The 24-year old Solomon was a seventh round pick out of Rice last season and was a rotational defensive end for the Titans during his rookie year. This year, they tried to convert him into a 4-3 strongside linebacker, but he failed to make their final roster.
After the jump, I'll be looking in detail at footage from the last two years to assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Scott Solomon?
The 6-3 262-pound Solomon was a defensive end at Rice, where he had a school record 24 sacks. At the combine last year, he put up impressive numbers in almost every category, apart from the forty yard dash, where he ran a 4.88. The Titans drafted him in the seventh round and, following a preseason where he had one sack, he made their final roster and played 179 snaps as a backup defensive end.
He only recorded four tackles on defense and a hit and three pressures as a pass rusher, but was an important player for the Titans on special teams. In 2013, the Titans decided to try and convert him to a strongside linebacker role in their 4-3 defense. He played both defensive end and linebacker in preseason, recording 10 tackles and a pass defensed.
Let's look at how he performed in preseason and then go on to discuss some of the things I've observed by watching film on him. Note that some stats, such as snap counts, come from PFF.
Week One: Redskins
Solomon started off on the second unit here, playing 40 snaps over the last three quarters and recording four tackles. He was at defensive end on 19 plays and linebacker on 21. Two of his better plays came while at defensive end. He was unblocked off the backside and came downhill to stop a runner for no gain and then dropped off on a screen pass to get in front of the receiver so that he had nowhere to go and was brought down by a team mate for a loss. As a linebacker, he was mostly up close to the line of scrimmage on the tight end's side, but he made one good play where he was lined up alongside the two other linebackers, pursuing a run to the outside, negotiating traffic, taking on a blocker and then making the tackle for a loss. On another play, he forced the run outside and was probably held and he was in on the tackle for a five yard run, shedding his block at the line to bring the runner down as he attacked the hole.
Week Two: Bengals
In this game, Solomon played 14 snaps, all of them as a linebacker. He recorded three tackles, but didn't get into the game until late in the third quarter. He had some struggles here, as he was unable to get off a block on the outside (although the run still went for no gain) and got pancaked by John Conner coming off the edge on one play. His worst mistake was on this touchdown run by Daniel Herron, where he (#90) overpursued to the inside, allowing the runner to reverse his field. He also missed a tackle on a quarterback keeper, although that didn't go for a big gain. Also, he made the tackle on a 22-yard run to the opposite side after chasing across the field, but perhaps could have taken a better angle and prevented such a big gain. He did assist on the tackle on a five yard running play.
Week Three: Falcons
Solomon played nine snaps in this one, again entering for the first time late in the third quarter. He played four snaps as a linebacker and five as a defensive end. On one play he was easily handled and driven back on the edge, although the run went up the middle for no gain. On another, he came off the edge unblocked to make a tackle for a short gain, but it was still enough for the first down. He did set the edge well on one play that went for no gain. After never having dropped into coverage in 2012 or in the first two preseason games, Solomon did drop back three times here and got credit for a pass defensed when he jammed the tight end at the line and then stayed tight with him running down the seam. However, he never turned his head back for the ball, which just hit him in the back. He was pretty physical with the receiver too, so perhaps was lucky not to be flagged.
Week Four: Vikings
In the last game, he got plenty of reps over the last two and a half quarters; 26 in total, all at linebacker, and dropping into coverage 14 times. He was targeted three times, per PFF, for 23 yards and one incompletion and was also flagged for defensive holding on one play. Looking at the footage, one of these was on a nine yard dump off in front of zone coverage, where it was probably actually another player who was responsible for the receiver in question. The incompletion was a dropped pass thrown to the flat in the red zone, where he was clearly a step behind and might even have been beaten for a touchdown if the pass had been out in front of the receiver. On another play, he was again a step or two behind as the fullback leaked into the flat at the first down marker, but the quarterback elected to throw downfield and got picked off. He made a couple of tackles on pass completions where he wasn't the targeted defender, but was also cut to the ground on one screen pass. In the running game, he was blocked out of a few plays, including one where he was pancaked again. He usually would be engaging with a tight end or full back in the running game but on one play he was blocked off the edge by a pulling guard.
On the basis of the preseason as a whole, Solomon's performance was pretty disappointing. While he didn't grade out too badly, a lot of the positive plays he made were unblocked and - as is perhaps to be expected - he did look pretty lost in space and in coverage at times. He also contributed nothing as a pass rusher. I would therefore suggest that the Jets did not sign him because they were impressed with how well he was handling the switch to linebacker.
Could it instead be that they were impressed with his potential as a defensive end last year and will move him back there? Again, based on the footage I watched from last year, I doubt that. Again, he graded out okay and made a few nice plays here and there penetrating gaps and making unblocked tackles in the running game, but he was also blocked out of some plays and lost contain sometimes.
As a pass rusher last year, while he generated pressure a few times, he didn't really impress even when he did. Of his four pressures last year, only one came in the last 14 games. The first came as he dropped off at the line and wasn't blocked so when Tom Brady stepped up he was able to jump in his face, but that still went for a touchdown. On the second, the line broke down altogether and he was actually the last of three guys to get to the quarterback. The following week, he did actually beat a lineman for a pressure for the first time, driving him upfield and then making an inside move to pressure the throw. His one quarterback hit on the year saw him come unblocked on an inside stunt up the middle. While he did have one preseason sack in 2012, even that wasn't particularly impressive because he only beat Bobbie Massie, who at the time was in a massive slump and getting beaten like a drum on almost every play - the Cardinals surrendered four sacks and 10 quarterback hits that day, according to NFL.com. Solomon did beat Massie around the outside, but Kevin Kolb actually escaped his grasp, only to stumble to the ground so he was ruled down in the pocket.
So, if the Jets didn't claim him because of his on-field performance as either a defensive end or a linebacker, why make this claim at all? I see two possible reasons. Firstly, they like his potential and versatility and want to develop him on the active roster (he is not practice squad eligible). Secondly, something I haven't mentioned yet, they must like his special teams ability.
The one place where Solomon really did flash last season was on special teams. He operated as a front line ("wedge") blocker on their kick return unit, showed an uncanny knack for getting downfield in kickoff coverage (where he had three special teams tackles, including one inside the 20) and there was one play in particular where he was one of three linemen to collapse the offensive line on a field goal attempt, enabling the safety to come up and block it, then scrambling to his feet and getting out in front of the return man to throw a couple of downfield blocks. I think Mike Westhoff would have loved this guy.
In particular, his role as a blocker on the kickoff wedge could be something they specifically need from him over the first game or two while Garrett McIntyre is starting. They might be reluctant to use McIntyre in that role until Coples returns. In the past, the Jets have used guys like Mike DeVito, Lex Hilliard and Patrick Turner in that role, all of whom are gone. While Konrad Reuland and Jeff Cumberland remain, I can't imagine they'd risk using both of those two in that role and I don't see any obvious candidates in the receiving corps or on the defensive line this time.
I've pretty much already arrived at my conclusion, which is that Solomon has been added to the roster primarily for special teams purposes. Once Garrett McIntyre returns to a backup role, he might even be surplus to requirements and they could replace him with Lansanah or something. My conclusion might not be correct, but based on the research I carried out, it seems the most plausible explanation.
While he's here they will get a chance to look at him to see whether he has any long-term potential. In terms of a role on this defense, his most closely resembles that of Calvin Pace (or, when Coples is back, McIntyre again). That could be a spot they're looking to fill in future, so if he can demonstrate potential in that area then maybe he'll stick around for a backup role or to develop for the future. As noted, he is not practice squad eligible, so if they want to retain his rights, they'll have to keep him on the active roster unless he gets injured.