Coming into the 2010 college football season, all eyes will be on another dominate Nebraska defender. This year, the focus switches from the defensive line, to the secondary. Senior cornerback Prince Amukamara is set for a break out season and is looking to be the first defensive back taken in the 2011 NFL Draft. With a rare combination of size, speed, and tackling ability, Amukamara is the complete package.
Before the season started, National Scouting evaluated Amukamara and assigned a grade of 7.3. That’s tied for the highest among all seniors evaluated with Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn. It’s interesting to note that before the 2009 football season, Ndamukong Suh’s preseason grade from National was a 7.0.
So what is it about Amukamara that has NFL scouts drooling? First of all, he possesses ideal size. At 6’1″, 205 lbs, Amukamara has the size to play free safety in the NFL, but has the footwork of a shutdown corner. Prince isn’t afraid to use that size, either. In 2009, he racked up 60 tackles, 38 of which were solo tackles. Amukamara also recorded 2 sacks and a forced fumble to go along with his 5 interceptions for the Cornhuskers.
Let’s take a look at two Nebraska games from 2009; Baylor and the Big 12 Championship game against Texas.
Amukamara vs. Baylor
Even though Amukamara has supreme size and isn’t afraid to tackle a ball-carrier head on, he isn’t as consistent as you’d like in press coverage. However, he excels in off-coverage. Take a look at the second play in the clip below at :13. Amukamara lines up 6 yards off the receiver. At the snap, he stays low in his back pedal, watching the receiver and peeking at the quarterback from the corner of his eye. When the receiver starts to stutter-step to cut back to the quarterback, Amukamara reads the quarterback and sees that he’s locked on. Prince makes a tremendously timed break on the ball to make the interception. However, it’s not just a great break on the ball. Prince makes the smart play. He actually dips his body around the receiver to avoid making contact before the ball gets to him, which is something you rarely see from an underclassmen defensive back. This is Prince at his best.
The Baylor game had a few examples of Amukamara’s willingness as a tackler. Take a look at 1:18. The receiver has a head of steam coming at Prince and he makes a solid form tackle. At 1:29, Amukamara responds to a quarterback scramble and takes the legs out from under the runner. The Baylor game also shows a few spots where Prince gets lazy as a tackler, which can be observed at :47.
Like most successful corners, Amukamara will take risks. However, he can gamble and get beat just like anyone else. At 1:54, Amukamara bites on a double move, more than likely because of his earlier success jumping a comeback route. Prince does show good recovery speed, but the quarterback made a well placed throw and the pass was completed.
Amukamara vs. Texas
Now let’s take a look at Prince vs. better competition in a big game scenario. The Texas offense was certainly more versatile than Baylor and with an accurate quarterback and solid group of receivers, Amukamara and the Nebraksa defense had their hands full.
The very first play in the clip shows not only Amukamara’s abilities as a tackler, but his ability to read and diagnose plays. The reaction Prince gives more than likely comes from spending time in the film room. Texas utilized WR screens like this on a regular basis and Amukamara sniffed it out immediately, following it up with a thumping form tackle. At :09, you can see Prince’s awareness level in action. Amukamara takes care of his coverage area but sees the short pass, reacting to it immediately.
At :17, we get to see Amukamara in tighter coverage. He lines up on the line of scrimmage and while he doesn’t get a good jam on the receiver, he does turn his route toward the sideline. Prince stays right in the receiver’s hip pocket and is able to get his head around to make the interception. Amukamara knows he has help over the top from the safety, so he’s able to lay back just a bit during the route, allowing him to turn and peek at the quarterback before the throw. This was a poor throw by Colt McCoy but good corners take advantage of poor throws.
At 1:11, Amukamara shows a true weakness in his game; press coverage. Prince attempts to jam the receiver at the line but doesn’t get into his pads completely. The receiver uses his hands effectively to get off the press and quickly gets behind Amukamara, leaving the corner to play catch-up. Amukamara’s jam was over-aggressive, using two hands and losing his balance. Prince repeats the same problems with the jam at 2:03 where he attempts to force the receiver to the outside, but is turned inside and beat deep. Had McCoy’s pass been on target, it could have been a touchdown. Prince also shows he’s weak against quick, inside routes in press coverage, allowing the receiver to get the inside track and make an easy first down grab at 3:02.
This doesn’t mean that Amukamara can’t play man coverage. At 1:26, Amukamara can be seen playing close to the line and staying with the receiver through the entire route, forcing McCoy to take a sack.
The Texas tape is also filled with great examples of how Amukamara responds to the running game and his abilities as a tackler. Prince is a willing tackler, fundamentally sound, and can be aggressive with his hits at time. Like most corners, he can make a few “business decisions” and attempt weak arm tackles, but when the game is on the line, Amukamara rarely takes the easy option.