Film Study: A Deep Dive Into Garrett Epple’s Disruption

By Jerome Taylor | Aug 16, 2023

While there may be individuals with superior coverage skills and stronger on-field communication abilities, no defender can match the disruptiveness of Garrett Epple

Epple may not possess the speed to match up with some of the fastest players in the league, and he doesn’t throw the flashiest checks in the world. But over the past few years, in one of the few ways we can quantify individual defensive impact, his impact has been unquestionable. 

This season, he currently sits at the top of the league in caused turnovers (17). Since 2018, he’s consistently ranked within the top 15 in this category, even claiming the top spot in 2019.

“While I don’t necessarily throw a lot of stick checks the “traditional” way, I do think of myself as a takeaway defenseman,” Epple said.  “But I changed how I take the ball away, and a lot of that has to do with my [lacrosse] IQ.”

Both as an on-ball and off-ball defender, Epple’s lacrosse IQ has propelled him to one of the top defenders in the league, and here’s how. 

Epple in the Passing Lanes

Epple’s prowess on ball is well known, and it specifically came to light when the Redwoods elected to switch him on to Michael Sowers in their matchup against the Waterdogs. 

Against Sowers, Epple pointed out that he knew not to match feet with him. On most of their engagements in June, he elected to meet Sowers at GLE vs. playing him at the end line.

“I know all of the guys that are going to dodge against me. There are some games where I don't even have to look at the scout because I know every single player on the other team and what they do,” Epple explained. 

“If I had to draft up a scout, they'd probably be more detailed than the one that we have, not as a slight to our coaching staff. But that's just an accumulation of seven years in the pros and four years in college when we were pretty much playing against the same guys.”So far this season, opposing players only shoot 12.5% when Epple is the closest defender on 41 shots. This is because of Epple’s lacrosse IQ, knowledge of himself, and understanding of what the person he’s guarding is trying to accomplish.  

These attributes not only make him a great on-ball defender but a stalwart off-ball as well. 

In the same way, Epple anticipates dodges, he predicts passes. The latter is when Epple is at his most disruptive. 

“Once you understand what teams are trying to do to you, then you can knock down passes,” Epple said. “But it's very opportunistic. Just being at the right place at the right time is half the reason I probably get some of the stats I do.”

When Epple mentions being “opportunistic,” it shows up in the film in two ways. First, he knows when to bring a double team, like in this play when Isaiah Davis-Allen is already pestering Challen Rogers at X.

Rogers has to expend so much attention getting past IDA (who does an exceptional job in a  “mismatch”) that once he picks up the ball, Epple has started his slide. And when he gets there, Rogers' chances of making a play are slim to none. 

The second way Epple’s opportunistic nature shows itself is when he bats down passes. Take this play from the second round of the 2019 playoffs; his timing is impeccable.

By recognizing that Josh Byrne popped to space, Epple can anticipate a pass heading his direction. So, when Jake Froccaro has completed his roll and is ready to drop what he thought would be a dime, Epple’s stick is already clogging the lane. 

Sayings like “being at the right place at the right time” suggest a level of luck in Epple’s turnovers. And there is, but Epple makes sure he’s handling the preparation part of the Luck = opportunity + preparation equation. 

“I continue to try to challenge myself to be better mentally and think a couple of plays ahead… offensive players say, ‘You got to be thinking to two passes ahead,’ and it’s the exact same thing on the defensive side of the ball as well,” Epple said.

Even when Epple is constantly picturing what’s coming several passes away, he’s simultaneously in the moment and allowing the game to come to him. Letting his instincts guide his play is also a skill, and he uses it to thwart scoring opportunities, as he does in the play below.

As Brian Minicus dodges from X, Epple has to be aware of his assignment, Chris Cloutier. However, once he sees Dhane Smith pop off the back of John Sexton, he crashes to the crease, executes a trail check, and eliminates the scoring threat. 

Epple’s pro film doesn’t have much footage of him sending opponents sticks helicoptering, and it may have a good deal of clips of him laying lumber. Still, the way that he’s actually annoyed opposing offenses is by putting a pole into their plans.

“At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how you cause a turnover,” Epple said. “As long as you did.”