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Athletic Harold Landry Learning a New Kind of Flexibility

Posted May 13, 2018

The Titans' second-round draft pick has already shown he can rip-and-dip with the best of them. But new challenges await the outside linebacker on the NFL level.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Harold Landry's ability to bend is already near legendary.

But what about his flexibility?

Similar as the terms sound, the Titans rookie outside linebacker – a second-round draft pick last month – will have to show both traits in order to succeed on the NFL level.

We'll concentrate first on Landry's pure athleticism, which was one of the main reasons the Titans moved up 16 spots in the second round – and surrendered a third-round pick – in order to select him.

Landry's highlight reels illustrate his Gumby-like ability to push his way underneath the outside arm of offensive tackles, slide his 6-2, 252-pound frame underneath and then angle sharply toward an unsuspecting quarterback – the so-called “dip-and-rip” move that he perfected at Boston College.

The lower an edge rusher can get and still maintain his balance, the more likely he is to turn that corner successfully, giving him the ability to take a direct – and speedy – path to the quarterback.

Hence the importance of Landry's ability to bend.

He does it so well that Lance Zierlein, an NFL.com analyst, described Landry as a “limbo-stick edge-bender,” noting how often he showed he could drop under a tackle's hands and bring a violent end to a quarterback's passing hopes.

Primarily taking advantage of that move, Landry piled up 16.5 sacks as a junior for the Eagles, six more as a senior while battling through injury.

“It's one thing to watch (the ability to bend) on film, but when it happens live, I don't think (offensive linemen) really expect me to get that low,” Landry said Saturday at the Titans rookie mini-camp. “That's why I've got to make sure I just keep working at it every day.

“Because if you don't use it, you're going to lose it. As long as I just keep working at it every day, trying to perfect my craft, then good things will happen.”

But what about that flexibility?

We're not talking about the physical definition of course, as Landry has already offered up many examples of his ability in that regard.

Pro Football Focus, for instance, noted Landry's sub-seven second performance in the NFL Combine's three-cone drill – often used to measure pass-rushing ability – had only been achieved by five other defensive linemen of 250-plus pounds drafted in the first round this century.

The names on that list are none too shabby – brothers J.J. Watt and T.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

But as Landry moves to the NFL level, he, just like all rookies, will have to show a different sort of flexibility -- the ability to change, diversify and grow his game.

Primarily a player who rushed from a three-point stance in college, for example, Landry will have to show he's just as capable of excelling in a two-point stance in the Titans' 3-4 system.

“I would say just being able to play in space (is challenging),” Landry said. “Just being able to read my keys, to see the offense as fast as I can in that split second.

“Coming into a new system, you gotta' be able to know it just like that. That's one thing I'm definitely making strides on, that I'm coming along on.”

In addition, Landry, dominant with the rip-and-dip move in college, must develop other moves to complement his bread and butter, putting uncertainty into the minds of offensive tackles.

In time, Landry may even be asked to drop in coverage from time to time, something he didn't do extensively in college.

It's all part of a typical learning curve for a rookie, just as quarterback Luke Falk is adapting to a pro-style offense – after playing in the spread at Washington State – and defensive back Dane Cruikshank is learning how to play both safety and cornerback.

“It's hard – it's something I went through as a player,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of transitioning from college to the NFL ranks.

“For all those guys across the board, there's going to be something new. That's what we evaluate. Can they adjust pretty quickly and can they be flexible?”

The process will continue throughout an NFL player's career.

Vrabel pointed out Saturday that veteran edge rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, who have a combined 17 years of experience, are changing parts of their game in response to the requests of the new coaching staff.

“I've been real impressed with those guys' willingness to learn a technique or two that may be new to them,” Vrabel said. “As a veteran player, that's not always the easiest thing. They've had success in this league.

“(But) they've been very, very receptive to the coaching. They've given everything they had to learn one or two things.”

That's a path Landry would be wise to follow, as well as the one he's already become familiar with – a fast one to the quarterback.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.