Heading into the 2017 football season one of the major question marks surrounding this Auburn football team was how they would replace Carl Lawson. The former 5* racked up 30 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.0 sacks and an impressive 24 quarterback hurries. The thought was Auburn might have to rely on 1-3 guys to replace Lawson’s production. Turns out, all they needed was Sensei Mud.
Jeff Holland, once a 4* linebacker prospect, actually surpassed many of Lawson’s impressive numbers in 2017. The Jacksonville, FL native tallied 45 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 22 quarterback hurries and 4 forced fumbles. He was an absolute force on the outside and a key component in Auburn’s fearsome front four.
Oh, he’s also got a kickass celebration dance.
Holland earned his amazing nickname, Sensei Mud, after falling in love with martial arts during the summer before his breakout junior season. Auburn reportedly brought in a specialist to improve players hand usage via martial arts drills and Holland got hooked.
“The key is separation from the offensive tackle, knowing what move you’re going to bring, your counter move and studying his sets,” Holland said.
That’s where the martial arts background comes into play. Over the summer, Auburn brought a specialist down to work with the players on hand-to-hand combat. It was open to all positions, but it was geared towards the defensive linemen because the use of their hands is so important to shedding blocks and making plays in the backfield.
It clearly piqued Holland’s interest. He showed up an hour before anybody else and stayed after to get in some extra one-on-one time.
”You could just tell that he took an interest in it and could see how it was going to benefit his game,” Auburn strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell said.
Now Holland goes through a similar hand-to-hand combat routine before, during and after most practices. He and fellow defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Paul James III can been seen on the field before every game working their hands with one of the assistant strength coaches or as they call it, “priming their weapons before battle.”
”It gives me a big edge,” Holland said. “Just separation from those tackles. Using the side sweep, the chop club, the stab club, things like that -- it just gives me a lot of separation from those big tackles, knocking their arms out because those guys are bigger and some are stronger.”
”I think it gives them a psychological edge,” Russell said. “The hand-eye coordination and all that stuff, it’s something different that maybe a lot of other places aren’t doing. And I think that makes them feel good, like `Hey, I got this stuff in my back pocket that I can pull out and use on these guys that they haven’t seen before.’”
This new skillset helped transform Holland from a solid rotational piece that could occasionally generate some decent pressure to a full blown pass rushing fiend.
Jeff Holland is playing out of his mind to start the year. Saves a TD on this play & straight whoops the RT pic.twitter.com/0ErLF6vEUR— AUNerd (@AUSportsNerd) September 12, 2017
However, despite his impressive junior season Holland has some things working against him heading into the NFL Draft. Mainly, he doesn’t really have the body type that NFL scouts love in pass rushers. “Bad weight” and “tight hips” are some knocks I have seen thrown out against Holland. There’s also still some concern around his ability as a run defender at the next level and questions surrounding general athleticism that might have him lower on some boards. At worst, I think he lands in the 5th round, best would probably be late 2nd, early 3rd. My guess is he goes somewhere in the 4th round.
Whichever team picks Holland though will be getting a kid with a relentless motor, great hands and the ability to get your defense off the field on 3rd down. Last year teams foolishly doubted Carl Lawson and I think you might see some of the same this season with Holland. But whomever is smart enough to pull the trigger on this kid is quickly going to find they landed a fan favorite.
Give em hell Sensei!