Dwight Freeney’s dominance in the trenches is certainly well known to Syracuse football fans, but play down in the trenches is not often a focus of the fans at large.
On this week’s episode of Omaha Productions’ Eli’s Places, Manning aims to fix that. Part of that task includes talking to Freeney, including asking about his signature spin move.
“You would think it started on the football field- it started on the basketball court,” Freeney says when asked about the origins of the move. “I looked at it like, I start at point A, I need to get to point B. What’s the best way that I can get there? I tried a spin…and there it goes, that’s how it started.”
Humble beginnings for a move that dominated at both the collegiate and professional levels for nearly 20 years. It wasn’t just the spin, though.
“You have to complement other moves to the spin for the spin move to work.”
Luckily for Freeney he had the whole complement of pass rush moves in his toolbox to set lineman up, whether it be the bull rush, swim move, outside bend, etc.
As an SU fan it was great to watch Dwight even break down the move on Eli, getting to see inside his mind how the spin works. Key to pulling it off, he said, was imagining his trailing arm to be like an ice pick-jabbing it at the back of the lineman’s shoulders to finish the blow.
What they don’t discuss, though, is what I always found to be the real genius of Freeney’s spin move, which is that it’s essentially three moves combined into one: A bull rush, the spin, and a slap swim. Put on Freeney’s tape and you can see his best spin moves are all executed the same way combining all three moves.
Firstly he bulls into the tackle, pushing him back and preventing him the space needed to react to Freeney’s movements. Most importantly—and the real genius of the move—is he uses the spin of his body to execute a “hand slap” (where a defender literally swats the blockers hands out of the way to prevent contact), except he uses his entire rotating body to move the tackles hands away, rather than risk getting tied up when using his own hands.
Finally, his hands come into play with the “ice pick” maneuver he referenced earlier, essentially a swim move to get his own body past the tackle’s body and erase him completely from the play.
In full speed, you end up with a tackle that gets pushed back, pushed aside, and usually ends up on the ground watching helplessly as his QB goes to the dirt.
It’s an awesome segment to hear the origins of the move and how Freeney himself conceptualized it to put it to good use. And boy did he. As far as Syracuse records are concerned, Freeney is second all-time in sacks (34.0), first all-time in tackles-for-loss (50.5), first in sacks in a single-season (17.5), first in sacks in a single game (4.5), and second in tackles-for-loss in a season (18.0).
In the NFL, he sits at 19th all-time in tackles-for-loss (128), 18th all-time in sacks (125.5), and tied for second all-time in single season fumbles forced (9). He also led the NFL in sacks in 2004 with 16.
As for the reason Eli feels compelled to focus on the trenches in this episode? He’s grilled by former offensive line teammates Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee, looking pretty “svelte” as they’ve dropped considerable weight since their playing days, who deride Eli’s Places as “low-calorie football” since there’s no episode on the trenches thus far.
Eli accepts their challenge and his first stop before Freeney is former Ohio State and St. Louis Rams Hall of Fame offensive tackle Orlando Pace. Their meeting place is fittingly humorous—an Ohio area IHOP. Pace was well known in college for essentially having a stat created solely because of his play—the pancake block. Defined as when a blocker executes the move so well that the defender ends up flat on his back—like a pancake—the move began to officially be tracked during Pace’s time at OSU.
The player that created the stat naturally ended up being one of the best at it as well, as Pace had an incredible 80 pancake blocks in his senior year. From there, a media campaign that saw him making pancakes in his kitchen helped him finish fourth in Heisman voting, and Pace never looked back on his way to Canton.
Episode four of Omaha Productions’ Eli’s Place premieres Wednesday on ESPN, and this would be another great time for any fans of Syracuse football to tune in and learn a little bit more about our storied history.