Elvis Dumervil and the ways of leverage

Within the past week, to mix my sports metaphors, the Broncos stepped up to the plate. Despite back and forth theories and contradictions both within the fanbase and the media about how the Broncos were treating or mis-treating the well-named 'Doom', the delay was just a matter of working out the details. Doom was due his 3.168 million on his first contract, which would have ended later this year. But once the i's were dotted and the t's crosses, including this season, Elvis had a brand new 6 year, 61.5 million dollar contract.

That contract includes a record 43.168 million dollar guarantee against injury, according to two NFL sources, including the local Denver Post. Among other things, that guarantee shows that the team is cognizant of the injury factor that is one of many sticking points in the NFL CBA problems. Denver has made it clear to one and all - performance dictates premiums. Doom's teammates should be listening. Adding an extra 7 million dollars per year to Doom's salary is partly just recognition for the value that a player who can lead the league in sacks has for the team. It's also a way of saying to the rest of the players on the Denver squad, "Hey, show us what you can do. If you can do that, you'll be properly rewarded.

In some ways, it was the 2nd game of the year, against Cleveland, where he left 4 sacks and forced a fumble that Dawkins recovered in the record book and a lot of exhausted and battered Browns in his wake. Even Doom had to laugh.

"Guess I'm a linebacker now," he said, "but I still get to do what I love: Rush the passer."

That turned out to be an understatement. By the end of the year, he had walked away with the league lead, and now walks into Dove Valley with a record contract and his usual, endless work ethic. In that sense, nothing has changed. That's one reason that Dumervil was given such a large - and long, at 6 years, inclusive of 2010 - contract.

"I'm very thankful and very appreciative," Doom said on Thursday night. "I'm appreciative of the fans for being supportive, the Broncos, coach (Josh) McDaniels, Pat Bowlen himself for stepping up and getting this done in a difficult situation of the unknown for next year."

There was a lot of unknown to go around. To start it off, there was the unknown of moving to a new position. Dumervil didn't just lead the league in sacks. He managed to do it from a position that he had never played as an NFL player. "Guess I'm a linebacker now," he laughed, after the Cleveland game in 2009. In the Broncos locker room, Doom wasn't the only one laughing. Cornerback par excellance Champ Bailey was also laughing at the fate of those who were assigned to block him that day. The ageless Brian Dawkins joined in the mirth.

"The kid is relentless. He's one of the best I've ever seen, and I've played with some great ones. Elvis, he never stops, his motor's always on and I appreciate him for what he did today," said Champ. Champ wasn't the only one. Brian Dawkins has seen a lot of linebackers in his years. he had just as much appreciattion for Elvis as Champ did that day.

"When 'E' is having the day he is having, it's like I'm making those sacks," Dawkins said. "That's my guy. That's when you have a defense, I think, that excels. When everybody is not (playing) a selfish brand of ball. It's complementary -- anybody has a chance. And when you make that play, we're going to celebrate with you." Dawkins also admitted that watching Doom notch those sacks pushed him to create some plays of his own. Elvis' kind of effort and performance is contagious.

There are the physical reasons that Dumervil is so hard to stop. His teammates tease him about the 5'11" mark that he claims as his height. Most of the players comment that he's more in the 5'10" range, if that. Does that matter? Only on the field.

"He's got those long arms and a low center of gravity and he's stronger than people think. He's one of those pass rushers people dream about," said Bailey.

"The biggest thing is he has got longer arms than most of the guys blocking him, and he is much shorter," said Josh McDaniels. "You are reaching for him, but he can get his hands on you first and he has got leverage -- he can get underneath you and push you back to the quarterback. He is a unique pass rusher in that his skill set is pretty much alone in this league for a shorter guy with real long arms, and he has got a good burst."

Others have commented on the size of those hoofs that Dumervil grabs on with. He's got a bull rush that is remarkable - once you've seen him forklift a 300 lb. lineman and drive him back into the quarterback's zone, you begin to understand how unique a player Dumervil is. When he just leaves that bull rush to spin into the QB and wrest him to the ground, it inspires everyone around him - fans, coaches and Denver players. The other team? Not so much - and that's part of the point. When a defense simply can't stop another player, it's tiring. It's hard to keep up with the game emotionally. And that's when the benefit of those sacks really comes into view.

Many of the teams that passed on Dumervil would like a Mulligan on that draft. Doom himself has steadily kept a chip on his shoulder about how he scored 20 sacks at Louisville, adding to them 10 more fumbles. He was a force that year, but his height and weight (248 lb.) put off the scouts and GMs around the league. Doom fell to the 4th round, pick 126. Back last season, after the Cleveland game, Doom admitted to still having feelings about that. Those haven't changed.

"It's going to be tough but a lot of teams passed on me before the Broncos selected me with the 126th pick," Dumervil said. "I'm wanting to show these other teams what they missed out on. I'm obsessed with that. I feel bitter about those decisions. Now I want to prove to other teams that the Broncos were right in wanting to reward me by extending me.

"I'm just getting started. I don't play the game for money. It's nice to know I don't have to have to worry about taking care of my family, but I love the game. That alone, I expect to stay in double-digits in sacks."

By the way, Doom tied a franchise record that day. He matched the total that Simon Fletcher created in 1990. What's unique is that he hammered down all four sacks in a single half, a career day that Doom someday hopes to match, and then eclipse.

"If they held the ball one second too long, he was there," smiled Champ.

But for Dumervil, this is just the beginning. It's already been said that next year, he's unlikely to match that total, since defensive coordinators will be scheming and game-planning for Doom on a regular basis. That could work out fine for the Broncos. Robert Ayers has been close to several sacks, and a double team on Elvis could mean more sacks for Ayers, Jarvis Green and any of the newer OLBs. If you go back and check a few, you'll find that several have high sack totals to their credit at the college level. Doom's influence - his examples as well as his play and the double teams that he's going to draw - will only help the other players.

7th Round pick Jammie Kirlew is a classic rush linebacker who hoped to offer much more than just that to the team. Even so, the two-time team MVP closed out his career tied for third on the Hoosiers' career sacks list with 23 and second on the career tackles for loss list with 52.5. Kirlew played in 48 career games with 41 starts. He collected 220 tackles, 152 solo, with nine forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He's a classic 'tweener, one of the captains of the senior team, a guy who has spent a lot of time with his hand on the ground. He, like Elvis, will have a chance to learn a new position. One thing that he will be gifted by will be a chance to watch the NFL's 2009 sack leader: what he does, how he trains, his time in the film room. Sometimes people are blinded by Dumervil's natural skill and miss out on the things that he does to keep himself and the team on track.

Dumervil believes in the things that launched Michael Strahan's career as a sackmaster. There are at least four key elements in achieving and overcoming obstacles if you're going to try to become one of the few real forces as a rush linebacker, and Strahan was kind enough to lay them out. Strahan had a considerable size advantage over Dumervil (he played at 6-5 and 278 lb, compared to Doom's 5-11 (some still say it is 5'10) and 248 lb, but the principles he laid out are just as important regardless of metrics. Some of them clearly are a benefit to Dumervil.

Job 1 - The Film Room

Strahan believed, as most of the best NFL players do, that the game is won in the film room, although played out on the field. He stated that finding tells on the part of the offensive linemen, quarterbacks and running backs, as well as tells in the form of certain tendencies due to formation, were the first key to making the sack. Many fans are aware that the color of an offensive lineman's knuckles (lighter or more reddish) can vary depending on exactly where he is holding his weight and that this can lead to knowing before the snap whether the play will be a run or a pass. Strahan, like many others, used film to discover far more than that. One quarterback (who is still playing) claps his hands before a passing play if he's in the shotgun. Certain linemen turn their heads to one side unconsciously. There are as many in the NFL as their are in poker. In both games, it's up to the superior player to discover what they are and what they mean.

Job 2 - Have a Plan

Every poker players knows that misdirection can be a key to a match, and many of the matchups within the game at the NFL level can be much he same way. Coaches will use a formation that is well known, but will run a new pay off of it at a crucial moment. Earlier this year, Brandon Marshall changed a hitch route to a go route against the Callas Cowboys and turned an 8 yard gain into a TD. In any one-on-on matchup during a game, if one player can convince the other that he'll be moving in one direction, he can gain the advantage by changing to another. It happens within every game.

Strahan had a plan of action that he liked to use during games that used both technique and psychology to gain advantage. His first 4 pass rushes would almost inevitably be bull-rushes - using his strength, one on one, to try and overpower the lineman who was unenviably tasked with stopping him. Strahan believed that if you beat a man with a speed move early on, he will respect your speed but if you overpower him you'll create a psychological advantage that can be used in a variety of ways over the rest of the game. The lineman will expect more power rushes and can be taken out of the play when you begin to open up your own book of moves. The results - 141.5 sacks over 216 games - speak for themselves.

On his fifth rush, most lineman are preparing themselves for a power move by squatting back slightly, sitting their weight down and back and reaching out with their arms. At that moment, Strahan would chop their hands, reach for their outside shoulder and swing around them. The lineman would be in no position to shift his weight and interfere with the maneuver. After that, the lineman was often at Strahan's mercy. If he moved to protect the outside, Strahan was already clubbing him and spinning inside. Perhaps the best example of this came in Strahan's final game, Super Bowl XLII against New England. Nick Kaczur, according to Strahan, "...didn't know what to expect". Kaczur wasn't the only one, but this example went a long way towards granting the Giants their Super Bowl Victory.

Job 3 - Knowing Where the Quarterback Will Be

Like the first one, this principle also requires a lot of time in the film room. Even when he's beaten his lineman or TE, Doom has to get to the QB before he can either throw the ball away or escape out of the picket. Both can be rendered moot by learning where the quarterback will move to when he feels the pressure of the defensive rush. Each player is different but all have tendencies to one extent or another.

Some quarterbacks like to run with the ball. Those are the players who think, "Pass, pass, no RUN!" although such players, including a spectrum from Michael Vick to Jay Cutler, will move to wherever they think there is an opening, most of them will prefer to move in one direction or another. Players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will move more within the picket, but they, too, have tendencies - generally, they like to step up within the pocket. Last season, Matt Cassel liked to pull down the ball and to run up the middle when pressured. After 47 sacks, you could hardly blame him, but by knowing where he would usually run to the rush linebacker can maneuver his lineman so that he can break off on a bull rush suddenly and spin to the inside, cutting down the QB before he can escape. Some quarterbacks are a little slower to break from the pocket, or slower afoot (Kyle Orton is one of these) and those players can often be taken down from behind. the rusher can't take his angle too deep, permitting the QB to step up into the pocket and he can't let the angle go too shallow, permitting the QB to step back and to the outside.

The secret here, according to Strahan, is to keep the passer on your inside shoulder. If the QB likes to step up, you try to aim your rush so that you end up 2-3 yards from the line of scrimmage. If you watch a lot of film, many rushers fail to contact the QB because they are being ridden to the rear by the linemen (especially in a short drop situation, where the QB is likely to throw a or are being cut off as they attempt to more inside, between the QB and the LOS. The rusher needs to know ahead of time where he expects the QB to be as the play finishes and to try and get their first. Obviously, factors such as whether a QB is using a 3, 5 or 7 step drop also makes a great deal of difference in planning your attack. If the QB is throwing a lot of 'smoke' (hot), hitch, out and slant routes with the 3 step drop, you have to plan your finishing location to take that into account. If you're looking at other routes, ones that break the usual 12.5 yards from the LOS, you've got more time to achieve pressure.

By the way, this also illustrates the interaction among the different defensive positions. If a CB is playing off coverage, many QBs will audible to a 3 step drop using one of the four I listed (often the 'hot' or 'smoke' route, although terminology varies), the rushers will have to know the coverage the CBs will be playing to plan their own attacks in order to create the most disruption or success.

Job 4 - Tackling the QB

During the Giants/Broncos game, with 6:29 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Denver had NY backed up nearly to their own end zone. Anticipating a pass, Andre' Goodman suddenly dove in on a cornerback blitz. He caught Manning in the end zone, but he didn't make the tackle cleanly. He was able to eventually drag Manning down, but not before Eli had thrown the ball away out of bounds. The play still stopped NY, but it cost the Broncos 2 points plus the ball.

Tackling technique is a difficult issue in the NFL. Proper technique, wrapping up and bring the man down is especially important when rushing the quarterback because those situations really give you two opportunities. The first is for the strip - if you are coming up from behind the QB, he may have his hand struck before he even knows that a defender is there. Secondly, even if the ball is not stripped, there is a chance for negative yardage by making the tackling before the QB can get rid of the ball. And third, of course, is the opportunity like the one mentinoed here, where the defender can put points on the board for a safety if he can tackle the QB cleanly and pin his arms to his body as the tackle is made.

Strahan managed just such a move in the thrid quarter of the same SB mentioned in Job 1 - he fired out of his stance, blew past Kaczur and wrapped up Brady before Tom could dump the ball off. Strahan swears that he recalls yelling loudly, "Tom, do not throw the ball!. I got you! I got you!" And he did.

If Doom is going to break Strahan's record - whether this year or any other - he'll need to master a similar set of rules. It's likely that he'll start with the ones listed here, though, and perhaps add some others. For instance, Doom can still learn a lot from another sack artist who has played in the league for a long time - Jared Allen. Since coming into the league in 2004, there has been no one who has had more sacks (70) than Allen. Allen uses a whole variety of sack moves to get to the quarterback. He uses the rip, a pure-speed rush, a bull rush, a two-hand rush, a single-hand rush, and a modified swim move in which he pulls at the top of the tackle's shoulder pads. In this highlight reel, he demonstrates all of these moves. By the way, for whatever reason Allen doesn't use a spin move. He does, not surprisingly, spend a lot of time in the film room. When he plays someone that he's defeated before, he often pulls out the film of that game and watches it endlessly.

"It hasn't been easy, and I still have a lot to learn," sighed Elvis. "I feel like I am going the right direction, though."

After watching him last season, moving to a new position in a new defense and recording 17 sacks to lead the league, you might think that Elvis has a talent for the understatement, as well as the pass-rush. You'd be right. For a man whose full name is Elvis Kool Dumervil, he's living up to it perfectly.

"I'm just getting started. I don't play the game for money. It's nice to know I don't have to have to worry about taking care of my family, but I love the game. That alone, I expect to stay in double-digits in sacks."

If someone is betting against him, while I'm not a betting man, that's one that I would have to take. Congratulations to a truly nice guy, who finished first and is gazing down at the rest of the league. Doom is going to be a Bronco for a very long time. More power to him - they should probably find him a headache pill endorsement. He's going to give a lot of headaches to the offensive coordinators around the league - and to the scouts who idly scrawled "Too Small" in their note sheets.

Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of you. Sometimes you do, and it turns out that you're stuck blocking Elvis 'Kool Doom' Dumervil. That can the start of a very long afternoon. Go Broncos!

Originally posted at MHR

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

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