First up, I take a look at 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle Antonio Garay. The 33-year old signed a one-year, minimum salary contract to join the Jets last week and looks set to help fill the void left by the departure of veterans Sione Po'uha and Mike DeVito on the defensive line.
Garay was a sixth round pick out of Boston College in 2003, but injuries slowed down his progress early in his career. However, by 2010, he was a key member of the San Diego Chargers organization.
After the jump, I'll be reviewing his career so far and looking in detail at how well he performed last season, before considering what he could provide the Jets with this year and going forward.
Who is Antonio Garay?
After attending high school in New Jersey, Garay - who is also a talented wrestler and comes from a family of athletes - ended up at Boston College, where he was drafted as a late round project by the Browns. He debuted in 2003, but didn't play at all in 2004 or 2005 after tearing his ACL. However, he made the Bears roster in 2006, only to suffer another horrific injury when he broke his leg and shattered his ankle on an illegal block against the Redskins in December 2007. That would have been enough to end most players' careers, but Garay persevered and eventually landed on the Jets' practice squad in 2009. At that stage, he'd been in the league five years, but had only played in 14 games and recorded 12 tackles.
Garay got to work with Rex Ryan and his coaching staff for a couple of months before the Chargers pounced, adding him to their active roster at the end of the 2009 season. He got on the field in a couple of late season games, but then really flashed his potential in the postseason - against Ryan's Jets. Garay was only on the field for 11 snaps, but three times managed to shed his blocker (twice Alan Faneca and once Nick Mangold) to stuff a run for a short gain (on a day when the Chargers gave up 169 yards on the ground). He also assisted on one other tackle. Although the Chargers lost, Garay's breakthrough performance had the Chargers organization excited about his potential and he would win the starting job at nose tackle the following season.
2010 would be the best season of his career by far. He started 15 games and racked up 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus named him as a second team All Pro as only Kyle Williams had a better overall grade than him. He ranked first in the NFL for DT pass rushing productivity, but also had the 5th best grade against the run. In 2011, he didn't quite have the same impact, registering just 2.5 sacks, but he did lead the San Diego defensive line in tackles with a career-high 57 and led the team in tackles for a loss with nine. He still ranked 4th in the league for DT pass rushing productivity and started 13 games.
In 2012, he suffered another ankle injury in August, not good news for a player who has suffered season ending injuries on five different occasions in his career. Although he was cleared to practice much earlier, he didn't play until week nine as the Chargers were getting good production out of Aubrayo Franklin and may have been trying to keep Garay fresh for later in the year. Garay played in eight of the last nine games, averaging just under 20 snaps per contest. Although he only had one sack, he again had better pass rushing productivity than every DT who rushed the passer at least 50 times, apart from one. He did have a negative grade against the run, but only just below neutral.
Garay was set to earn $5m in 2013, but was released and the Jets made their move for him last week. He's developed himself into a consistently productive pass rusher but can he still contribute against the run and what does he have left in the tank? I went back and looked at all 151 of his snaps from last season to get some insight.
Week 9 - v KC
His first snap of the season was a bit of a rude awakening, as a double team took him and drove him 5-6 yards off the line. However, the play only went for a short gain behind him. On another running play, he got some good penetration, but couldn't get off the block. In the fourth quarter, he had a QB hit as he got off his block just as the QB stepped up.
Week 10 - at TB
Garay got off to a good start in this one, bullrushing his man into the backfield to flush the quarterback out of the pocket. Later in the game, he did a good job of stretching a run out to the sideline.
Week 11 - at Denver
Garay did get called for an encroachment penalty in this one, but made up for it by helping to stuff a run at the point of attack and getting a pressure in the red zone by setting up his man to the outside and then executing a textbook swim move to beat him on the inside.
Week 12 - v Baltimore
Garay was again called for a penalty - this time a neutral zone infraction - in this one, but otherwise had one of his most productive games of the year. Against the run, he got good penetration to stuff one run and blew up another one by beating his man on the inside and redirecting the runner to the outside where he was tackled for a loss. He did get kicked out and blocked to the ground on one play. As a pass rusher, he generated pressure several times. One came as he got a good initial punch and then turned the corner to hit the quarterback as he threw, two came on a bullrush - one seeing him flush the quarterback out of the pocket and the other ending with another hit as the quarterback stepped up - and the last one saw him drive upfield and then make an inside move on the left tackle.
Week 13 - v Cincinnati
He had one tackle in the Bengals game - and no pressures. He did make one good play where he stood up his man and got a good push to bottle up a run for a short gain, but he was driven off the line a couple of times and sealed on the inside on a short yardage run off the edge. He did get good penetration on one play, only for that to leave a gap behind him that the runner exploited.
Week 14 - at Pittsburgh
Did not play. (Healthy scratch).
Week 15 - v Panthers
Garay responded well to his week off with a performance that saw him make a season high four tackles and register a sack and a pressure. His sack saw him come off the edge and do a good job of containing Cam Newton as he stepped up and his pressure saw him chase Newton on the roll - although Newton did connect on a touchdown pass. He did stand up his man to bottle up two runs for short gains, but there was one play where he was knocked on his back and they ran for 13 yards right up the middle.
Week 16 - at NY Jets
Garay had a big influence on this game, which was where Greg McElroy ended up being sacked 11 times. Garay played a big part in two of the sacks, each time beating Nick Mangold with a bullrush that forced McElroy to try and escape, only to be sacked by someone coming off the edge. He also got outside leverage on Matt Slauson and drove him back into McElroy for a hit. He made a big impact in the running game too. On one play he beat Mangold to get into the backfield and although he missed his tackle, the runner had nowhere to go and was cut down for a loss. On another, he got Slauson off balance with a powerful initial thrust and then stuffed the run. Maybe his most impressive play saw him explode into the backfield to knock Konrad Reuland flying. Reuland was lead blocking from the fullback position on a Joe McKnight run to the edge. McKnight ended up one on one with a defender on the outside, but managed to spin out of his grasp behind the line of scrimmage to gain seven. Interestingly, Garay's productive day saw him make a slow start as he was initially at DE matched up with Austin Howard. Howard drove him off the line on a play that went for 12 and generally handled him well until he moved inside.
Week 17 - v Oakland
A quiet way to end the season for Garay, who had one tackle and no pressures. He was driven back on a run that was bounced to the outside and didn't make much of an impact in a game where many of the players may have been going through the motions.
Let's summarize my observations into categories:
Garay played a variety of roles with the Chargers last year. Approximately half of his snaps were as a 3-4 defensive end with one-third as a nose tackle and the rest as a defensive tackle on a four man line. That differs somewhat from 2010 and 2011 where he played the nose approximately 80% of the time and played as a defensive end less than 10% of the time. In 2009, he didn't play the defensive end position at all with 36 of his 43 snaps coming as a nose tackle and the rest as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
What's interesting to note here is that, in the Jets game in particular, he did seem to have a better impact from that nose tackle position. So, while the ability to move about on the line is important, it's probably at the nose where he fits in best - which is just as well because that's likely where the Jets need him most.
Pass rushing is what Garay is best known for and he gets a constant surge as well as having an innate ability to get off blocks and after the quarterback. As you'd expect from any 310-pounder, he gets double-teamed a lot but even on plays where he was unable to get any pressure, it was not uncommon to see the defender starting to slide backwards as he got some traction. It's also worth noting that he wasn't necessarily put into the game in passing situations, so a lot of his production came on conventional first or second downs.
Despite his obvious size and athleticism, the most outstanding thing about Garay's game is his technique. He uses his hands superbly to get blockers off him with a variety of rip, swim and strike moves. That was something I noticed Muhammad Wilkerson improve dramatically with over the course of last season, so I wonder how much of that came from Garay's short time working with Ryan. It's not uncommon for defensive tackles with a wrestling background to do well because they understand the principles of leverage and Garay brings that to his game all the time, driving his man off balance and then using excellent hand-fighting skills to free himself at the appropriate moment. Even if Garay doesn't have much left in the tank, he can still be an asset if guys like Kenrick Ellis and Damon Harrison can learn these techniques from him.
Standing his ground
Garay was also double teamed a lot in the running game and did get blocked out of a few plays over the course of the season. Although he was blocked off the line of scrimmage a couple of times, it was only a couple of times. Most of the time, if he did get driven back initially, he was able to get off the block and get his momentum going in the direction of the ball carrier again.
While the Chargers used him in short yardage situations, they didn't seem to use him in their goal line package. That might just be a case of resting him for those situations or even concern about putting a guy with a history of season-ending injuries into a pile-up situation.
The Chargers generally play 3-4 but do mix in some 4-3 looks from time to time. This should prepare Garay well for the hybrid defense that Rex likes to employ. Obviously the couple of months he spent here in 2009 will be a useful experience too.
Interestingly, Garay didn't have a single batted ball in his four seasons with San Diego. If there's one criticism I can make about his pass rushing it's that he's so busy with his hand-fighting techniques that he sometimes misses an opportunity to get his hands up in the passing lane. However, since that's perhaps his best asset, I'd imagine his coaches are reluctant to get him to change that.
Garay is pretty light on his feet and displayed an ability to chase after the quarterback having flushed him from the pocket, or move laterally down the line to string a run out to the sideline. Every now and then he'll make a sensational highlight-reel worthy athletic play like the Reuland play mentioned above, the play in 2010 where he bullrushed ferociously, driving Jeff Linkenbach into Peyton Manning or the play in 2011 where he guessed the snap count and shot the gap into the backfield to tackle Tim Tebow just a split second after he received the snap.
Here's my favorite though - check out what he does to Brandon Moore on this play in 2011:
(Yes, BGA is introducing homemade GIFs this season!)
Sanchez did escape the rush and actually scrambled 25 yards on the play, but any time you have one of the best offensive guards in the league and they're getting chokeslammed by an opposing defensive lineman, that's something special.
One thing that has hurt Garay's grades over the past few years has been penalties. Garay was called for 11 penalties over the past three years, including seven in 2011. However, six of those seven were encroachment, offsides or neutral zone infractions (and the other was defensive holding). Part of that could be something to do with the fact that I've noticed the Chargers often try to guess or figure out the opposing quarterback's cadence in an effort to get a head-start into the backfield, which is obviously going to cause a risk of some penalties.
While Garay pretty much always plays to the whistle, it's difficult to say how much playing time he has the stamina to handle. In 2012, he usually came off the bench late in the first quarter and rotated in and out from that point onwards. He's never been in a game for more than 65% of the snaps or 45 snaps total. Last year, his season highs were 38% and 26 snaps.
Garay is clearly a character on and off-the-field. There was one example of him getting into a shoving match after the whistle, but nothing too outstanding in terms of attitude or cockiness.
While Garay has a tough injury history, his story is an inspirational one. His health has actually been better than ever over the past few years. He was healthy throughout the period from 2009 to 2011 and although he missed the first half of last season, that seems to have been more of a lingering issue than anything serious or long term.
He seems to have good character and heads to New York with what seems like the right attitude and a determination to do well. He also should be a good role model for some of the younger players who would previously have looked up to Po'uha.
At his best Garay is (or was) an elite pass rusher for his position and a very good run stopper. Last season wasn't his best, but he still made a lot of positive contributions to the team and showed that he is more than capable of making an impact in a rotational role and being productive, especially as a pass rusher. If he can repeat those contributions, as well as providing a good example to some of the youngsters on the team, this could prove to be an excellent move.