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National Signing Day is coming up next week, and with the day fast approaching we continue to look at the players expected to join the Orange beginning with the 2015 season. Today we’ll be breaking down Marquise Blair, a defensive back prospect who has seen his stock exploding on the national recruiting websites thanks to his combination of size, speed, and all-around athleticism.

Prospect Info: 
#4 FS Marquise Blair –Wooster High School  – Wooster, OH
6-foot-3, 190lbs
Offers from – Syracuse, Cincinnati, Indiana, Marshall, Oregon State, Purdue, Toledo, Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State, & Miami (OH)

40 yard dash time – 4.44

Tale of the Tape

When looking at returning players and available playing time for the Syracuse Orange, it’s quite obvious that secondary spots are up for grabs going into spring ball and summer camp.  Today, we highlight one of the highest rated players in the 2015 class, safety Marquise Blair.  Blair is going to have the opportunity to come in and earn playing time immediately if he can adjust to college ball over the summer.  He has prototypical size for the FS position, loves to hit, and uses his experience as a wide receiver to take great angles toward the football.  He also shows off very good hands, which will be a welcome sight in the secondary, after there were many missed interceptions from the safety position during the 2014 season. Simply put – Syracuse could have found themselves a three year starter in Blair.

Let’s take a look five highlights that really make me excited after watching Marquise’s tape.

:31 mark – Wooster’s defense is showing zone coverage on our first play we analyze.  It seems that Marquise is responsible for the flats and starts the play looking to see if any players are coming into his assigned zone.  The QB ends up checking down to his RB, who then takes off down the opposite sideline, on the complete opposite side of the field from where Marquise started.  Many players do not flow properly on plays like this, simply because they make the assumption that “somebody else will make the tackle.”  However, Marquise does not give up on the play.  He takes the perfect angle, which brings him directly to the RB down the sideline, and delivers a great hit to finish the play.  While it’s great that he shows proper flow and displays football IQ in taking the right angle – that’s not the impressive part of the play.  Pay close attention to how he runs and how he flows.  Short steps on the snap of the ball, long strides when flowing to the ball carrier, and his hips are naturally sunk; this allows him to accelerate quickly and get up to his top speed very quickly. It’s no surprise that he runs a 4.44 40 yard dash – because he shows very nice technique in not running high and using natural movements to put himself in perfect position while on the field.

2:25 mark – On this play, Marquise looks to actually be playing an OLB/S Hybrid position.  Syracuse calls it the Okie. My defense calls it the bandit.  It’s a common formation that many defenses are now using during passing situations on third down.  Let’s set the play up before I explain why I really like Marquise’s football IQ.  Off the snap, the offense is going to show three receivers to the wide side of the field.  The number one receiver lined up to the sideline, the number two receiver in the slot, and the number three receiver being the RB flowing towards the sideline.  It looks like Wooster is playing a simple yet effective strategy for their zone scheme.  The cornerback and safety are keying on the number two receiver.  If the number two receiver goes vertical (usually pass five yards), then he is the safety’s responsibility and the CB has all of the number one receiver.  If the number two receiver goes to the sideline, the CB will then have number two responsibility and the safety then is responsible for the number one receiver. Marquise being the (for SU’s sake we’ll call it) Okie, he is responsible for running back into the flats – and if there is no RB out, he is looking to CMA (Collision/Match/Alert).  Collision being knocking the receiver off his route if he comes into Marquise’s zone.  Match meaning to get on the #1/#2 receivers hip if they cross into the zone and carry him until he enters the MLB zone.  Alert meaning to help the CB in recognizing what the number two receiver is doing.  If he reads a bubble/out/wheel route, his responsibility would be to give a resounding “OUT – OUT – OUT” call to let the CB know he’s responsible for #2.  Now that we know responsibilities of the defense on this play – let’s take a look at the execution.

On the snap, the #2 receiver cuts out to the sideline (which actually turns into a wheel route).  The CB ends up colliding with him and then turning and covering him.  The #1 receiver gets vertical, which results in the safety taking all of him. Marquise at the Okie position displays great coverage skills.  He drops at a 45 degree angle, which takes away the QB’s ability to hit the #1 receiver as he gets vertical.  He then notices that the RB who showed a flat route ended up staying into block.  Upon noticing, Marquise plants his feet, sinks his hips and retreats back into coverage to help the safety with his coverage of #1, who has turned his route into a post route.  The QB thinks he has a window, but doesn’t take into account for Marquise who makes a football savvy play, recognizes pass protection, and tips the ball away from the outstretched arms of the receiver.  Not only does he show great physical skills throughout his highlight, but he’s also smart.  Secondary coach Fred Reed must be smiling ear to ear knowing what kind of player he has coming in.

4:53 mark – Playing safety is such an important position because you truly do need to be skilled at stopping the run and defending the pass.   There were many plays in Marquise’s highlight that showed him blitzing into the backfield and making plays.  Often, he used his speed and athleticism to make those plays untouched.  Let’s take a look at something that Marquise needs to make sure he does better on the next level (while also commenting on his speed which allows him to make the play anyway).  Marquise is playing near the LOS on this play, and immediately recognizes it is a run.  He gets downhill very quickly only to find a FB that has stepped up to block him.  Instead of using good technique to force the RB to make a decision, he runs full barrel into the fullback, almost as if he’s trying to deliver a bone jarring tackle.  He shows great quickness to disengage from the FB and track down the RB before he gets into the end zone, but with proper BGO (Block Get-Off) technique; that play turns into a 3 yard loss.  He needs to take on the blocker with a proper power stance (one foot spitting the center of the FBs body and the other foot to on the between the FB and sideline), use his hands to make sure the FB cannot get close to him and deliver a block, and then use his hips and strength to gain position on the blocker – forcing the ball carrier to make a decision.  Taking on blocks with his shoulder pads are a sure fire way to get taken out of the play.

5:00 mark – How convenient that on the very next play – we can see what Marquise looks like when he uses proper BGO technique. He attacks the blocker with tenacity, keeps his legs bent and his back straight (proper power stance), closes off the area between him and the offensive tackle (which forces the RB to go outside), easily disengages because he is controlling leverage, and makes the play for a TFL.  This is the exact technique that Marquise needs to show every time he engages with a blocker.  This clip shows there is definite potential for Marquise to be a three down player in Chuck Bullough’s defense.

6:28 mark – Lastly, it can’t be a highlight tape if there’s not a clip of a defensive back taking it to the house! The defense is in a similar defensive formation as the second play we highlighted above.  Here we see why it’s so important for someone playing in that Okie role to drop back into coverage at the right angle.  Of the snap, Marquise drops back at that 45 degree angle we discussed earlier, gets under the number two receiver, and then just makes a great football play.  He completely reads the QB, leaves his zone to get between the QB and the number one receiver, and jumps the route.  He shows great hands and takes the ball the other way for a pick-six.  SU fans can breathe a sigh of relief that there is a possibility for this play to actually happen for the Orange after numerous pick-sixes were botched this past season.

Final Analysis

Strengths – Marquise displays ideal size, speed and athleticism for the safety position.  He really brings the wood when taking on hits and seems to love contact.  His football IQ was highlighted all throughout the tape, so it’s quite obvious to see that he has the football smarts you want out of a starter.  Dare I say we are looking at a potential captain of the Orange defense?

Areas of Improvements – We discussed the inconsistency above with technique when getting off blocks, which is something Marquise needs to continue to address when he gets on campus.  As a safety is often the “safety net” of the defense…hey…is that where the position name came from?…Marquise cannot afford to allows blockers to get close to his body.  This will make it very difficult for him when going up against blockers, especially offensive linemen who are stronger than he is.

Marquise is a mix of four stars and three stars by different recruiting sites across the internet, but I have to say, I tend to lean more with the four star evaluation.  Marquise is a straight up player who I think could push for major playing time as a freshman.  His attacking style reminds me of former safety Sharmarko Thomas.  Marquise loves contact, and once he gets into a division 1 strength program, he could be making hits just as hard as the former fan favorite.  With the secondary lacking in numbers, it will be very interesting to see how Marquise fits into the Syracuse defense. It should be noticed that all throughout Marquise’s senior season, there has been question marks among Syracuse fans about him qualifying academically and if that was what was keeping the elite offers away.  It’s been said on record that Marquise is on track to be here in the fall, so Syracuse fans got that going for them, which is nice.

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