The commitments keep rolling in for Michigan, who has tripled the size of their 2021 class in the span of two weeks. The most recent addition is three-star linebacker Casey Phinney. Phinney is yet another Massachusetts native who plays in the ISL, facing off against the likes of Louis Hansen, Kalel Mullings, and Zak Zinter in the last couple of years.
At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Phinney is your classic thumping inside linebacker, similar to Cornell Wheeler from last cycle. While Phinney doesn’t have a long offer list, he did receive offers to play at multiple Ivy League schools, Georgetown, and Army, which tells me that he possesses the smarts and instincts to be the quarterback of the defense.
Those instincts show up on tape as well. Once again, these Massachusetts guys usually don’t have full-game film up on the Internet, so this is coming from Phinney’s junior highlight reel.
This next play displays Phinney’s quickness to read and react to a play really well. Not fooled by the fake jet sweep, Phinney instead reads the tight end and wingback pulling across the formation in the direction of the run. From there, he explodes into the backfield and makes the tackle behind the line.
In general, Phinney is very good at taking on blockers and getting into the backfield. While he didn’t have to engage in the play above, he showcases this ability several times on film. Here, Phinney takes on the block from a guard by grabbing onto his shoulder pads and keeping him at bay. Once he finds the running back, he sheds the guard and makes the tackle with a strong finish.
Even when there is more than one blocker, Phinney can find his way to the ball. On this blitz, Phinney initially takes on a double team from the center and guard. He doesn’t let either get a good hand on him, though, and once the center turns his back to take care of the nose tackle, Phinney smartly goes behind his back and gets to the quarterback for the sack
Phinney is a really good blitzer, but sometimes he can tip his blitzes by not getting his timing right and heading up to the line of scrimmage well before the snap. On this play, Phinney creeps up to the line of scrimmage, but has to wait for a second before the ball is snapped. This gives away his position and ruins his momentum. Luckily, multiple offensive linemen are pulling on the play, creating space for Phinney to charge into the backfield easily.
There’s also a huge question mark left after watching Phinney’s highlight film. How is his pass coverage? Throughout the entire reel, there are only two or three clips of Phinney dropping back in coverage. And all of these plays show Phinney making a tackle after the catch.
Right now, that lack of pass coverage makes Phinney at best a two-down back in Michigan’s defense. Phinney probably slides in best at the SAM position in Michigan’s defense Noah Furbush played alongside Devin Bush. He can take on blockers and open up holes for the MIKE and WILL to get into the backfield in certain situations, but will probably have to get pulled on passing situations for a nickel.
Phinney also has some film at running back, where he shows pretty good footwork, patience, and balance. Those skills combined with his aggressiveness could make him a great fullback or H-back, although those snaps will be limited in Josh Gattis’ offense.