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Okay, so we were kidding about not working over the holiday. Well, at least, our very own version of Ron Jaworski, Justin Roe, decided to put in a little work. So as an early Christmas gift on this Christmas Eve day, here’s some insight an extremely promising linebacker commit, Shyheim Cullen. Based on the observations from Justin, and the fact that it’s the day before Christmas, you’ll understand my urge to work in the phrase “Shy-lent night, holy crap!” with young Mr. Cullen.

Prospect Info: 
#24 LB Shyheim Cullen –Lowell High School  – Lowell, MA
6’1, 210lbs
4.57 40 yard dash

4.42 Shuttle
38″ Vertical
325lbs Bench Press

405 Squat

10.6 100m
Offers from – Syracuse

Interest from – Boston College, Rutgers, Miami, Maine, UMass, & New Hampshire

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/1187271/highlights/163594380

Tale of the Tape

As a high school football coach, it’s not often that I’m afraid of 17 and 18 year old boys playing the game of football. Taking a look at some of Shy Cullen’s workout photos, let’s just say I’d probably curl up in the fetal position and give him free reign if it came down to a fight between him and I.  Shy Cullen is the absolute definition of “workout-warrior”.  As a high school senior, he is going to be coming into Syracuse physically ready to compete for playing time.  It’s a mystery why Shy’s only noted offer on any of the major recruiting websites is Syracuse.  He’s performed well on the camp circuit and his tape is very impressive.  He has very good form and technique, which can be turned into perfect technique with a couple of alterations.  In an already impressive class of linebacker commits, Shy has the opportunity to be one of the best.

Let’s take a look at some highlights from Shy’s tape.

1:13 mark – We see Shy playing OLB on the weak side.  On the snap of the ball, he reads the fullback and halfback pulling towards the strong side.  Many linebackers get into a bad habit of turning their chest parallel with the line of scrimmage, which makes it hard to change direction when moving towards the ball.  Shy stays low in his stance, takes a read step (I’ll explain why this is important a bit later), shuffles his feet towards the play, uses his hands to get extension on the player trying to block him, and keeps his feet moving resulting in him finding the ball and making the tackle.  One of the most important traits a LB needs to have is to not allow himself to be blocked.  Shy doesn’t allow the offensive linemen to get close and does a great job at keeping space between him and the blocker, which allows him to shed and make the tackle. Shy’s strength (which will only get better) is a big reason why he doesn’t allow himself to get blocked by offensive players.

1:31 mark – The read step.  What is it and why it important for linebackers to understand this important technique. Well break it down with a simple question.  Is it easier to gain acceleration from a stand still position or while your body is moving?  If you answered the latter, you would be correct.  Linebackers should get in the habit of taking a half-inch to an inch read step forward on the snap of every play.  If you take a step backward (probably because you’re trying to get a good jump into zone coverage) off the ball, and it’s a run play, you could be late filling your run gap, which can cause bad things to happen.  Remember the old episode of the ESPN show Playmakers where the coach explains the difference between a 4.4 40 yard dash and a 4.6 40 yard dash?  The same rule applies – .2 seconds can make the difference between stopping a running back at the line of scrimmage and blowing a tackle which allows a huge gain.  On this play, Shy takes his read step on the snap and diagnoses the run coming through the middle.  Rather than continuing forward (and running into the chaos being caused by the OL/DL battle), he keeps his feet shuffling to the side, his body perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and waits for daylight to appear; which is where the running back is coming through.  He meets him square and finishes the tackle.  Being able to successfully read the run is a great quality for a linebacker to have.  It may seem like a small thing, but if the offense can’t run the ball, they’re in for a long day.  Shy shows very good form in his stance and his footwork, which will make learning a defensive playbook a lot easier (because he won’t be focusing on fundamentals).

3:56 mark – We see Shy walked up to the LOS showing blitz.  He starts off in a good blitzing stance, with his inside foot forward, which should allow him to attack the offensive linemen through the center of his body.  Stepping with the outside foot first, it allows the LB follow the offensive linemen wherever he goes; whether it be to the outside, inside, or to pass block.  Something Shy will need to work on as he goes to the next level is not to “false-step”. We talked above about how important timing is.  If you pay close attention to this clip, Shy’s outside foot goes backwards on the snap.  This is what we call a false-step.  Ideally, his outside foot should be moving forward following his hips.  It’s always important to lead with your hips rather than your head when moving forward.  A false step is essentially a false movement before accelerating forward. While Shy makes the play in the backfield because he is quicker than the competition he’s playing against, not correcting a false step and not leading forward with your hips can slow you down and make it easier to be blocked by the opposition.  Moving forward without taking a step backwards first is something Shy will need to work on as he progresses.  Former SU linebacker Dyshawn Davis had great form on his blitzes, because his first step was so quick.  With correction, Shy’s first step could be just as explosive.

4:20 mark – Again, we see Shy make a great read and use great technique to stop a touchdown at the goal line.  On the snap, Shy reads the fullback and wing back pulling to the field side of the play.  Shy keep his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, keeps shuffling down, and finds where the running back attempts to cut it up the field.  It’s wonderful to see how low Shy stays in his stance and how quickly he moves side to side.  This versatility will allow him to play both outside linebacker and middle linebacker, which Shy can do because of his strength.  If he continues to get taller, I can see him playing middle linebacker for the Orange.

4:30 mark – On this play, we get a glimpse of Shy dropping into zone coverage.  This is an important skill and one that OLB’s need to be able to perform on a consistent basis.  On the snap, the linebacker occupying the wide side of the field blitzes off the edge.  This means that Shy should be dropping into the space that he is blitzing from.  Upon reading pass, Shy should be cross-stepping at a 45 degree angle into his zone.  With the CB having all of the #1 receiver, Shy is responsible for flat pickup.  Once he sees the running back coming out of the backfield, Shy should match his width while keeping his drop distance.  The minute he sees the quarterbacks hands come off the ball, and his shoulders open towards the running back, that’s when Shy should get down field make his break towards the running back & ball.  Instead of dropping, we see Shy picking an angle, covering some ground, and making the play down field.  It’s important when dropping into pass coverage at the LB position to sink your hips and remain low.  Zone coverage is an important skill to master, so you’re not taken off the field during passing situations.

9:20 mark – This is a great play to see how solid Shy is when taking on blockers.  While reading run, Shy encounters a down block from the tight end.  Shy make sure he splits the feet of the tight end, he uses his hands (one on the sternum and one on the outside shoulder) to create separation, and he keeps his feet running; which doesn’t allow him to be sealed from the outside.  Because he keeps his backside low, his back straight, and his arms locked out; he easily sheds the tight end and makes the tackle.  It’s important for an outside linebacker to have good form on these running plays, because you either give yourself the opportunity to make the play or force the running back to cut back up the middle, which is great team defense if everyone else is following their responsibilities.

12:26 mark – This is quite possible my favorite play on Shy’s highlight tape.  I often tell my linebackers, that if they follow the offensive guards, they will get brought to the ball.  Here, the offense is running a misdirection play, and Shy is having none of the tomfoolery.  He takes his read step, his eyes are in the backfield, and he shuffles to the area the pulling guards are going to.  Like I said earlier, he doesn’t move downhill too quickly, which doesn’t get him caught up in the swarm of bodies.  He waits for the opening, and is brought right to the football.  His stance is perfect, he shuffles correctly, he uses his hips when making the tackle; it’s about as fundamentally sound as you could want a football player to be.  Shy shows that he has the ability to do exactly what is needed in terms of responsibility.  When a coach knows that, you have the opportunity to see a lot of playing time.

Final Analysis

Strengths – It’s clear Shy’s physical abilities are clearly one of his biggest attributes.  He has the body of a man in a high school senior’s body.  Shy also uses great technique and has great lateral speed.  You can combine that with top end straight-ahead speed as well, which we see from his running back highlights.  His stance is nice and low and he shows very nice hip flexibility.  You see this by how successful he is at getting through the line of scrimmage when he is blitzing.  He does an amazing job at moving his hips to get through tight spaces. I honestly believe that Shy Cullen could be a NFL caliber linebacker.  He has the physical tools to go along with being a fundamentally sound player.

Areas of Improvements – Shy needs to continue to develop his pass-coverage skills.  To be a 3 down linebacker, it’s important to use the impressive side to side speed he shows when defending the pass.  Making sure he understands his responsibility and keeps his head on a swivel when dropping is essential.  This allows you to see where the quarterback is looking and to see if any offensive players are coming into your zone.  It’s also important to notice that in his highlight, we only saw Shy drop into pass coverage a couple of times.  Lastly, Shy should make sure that as he continues to build muscle, he continues to work on flexibility.  Shy has an impressive amount of mass for a 17/18 year old.  Flexibility and range of motion are important to preventing injury and keeping speed with muscle gain.

In conclusion, I am puzzled at how there are some recruiting rankings that have Shy Cullen listed as a two-star player, while others have him listed as a 3 star.  I honestly believe his speed, power, frame, and consistent play make him a 4 star player.  This is the first tape that I’ve seen where I really don’t agree with the player ranking on any of the major recruiting website.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Shy Cullen will see a good amount of playing time during his first year at Syracuse, and will be a fan favorite; mainly due to his ability to find the ball, deliver big hits, and pressure the quarterback.  I’m looking forward to 4 years of seeing Shy Cullen in the Carrier Dome.

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Justin is a 2011 graduate from SUNY Buffalo State. Since that time, he spent several years coaching high school football in North Carolina while also working at NC State, and has also served as a head and assistant tennis coach at the Division III and Division I levels. During this tenure coaching high school football, he sent players to continue their football career at Alabama, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Purdue, North Carolina State, East Carolina, and other Division II and III schools.