From what I saw of the defense last year and in Spring ball, I'm pretty confident that year 2 of Steele's scheme will show great strides in the execution of the defense, assuming that we get some LBs to plug holes. What you saw last year down the stretch was some overweight linemen who were concerned about everyone else's job up front and not fitting into the gaps that the defense is meant to.
For example, a specific front call, like 4-3 UNDER, has assignments for everyone up front. Everybody has a gap to control when the play goes towards them or away from them, and when you end up out of your gap, GT's linemen cut you and a RB goes 10 yards.
We knew a good part of it was just discipline in the assignment, but another is the lack of ability at Linebacker. This spring didn't impress anyone far-and-away but when youre throwing out 2 new young guys as starters its pretty unlikely that this is going to happen anywhere, much less a place hampered by years of VK's Nickel scheme and the recruiting for that scheme.
Steele seems pretty optimistic about the LB spot right now.
"It's still very much a work-in-progress, though. What gets me more energized is that the unexpected happened sooner than what we thought it would. And that is (RS Fr) Quandon Christian, for a young guy who hasn't played at this level, really grasped the concept of this defense, the application of it and technique of it. He really showed a lot of progress, so much so that we'd be comfortable at this point saying that he's in a position to see a lot of playing time at the SAM position. Because of that, it allowed us to shuffle the deck a little bit. Now we've put more people in the mix. Now we have more options. Because of the reshuffling, it allows us to do some things in our MONEY position.
Spener Shuey is more suited for MIKE and made some progress. I thought Corico picked up where he left off in the fall and progressed nicely. And we experimented with moving Maye around a little bit and he did well with that. And Tig Willard progressed and had a good spring. We lost Cooper with an injury. And then Daniel Andrews is a guy who has become a multiple piece of the puzzle in that he understands how to do a lot of things.
I was thinking, 'if we had to make a depth chart today, what would it be?' I don't know. I can tell you whatever gets printed in these summer magazines isn't worth the ink it's printed on. They have to print something and they're gonna print something, but I don't know what it is and I know our situation won't be settled until fall camp.
MONEY ($) is the Weakside LB position in the Nickel defense usually, Conner played Money last year. Mac is the other LB in the Nickel, usually played by whomever plays MIKE normally.
My view on Shuey is that he is definitely (sizewise) suited to MLB, and Corico might've just pushed Maye over to WLB to stay, but Willard is right there with him at WLB. Andrews is "around" the ball, but for whatever reason doesn't make the plays.
Steele also thinks Justin Parker better be mentally motivated from Day 1. If Parker is with Steele for 4 years, I think he'll be a special LB for us.
"When you look at us at linebacker, we're still short numbers-wise. I think he needs to come in with the mindset that he's got to be ready to step in quick and learn it quick and compete for playing time."
But Steele certainly has the right attitude that I wish more people in the University administration still had.
....But what you can get is a mindset where they feed each other. And because they feed each other, there's an expectation where when they get in the huddle and you have that paw on that helmet, this is the standard we have on defense here and you're expected to live up to that standard. When you get to that mindset, then you're there. Are we there yet? No. We're not there. There's still way too many things to happen. It's been said that the second year is harder than the first. Somewhere in that transition, you have to avoid complacency"
When you say you're not there yet, elaborate on what you characterize as "being there" as a defense or "having arrived" as a defense.
"Dominate your opponent every play as an individual… 11 guys dominating their opponent. You'll have a bad play. That's a fact of life, but if there are 65 plays in the game and collectively you dominated for 57 plays, then you see domination."
Harbison did such a great job last year with the new man-based and pattern-read scheme that its hard to imagine this group being worse. What I saw in Spring doesn't tell me much though really. Its hard to gauge your Corners against terrible WRs, and its hard to get a great read when a redshirt Freshman is the QB leading them. I noticed it was mostly Maxwell and Gilchrist at the 1-CB, as we expected in our postseason review, but Brewer and Sensabaugh are going to play, and Harbison was asked about them and the situation at backup Safety
"I'm glad you asked that question, because those guys got a lot of snaps at both corner and nickel. You've got to always develop another guy. Gilchrist is moving on. And plus, you need a two-deep to keep guys fresh. Those guys really came along.
"Brewer did some things - he matured a lot. Not to take anything away from Sensabaugh, but Brewer really stepped his game up in the spring and I was really impressed with him. Sensabaugh's technique got better on the outside. And Brewer got really strong on the inside. I needed that, and I focused on that. So I think it was good."
Can you assess Jonathan Meeks and Carlton Lewis at backup safety?
"Meeks had a good spring. So did Lewis. Meeks is ahead of Lewis. Meeks is behind McDaniel. As far as Lewis, he's got some more work to do. But he's a guy that should get there. Right now, coming out of the gate, I think they both had a good spring. Meeks played a little bit last year. Lewis didn't. That's why one should be in front of the other. Lewis played a little bit special teams-wise, but Meeks got in there. Meeks grew up in the same way that we did with Hall. Hall is a little more advanced because he redshirted. Meeks came in hot off the press coming in for us in the fall."
As long as Meeks is mentally into it, unlike the end of the NC State game last year, I think he'll be a fine replacement for DMac in 2011. However, to think we wont have a dropoff with losing both starting Corners who basically played all 4 years, is silly.
McDaniel said during the spring that you might be better at cornerback despite the loss of Chancellor and Crezdon Butler
"This is what I say to that: When we talk about two-deep and playing guys, they're not coming into the next year playing green - meaning, they never got snaps, never got on the field, never got under the lights. When you rotate guys in, and we talk about the second year in the system, there's something to be said about that. You're going to lose something with (Chancellor) and Crezdon, because it's hard to replace the guys that had that many snaps under their belts. Now, when the other guys start getting more snaps, I can feel more comfortable."
Other than LB, the situation at DL is key. Those run fits must be done better up front to fix the problems that we ran into with Wildcat/QB runs and option plays. Brooks revealed that Rennie Moore will end up playing alot more this year after the progress he made this spring, which I can vouch for with my own eyes, and that incoming freshman Josh Watson is likely redshirt-bound (not suprising).
"This spring I think that we were able to look at some things. As a coach you want to go what if and this and that, in case you were to lose somebody. We looked at Rennie Moore outside some. He's a guy who could play inside or outside. Thompson and Chavis really had good spring practices. It's good when you have competition. It's not good when a guy doesn't have someone there to push him. We all would like to know that a guy can motivate himself to a level, but competition is so good.
If we had to pick a guy out of the whole d-line group, Miguel Chavis probably had the best spring of anybody. Rennie can play the nose some. He can play tackle or end, so he made himself more valuable by doing that this spring.
"I also thought Jenkins and Jamie Cumbie did well at tackle. They learned more and more about what you need to do down after down. We're pleased with their progress and where they are. We just want them to come on and be more consistent with what they're doing....
The guy that we're pleased with as well, and he hasn't played a lot of defense, is Tyler Shatley. He really had a good spring. He put himself in a position to where we feel like he can be someone who can get some quality snaps. He played well in the spring game and in the scrimmages. I'm pleased with him. Josh Watson is a guy who's not quite ready for the ACC yet. I don't know anything about high school football in Delaware. He talked about the high school program up there. They weren't very good. I don't know what he had, but he needs some time to come on. I like for guys to play when they're ready to play, not because they have to play. We want Josh to get more ready to play."
You said Miguel had the best spring. What did he do specifically? Was he more active? Did he show up more on film?
"He was really active but he played with his hands better. He got better at maintaining his gap. He's a guy who got nosey from time to time, looking at someone else's job. Don't' be nosey. Take care of your job. He got more and more consistent at winning the one-on-one battle, at playing with his hands, his footwork, the things we talk about all the time. Miguel is a great effort guy. I feel like he came to 15 practices, to get better and to compete. I think he went about spring practice in the right way, someone who's trying to get better everyday."
Same things I pointed out above and many times before in game review posts....our linemen were more worried about someone beside them and that man's gap than their own gap. Thats why Virginia and SC were able to run the ball on us so well with such simple plays. That and a loss of fundamentals up front, be it from gaining too much weight and losing flexibility to just poor footwork and hand usage, is why we werent playing in a better bowl game last season.
"There's three things I try to stress with them all the time: hands, eyes and feet. You have to play with your hands nowadays. You have to play with your hands in order to get off of people. Don't be nosey. Put your eyes where they're supposed to be. We're mostly a gap control football team. Now, they do understand that. It's a constant thing. And then their feet: When you have a 310-pound offensive lineman on you, you can't cross your feet, otherwise you won't have any power. That's a constant thing. "