#99 James Hearns
Class: RS Junior
Position: Defensive End/Linebacker
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL
Thoughts: Hearns is one of the players I’m most excited to see in 2016. James was a big get on the recruiting trail back in 2013 and unfortunately ran into some injuries early in his Cardinal career. A combination of rehab and a few first round draft picks on the depth chart ahead of him the last couple seasons have limited his production, but in 2015 we saw flashes of what he could do when asked to rush the passer.
Grantham has some options with Hearns as we need someone to replace the two stud defensive ends we lost from last year (Pio and Rankins), but we also need depth at outside linebacker, especially during the offseason with Fields and Young both nursing injuries. Hearns got a decent amount of reps at OLB during the spring, and started in that position for the Spring Game, which some have said is simply a result of the Young and Fields injuries, but I actually think he lands in that spot in the fall as well. Fields should be back without issue, and all signs point to Young being ahead of schedule, but Hearns is a great addition to that unit with his speed and agility. They will absolutely rotate him to end in certain situations, and just as they did with Young and Fields, will put him in a three point stance on the line occasionally, but I think the majority of his reps still come from that OLB spot 2-3 yards off the ball. Need a reason? We still don’t know how Hearns will perform when the opposition's down and distance calls for a run. He can pin his ears back without question, but can he be disciplined on the edge when you need him to be? Playing slightly off the line allows Hearns some more time to react if nothing else, and he may need that extra second or two early in the year. My big concern would be if you put him on the end with a bull rush mentality that he may be out of position more often than not until he learns how to play the run consistently. Fast and strong is worthless if you’re not in the right spot. (That's what she said)
Hearns finished with only 12 tackles last year in limited action, but 3.5 of those went for a loss, including a couple sacks. One of those sacks was on Syracuse QB Eric Dungey, which effectively ended his season after 9 games. It was brutal, so brutal that I think all video evidence was removed from the internet (I seriously can’t find it anywhere), but it showed off the ‘hit stick’ power he can bring. (FYI: Hearns will get another shot at a healthy Dungey in Week 2 as the Cards travel to the Carrier Dome for a early ACC battle). You can’t ask Hearns to step on the field as a starter for the first time and take on the leadership roles of a Rankins or Burgess, but all accounts are of him being much more vocal during the spring, and executing how many thought he would a couple years ago. If Trevon Young isn’t ready for fall camp then Hearns will be the man from Day 1. Even though his production has been limited in three seasons with the Cards I think many will be surprised just how well Hearns can fill that void.
That video got me thinking about the bowl game— James Hearns (@JamesHearns21) January 27, 2016