Reviewing tape for new Raiders CB Shawntae Spencer was an interesting challenge. First, Spencer didn't play much last season. He went into the offseason training camp but was injured very quickly and by the time he healed he was down on the depth chart.
So, his 2011 tape was almost worthless, he played so infrequently. I went back to 2010 tape to get a better idea of the player he could be.
In 2010, he played almost exclusively RCB in the 9ers scheme. It was a frustrating scheme to get a good idea of his talents because they played a lot of zone coverage.
I watched two games – Week 6, 49ers vs Raiders and Week 8, 49ers vs Broncos.
They were very similar in terms of defensive style. In both, Spencer hardly ever played a man press where he would line up close to the opposing WR and jam him at the line of scrimmage to knock him off his route.
Instead, Spencer kept lining way off the opposing WR – usually somewhere in the 6-7 yard range. If that seems like a big cushion to give an opponent – it is. In his defense, it appears that was scheme related – the RLB was to cover that area in a zone in many cases and since the RLB was bouncing out, if the QB threw to the left flat area, Spencer was to charge up and assist the RLB.
However, it was still too much space to give. Many of the catches that came his way were in that 6-7 yard space because at the snap he frequently backpedalled another yard or two. Most head coaches will take a quick 6 yard pass on first down every time if they can.
The cushion was 7 yards or so whether or not there was a slot receiver lined up on his side, which is unusual. Usually, corners play much closer to the line if there is no slot and back off if there is a slot receiver because the nickel CB is playing closer to the line.
I will say that Spencer did show good closing speed in the situations where the WR caught a quick pass and usually he limited the receiver to the yards in the air, not letting him get additional yards on the ground.
There were a few times in which Spencer lined up within a few yards of the other player but in that situation the CB needs to jam the WR to disrupt his route. He didn't get good contact with the WR and wasn't good about re-directing him to the outside which I where he should have knocked him. If the CB knocks the WR to the outside it not only assists in knocking off timing but it puts the CB between the WR and the ball. There were at least a couple of times where the WR was pushed halfheartedly but still got the inside track on Spencer.
I don't think I saw a single instance of Spencer being involved in run support which is unsurprising if he's lining so far off the ball. He has a lot of ground to cover to assist in that scenario. So, in that scheme he was a non factor in the running game. When he was involved, even peripherally, he didn't try to disengage his man to make a tackle so I question his willingness to be part of the running defense. However, it may also have been that he was just peripherally involved and that there wasn't much he'd be able to do unless the ball carrier came closer to him, anyway.
One advantage to lining up so deep is that he didn't give up any passes behind him – he was within a couple of yards of the WR on the deeper routes. There was a 17 yard catch against him by Brandon Lloyd in which he looked like he lost him on the route and left him open but he was able to close at the point of catch to limit the damage.
Spencer doesn't look to have fluid hips. Consistently he didn't seem to be able to change direction as fluidly as you would look for. That's probably partially why he lines up farther than I'd like and backpedals quickly. He doesn't have the change of direction abilities to line up closer and still be able to stick with his man.
In today's NFL a CB must be able to jam a WR at the line. There are too many offenses that will eat an opposing defense if the QB and WRs are able to get into a rhythm. The CBs need to be able to redirect the receivers to outside routes and I question whether this is something that Spencer can do.
If he cannot accomplish this, it may be another DeAngelo Hall experiment. Hall was more of a zone coverage CB and couldn't handle man assignments well and he was consistently beat deep when asked to do so. As a result he backed off coverage and gave up underneath routes. That ultimately led to his release from the Raiders after the Broncos used his cushion against him with then-rookie Eddie Royal catching a number of quick tosses and then doing damage after the catch versus Hall.
We will see if Spencer is able to adjust to whatever scheme Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver plays. Tarver knows him from his time in San Francisco, prior to last season, so hopefully there is a good plan in place to play to Spencer's strengths.
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