Friday | July 21, 2017
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Missouri’s Ealy emerging from the shadows of South Carolina’s Clowney



Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews doesn’t seem like the trash-talking type. But to hear Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy tell the story, he drove Matthews to that extreme when the teams met in late November at Faurot Field.

“There was a lot of trash-talking,” Ealy said earlier at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Both of us. And that’s not like him, so I took him out of his comfort zone.”

Anyone who watched the line-play in that game knows that Ealy was a handful for Matthews in the 28-21 Missouri victory. With that in mind, Matthews’ answer was no surprise when asked about the toughest defensive ends he faced last season.

Matthews, in fact, mentioned only one name.

“I thought Kony Ealy was really good at Missouri,” Matthews said. “Real aggressive. Big and strong. Mixed up his pash-rush moves real well.”

Keep in mind, Matthews is universally acclaimed as one of the top three offensive tackles in this year’s draft pool, and considered a sure top 10 pick in May.

No wonder then that Ealy is widely considered the best defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney. There seems to be no disputing that Ealy will go in the first round.

If that’s the case, he will be the seventh Mizzou player during the Gary Pinkel era to be drafted in the first round. Ealy also would become the fourth Mizzou defensive linemen to go in the first round since 2009.

One of those recent Tigers’ first-rounders, Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets, has been offering advice to Ealy on the pre-draft process.

“Sheldon’s been great,” Ealy said. “He’s been kind of a big brother, mentor to me, just trying to help me through this process _ not knowing what to expect. Giving me valid points and telling me to go out there and just do what I do, what I’ve been doing since I was young. And that’s being athletic, being a freak.”

What did Richardson tell him about life in the NFL?

“He says it’s ‘lavish,’” Ealy chuckled. “Which means lovely.”

Ealy has spent the offseason in Atlanta with training guru Chip Smith. Another one of Missouri’s first-round defensive linemen _ Ziggy Hood _ trained with Smith before being taken 32nd overall by Pittsburgh in 2009.

At the combine, Ealy posted a deceptively strong workout at the Scouting Combine. Don’t be confused by Ealy’s official 40-yard dash time of 4.92 seconds, which is a so-so time.

His 10-yard split was 1.66 seconds, which was quicker than Robert Quinn’s 1.69 in 2011 before getting drafted by the Rams. And it was just off J.J. Watt’s 1.64, also in 2011.

That 10-yard number is more important to NFL scouts and coaches than the 40. Defensive linemen rarely run 40 yards on one play during a game unless they’re returning a fumble or interception _ or chasing down a ball-carrier. So the 10-yard time is a more valuable indicator of a defensive lineman’s get-off and quickness along the line of scrimmage.

Another indicator of quickness and change of direction in a confined area is the 3-cone drill. Ealy pulled his off in 6.83 seconds at the combine, quicker than any of the more than 40 defensive linemen in Indianapolis.

That was quicker than Watt’s 6.88 or Quinn’s 7.13 in 2011.

After studying Ealy on tape, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said: “I ended up liking him more than I expected to. I think he’s a 4-3 defensive end; I don’t really think he’s an outside linebacker.

“To compare him to (Mizzou’s) Aldon Smith, who came out a couple of years earlier, he’s not quite as athletic as Aldon Smith. But I think he’s a little more physical, a little better against the run.

“I think he’s gonna go somewhere _ plus or minus _ in that 20, 22, 23 range in the first round.”

Which would be just fine with Ealy, who grew up in St. Louis but moved to New Madrid County in the Bootheel area of southeast Missouri as a seventh-grader.

“To be honest with you, and it might sound a little cocky, but I believed that I could be a first-round pick when I first got to Mizzou,” Ealy said.

Ealy, by the way, likes the comparison to Smith.

“Same height. Similar measurements. He’s a freak athlete. He gets off the ball. I think he had a little bit more sacks than I did in my college career.

Ealy had 9{ sacks last season for Mizzou, plus 14{ tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and an interception (returned for a touchdown).

“I want to prove that I’m one of the best defensive linemen, if not the best defensive lineman in this draft,” Ealy said. “I don’t want to be second-best, I want to be first.”

Of course, Clowney may have something to say about that.

“Clowney’s very athletic,” Ealy said. “He’s a freak. It’s hard to contain him, and when you do contain him it frees up a lot of other people. I see a similar game in me.”

And on this, you might not get much argument from A&M’s Matthews.


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