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At 6’7″ and 325 lbs, the Indianapolis Colts are set to add DT Raekwon Davis to their defensive line room. Coming over from Miami, this move is prototypical of Chris Ballard.

 

THE FREE AGENCY PROCESS

 

Many don’t realize that NFL front offices don’t just throw away their scouting reports after each draft cycle. They stash them away while their pro scouts keep tabs on these players’ development. This allows them to circle back to players they could not land in the draft or UDFA signing period.

Raekwon Davis was likely a fan-favorite of Chris Ballard and company. How do I know that? Well, ironically the Colts traded for DeForest Buckner the year Davis was coming out and they are fairly similar from a height, weight, and arm length perspective.

 

FANGIO SCHEME

 

In 2023 Vic Fangio brought a style of defense that was vastly different from what Colts fans are used to seeing in Indy. Fangio runs a multiple-front system that plays both odd and even structures. While this isn’t unique to Fangio, it did have Raekwon using a lot of different techniques that he won’t have to play in Indianapolis.

In Miami, Davis has played anywhere from a 0 to a 3 technique. I attached below what I mean by these techniques as they are referenced throughout this film room. Blocking is all about angles and defensive line coaches get down to the inches when it comes to where a lineman might align. This is one of the more universal descriptions for defensive line alignments.

 

 

For example, here is a pass rush rep from this year’s Week 7 game vs. HOF center Jason Kelce.

 

 

Davis is in a shade technique in an over front. A shade technique for most coaches has your helmet stripe in line with the shoulder pad of the center. Without getting into Fangio front adjustments, Davis is unable to win this rep because quicker centers like Kelce can get their hands in your chest and then guide you to help (a la Landon Dickerson). Often, teams will slide away from the 3 techniques because that’s where potential pressure typically comes from.

In Gus’s scheme, there are fewer shade techniques and more 2i techniques (helmet stripe on the shoulder pad of the guard). While almost all DTs not in 3-techniques will command double teams on pass sets, a 2i allows attacking the gap between the guard and center. A good get-off forces the line to collapse the space and allows you to keep your eyes on the QB while trying to collapse the front of the pocket.

 

Here’s what it looks like with Grover Stewart in a 2i:

 

 

When it comes to run fits, you first have to discuss gap control. The defense can only allocate so many defenders to gaps between the offensive linemen. Vic Fangio’s defenses also ask their Nose Tackles to play “gap and a half” or even “two gap”. This allows them to cancel out gaps and be sound in the run defense while playing with lighter boxes.

Gus Bradley on the other hand plays a “one-gap defense”. Each player is assigned a gap and is in charge of holding it down. All part of his philosophy of putting his players in positions to play fast and be athletic.

Here is an example of Davis flashing his athleticism to play multiple gaps. While it isn’t something he will be asked to do in Indy, what’s nice is that his eyes are always on the ball carrier, and is working to identify cutbacks.

 

 

STUFFING THE RUN

 

With schematic fit out of the way, let’s dive into what Davis brings as a DL. At the core of it, Raekwon Davis is a blend of Grover Stewart in DeForest Buckner’s body. He has the strength to take on double teams at the point of attack, which is not easy to come by.

I’ve talked about the importance of the NT in this defense on X, but I’ll expand on it here. We all saw how much this defense missed Grover Stewart. A lot of people recognize that he is a key cog in the run-defending operation, but not many understand how or why (other than the fact he’s a 300 lb beast).

Indy has had recent success at the LB position, especially under Gus Bradley, partially because of the way the fronts are called and structured in his defense. The Colts are a primary 4-3 Over front team. That means they are setting the 3 tech to the TE or run strength and will have 4 down linemen. The DT opposite the 3 technique has a crucial job: Do not let the center or guard climb up to the second level!

 

Two of the more popular runs in football, Duo and Inside Zone, have been popularized because they allow for minimum 1-on-1 blocks and keep some of the NFL’s most athletic freaks from making plays in the backfield.

However, if the Offensive Line can’t climb up to the second level, then the LBs are kept clean and can make plays. It allows undersized LBs like Shaquille Leonard to have the seasons that he did. In essence, it cleans up the LB’s reads and lets them play fast.

 

This play from Davis is teaching tape for taking on a double team.

 

 

Keep in mind that the NFL is unlike Madden. This is a 600lb block Davis has to take on. Without proper technique, an offensive line can and will put you flat on your face.

Notice in this clip, how Davis first shoots his hands into Kelce’s chest. He beats Kelce off the ball and is able to use all of his arm length to prevent him from getting movement. As he’s doing this his right knee is dropping to the ground. He is doing this for two reasons. One because it gives him better leverage and pad level to absorb the contact, and two it reduces the surface area the RG has to get his hands on.

From there it’s pure strength to throw Kelce into the ground and prevent Swift from squeezing into that +A gap.

 

PASS RUSH ABILITY

 

There isn’t much production from Davis as a pass rusher. He was a rotational player who played in a cornucopia of techniques on the defensive line. While some may consider this a downside, he has the athletic ability for Colts DL Charlie Partridge to help further his development.

Most defensive tackles that aren’t 3 techniques won’t have the pass rush moves of Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, or DeForest Buckner. They aren’t usually the same athletes and a lot of the time won’t command the 1-on-1 matchup. On pure pass rush downs, these players are often subbed for extra defensive ends or other players that can challenge guards and centers in pass pro.

However, these players still need to play a role in the pass rush. Teams will still pass and even utilize play-action in ordinary run down and distances.

Davis has shown on tape that he has the bull rush ability in him to rush the passer.

 

 

 

However, while this is a highlight of his skillset, the majority of his reps on passing plays won’t yield this outcome. Most coaches would ask their nose tackle on a passing play to at a very minimum, knock the guard and center back to prevent the QB from stepping up in the pocket.

 

Overall, this move is classic Chris Ballard and is very similar to one made for Taven Bryan last year. Find a guy you were high on in the draft process, who is still at a young age, and add him to the talent you already have.

The change in the scheme could add some upside for Davis and give him the ability to showcase his athleticism in a “one-gap defense”. But at a bare minimum, it’s another depth piece for this platoon group in 2024.

 

 

Featured Image Credit: Jasen Vinlov-USA TODAY Sports

 

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