Cornerback Jaire Alexander looks the part of a shutdown corner, which is hard to find nowadays. He has the speed, fluidity, and most of all the confidence in his abilities to develop into one. The former three-star recruit had a tremendous sophomore campaign; making 15 plays on the ball (5 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, 1 fumble forced).
Many will point to his athleticism as the predominant reason he is so good but after watching several of his games my favorite trait of his is his mental processing. He can quickly diagnose plays, whether they are runs or passes. On the following play, the offense motions the WR to set up the option run into the boundary.
His assignment becomes the pitch man. He quickly diagnoses the play and takes the QB’s option away.
Week in and week out his superb mental processing and recognition of route concepts were on display, but they didn’t necessarily show up in the box score. Against Wake Forest, the staff sends the quarterback an audible from the sideline. Based on the route concepts, it appears that they were expecting man coverage. Instead, the defense plays split field coverage, in which they defend the 2×2 set with 3 on 2 coverage, with Alexander to the top of the screen.
Alexander immediately diagnoses the rub route and attempts to bait the QB, but the QB (Wolford) pulls it down and it leads to a sack. Alexander consistently showed off his football intelligence within the framework of the defensive play call, exactly what you want from your players.
On the big stage against the 5th ranked Clemson Tigers, Alexander hauled in two interceptions. On this interception, Alexander had an understanding of his opponent, WR Deon Cain. Cain was merely used as a deep threat in 2016, but he fulfilled that role rather well. On the snap, Cain stutter releases as Alexander gives him the inside. This technique allowed Alexander to get his eyes on the QB. He reads the depth of the drop, in conjunction with Cain’s head snap, looking for the ball on his 5th step.
As soon as Cain looks back to Watson, Alexander uses his hands to disrupt the route. He then works across the face of the receiver and makes the interception.
Time and time again, Alexander used his mental processing to create turnovers. On this play, the defense appeared to be in a two high look pre-snap. The QB believes that he can sneak the ball into the ‘honey hole’ behind Alexander and away from the safety. This would have been a good plan IF it was traditional cover 2 and IF Alexander wasn’t on the field. On the snap, the #1 WR releases outside and gets up the sideline. Alexander disrupts the #1 WR and keeps his eyes on the drop of the QB and the #3 receiver (RB) out of the backfield.
He flashes his fluidity to open his hips, gain depth, and high point the ball. This was a very smooth sequence by the playmaking CB.
It was very rare that Alexander got beaten handily, but teams still tested him. On this play against Virginia, the offense appears to run an RPO (Run-Pass Option). The field receiver, Anthony Levrone, runs a stutter move to the post.
Pre-snap, Alexander is shaded outside the receiver, basically forcing an inside release. This is important, as it allows Alexander to 1.) funnel the receiver to his help, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, and 2.) keep Levrone in his peripheral and keep good leverage, while still maintaining disciplined eyes.
The receiver releases inside, and during that release gains a good cushion and (most importantly) inside leverage. As he approaches the first down marker, the receiver tries to set up Alexander so that he can break clean to the post. Alexander shows tremendous body control and doesn’t bite on the fake. He takes a quick look at the QB at the top of the route and knows that they are attacking him to the post, so he undercuts the throw and picks the pass off.
Jaire Alexander doesn’t reach the 6 foot benchmark when it comes to height, but that’s alright. He is uber athletic, and he displays quick feet and change of direction, in addition to an uncanny ability to process play routes and concepts quickly. That skill will keep him in position to consistently make plays on the ball. His confidence and aggression this season should help him cement his status as CB1.
“At corner, you have to have the mindset that you’re the best one on the field, a lot of people can’t do that. Being at corner on that island, you have to know and always say ‘I’m the best, nobody is getting me, I got this’.” -Jaire Alexander