’s game has some weaknesses, too. However, it shows off Mohamed’s tendency to find the ball in the backfield, the way that he pursues, and his short-area speed. Living on the California coast, I saw a lot of Mike over the past few years. I didn’t immediately recognize him when he was drafted, but his talent quickly came back to mind while watching film. While he doesn’t have the natural talent that some linebackers do, as a special teamer - a position that’s about 80% want-to and 20% know-how - and a player who can back up multiple slots, he’s a fine later pickup who should give Denver some much-needed depth. He’s talented at finding the seams to the ball carrier, is fearless on the field and never gives up on a play.

One thing that John Fox is known for is the importance that he places on special teams and on having high-quality backup linebackers and safeties. That means that players like Mike and LB Wesley Woodyard, a ST captain for the past two years, should have a future in Denver. Mohamed is also the somatype that Fox prefers - slightly smaller (but generally over 240 lb, with Jon Beason at 237 being a high-talent anomaly), quick linebackers who are disruptive and like to hit. Mohamed fits that profile well. His intensity on the field in college leaped off the screen when I watched his games. Fox has a background of selecting depth linebackers on the basis of their ability to play special teams. What they bring out on punts and kickoffs - which ST coordinator Jeff Rodgers pointed out to be a test of sheer heart and willpower - will dictate how their careers unfold.

LB coach Richard Smith said that the draft was like Christmas to him. Denver had a deep need at linebacker, and getting three - one of whom in Von Miller is clearly a rare and elite candidate and two of which have had considerable success at the collegiate level - plus two safeties with speed and tackling ability also brought the cheer of the season to Coach Rodgers. It’s an area where Denver has struggled for years. Mike Mohamed fits Fox’s profile to a ‘T’, and you can look for him to become a contributor early on. Given time to develop, he may also work his way into a starting role, perhaps at the Will position. He’s played both inside and out, and had success at both, so he’s also got the versatility that makes a backup linebacker more valuable to the team.

Coach Smith told the team's official site that Mohamed could be a "quality backup" behind Miller at Sam or at middle linebacker. With Joe Mays and Nate Irving ahead of him, playing Mike may not be on his horizon anytime soon, but that doesn’t diminish the value of a backup who’s played at all the LB positions. Mohamed is also skilled in coverage, which is an area in which Denver badly needed help.

"What we liked about him was he's very, very bright -- he's got a high test score," Smith said. "When you look at it, he's had great production. Seven interceptions, that means he's got some ball skills and was in the right position. And I see him as a core special teams player.

His weaknesses include concerns with his ability to move laterally at NFL speed and his need to develop additional strength, particularly in his lower body. His need to get stronger has also resulted in some missed and broken tackles. Even so, his production suggest that those weaknesses - although very real - are aspects of his game that can be overcome.

For those who want a more personal insight into Mohamed, he was chosen to keep a draft diary by the folks at NFL Draft Bible. There are five parts - the first can be found here and all parts are listed below. Mike has always had the support of his parents throughout his life - his father took over the process of screening and choosing an agent, a process that can be overwhelming for a young man with the life experience of high school and some college. In the first installment of his draft diary, he noted,

My family always reminds me that no matter what happens in my football career, they are really proud of everything I’ve accomplished.

While many players overcome a difficult past and childhood situation, Mohamed is one of the lucky ones who have the benefit of coming from a loving home and a supportive family. That stands out when reading his draft diary.  It helps a player on many levels, and it shows in Mike’s dedication to his studies as well as his intense focus on football. He may not be starter material - or he may, over time, become a player of that level. There’s little question that he’s got the natural skills and the inner fire to start off as a special teams player. He also is in a ‘football family’ - his cousins Marty and Kyle Mohamed are brothers and both are linebackers for Cal Poly.

Joe Mays, when he first got to Denver, described himself as “a special teams player who plays a little linebacker”. Now, a year later, he’s competing for the starting job at middle linebacker. Mohamed has the drive to have a similar career path, although his best position is probably at Will, where D.J. Williams is currently installed, having led the Broncos in tackles last season with 119 total tackles and 5.5 sacks. D.J. is also heading into his eighth season and has a contract that will pay him $4.9M in 2011, $5M in 2012, and $6M in 2013. It will be interesting to see if Woodyard or Mohamed can challenge him for the starting slot. D.J. has his weaknesses, but he’s also been one of the most productive of the Broncos linebackers over the past seven years, despite being moved around more than a manager for IBM. Will has been his natural slot - we’ll see how he does there this coming season.

When you’re looking at a sixth-round pick, the biggest question is often how well the player fits with the needs of the team. Many sixth-rounders don’t make it in the NFL, and that’s a hurdle that Mike Mohamed will have to overcome. Yet, in looking at the film on him and reading what he has to say, as well as listening to Richard Smith and John Fox’s views on him, Mohamed looks like a solid use of the pick. From here on, it’s going to be up to him to show the coaches and the team that he’s a productive player who earns his slot, week by week. I wish him the best, and join in welcoming him to Denver.

Go Broncos!

Addendum:

This is some highlight film on “The Wrecking Crew” described above:

Mike Mohamed’s Draft Diary:

This is a rare one - created by Universal Draft,  it’s a film of Mohamed including his lowlights, showing off nearly every mistake that he made. Just to understand what his weaknesses are, it’s worth viewing.

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