In Their View: Playing in the Trenches

Big Boy Always Looks For Smallest Advantages

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's the little things that matter to 6-foot-3, 275-pound Reggie Ellis.

Before every snap, when the Dunbar senior lines up at defensive tackle, inches away from the ball, he is not flexing his muscles or breathing heavily trying to intimidate the opponent across from him. Ellis is more focused on the smallest gap, the tiniest twitch.

"When I pick a person to go after, I look for cues to determine whether I've got to beat him with power or speed. But I've got to look for small things. Six inches can change the play a lot. If a guy steps the wrong way, or if he lines up one step [away], that's enough to let me change the play.

"Six inches can be a big mistake."

Ellis has shown an ability to find enough of those mistakes to make him one of the most coveted defensive tackle recruits in the class of 2008. With scholarship offers from more than a dozen top-tier programs, he hopes to lead a veteran Dunbar defense to its 10th consecutive Turkey Bowl this year.

It's easy, Ellis said, to get overzealous lining up over the opposing center. After all, the ball is what he is supposed to get, and it's in front of his eyes. Ellis said you can't think about the ball, but rather about beating the man in front of you.

"You're up there reading cues," he said. "On first or second down, if my guy is leaning forward on his hands, I'm looking for the run. So I'm looking for him to push ahead. If he lunges, I'm going to do a few moves to try to get past him."

Conversely, Ellis said, when he anticipates a passing play, he knows opposing linemen will be backpedaling, and that is when Ellis knows he has to overpower him. But because he can't telegraph every play, Ellis has to be able to change his approach on every snap.

"The linemen I know," he said, "are some of the best athletes that play football. That's the biggest myth about linemen. We have quick feet and quick hands."

And quick mouths, too. The line is the only place where opposing players line up inches apart from one another.

"There's a lot of trash-talking," Ellis said. "As soon as the running back gets tackled, it starts. The majority of the time, it's the defensive line that's talking. I barely talk when I play [offensive line], but when I'm on defense, man, do I talk a lot."

A whole six inches' worth.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company