Carter Coughlin isn’t interested in mediocrity. Hell, he isn’t interested in chasing good or above average.
“I’m striving to be the best of the best, man,” Coughlin said in a July interview with PFF. “There’s no point even shooting for any other goal. The way I see it, I want to be the best pass-rusher in all of college football and not leave a doubt about that.”
Coughlin’s goal isn’t out of reach, either. The Minnesota senior earned a 92.2 pass-rush grade across his 342 pass-rush snaps a year ago, ranking second behind Boise State’s Curtis Weaver among the 311 returning FBS defensive linemen with 200 or more pass-rush snaps in 2018. Coughlin also ranked tied for sixth in pass-rush win percentage (20%) and ninth in pressure percentage (16%) among the same group of qualifiers.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Coughlin makes up for what he lacks in size and length with above-average athleticism and technical hands. His burst off the snap and bend around the edge is spectacular, as well. He also puts in the work in the film room and plans to spend even more time watching tape this upcoming season.
“I watch a lot of film,” Coughlin said. “And this year, my class schedule is the easiest it’s ever been just because I’m pretty much done with college, so I’m going to have even more time to watch film. It’s going to give me the opportunity to study things at a depth that I haven’t been able to do, and that’s saying something because I do watch a lot of film.”
Coughlin knows he needs to use the added hours in the film room to improve in multiple areas and reach his lofty goals in 2019 – and that includes run defense. After earning just a 70.5 run-defense grade a year ago, Coughlin said he packed on weight over the offseason and has been working his run-defense technique all offseason.
And when he isn’t working run defense, Coughlin is prioritizing his pass-rush moves.
“I think one of the biggest things is that I’ve shown that my speed rush can be deadly, but I need to mix that in with counters and bull-rushes,” Coughlin said. “I recognize that I’m going to have to implement that more just to keep the offensive lineman on his toes. I think the most dangerous spot you can put an offensive lineman in is when he has no idea what you’re going to do.”
Coughlin finished the 2018 season ranked second in pass-rush grade on early downs at 91.1, a testament to his ability to win his pass-rush snaps in situations that aren’t obvious passing downs. Such success is rooted in his ability to have a pass-rush plan pre-snap and execute said plan with a primary move and counter in his repertoire.
Breaking down Coughlin’s 52 pressures in 2018, 19 came from outside moves, 13 from inside moves and another six from his bull-rushes. He also had another seven come when left unblocked off the edge.
Coughlin spoke to his “go-to moves” he plans to build on and add to this upcoming season.
“I really like the post-chop because it gets the offensive lineman to sink his hips and anchor his feet,” Coughlin said. “And then, you chop his hands away and get to the edge really quickly. An inside move, something I got good at last year was a chop-spin, so faking that I’m chopping, going speed-rush upfield and then spinning back inside. That’s deadly if you can nail it.”
An increase in film study will play a significant role in Coughlin improving his overall pass-rushing ability and expanding his list of go-to moves.
“When I’m watching an offensive lineman, I look at the way he sets, whether it’s vertical or he’s a spot setter,” Coughlin said. “I look at what moves get him to shoot his hands and stop his feet. I look at what he struggles with most. If he struggles with speed, then I’ve got to give him a speed-rush. But he’s going to try to overset, try to make up for that area of weakness, and that’s when you can get things like a push-by and other inside counters like that.
“Pass-rushing is a lot about reaction, but with that, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to dictate what the offensive lineman is doing.”
In dictating what his opposition is doing, Coughlin will also dictate his own success at the collegiate level and beyond. Leaving no doubt that he’s college football’s best pass-rusher is well within his control.