One player who hasn’t received a great deal of attention, despite the fact he was arguably on the brink of a roster spot last year is defensive lineman Tevita Finau. Finau was a final cut at the end of August and remained on the practice squad all year.
Finau is listed at 6’5″ and 288 pounds and, at the age of 28, is awaiting an opportunity for his first NFL regular season action. The New Zealand born former Utah defensive tackle took an extraordinary route to get to this point. Be sure to read Kristian Dyer’s article from last week that goes into more detail on that subject.
After the jump, a brief recap of Finau’s body of work from last preseason, together with a look at what his likely role will be as he competes for a spot this year.
Depth and consistency on the line
The Jets had five defensive linemen on the roster last year and were fortunate enough that all five remained healthy enough to suit up for 16 games. Kenrick Ellis was dealing with some back issues in the first half of the year which limited his playing time but he still played in every game (albeit just one snap in the win over New England). This was good news for everybody apart from Finau, who potentially may have been the next man up if anyone had to miss a game.
In 2014, I think there’s a good chance that the Jets will carry at least six defensive linemen on the active roster. My reasoning here is that they had Quinton Coples as the Rush Backer last year, who would have been an option to take some reps on the inside in the event of an emergency. You could say they effectively had five-and-a-half defensive linemen available. With the reports that Coples has shed some additional weight in order to play exclusively in that RUSH role going forwards, using him as a possible backup on the interior may no longer be an option. However, the Jets did not draft or sign anyone (apart from a couple of undrafted free agents) to compete for that hypothetical sixth spot. Could this be because Finau is the guy they’re grooming for the role?
How would he be used?
In preseason last year, Finau played a total of 83 snaps with the third unit. He saw 18 reps as a strongside defensive end in a 4-3 defense, 21 snaps as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense and the majority of the rest saw him line up as a defensive end in a three-man front. In that respect, his workload was pretty much the same as that of Leger Douzable. Douzable is a perfect backup because he also can play any of these three positions. Where some analysts might see a Douzable as a “tweener” who might be too slow to create pressure off the edge and too lightweight to hold up against the run inside, Rex Ryan instead sees a guy who can use his strength to set the edge effectively when playing end and use his quickness to shoot gaps and generate interior pressure when playing inside. Finau is cut from the same cloth, so could be a player that Ryan can get some production from by using him in ways where he can play to his strengths.
What does Finau bring to the table?
Since he just averaged 20 snaps per game over four preseason games where he played exclusively against backups, we don’t have much of a sample size to work with for Finau, who was credited with just one tackle (a sack).
Still, he was able to show some of the things he is capable of. Here is that sack:
While this is clearly a screw-up by the Giants in pass protection, Finau still impresses with his burst to the quarterback, Curtis Painter, who he brings down effectively close to his own goalline. He does a good job of accelerating through the gap and brushing off the late-reacting back’s attempted block to get a good form tackle on Painter.
Perhaps more impressive is the agility he displays on this play he made against the run.
Finau wasn’t able to make this play himself and it might even go down as a missed tackle, but he blew this play up, using a swim move to get upfield leverage and then a spin move to free himself from the block. While he isn’t able to bring the runner down, he does force the runner to redirect outside and does get enough of him that he’s off balance by the time he turns the corner. That gives the likes of Antonio Garay, Danny Lansanah and Jaiquawn Jarrett time to get there for the gang tackle to finish him off and he isn’t able to get enough upfield momentum to get to the marker on second and short.
In terms of negatives, there were a few plays where his blocker locked onto him and he was unable to free himself. However, I’m not concerned about that at all because he’s been working with Karl Dunbar since the start of last season and the teaching of hand-placement and techniques to shed blockers seems to be an area where Dunbar always seems to produce positive results.
Despite the fact he continues to fly under the radar, Finau is a player who I would say has a realistic shot of seeing meaningful action with the Jets this season. Maybe he won’t be on the opening day roster, but that isn’t out of the question, even though you wouldn’t expect him to beat out any of the five returning defensive linemen from last year’s team.
The fact Finau is already 28 doesn’t really work in his favor in terms of being a long term project, but if he’s ready to step up and become a dependable rotational player, he could find a home for the next couple of years. However, despite the journey he’s made just to get to this point, that final step is likely to be the toughest so far.
As promised, I’ll be back tomorrow with an analytical piece on Quinton Coples.