Lance Holtzclaw (EDGE, 6’4” 200, Desert Ridge HS, AZ)
As our staff has done repeatedly over the past few recruiting cycles, we have set our sights on a high-ceiling, “lump of clay” recruit for the 2022 class who can be molded into a fearsome EDGE player by our tried-and-tested development program. Like previous developmental EDGE recruits such as Tryon, ZTF, Trice, and Heims, Holtzclaw’s length and explosiveness were identified early as traits that were the physical building blocks for successful OLB play in our system.
Watching Holtzclaw’s tape, you can see what the staff is trying to project off of. He is a twitchy two-way athlete whose frame and athleticism make him an ideal big-bodied HS edge rusher/WR, but he projects best on defense at the college level. Projecting as an OLB at UW, his length and burst are what you’d expect a P5-level EDGE recruit to have, if not above average. On the first play of his highlights, you can see his natural athleticism on a pick-6, and you continue to see the athleticism shine through on his WR highlights where he was a constant run-after-catch threat. It’s not common to find athletes who can play both WR and EDGE effectively at the P5 level since the body types are so different, but WR/EDGE combos at the HS-level are a pretty good place to start looking for athletic EDGE prospects.
Technique-wise, he doesn’t have a wide variety of moves, but he is effective with his speed rush and a spin move as a counter when OTs over play the wide speed rush. He showed rudimentary hand fighting techniques with a basic swipe and long arm moves that pair well with his speed rush and length, but he doesn’t have great secondary moves that help him disengage from blocks on the secondary rush later in plays or against the run. Somewhat surprisingly for a player with P5 interest, Holtzclaw seems to struggle with a bull rush, and he either doesn’t have or didn’t show a speed-to-power move. These power-based pass rush moves (at least the bull rush) require little technique at the HS-level to be effective, and they’re an easy bread-and-butter move that physically dominant athletes tend to lean on. His speed rush already sets up the speed-to-power counter, so its either he wasn’t coached up on it, or he really doesn’t have the strength to follow up his speed, which is a concern we’ll touch on later.
The biggest physical concern with Holtzclaw is his size. Being listed at only 6-4 and 200lbs during his junior season, Holtzclaw is at least 60 LBs lighter than either of our presumptive starters this coming year. This lack of size is obviously a red flag when comparing Holtzclaw to other premier EDGE recruits we’ve pursued, and its even a concern when compared to the aforementioned developmental EDGE recruits we’ve signed. Tryon and Trice arrived on campus in the 230s, and ZTF and Heims arrived in the 240s. You’d have to go all the way back to Ariel Ngata to find a comparable body-type at our OLB position when he arrived at 6-4 and 210 lbs, and a comparison to Ngata might not be what Husky fans were looking for.
As some may remember, Ngata arrived with high expectations as a 4-star recruit, albeit with the understanding that physical development may be needed for him to reach his ceiling. However, after 3 seasons where he struggled to add any weight, a brief experiment at ILB, and sporadic playing time, Ngata eventually transferred out of the program. As Ngata found out, while our staff places a premium on length and athleticism on the edge, we’ve historically rewarded stout run defenders early playing time over flashy pass rushers who might be a liability on early downs. Since the OLB position in our 2-4-5 defense is an every-down position where the multitude of run/pass responsibilities can be overwhelming, evaluations and projections need to account for all facets of the role and not place a premium on any one skill set. The aforementioned concerns with his lack of power pass rush moves also serves to highlight potential concerns with his ability to anchor the edge against the run. ZTF wasn’t able to consistently anchor the edge last year due to inconsistent technique despite playing at 280, so Holtzclaw fending off pulling guards in the lower 200s even with flawless technique is a risky proposition. All of this is to say that we will need to keep an eye on the next year of his physical progress through his S&C program to fairly set expectations.
Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, its entirely possible that we are seeing another shift in our defensive roster building philosophy. Heading into last season, I had been tracking the weight fluctuations along the defensive front as Coach K was resuming his role as the sole DC. Across the board, OLBs were bulking up, which is how we ended up with Bowman and ZTF being our starting OLBs at 280 lbs apiece. At the time, I thought that this was a shift towards Coach K’s 4-2-5 roots with our OLBs effectively converting to DEs, but now with Coach Gregory at the helm, we may be shifting again towards his 3-4 background. If the Spring Game is any indicator, we will be playing with a lot more 3-man fronts where OLBs will continue to be near the LOS, but they will be relied on less heavily to set the edge and instead focus more on off-ball responsibilities. When 3-4 OLBs are asked to attack the LOS and rush the passer, they typically receive easier pass rush matchups against TEs and RBs and can therefore focus on speed rushes or can overpower smaller blockers. In a nutshell, OLB roles and responsibilities could be simplified under BG where different body-types and skill sets can be more easily identified at the HS-level and utilized on the field. A smaller/lighter recruit like Holtzclaw (and even our other EDGE target, Tevarua Tafiti) could find earlier success in an off-ball role while gradually filling out his frame and not need to reach 250+ at all. This will be another angle to consider this fall when watching our Huskies.
On the recruiting front, it seems as though we are in a good position with Holtzclaw. He’s scheduled to take his official visit this weekend with a number of other high-priority targets, and it sounds as though he’d like to make a decision relatively soon thereafter. Adding another AZ commit to the class alongside Parker Brailsford would be a shrewd move to reaffirm our commitment to the AZ-to-UW pipeline that’s been very fruitful for our staff.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the UWDP Recruiting Notebook series in the stream below.
Feel free to leave a comment with suggestions of recruits you’d like to see next in the series.