I’m more of an “offense” oriented guy, but this year, I’m going to go outside my comfort zone and talk about the defense.
One position group I questioned coming into the season was defensive tackle. That question turned into a concern when Matthew Pola-Mao opted out of the season and Derick Newton opted out of the team after the Oklahoma game. That leaves the Wildcats with four scholarship defensive tackles moving forward. To put that in perspective, Clemson (one of the other teams I cover) has nine scholarship defensive tackles on their roster.
Needless to say, things aren’t great on the interior of the defense at the moment, and fatigue, more than anything else, has hurt the Wildcats against Arkansas State and Texas Tech late in games. Luckily for Kansas State, your quarterback can’t win a Heisman trophy handing the ball to a running back, and that held Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley’s run game at bay in the 4th quarter when all the Sooners needed to do to win was run the ball and run clock (shout out to my man Lincoln for the assist).
While the defensive tackle position has struggled late in games, my theme for this weird season is “accentuate the positive.” I looked back at my quick reaction after the Arkansas State game, didn’t like what I read considering the circumstances of the season, and will endeavor to keep a more positive tone moving forward.
Beating Oklahoma and Texas Tech has made that resolution easy thus far.
Today, I thought I would highlight my new favorite defensive tackle.
Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to think about Pickle. At 6’4, 315, he’s a giant human being, but his first two seasons in Manhattan resulted in a redshirt and a brief appearance against Bowling Green last season.
That doesn’t exactly scream “impact player.”
In the spirit of optimism, I went back and looked at Pickle as a prospect, and his first two years in the program made more sense. The big man from Cimarron has put in work at the training table and in the weight room since signing in the 2018 class. He was a developmental defensive tackle who has...developed.
2017 - High School Senior - 6’4, 260
2018 - Freshman - 6’4, 278
2019 - Redshirt Freshman- 6’4, 295
2020 - Redshirt Sophomore - 6’4, 315
Pickle’s ability to pack on pounds and strength has turned a guy I assumed would be a 3-technique defensive tackle, into a giant nose guard. When you recruit a player like Jaylen at defensive tackle, you look at his 6’4 frame and say, “it looks like he could add a few pounds.” I’m not sure the coaching staff thought he could add an additional 55 pounds, but luckily for the 2020 team, in desperate need of depth at nose guard, his dedication to eating and lifting has him well above the 300 pound mark and ready to clog up some run lanes.
Don’t think Pickle’s ability on the football field stops at “massive run stopper” because my man is a plus sized athlete. At Cimarron (which according to google maps is located in the middle of nowhere) he was a four year letter winner in both football and basketball. He was a three year letter winner in track and field, and rounded out his sports collection with a letter in golf for good measure. I, for one, would pay good money (to a local charity of course) to watch him knock the cover off a golf ball.
His high school exploits on the hardwood (where he was all-state) have carried over to the gridiron, because Jaylen is swatting down passes like Dikembe Mutumbo (if he doesn’t come up with a finger wag celebration for the next game, I’m filing an official complaint with the athletic department). As an added bonus, he’s not batting passes into the ground, but instead, knocking them straight up into the air.
Let’s take a look.
I’m not going to break down this clip, because it’s fairly self explanatory and I’m pressed for time and want to focus on Texas Tech.
At the same time, this was Pickle’s first deflection of the season, and it ends up in an interception.
This is a normal pre-snap look from the Wildcat defense. They’re lined up in the nickel with four down linemen, two linebackers, three defensive backs and two safeties. The player to keep you eye on is Pickle (yellow square).
The Red Raiders know Jaylen is a force of nature, and dedicate two offensive linemen to slow his progress up the field. In a weird pass protection scheme, the center is blocking Drew Wiley and both guards are blocking Pickle. The Tech quarterback thinks he has a nice little pocket to deliver a pass, but he doesn’t know Jaylen is a born shot blocker.
Get That Weak Pass Out of Here
All jokes aside, this is perfect technique and execution by Jaylen. When a defensive tackle isn’t going to get to the quarterback, his next move is to watch the quarterbacks eyes, disengage from the offensive lineman and try and swat down the pass.
The Tech quarterback (Bowman at the moment) is looking to throw a deep out to the right, but Pickle times his throw perfectly and gets his massive left hand gets in the way deflecting the ball over his head and into the middle of the field.
Despite a valiant effort by AJ Parker, the ball falls harmlessly to the ground. Tech keeps the ball and Jaylen picks up his second deflection of the season.
The cool thing about this season (other than starting 2-0 in the Big 12) is a guy like Jaylen Pickle gets a free year of eligibility and is picking up valuable experience while remaining a redshirt sophomore. In essence, he’s getting the year he spent riding the pine as a redshirt freshman back.
The more snaps he plays, the better he’ll get. In the meantime, his ability to swat passes has made an impact in two consecutive games. Look for my new favorite defensive tackle to clog up the passing lanes against TCU.
Hopefully he can assist in another interception.