We all know that a time-honored truism of movies is that a sequel will almost never as good as the original. Sure, occasionally, a sequel like The Godfather 2 will turn the old stereotype on its head, but for the most part, sequels tend to be more like Ocean’s Twelve or The Godfather 3: poor facsimiles of the original that almost descend into self-parody. However, there’s one Tinseltown star who’s ready to show that his debut was no fluke and that his next act will be even better than the first: the one and only Myles Jack.
After delivering a true freshman season for the ages, Jack is back in 2014 and about to show the country that he very well might be the most complete linebacker currently competing in the college game.
Jack was highly touted when he arrived at UCLA last summer, earning a high four-star rating from Scout and Rivals250 designation from Rivals as a recruit. But, despite the high school accolades, not a single UCLA fan could have expected what we saw from Jack in 2013.
Once we saw him in action in the season-opener at the Rose Bowl against Nevada though, it was clear that Jack could be special. The coaches saw the same glittering performance that night that the fans did and immediately elevated him to the top of the depth chart at linebacker.
At Washington state powerhouse Bellevue High School, Jack primarily played as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the ground, rushing the passer.
As a result, coming into his freshman season, the story on Jack was that he was a freakishly athletic defensive specimen who needed to refine his play in space in order to succeed as a college linebacker (since, at 6’1″, 230, he’s obviously not big enough to be a defensive end in big-time college football, especially in UCLA’s 3-4 scheme which likes its defensive ends to be behemoths that swallow up blockers).
Once he arrived at UCLA, he threw himself into learning pass coverage and practiced relentlessly to hone his ball skills as a linebacker. The result was that Jack remarkably had turned himself over an offseason, as a 17-year-old incoming freshman, from a total novice into an elite pass defender at the linebacker position. He flashed the fruit of his labor in the above clip in the aforementioned season opener against Nevada.
What kind of kid turns into the best at a certain skill on a Top 15 team nationally after only half a year working on that skill? Simply put, a freak.
In the fourth game of his career, at Utah on a Thursday night, Jack was given coverage responsibility against one of the best tight ends in the conference, the Utes’s Jake Murphy, on a crucial play as Utah attempted to mount a comeback. Jack jammed Murphy at the line, released Murphy to get over the top knowing there was safety help, and then closed from behind to make one of the plays of the game. A remarkable play for any linebacker to make, Jack’s pass-breakup was even more outstanding considering it was a true freshman playing on national TV in a truly hostile environment on a make-or-break drive.
Jack then topped off his performance in Salt Lake City by sticking with Murphy step-for-step on a 4th down and then adjusting mid-air to make a ludicrous interception in his own red zone that sealed an important road win for the Bruins.
By the time the bowl game against Virginia Tech rolled around, Jack’s reputation as a lockdown coverage linebacker had been cemented and he showed exactly that when late in the game against the Hokies.
As the season progressed, we saw more and more facets of Jack’s game and athleticism that portend well for continued elite play. The previous YouTube clip showed one of those skills: Jack’s elite burst. Emblematic of the kind of freak athlete that he is, Jack’s ability to go from 0-to-60 in a step allows him to let the game come to him and gives him an precious extra few milliseconds to read a play and react to it, knowing that he has the ability to close on that play in a flash.
That exact scenario was on display in the home game against Cal, when Jack, positioned inside as a Mike linebacker, sat patiently behind the line-of-scrimmage until the play unfolded, saw the hole, and then with a single step, not only filled the hole but generated such power in his hit that he knocked the Cal ball carrier back a yard before wrapping the runner up to complete the tackle. When you watch the clip, it looks simple and unimpressive, but it’s quite remarkable to observe the sheer force that Jack generates in such a short space from a standing start. It seems to defy physics.
Jack’s speed isn’t just visible in short bursts either. His long strides make him a gazelle who chews up yards in a hurry, which we not only saw in the clip of his win-sealing interception at Utah, but in that iconic play on offense in Tuscon that made him a nationally-known name:
Was I looking for any excuse possible to post the video of my favorite play from the 2013 season? Yes. Yes I was. But nonetheless, Jack flashed the same powerful running style in the bowl game against Virginia Tech, when he had a clear path to the quarterback on a delayed blitz. He generated such tremendous force on the textbook hit he laid on Virginia Tech’s behemoth of a quarterback, Logan Thomas, that he nearly knocked Thomas out of the game before Jordan Zumwalt eventually did.
The more Jack plays, the more it becomes clear that he is the complete package. We’ve talked about his pass coverage and we’ve mentioned his athleticism (although we’ll harp on that a few more times still), but one of the standout elements of Myles Jack’s game is how fundamentally sound he is. It’s impressive enough on its own, but once again, when we consider that Jack was a true freshman in his first year playing linebacker, the quality and consistency of his play becomes even more remarkable.
More than once, Jack showed himself to have all the traits of a tremendous run-stopper as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Here against Utah, we see that Jack, rather than biting on the fake handoff, trusts the scheme and his speed, stays disciplined, and is able to foil Travis Wilson before the Utah QB can reach the first-down marker on a 3rd and 1.
On another play, this one in the thrilling comeback win at Nebraska, Jack played his position correctly and stayed on the outside shoulder of the blocker so that, when the play came to his side of the field, he was able to stretch out Taylor Martinez‘s option run to where he had secondary support and Jack eventually corralled Martinez for a three-yard loss.
Jack’s exemplary skills as a run defender became so crucial as the season went along that UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora admitted during UCLA’s spring practice that the coaching staff’s choice to play Jack exclusively as a running back against Arizona State was a key factor in UCLA losing that division-deciding game. In the ASU game, Jack stood out more than at any other time during the season because of his absence on the defensive side of the ball, as ASU QB Taylor Kelly ate up Jack’s replacement Aaron Wallace repeatedly throughout the first half on zone-read plays.
So, I’m basically saying that Myles Jack is already a perfect player who has maxed out his potential as a linebacker and can’t do anything more, right? Nope, not even close. It’s incredible to think that he’s such an advanced player for someone who should be so raw, but as he gains reps and experience, he has even higher ceilings to reach. The most obvious area in which Jack needs to improve is pass rushing, as he only notched one sack last season. It’s incredibly ironic that the book on Jack coming out of high school was that he was a pure pass rusher who needed to learn how to be a linebacker, but the only part of his game that wasn’t thoroughly impressive in his first year at UCLA was his pass rushing.
That’s not to say that Jack didn’t have his moments getting after the quarterback. For example, during the Utah game (that this article is showing was a true Myles Jack tour de force), Jack was able to get around the edge, elude the outstretched arms of the Utah right tackle, and deflect Travis Wilson’s pass to create an interception.
At the highest levels of FBS football, a lithe athlete like Jack isn’t going to be able to overpower offensive linemen like he did in the clip of his sack in high school at the top of the article. However, Jack’s development of edge-rushing moves might not be necessary, as new UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich seems determined to build a defense around Jack’s strengths and use Jack as a Mike (inside) linebacker in a new 4-2-5 defensive formation, switching from the 3-4 defense used in the last two seasons under old defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. Such a move would play into Jack’s wheelhouse, as it would feature his prowess in pass-coverage and generally allow him to both trust his top-notch defensive instincts in reading plays and utilize his absurd athleticism in reacting to them.
As we saw in 2013, Myles Jack is a precocious talent whose every play at UCLA is worth savoring because we probably only have two more years of them left before he’s off to the NFL. Here’s betting that, with UCLA implementing a defense that will utilize him in a key role, he follows up his incredible opening performance from 2013 with one heck of a featured act in 2014. And that’s the fact, Jack.
P.S. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Youtube user GRangelsfan21, whose excellent “Myles Jack 2013 UCLA Football Highlights” video I chopped up into a series of short clips. This piece would not be as effective as I think it is now without GRangelsfan21 having putting in the effort to provide visual evidence that supports the words I wrote.