The sport of wrestling is primarily based on leverage.
Generally, in a wrestling match, the main objective is to be lower than the opponent in order to be in a better position to lift and control them on the mat. It all comes down to understanding leverage. Similar to football, winning one-on-one battles in the trenches is about keeping a lower pad level than the opposing lineman in order to gain leverage.
Keeanu Benton knows a lot about wrestling and football. In high school, Benton was an all-region and an All-Big Eight Conference defensive lineman at Joseph A. Craig. Away from the gridiron, he was a two-time state qualifier in wrestling.
Focusing on football, Benton played 13 games with six starts at nose tackle in his freshman year. He would finish the season with 12 total tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks. In the COVID-shorted season of 2020, Benton would register nine tackles and two forced fumbles in just seven games. In his junior year, Benton bounced back, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention in the process. He would finish that season with 24 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two fumbles recovered, and two passes defended. Benton would close his college career by setting career highs in tackles (36), tackles for loss (10), and sacks (4.5). For his efforts, he would earn All-Big Ten third-team honors and an invite to the 2023 Reese's Senior Bowl.
On tape, Benton is an impressive pass rusher as an interior lineman. Whether it's his violent, active hands, his explosiveness at the point of attack, or his natural strength, what defines Benton overall is his ability to win one-on-one battles in a variety of different ways.
In this game against Michigan State on October 15, 2022, the Spartans found themselves having difficulty stopping Benton from getting into the backfield. What they learned after a few snaps was that Benton was much quicker than they expected. In general, Benton is equipped with both fast, violent hands and quick feet. When in unison, he became a difficult blocking task for the Spartans.
In this sequence, the Badgers are showing a 4-3 "under" front alignment with Benton positioned as the nose tackle in "0 shade" technique. When the ball is snapped, Benton does a great job anticipating the center's down block while performing a beautifully executed swim move, resulting in him getting into the backfield quickly to stuff the run. Despite only finishing with five tackles, his disruptive presence was felt throughout this game.
Winning With Pad Level
When watching Benton on tape, it is apparent that he possesses a natural ability to keep a low pad level. Whether this derives from his wrestling days or not, he is excellent at getting underneath the shoulder pads of opposing linemen, allowing him to dictate the course of the one-on-one battle.
In this run sequence against Iowa, the Hawkeyes offensive line executes a zone blocking scheme. Benton, in this case, keeps his pad level low and attacks the outside shoulder of the right guard. In one fluid motion, he attacks, disengages, and gets in the backfield within seconds after the Hawkeyes running back takes his hand off. The end result is a tackle for a loss of three yards on the play.
Taking On Double Teams
There are few instances where an interior defensive lineman is able to win against a double team when their pad level is high. In this clip, Benton is able to achieve this feat using active thinking and creativity.
Benton is seen in this sequence positioned in 0-technique at the nose tackle position. When the ball is snapped, Benton makes the mistake of standing upright instead of keeping his pad level lower when executing his spin maneuver. By the time he is finished with his rotation, he is met with a double team from the Illinois right guard and center. At this point, Benton made a smart decision by disengaging and making his way to the Illinois quarterback, who left the pocket. When the quarterback gets in his vicinity, notice how he drops down, grabs a hold of his leg, and successfully trips him up. Excellent individual effort by Benton on this play.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have shown deficiencies in stopping the run in the last few seasons, Benton is the right type of lineman that could greatly help them in this aspect. Yet with Benton, the Steelers are getting a player who can affect the game at multiple spots and possesses the type of motor that makes him a relentless playmaker.