Now it's time for the defense. What do we make of a gap between perceived potential and on-field execution? Is the defense the really smart kid who finds the pop quizzes boring and will ace the mid-terms or is the reading in this class showing some gaps in our education?
Defensive Tackle - B+
Four players more or less splitting snaps with Bo Davis playing match-ups and hot hands as the game dictates. Brandon Moore, Chris Whaley, Ashton Dorsey, and Desmond Jackson are the principals with freshman Malcom Brown providing high quality depth. Have largely been de-emphasized by opponent games plans in our first three games, but are vital for conference play if we want to play undermanned or honest number fronts and get quick pressure on passing games.
Outstanding depth. Diversity of skills and body types. Play with good energy and overall tempo. Have combined for 10 tackles for loss over three games. Good pocket push and solid in pursuit. Attack pulling linemen. Graded as four above average to good football players, at minimum. Solid upside potential in all four, particularly Whaley and Moore.
No dominant player on unit has emerged yet to dictate blocking schemes with a demonstrated capacity for making plays beyond their assignment scope. This unit is a solid reliable, but can they become a problem for opposing offenses?
Defensive End - A
Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are high quality starters. Strong pass rushers, but do so within the construct of their responsibilities, and both are willing run stoppers. Playing at All-conference caliber and have combined for 5 sacks, 10 QB hits, and 7 tackles for loss in three games. Back-ups Reggie Wilson and Cedric Reed are proving capable, but upside is unknown.
Good pass rushers who are disruptive against the run, rarely allowing the ball across their face when tasked with containment. Okafor has a particularly strong ability to anchor and can defeat offensive tackles heads up. Jeffcoat is athletic and mobile enough to play 3-4 OLB and can be utilized for coverage/blitzing games all over the LOS. Strong inside move and uses hands well. Instinctive, experienced defenders capable of taking over a game if opposing offenses eschew quick passing routes or have exploitable tackles.
Jeffcoat doesn't always have the strength to squeeze offensive tackles down on inside zone runs and Okafor is better at cleaning up a flushed QB than creating a straight up Orakpo-style pressure.
Linebacker - C
A young unit still feeling their way in Manny Diaz's schemes that require flawless run fits at LB for the run defense to work. Hicks and Edmond lead the team in tackles. Still have their best football in front of them. Increased use of nickel and dime and less exposure to spread option can obviate some of their weaknesses.
Physically gifted. Hicks is the most complete player of the group and has played well so far. Demarco Cobbs covers ground well, and is capable of covering slot personnel and tight ends. Steve Edmond is physical inside the tackles with good hands in pass coverage. All three are willing and effective blitzers.
Inexperienced. Cobbs has tackled poorly. Edmond and Cobbs are not confident in assignments from play to play. Edmond is playing slower than his ability and taking poor angles. All three are poor at taking on cutting blockers. Hicks is injured and it has the potential to nag him for the rest of the year. Back-ups are unproven commodities.
Defensive Backs - B
Extremely talented group that has underachieved relative to their potential despite a number of game-changing plays and a propensity for forcing turnovers. Five interceptions in three games. Playing much more Cover 1 than last year and DBs are still learning to adjust.
Kenny Vaccaro has been the best player on the entire team. Adrian Phillips is excellent in run support and capable of coverage diversity in man or zone. Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs are capable of good to very good play and have good hands. Good ability to disguise coverages. High upside if they can get on the same page.
Inconsistent tackling and coverage mesh. Haven't finished plays. Sometimes effort to disguise or late play call has them forgetting the larger defensive concept, down and distance, where their help is coming from.