The second part of my spring preview. If you missed my take on the offense, check it out here. Please enjoy.
The defensive personal and scheme are anything but cut and dry this season. Right now I'd only feel comfortable penning in Bruce Taylor, Eddie Whitley, Jaryon Hosley and Kyle Fuller as starters. Usually when there's so much up in the air and unsettled it's a bad thing. However, the defensive side of the ball features a lot of talent and depth, most of it just happens to be at linebacker. The depth along the defensive line is great, but there are no studs, yet; the potential is there though. I like the look of the secondary, how can't you really? Jayron is a legit All-American and Kyle Fuller just balls. I think Antone Exum has a lot of potential and he played well in the Nickel, but he's going to have to prove himself at Rover.
Luckily we have the best defensive coordinator in the country putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I'm sure Bud would be the first to say the defense underperformed against elite opponents last season (see: Boise State and Stanford), albeit in a rebuilding year. The reason why Foster is the master of his craft is because he's not afraid to tweak what he's got. Running a heavy dose of Nickel and 3-3-5 might not have been outside of his comfort zone, but it was something pretty foreign for us as fans to watch. I think Bud's willingness in the past to change schemes (the abandonment of the 4-4, etc) is what's led to all the speculation that the defensive philosophy will be going under another makeover. Clearly the Whip backer and Rover are two of the main keys to a defense noted for its adaptability and versatility. Those positions require a unique athlete with the skills of more than just a linebacker or safety respectively.
Whip is the pressure point this season. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow couldn't replace the production of Cody Grimm last season, and it showed. That's not to pin all the shortcomings of the 2010 defense on GW, the group was young, inexperienced, and it took them almost four games to start making tackles (grumble, grumble, grumble). The uncertainty at Whip combined with depth and talent at Mike and backer have led a lot of people to conclude we'll switch to a more traditional 4-3 heavy look, or even a 3-4. Either change would result in a brand new defensively identity, a traditional 4-3 being much more plausible than a 3-4, but I don't see either becoming our base defense. I believe, Foster believes, he's got a Whip on the roster and he's going to make it his job to find him. It's as simple as that.
Like I said above everything going on with the defense is really fluid so a lot of the details below are an educated guess. Let's take a look the individual units.
I'm excited about the potential of this unit. It's going to be tough replace John Graves. His production was fantastic, but more so his leadership was priceless. Aside from Nick Acree, who's still developing fundamentally, there's aren't any space eaters inside. The brothers Hopkins and Kwamaine Battle are probably the closest things to starters at tackle right now. One of the three needs to emerge as the leader and take control of the unit. Even though he's the younger brother, my pick is for Derrick Hopkins to turn a lot of heads. Dwight Tucker got a lot of work last season due to all the injuries, but needs to improve his play to be in consideration for significant playing time with healthy competition in front of him. Isaiah Hamlette is one of the bigger bodies and it would be beneficial if we could work his way into some PT.
Both ends will be fresh faces. The read is with Drager moving to tight end that the guys waiting behind him are ready to play. James Gayle got a heavy amount of playing time last season playing in all 13 games and starting two of them. The kid is a freak. He earned the highest honor for strength and conditioning—the Excalibur Award—boasting a 420-pound bench, record setting 366-pound clean that was capped off with a 4.45s 40-yard dash. HAM. J.R. Collins is a guy to keep an eye on. He backed up Friday at the end of last season, but he has put on more mass. He can play both inside and out and that opens up a lot of possibilities for flexibility in scheme. Duan Perez-Means and Zack McCray (Logan Thomas' cousin) are in the mix for a bulk of the snaps as well. Finally, the Frankinator really likes what he's got in incoming freshman Corey Marshall. He's a more polished prospect and there will be a lot of competition for playing time this summer. These guys are all young and we'll have the luxury to watch them grow develop over the next couple of years.
Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is going to enter camp as the starting Whip, but he's going to be pushed, hard by Alonzo Tweedy. Tweedy has been a beast on special teams making the most of his athleticism in the open field. Tweedy can tackle, cover and play in space. GW earned the starting job because he knew the position better and Tweedy was working through an injured groin during fall camp. Expect a lot of plug-and-play from other available bodies on the depth chart to see if something sticks. Even though Whip will be unsettled until the first game, it can't be overstated that coming out of spring ball feeling good about it is the most important thing that needs to happen defensively.
The outcome of who will play the Mike and backer positions are quite intertwined. The ideal lineup would be Barquell Rivers at Mike and Bruce Taylor at backer, but Rivers has to drop some weight to get back into football shape after suffering a ruptured quadriceps tendon that sidelined him for all of 2010. Bruce is the more athletic of the two and is a more natural fit at backer. Chase Williams would be behind Rivers and Jack Tyler behind Taylor. If Rivers isn't producing then Taylor will go back to Mike and Tyler will fight it out with Lyndell Gibson at backer. Gibson has a lot of starts under his belt, 18 going back to 2009, but is recovering from a broken shoulder. However, even if he was 100% healthy Gibson would be pushed.
The competition at linebacker will be the most fierce spring has to offer which will bring out the best in all of these guys.
come back soon VTPas
The secondary is experienced and adept, but it's lacking depth.
Jayron's back, and even though there was some early chatter about him moving to boundary corner he'll stay on the field side. Kyle Fuller will take over for Rock Carmichael on the boundary. As a true freshman Fuller earned the trust of the coaches quickly. He played in every game while starting six of them. He's a smaller guy, but he just makes tackles in the open field and covers well. He will need to put on some weight, because boundary is a physical position.
Cris Hill is the favorite to backup both spots at corner. Hill held college offers from the likes of Florida and Ohio State, but still hasn't managed to hold down a starting job. As a senior, this will be his final chance. F4H summed it perfectly.
Hill is the defense's answer to Josh Oglesby. He was highly recruited out of high school and has always received glowing reviews from the coaching staff during spring and fall practices. But he hasn't seen the field much because a younger, more talented player has always come along to snatch away playing time whenever he's left the door open with inconsistent play.
Last year, Hill was great in the spring and did well enough in the fall that he and Hosley were going to split time at field corner. They did exactly that against Boise State and Hill was unlucky enough to be one of two guys in coverage (along with Jeron Gouveia-Winslow) when Austin Pettis grabbed the Broncos' game-winning touchdown.
At safety Eddie Whitley is only going to get better, and I think it will take an inspired spring for some to usurp Antone Exum at Rover. Exum just has a great size to athleticism ratio and he plays smart. The coaches gave him their vote of confidence when they moved James Hopper to tailback.
It will be interesting to see how the young guys work into the fold. Nick Dew will be a top backup at Rover, and safety really. Incoming freshman Kyshoen Jarrett and Ronny Vandyke are both talented, but they'll be behind the learning curve come August. But they'll be in the mix for backup jobs along with Theron Norman.
As always, spring will be very telling for what the upcoming season holds in store.
There will be a short, and I mean short, preview of the kicking game sometime this week. In the meantime, what do you guys think about the defense?