Digging Deep: Patriots Undrafted Defensive Tackle Cory Grissom

Defensive tackle Cory Grissom is striving to make the New England Patriots as an undrafted rookie. (Photo: Patriots.com)

NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas

Cory Grissom devoted five seasons of football to the University of South Florida. And over that time, the defensive tackle known as “Pork Chop” started 40 of 46 career games.

But even after making second-team All-Big East as a redshirt senior in 2012, even after venturing to the Senior Bowl, and even after earning an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, the 6’2”, 316-pound Bull did not hear is name called during April’s draft.

Some organizations may have steered clear of the LaGrange, Ga., native because of the broken ankle he suffered in spring ball last year. Some organizations may have looked elsewhere because of his lack of closing speed — he ran a 5.31 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Some organizations may have downgraded him because of his marginal backfield rush.

The New England Patriots were not one of those organizations.

By the beginning of May, the 23-year-old was in Foxborough, Mass., to sign a three-year contract with $8,000 guaranteed. Although as that pact suggests, very little is cemented when it comes to the undrafted defensive lineman.

He could make the team; he could be cut tomorrow. Yet as it stands now, Grissom is in training camp with the rest of New England’s 90-man roster. He’s one of eight defensive tackles in the fold.

His start has been a quiet one. Grissom missed the first few practices of camp, nursing a possible concussion, as The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported on July 27.

Grissom has since returned to the field. And with the seating behind veteran defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly in a fluid state —  especially with former Toronto Argonaut Armond Armstead recovering from surgery to treat an infection — there are jobs to be seized.

It’s just up to Grissom to earn one.

So what does Grissom bring to New England’s defensive tackle unit? What are his weaknesses? How can he be utilized to his strengths?

In search of answers, let’s revisit the peaks and valleys of Grissom’s college tape, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.

Pocket-Pusher, Not a Pass-Rusher

Grissom is a high-effort interior lineman who opens lanes for his teammates. Yet for all intents and purposes, he’s not one to shoot gaps and sack quarterbacks.

During his days in Tampa, Fla., Grissom accumulated a total of five sacks and six QB hits. He recorded at least one sack from his redshirt sophomore campaign on, he just never racked up more than 2.5 sacks in a single season.

Nevertheless, Grissom’s battles against blockers do occasionally earn him some takedowns. That was the case on Sept. 29, 2012 versus Florida State.

Aligned in the one-technique in South Florida’s four-man front, Grissom shaded the Seminoles center. He planned a cut into the far-side A-gap while Florida State operated out of “21” personnel.

Quarterback E.J. Manuel took the snap from shotgun and faked the handoff to running back Lonnie Pryor. Meanwhile, Grissom got off the line to bull rush the center.

With the play-action fake delaying the offense’s progress, Grissom fought past the right shoulder of the center and forged into the backfield. At that juncture, his teammate already had Manuel under duress.

When Manuel tried to escape the pocket, it was too late. Grissom had closed in and jumped on him for the sack. It stood as a loss of 10 yards.

Grissom is more so an initiator than a finisher. He doesn’t have eye-popping athleticism or straight-line speed.

Grissom simply has the stout build and heavy hands needed to permeate the pass-protection every so often.

Sustaining Leverage

While Grissom boasts a low center of gravity, that quality isn’t always on display when he takes on double teams. He sometimes gets stonewalled as a result.

That struggle was visible during the Nov. 23, 2012 tilt in Cincinnati.

Crouched over as the zero-technique nose tackle in a three-man front, Grissom saw the two A-gaps in his peripherals.

But off quarterback Brendon Kay’s snap out of “10” personnel, Grissom was unable to exploit the pathways. He cut towards the right guard before using a spin move back the other way. Unfortunately for him, that spin move pushed him upright.

Even with a void on the left side of the O-line, Grissom’s lost leverage prevented him from pursuing it. He found himself fending off two blockers instead.

Grissom was circled back to the other side of the line of scrimmage. But thanks to the collapsed outskirts of the pocket, USF’s edge rush was able to bring Kay down for a sack.

Grissom is a tough man to move when his legs are driving and his pad level is low. When his legs stop driving and his pad level is lifted, he loses effectiveness. All defensive linemen do.

That being said, Grissom is very much in the mold of a clogger. If he can lean into blocks with more consistency, that will be realized.

Lateral Knockdowns

By benching 22 reps of 225 pounds at the combine, Grissom tied himself with fellow Patriot greenhorn Michael Buchanan.

Putting that output in perspective, Buchanan is an elusive 255-pound outside rusher.

Grissom is not.

Grissom works hard to extend his arms as he thrusts upfield. He just doesn’t have the upper-body strength to do so on an every-down basis. Due to this, he can find himself on the ground.

When the Bulls hosted West Virginia at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 1, 2011, Grissom’s vulnerability came to the surface.

In a four-down sub-package defensive look, Grissom squared off against the Mountaineers center.

As quarterback Geno Smith received the snap and waited for his route-runners maneuver the field, Grissom engaged his counterpart.

When Grissom locked in, he then tried to free himself by sidestepping. That movement was sniffed out by West Virginia’s center, who shoved Grissom off kilter.

Grissom lost his balance and fell to the ground as Smith delivered an incomplete pass to the flats. Soon after, No. 46 was essentially sat on.

Despite his relatively average arm strength and swiftness, Grissom will have to stay on his feet at the next level of competition. He can surprise going north to south when he maintains momentum; he’ll have to improve going east to west when there’s less.

Willing Run-Stopper

Grissom’s greatest triumphs have come versus the run. Setting up anywhere from the three-technique to the zero-technique, Grissom collected 105 combined tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss over his collegiate years.

He never has been regarded as a dangerous penetrator, but he has been regarded as a gritty defender who will fight to prevent first downs. He demonstrated that on Oct. 20, 2012 against the Louisville Cardinals.

At the center of South Florida’s 4-3 front seven, Grissom huddled in a three-point stance.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took the snap from under center and turned to tailback Senorise Perry for the handoff. Simultaneously, Grissom jumped the snap and took a 45-degree angle to the other side of the line.

As Perry ran up behind his blockers, Grissom was already there waiting for him. Grissom stretched his arms out and latched onto the rusher.

He didn’t let go.

Grissom brought him down in a heap. The gain was minimal.

Grissom is an asset opposite the run game. When he anticipates the offense’s body language and gets his feet stirring, he’s tough to stop.

As long as he’s with the Patriots, run defense figures to be his niche. He’s a space-eater.

Grissom was not one of the 254 prospects drafted this year. Nonetheless, he does have an opportunity to prove all 32 teams that he should have been. NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt even ranked Grissom as the top unselected defensive lineman in this year’s draft class.

Can he play like it?

Grissom is far from a perfect player. He’s not exactly an interior pass-rusher. He’s not exactly a “War Daddy,” either. But as far as undrafted defensive tackles go, he’s one with a skill set that should translate.

And he’s got a shot to make it count.

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