So where could it be this year? We know that the offensive line will be a question mark especially depth along the offensive line. So that isn't very interesting. Timothy Gifford seems to be stepping up potentially in the RT spot and as I predicted Thomas has moved to LT because you can't start two freshman tackles and not be really worried. Right now we need Kalon Davis and a tackle to step up but we really lack any proven quality depth. Remember last year we had two back-ups in Cloy and Smith who had played a lot of quality snaps in their careers. Can Norton step up? He has been less than stellar as a back-up center so far. Will guys get into shape?
What are we overlooking? I was going to write this last week but Coach Venables beat me to the punch (which is really encouraging because I think he has made some great personnel and coaching decisions already), by saying that the DE's need to improve. Last year we were not playing at the same level as in the past with the departure of Bowers to the NFL. Branch did a great job and was at times dominant but was not as strong against the run. Goodman was not very good. He didn't set the edge with any authority and had virtually no pass rush. A Batson victim, he has gotten to big and lost some of his speed and agility while at Clemson. As a Sophomore he was one of the first flying down the field making tackles on special teams. Now as the only returning starter he has a lot to prove.
Corey Crawford is going to start on his other side. In a back-up role Crawford did fine last year, especially as a true freshman but he needs to take the proverbial next step and has yet to show he is an every down kind of player. Our back-ups haven't really played yet. Very little competition to push the top guys. Vic Beasley is an athletic specimen who was on the offensive side of the ball his red-shirt year and was on the DE depth chart last year. He still has to learn to play the position. The reports say he is fine athletically and is developing technique but needs to get the defensive mentality. This is understandable since he never grew up playing the position. Byers and Dodd are are a red-shirt frosh and a true freshman. They need time to develop into back-ups.
What is the theme here? Lack of depth and susceptibility to injury. DE recruiting (and DLine) needs to be a serious priority in this cycle. It should have been more of a priority last cycle. I think we are looking good with TE's and WR's...We are bringing in Shaq Lawson and Martin Aiken this year who will be fine players but will need a year or two. We will probably end up burning one of their redshirts to provide depth. We need a top flight 4* recruit badly. Its the first time in probably 8 years we will not have a borderline 4/5 star DE on campus. Sapp, Bowers, and Goodman were all in this area with Merling, Branch, Gaines Adams, and others being low rated recruits who got drafted in the 1st/2nd rounds.
Other potential pitfall areas we aren't thinking about:
- Punter: Benton has positive reviews so far with Pinion a quality recruit to back-up
- Safety: Can Hall recover from the injury to return to at least his Soph year productivity, will Meeks learn how to take better angles. Do we have any depth after wasting Robert Smith's redshirt?
- CB: How much does the departure of Sensabaugh hurt our secondary. He was an every down player. Breeland was decent last year but Robinson took a step back. Blanks training at the Nickel is a big positive because Brewer statistically last year was picked on and below average. The Football Scientist uses Yards Per Attempt as a metric and according to YPA Brewer gave up 10.3 YPA which is horrid. Jenkins improved last year but it will be interesting to see how the types of players Venables uses in his scheme. More SAM backer with Lateek or a smaller Nickel back like Jenkins.
I like Venables decision to stick Blanks in the Nickel spot. If he can lock that spot down and perform well he gives us the flexibility to adjust to any offensive scheme. It is encouraging to hear the interior DLine coming along but I am always worried that it is more about our poor OLine play than DLine talent. Gotta love spring ball!