For some reason we can't seem to quit Mike Catapano.
On the surface, it doesn't really make sense. Big Cat was a low draft pick who didn't do much his first season, and then contracted some kind of "Patient Zero" type virus his second season (causing him to miss an entire year). He has exactly one sack to his name coming into his third year.
Additionally, Catapano is a position-switcher. Meaning, after playing defensive end in college in a 4-3 as a pass rusher weighing around 270 pounds, he's packed on an additional 20 pounds or so to become a 3-4 defensive end and interior pass rusher. While there's no hard and fast rule for college prospects, GENERALLY guys that have to switch positions to play in the NFL don't pan out (besides very high end picks, and even then it's iffy).
But for some reason I can't let go of the dream of Big Cat chasing down quarterbacks. Maybe it's the fact that he's a physical freak (one of the most ripped 290-pounders in existence, and would be the biggest freak on the team if Allen Bailey didn't exist). Maybe it's the fact that his social media presence is almost entirely him doing insane things in the gym. Maybe it's quotes like this one:
"I can’t wait. I have a whole year of bent-up frustration & I’m ready to unload. I’m counting the seconds," Mike Catapano on pads coming on.— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) August 1, 2015
I have no idea what it is, but we love us some Mike Catapano. And last night, for the first time in well over a year, he saw real snaps.
"I thought he got better as the game went on," Chiefs coach Andy Reid told the media on Saturday. "I mean, his energy was good. He hasn't played in a game in a couple years, so his energy was there the whole time. I thought when he was with the ones, he probably wasn't as productive as when he was with the twos. He kept pushing and you could see him kind of refine a couple things. I thought initially he was kind of taking guys down the middle on his pass rush and they were pushing the center towards him a couple times, so he was doubled, and then he worked through it. He started working his technique and his fundamentals better so I thought that was positive."
I went back and charted his snaps, counting the number of snaps vs the pass and run, his number of pressures on the QB, and his number of "wins" against individual blockers.
What's a "win?" Well, recall the articles I've written the last several weeks about offensive linemen. Essentially, a win for a defensive lineman is when I'd chart a loss for an offensive lineman. Pretty simple, no? That's one of the few things we can take out of preseason action where the play calling is vanilla; can you beat the guy in front of you?
|Pass Rush Snaps||Run Defense Snaps||QB Pressures||QB Hits||Wins|
A couple of interesting things to note regarding those numbers. First, Catapano had seven pass rushing snaps against the Seattle first string. All eight of his snaps against first string came as an interior rusher in obvious passing situations (though he had one "run defense" snap as well on a draw).
On those seven rushing snaps, Catapano recorded two pressures and three "wins." Here's one of those pressures, which combined with a stellar play by Marcus Peters (that's fun to say, no?) to result in a failed third down play for Seattle. It was recorded into history by the incomparable Craig Stout.
Big Cat with the pressure, Peters with the PBS. https://t.co/GfKT0dGO1F— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 22, 2015
Catapano definitely demonstrated on several snaps why the coaches are excited about him. Getting three wins on eight snaps against first team offensive linemen is solid. Think of it in the reverse; if I were grading an offensive lineman and he had three losses in eight snaps, I'd be very concerned. Granted, Seattle's interior line is ... well, bad. But it's still encouraging to see Catapano able to make some impact.
Overall, when playing the second and third stringers Catapano had quite a bit of success, getting 12 wins in 31 snaps. Again, that's a pretty successful rate to be winning individual matchups. Catapano also drew multiple double teams on pass rushing downs, and was active enough against them (except one play in which he got pancaked) to make them an EFFECTIVE double team (meaning it helped another player get a solo matchup).
Catapano is, as we'd all expected, insanely athletic for a 290-pound man. He's genuinely remarkable to watch. His ability to accelerate is superior to many outside linebackers. He's an absolute freak in this regard, and what that means on the field is that when he gets a step, he gets to the quarterback VERY quickly. He's also able to use athletic rush moves that most interior linemen can only dream about.
Cat accelerates to the QB very quickly when he beats an OL. Really explosive, agile athlete for his size. pic.twitter.com/HGOC22Cymd— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 22, 2015
Very few 290-pound men can move like that. It's a gigantic advantage for Catapano whenever he lines up across from an interior OL. It also makes him really good at avoiding cut blocks (he essentially jumped over or around the few I saw thrown at him).
On the other hand, it has to be noted that Catapano still seems like a "skinny" lineman when he's on the field. While he has exceptional strength in his arms (which ... I mean LOOK at them) and is able to bench press linemen off of his body, he can get washed away against the run. I imagine this is why Bob Sutton only put him on the field to rush the passer against the first team.
Catapano got plenty of 3-4 defensive end snaps with the second and third team, and acquitted himself pretty well for the most part. He won a lot of individual matchups, and even won several when defending against the run. But the size concern is going to remain for me. Again, he demonstrates the strength to push OL off him. However, he doesn't seem to have the lower body base at this point to stand his ground AND mind the gaps around him. I'm not saying he won't be able to do that in time, but as of right now he's a minus player defending the run.
That lack of base strength shows up at times rushing the passer, too. Catapano shows a good bull rush when he's able to get proper hand placement, and his quickness makes him a tough matchup. But when OL are able to get their hands on him and anchor, he's pretty much done for the snap. Hopefully he continues to work on his handfighting to keep OL from getting a solid grip on him (something Hali, a strong but not THAT strong guy, has made a career of).
Overall, Catapano looked like he could hold his own in pass rushing situations against the Seattke starters, and stood out against the Seattle backups. He's got the athleticism to be a problem for opposing teams on third and long situations and I'm guessing that's where we'll see him this season. He wins at a pretty high rate against individual blockers, and you want that guy on the field. However, I wouldn't count on him being more than a situational player at this point (unless he somehow packs even more weight onto his frame, which I'm not ruling out).
One thing I can tell you for certain is that with Catapano's burst teams HAVE to account for him. Otherwise the play is dead in the water.
"Leaving Catapano unblocked? It's a bold strategy, Cotton, let's see how it plays out for them." pic.twitter.com/8zsmkzthyX— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 22, 2015
Welcome back, Big Cat.