When the Seahawks drafted Appalachian State's Mark LeGree in the 5th round of the NFL Draft, I know a lot of people had the immediate reaction of -"who?"-. I like to think I was pretty up on a lot of the players getting drafted this year even into the 7th round, but though I knew LeGree's name I had never really done my homework on him. After the first reaction of confusion, things start to make sense as you take a look at some his statistics from his college career and you start piecing together why the Hawks were so high on LeGree through the whole process.
I reached out to Mark's defensive backs' coach from Appalachian State, Scot Sloan, and he had some really interesting thoughts on his former player. The first thing I wanted to know was what made LeGree such a special player, from his coach's point of view.
"Mark has really good speed and plays with that speed on the field," was the first thing that the former Clemson defensive back noted, "I have seen fast guys that don't play fast on the field, but Mark will play fast."
I love that this is the first thing that comes to Sloan's mind when asked about a player; one of the things you love about Earl Thomas is his game speed. He's fast but he plays faster. I'm a firm believer in the idea that there is a difference between track speed and football speed and it's what separates the 'athletes' from the 'players'.
Obviously though, game speed isn't everything, especially for a safety. Sloan continued, "He also has natural ball instincts and takes great angles to the ball when it is in the air. I think this was the greatest factor in his 22 career interceptions." Having football instincts is one of the least tangible of all the intangibles, and can be very hard to define. On the defense, having this innate ability to know where the ball is going or what the playcall is trying to exploit may be most important for the middle linebacker and the free safety. Lofa Tatupu has made his career on this ability and we're seeing glimpses of it in Earl Thomas as he develops. If LeGree can translate some of this to the NFL level the Seahawks' defense is going to look scarier and scarier to opposing QBs. It begs the question though, where does LeGree fit into the Hawks' defensive schemes?
"He also had good man cover skills for a safety." Sloan replied, "I told many scouts that visited with me that Mark could possibly play the nickel position because of his man cover skills. Mark has a great understanding of football and is a fast learner when it comes to schemes and adjustments. He was the one that communicated all the adjustments to the rest of the secondary."
This type of versatility could mean he could see snaps in his rookie season and work his way onto the field more and more as he adjusts to the NFL level. We all know the Hawks use packages of 5, 6 and even 7 defensive backs at times and we may see Legree working at the nickel and on the field in the Bandit package the Hawks love to run. I wouldn't stop there though - LeGree mentioned, after being drafted, "I can play the single high safety. I'm a reliable safety, and I can pick off that deep ball. They said they wanted me to protect the deep ball. They were telling me that this was a great situation for me to come in and possibly start."
"They told they're trying to get younger and faster on defense and that just meant a lot," LeGree said, "because it's a new movement for the defense and they want me to be a part of it. They just told me they loved the way I played. They said I was a good tackler and they liked that I was a 'ballhawk. They want that to transition into the NFL."
So realistically you may see LeGree get involved as the single high safety responsible for the deep play or the Hawks may play him early in the nickel or bandit and he'll be asked to do some blitzing or man-coverage on receivers. With this in mind I asked Sloan to describe some of the ways Appalachian State used LeGree in blitz packages or in coverage, something that Mark may be responsible for in certain situations.
"One running joke in the DB meeting room is that anytime a new blitz went in the gameplan that it always involved the other safety, a CB, or the nickel but Mark never got in on the fun." he replied, laughing. "According to him I think he told me he only blitzed 1 time during his entire career at App St and that blitz resulted in a sack. When we did install a blitz that involved him he swears we never called it in a game....so maybe he will get a few more blitzes called for him on the NFL..."
Be that as it may, I would guess the main reason LeGree was taken out of blitz packages is because he was so adept at picking off passes but I think the overlying theme about Mark is that he's a playmaker which gives the Hawks a pretty dangerous weapon to work with.
I was curious what type of player Mark is on the the field and in the locker room and his former coach described him as "a pretty low key guy. He shows up for work every day but doesn't say a whole lot. He gets excited when he makes plays but he isn't the type of guy who will lead the locker room pre-game chants to get everyone fired up." This comment would lead me to assume we shouldn't expect any Ray Lewis-esque pre-game dance numbers but I can live with that - I'd rather have a guy be effective than flashy.
For a player that had 22 interceptions in his college career, picking a favorite play might be a tough task, but Stone had one play in mind when I asked him to choose one. As he described it, "One of the best plays I saw him make as a senior was vs The Citadel.The QB was trying to throw the ball away out of bounds on the boundary and Mark was covering the wheel route. When I saw him burst for the ball I thought to myself- 'there is no way he will get to that ball'- but he did. It was a very impressive play on the ball to make that interception."
Here's to hoping he can bring some of that magic to the Hawks' secondary.
Thanks again to Scot for taking the time to answer some of my questions. I'll continue in a series of posts to delve a little further into each of our new draftees so stay tuned.