2010: The 4-2-5 Defense

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Let's be thorough and fully examine what the Owls will return on defense next season, and attempt to analyze whether or not they'll actually show improvement on that side of the ball.

First we must peruse the two-deep depth chart coming out of East Carolina. Now it isn't entirely accurate for it has Jr. Kramer Lucio listed as the backup to Jr. DE Cheta Ozougwu and RS Fr. Jared Williams as the backup to Jr. LB Justin Hill. Lucio (ankle) did not make the trip to Greenville, and that forced Williams to back up Ozougwu and So. Ronnie Lillard behind Hill. However, for the sake of keeping things clear, we'll stick to what's on the page in front of me.

The Owls' two-deep on defense featured two seniors (FS Andrew Sendejo and DT Chance Talbert), seven juniors (Ozougwu, Lucio, and Hill plus DE Scott Solomon, LB Aaron Williams and SS's Chris Jones and Willie Garley), six sophomores (NG's Michael Smith and John Gioffre, FS Xavier Webb, KAT Travis Bradshaw, and CB's Chris Jammer and Jarrett Ben), and seven freshmen (Jared Williams, DT Alex Lowry, DE Cody Bauer, LB Trey Briggs, KAT Corey Frazier, and CB's Phillip Gaines and Kevin Gaddis). Sendejo, who might miss the rest of this season with a Grade 2 ankle sprain, will be sorely missed, but Talbert has attempted to play through assorted injuries this season, forcing the Owls to accelerate So. Brian Stacey. Webb is the heir to Sendejo, so the starting lineup against UCF will provide a skeleton for what David Bailiff, Chuck Driesbach and Craig Naivar will have to work with going into the offseason.

Jones, to the surprise of many, has played poorly this season, and he could lose his starting spot to Garley this weekend. Of course that doesn't solve the long-term problem at strong safety because Garley has been injury-prone. Bradshaw had a forgettable performance at East Carolina, but he is an all-conference candidate and a fixture in the secondary. The corners have been erratic, but we're talking about two sophomores and two freshmen. Give them time.

Linebacker is a concern with Hill and Briggs projected as the starters for the rest of the season and scant depth behind them, and the interior of the line is solid but unspectacular. The ends remain the strength of the front six with Ozougwu and Solomon serving as gifted bookends and Lucio (when healthy) and Bauer as serviceable backups. There are some holes on this defense, so we need to check the rest of the roster to see who is capable of filling those gaps.

There are 14 freshmen (including six walk-ons) and seven sophomores (including Stacey, Lillard and three walk-ons) identified as defensive players not on the ECU two-deep depth chart. The freshmen with the greatest potential impact play in the secondary, with DE Josh Skinner and LB Nic Hammett being the exceptions. Tolu Akinwumi could ultimately supplant Jones/Garley at strong safety while Andre Brackens and Alex Francis should provide quality depth at safety and corner. Paul Porras and Turner Petersen, listed at receiver, are intriguing prospects with ample athleticism and versatility. They certainly are freshmen who might help.

The three seniors on the roster but not on the depth chart are injured LB's Terrance Garmon and Robert Calhoun, and reserve corner John Welch, a former receiver who hasn't made an impact on defense. Sophomore walk-on LB Matt Nordstrom, out with a foot injury, will soften the blow of losing Garmon and Calhoun, as will sophomore Idaho transfer Justin Allen, who was a gift to this roster. Otherwise, the Owls will be searching for depth via their incoming class of recruits (Bailiff intends on signing 13 prospects in February) or hoping that the light finally comes on for sophomore linebacker Tanner Shuck, who has struggled on game day.

On the line, Skinner and freshman tackle Hosam Shahin should find their way into the rotation, but as members of the scout team it is difficult to gauge their promise. Hammett and freshman safety Broderick Jackson could take the leap in the offseason, but we'll have to wait until the spring to see if any of the defensive players currently sporting redshirts are capable of helping the Owls reverse their defensive trend. The statistics don't lie, and they tell the tale of one of the worst units in the nation three years running. Several players will have to grow up mighty fast for the Owls to suddenly become TCU South, a notion that sounds like wishful thinking.

But remember this: The Horned Frogs were 100th in total defense in 2004. Over the next four seasons they finished 25th, 2nd, 15th and first, and they are currently fourth allowing 238.0 yards/game. It can be accomplished, but can the Owls do it with what they will have available?

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I've said this on the message board and I'll say it here. I'm just not that sold on our defensive coaches. And, I'm not even looking at the stats (which don't lie, you are correct MK). I'm looking at the players who have been in this system 2-3 years...and yet still can't tackle, still don't take good angles to tackle, still struggle with their assignments (with the Navy game being an absolute joke). Obviously, something is not getting through from the staff to the players. These young men go to Rice. They are intelligent and ought to be able to grasp basic concepts. Yet, we look lost so much. There is talent out there. I just don't think the coaching staff is teaching it how to play good defense.

And don't get me started on the scheme of just keeping the CBs 5-10 yds off the line all the matter what the down and matter what offensive scheme they are facing. PRESS COVERAGE. Not a difficult concept. Ok, rant over.

d1owls4life: I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing some press coverage every now and again. In certain situations it certainly would help. Something else to ponder. - MK

Is Hammett back to LB?

This will be great to re-visit in the spring. Obviously we're missing a lot of play-making from the LB and S positions right now. Hopefully some guys make the most of their chances now to build for a productive 2010 (Hill, Briggs, Webb, etc.).

We brought in some great athletes to play safety last year that have redshirted, so I'm expecting good things from them. Allen is also one to watch-- he has a reputation from Idaho as a play-maker and tackling machine.

I agree with d1 that I'd feel much more confident going into 2010 with a change in our defensive coordination. The numbers speak for themselves over the past three years, and the Navy game was just a blatant example that these guys aren't being properly prepared. We should expect better.

At Ease: I imagine Hammett will make his way back to LB eventually. IIRC, he was only moved to end because AGN went AWOL and Skinner hurt his knee in camp. - MK

Really wish someone would have asked DB in the Monday presser about leaving Dwayne Harris uncovered on multiple plays. That would have shed some light on the defensive woes in terms of a scheme vs. player breakdown as opposed to the retread coachspeak about "not-pressing" that most of the questions garnered.

There's no way one can look at the defensive breakdowns of the past two weeks and chalk it up solely to a matter of the players' mindsets (i.e. pressing as opposed to confidence and personal responsibility). There were major scheme flaws as well. Why is it that coaches are rarely asked such questions in media opportunities? They would certainly yield answers beyond the same tired coachspeak.

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