The Opening DL – The Final 5

Chad Thomas was a dominant pass rusher all week.

Chad Thomas was dominant all week.

A new addition to The Opening 2013 Linemen Challenge was the first year of the Final 5, where The Opening staff and coaches name a top five along the OL and the DL to do battle on ESPNU. These rankings take into account not only the on-field performance from the 3 workouts, but also how players handle themselves off the field in group activities, team meetings, etc… With The Opening 2013 in the books, here is your inaugural Final 5 on the defensive line. You can also check out the Final 5 on the offensive line here.

1. Chad Thomas (Booker T. Washington, Miami, Fla.) – 6-5, 240
The knock on Thomas was that he was purely a speed rusher, but Thomas put that claim to rest after a final practice that included Thomas putting both big Trevor Darling and Damien Mama on their back with a speed to power rush. Thomas is wiry strong and just like he does on tape, showed he’s a complete defensive end. He may have come in as a surprise MVP pick, but Thomas held down the #1 spot from the end of the first day on to the end.

2. Ainuu Taua (Lompoc, Calif.) – 5-11.5, 271
Taua came in 22 pounds lighter than back at the NFTC in March and showed that he’s plenty big enough to handle the top competition. After a Day 1 Practice that saw him go unbeaten, his fellow DL seemed to give his reps extra attention and he led the squad in “oohs and aahs.”  He’s got lightning quick feet and hands and plays with such good leverage that lineman have trouble locking in on him. The DL 1-on-1 MVP made his claim for the #1 spot in the DT rankings.

3. Andrew Brown (Oscar Smith, Chesapeake, Va.) – 6-4, 295
Brown is that rare combination of NFL size and a bulldog’s mentality. Brown’s motor runs at 110% every rep, allowing him to expose offensive linemen if they’re not perfect. Brown, though, is not a finished product yet. His high motor throws him off his technique at times, and the hands that are so active when the pads are off disappeared a bit the last two days in pads. Technique, however, can be taught; Brown’s effort can not.

4. Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.) – 6-4, 254
Hand made the most of his second trip to The Opening, showing off why he’s ranked as the top DL in the Class of 2014. Hand isn’t going to wow you in 1-on-1’s, he’s not a dynamic edge rusher or a big bull-rusher, but he is a very complete football player. He lined up both inside and outside at The Opening, but has the athletic ability to play as an outside linebacker at the next level if he stays in the 250 lb. range. Is a sponge for knowledge and wowed The Opening coaches with his ability to translate the on-field coaching to the next rep.

5. Joe Henderson (Shaker Heights, Cleveland, Ohio) – 6-3, 228
Henderson, who ran a 4.76 40, has speed for days. His first step allows him to hit that corner before the tackle even gets into his set. But against the top competition in the country at the Opening, namely Cameron Robinson, Henderson learned that a speed rush can’t be your only rush. After getting caught up a few times in the hands of Robinson, Henderson began to show a nice inside rush that he’ll need to further develop as he gets to the next level. The speed will always be there, but increased size and a further developed pass rush arsenal will allow Henderson to be special for the Vols.

The Next 5 Up: Solomon Thomas, Garrald McDowell, Bijhon Jackson, Derek Barnett, Gerald Willis

Updated: July 12, 2013

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