Hope springs eternal in Spring. Everyone believes they will win the national championship and why wouldn't they--no one has lost a game. That is great, but in this post I want to look for the potential potholes on the road to that championship through the lens of the Spring game and additional Spring practice reviews. This is not for the faint of heart (please feel free to take with a grain or pinch of salt). As always--you can't tell that much from a Spring game so I will try to be measured in my pessimism.
Munson talked on the radio about Catman coming back and telling the S&C staff about new exercises for kickers that were helping him a ton and supposedly the flexible brain trust of our S&C staff has started incorporating that knowledge into the kickers regimen.
I'm hoping that it is just taking some time to help our kickers because we are getting nothing on kickoffs. Remember that they moved the starting kickoff forward to remove a great deal of injuries on the kickoff. It should not be that hard to kick the ball out of the back of the endzone (kickers now are playing games with getting hang-time and pinning it on the one yard line). Our guys were struggling to get it close to the goal-line. Spence was barely getting it over the 20 and Groomes was kicking straight line drives--not going to cut it. Sure it will be fine the majority of the time but against FSU, who may have Jalen Ramsey back returning kicks, it could be deadly. Kickoff coverage looked woefully average but the teams were divided, again hard to tell anything definitive.
2. LB Depth
I think we could say depth all along the defensive side of the ball. On offense you have a position like WR with just an embarrassment of riches and two of the top players in the country in Ray Ray and Deon just waiting to get in. Not the case on defense.
LB struggled at times during the Spring game of maintaining gap integrity. Part of this is the defensive line is not as good as last year so it is going to be more difficult for them. Goodson and Boulware will be fine but they will make their share of mistakes this year. They are both slightly undersized and can get lost and swallowed by Olineman. Boulware missed a play early that left him getting chewed out by Venables. Goodson and Joseph will be fine at MLB--solid but not spectacular. But Rogers is the back-up to Boulware and he is still trying to put together the mental side of playing LB. I like O'Daniel at SAM with Wiggins in at Nickel. However, we are a couple of injuries away from playing guys who will be exposed.
Its like that along the front seven.
3. Defensive End depth
We saw some good things from the starting defensive lineman but also lots to worry about. Shaq Lawson is the star but he won't be nearly as productive as Vic. He also needs to keep his weight down. Behind him is an undersized Richard Yeargin III, who will be a great player in time, but right now is barely 230--if that--and doesn't have the strength or pass rush moves yet. Certainly a talent but it will take time.
At strongside Dodd looks average. Maybe that is all we need but he reminds me of Malliciah Goodman at this point. Measurables but lack of experience, bend, and instincts to really impact a game. I see signs that he will improve though but after him you don't have all that much. Ebo is progressing. He had a nice sack in the game but was routinely handled and didn't set the edge with much authority. Still very raw, but, again, plenty of talent.
Who do you have after that? Huggins is going to need time and to figure out if he wants to be a DE or DT. If he wants to play DE then he needs to learn technique because right now he just tries to use his athleticism, no real usage of his hands. At DT, going back to the all-star game, he does not play with great leverage. He wants to play like a DE. All that is to say, he will have a normal period of acclimation and will need some time before he can really be serviceable at either position (great that he came in early though because we have some of the best teachers in the game).
It is so bad that you have to look towards incoming true freshman to play (at least one, probably two). LaSamuel Davis still looks like a long-armed WR. Clelin Ferrell still needs technique but could be a situational pass rusher depending on his health and return from the ACL injury and Austin Bryant is the other DE who looks physically ready to play.
4. DT Depth
DT is the same story. Just a huge drop-off after Scott Pagano. Christian Wilkins will be given every opportunity to come in and grab that 4th DT slot, which is huge since we like to rotate the two deep more than other teams. The DT's also need to be better since we will inevitably see a drop-off in DE talent and depth. Dane Rogers is finally now at DT and Rod Byers is also back at the position but it is just throwing bodies around, nowhere even close to the depth we have had the past two years. I felt like Reader and other guys were decent in the Spring game but didn't open up the holes we have grown accustomed to for LBs to fill and plug. Both groups weren't bad but they were average. We are really, really going to miss Grady Jarrett next year, perhaps more than any other player on the team.
5. The other CB spot
Mackensie Alexander is going to be even better this year but the other CB spot is going to be a huge question mark. Mark Fields is going to have a chance to come in and compete right away (and yet we are taking only one CB this year with four guys we don't have confidence in taking a back-up slot). Cordrea Tankersly is going to be the guy unless he has an awful fall camp (which is what happened last year after a great Spring). Tank has the size and length and now more game experience, but he is a bit up and down at times. What is the problem with Baker and Edmond and why is Ryan Carter in the mix?? Neither Baker or Edmond is physical enough right now. They don't tackle well in run support or get off blocks. Carter isn't good but he sticks his nose in there and will be physical--still no reason he should see the field. I think we should plan for attrition at this spot and grab at least 2 CBs.
Oh wait, we actually have already. Remember one of the main criteria for a CB take this year is someone with decent height at the position. This is because we took 5'7 CB Trapp and will place in prep school 5'7 Brian Dawkins Jr. Almost a quarter of the roster is going to be made of 5 hearters by the time this is all over.
So say goodbye to quality depth at LB, CB, and the Defensive line for the near future--we spent it all on undersized CBs without major offers and slow footed thumpers who can all clog up the TE, LB, and DT ranks. Thank goodness we recruit like gangbusters despite this roster management.
Was it all that bad? No, actually. Tons of great things going on. Our true freshman LT Mitch Hyatt was able to frustrate and compete with a future NFL defensive lineman--that is lovely progress.