Bruce Tall has been in the coaching profession for quite some time.
Thirty-four years, after all. So naturally he’s seen it all – including true freshmen not only playing but making an impact along the defensive line.
But it’s been a rare occurrence.
“I have but it’s not common. It’s hard to play a freshman up front so it’s a rarity. But the ones that can are going to be good,” Tall said.
Lamonte McDougle is one of those that apparently fits that bill. After arriving in June, the Deerfield Beach prospect has emerged as a budding bright spot up front at a position where typically true freshman dare not pass.
It started when it was McDougle that was the second nose tackle into the game in the season opener against Virginia Tech and has only continued into the season. The difference between the 5-foot-10, 295-pounder, and many of his counterparts comes simply in where he is at in his development.
While many newcomers deal with the adjustments of needing the strength to play along the defensive line at the college level, McDougle is already equipped with plenty of power. The son of the Detroit Lions former first-round offensive tackle pick Stockar, the younger McDougle has the genes.
That part of the equation didn't come as a surprise to the coaches.
“For a young guy to play with that kind of strength has been really encouraging. He’s really picking up what he needs to understand the game,” Tall said. “Each game he’s gotten better and better and what’s why his reps have continually increased.”
Leverage is the name of the game up front and McDougle has found no trouble finding it. While his size would likely be a detriment at other spots and limits where he could play, the freshman has found his fit in the middle of defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 odd stack.
McDougle’s role is to occupy blockers and cause disruption up front while working in tandem with the linebackers in order to fill gaps.
“He’s very strong and has twitch,” Gibson said. “He couldn’t play anywhere else.”
That was on display against Kansas, when McDougle played well in the second half and earned playing time down the stretch. He rewarded that decision with a strip sack, showcasing his strength and ability to pursue the quarterback with his athleticism for his size.
And with a three-man log-jam at the nose tackle position there is room for a player to emerge. Gibson stopped short of saying that McDougle would be a starter for the Mountaineers this coming week against TCU but didn’t hide where he fits into the overall picture for now.
“He will play a lot,” Gibson said.
Much of who plays where and how many snaps each gets will be determined by practice but four games into his career, McDougle is proving that he is up to the task.
Still it’s a long season and given the nature and demands of playing in the middle of the defense, it’s baby steps for now as McDougle looks to earn even more snaps.
“He’ll be rewarded by playing a lot more,” Gibson said. “We’ve got to have those guys step up.”