Ballhawking Denis developing quickly
By: Bradley Smart
Last season, Lukas Denis played in 11 games last year at cornerback, recording his first and only interception near the end of the season against Wake Forest. He had a season-high two tackles against North Carolina State, and broke up two passes against Florida State.
Entering this season, Denis shifted to free safety and has had a tremendous impact. The junior defensive back has become a leader in a terrific Eagles secondary, playing the centerfielder role. He came away with a pair of interceptions in Saturday’s win against Central Michigan, running his season total to a FBS-best five on the year.
With Boston College shifting away from exclusive man coverage and incorporating zones, Denis has grown with the changes. On Saturday, he had six tackles, two interceptions, and an additional pass defended. The week before against Clemson, he recorded a career-high 13 tackles, picked off talented quarterback Kelly Bryant, and forced a fumble. From nearby Everett, Mass., Denis has rapidly developed into one of the team’s defensive anchors.
Denis is fourth on the team in tackles with 41, two behind his partner in the secondary, safety Will Harris. He’s broken up an additional four passes and has two forced fumbles. There’s no doubt he’s a strong defender, so I wanted to single out a few plays from the last two weeks that showcase his strengths. I’ll include screenshots, but links to videos with the specific time as well so you can watch them as well.
Forced fumble, Clemson
This is a textbook hit from Denis, who stands 5-11, 185 pounds. The Eagles line up with two deep safeties in Denis and Will Harris. It’s a run-play option with Bryant, who looks to his right and sees that both of his options are well-covered, so he follows his running back into a hole. Denis, who took a stutter step, flies in and delivers a shoulder to Bryant, knocking out the ball. A Tigers offensive linemen is able to scoop it up, but Denis got his job done.
In the diagram above, you can see that the Eagles have a man on each receiver who blocked, so it ends up being up to Denis to come in, as a big hole had opened up.
Second interception, Central Michigan
On this play, the Eagles only rushed four and dropped into zone coverage, daring opposing quarterback Shane Morris to pick it apart. Linebacker Kevin Bletzer originally picked up running back Jonathan Ward, but Ward ran right by him as he settled into a zone. Morris looked to capitalize, but Denis stepped up from behind and took it away. While some of his interceptions have been the product of tips or overthrows (see Morris’ first one), this was a safety reading the quarterback and winning a 50-50 ball. Ward is a 6-0, 200 pound running back who ran routes well throughout the game, but Denis was able to jump up and beat him out.
Excuse the blurry screenshot on the left, but even though Morris’s throw was a bit wobbly (the rain had just picked up again), Denis showed his ability to win one-on-one matchups coming up as a safety.
Forced fumble, Wake Forest
I don’t have a video clip of this to link to, but Denis closed the distance quickly to punch out a ball from a Wake Forest wide receiver. Playing deep, Demon Deacons quarterback recognized there was space underneath after pretty much everyone on the Eagles defense bit on the play action. A low throw from Wolford to wideout Greg Dortch was complete, but Denis was able to dive in and punch it away. If you look at the footage, there really wasn’t a big window for him to get his hand in – Dortch was diving towards the ground. He still managed to punch the ball away.
All three of these clips show his playmaking ability, something that with experience, could turn him into a potential NFL prospect.
The Eagles have had 14 defensive backs drafted in their school’s history, including one each of the last two years. John Johnson was a third round draft pick to Carolina, and Justin Simmons went in the third round the year before to Denver. Simmons played in 13 games, starting three in his rookie season. This year, he’s started all three for the Broncos.
Simmons has made a name for himself in the secondary and has played in 95% of the Denver defensive snaps. They say a good safety in the NFL has five strengths– athleticism, tackling, man-coverage ability, instincts/vision and ball skills. Simmons has shown many of these, including establishing himself as one of the most efficient tacklers in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
Is Denis the next guy who could go? Only a junior, he has time to add on a bit of weight (only weighing 185, compared to 200+ for the previous two ) and further develop. Either way, he’s already shown strengths in many of the categories listed above. I’m not making the leap to say he has a shot, merely pointing out that he’s having a very opportunistic and impressive first half of his junior year.