The strength of this defense will be in the back seven and after looking at the LBs last week, I want to talk DBs.
We're the deepest team in the league at DB. Depth being defined as quality contributors rather than a three deep comprised of humans who were issued shoulders pads and a jersey number under 50. As inexperienced as our defensive backfield was last year, they still performed OK, particularly as the season progressed. Note Phil Steele's Pass Efficiency Ratings, which factor in the strength of the opponent's offense. Unless the freshmen who played last year are Chad Hennesque in their growth, we'll be even better. Even if our pass rush takes a tick downward.
We'll start micro going guy by guy at CB, then S, and then talk about the unit as a whole.
Chykie Brown, RS Junior 6-0, 188
A potentially nice sophomore year was handicapped when he missed 3.5 midseason/late games with an injury. He then regained his starting job, performing adequately down the stretch. Chykie is a very good athlete with long arms and he's wiry strong at the LOS. WRs have trouble disengaging from him cleanly and he's good at disrupting a timing passing game in press coverage. He can give up a play over the top to a quality WR (see Ohio State game), but I'm not aware of a corner that doesn't.
So what limits him? To date, Chykie hasn't finished plays. Batted balls, a reliable tackle, and pass breakups need to be replaced with forced fumbles and picks. He's a legit NFL talent, but if injuries strike again, his career may take on an Orakpo cast. If they don't, early draft entry isn't out of the question.
Curtis Brown, Junior 6-0 180
Curtis is a great athlete who would have benefitted immensely from a redshirt. We may not know what he's truly about until his senior year. He started four games for us and his play was pretty inconsistent. He has two primary deficiencies: he's physically weak and he lacks pure corner skills. He gets by on pure athleticism. So, amusingly, a Kerry Meier type poses more problems for him than Dez Bryant.
The beauty of Curtis is that both of his deficiencies are completely addressable with time, effort, and coaching. I'd get him in the return game to increase his athletic confidence and if his skills and strength grow, you'll see a real player. If not, you still have a 3rd corner that can really help you.
Aaron Williams, Sophmore 6-1 190
I love AJ Williams in every phase. Ball skills, coverage, run support, special teams. In limited action, the true freshman had an interception for a TD, a couple of brutal hits, four blocked punts, and tied for the team lead in special teams tackles. Let me summarize as follows:
Deon Beasley, Senior 5-10 178
Wanted: heart transplant.
Despite appearing in 33 contests and starting 11, the veteran of the unit is on the outside looking in. He might be our #4 CB, which gives you some idea of our progress here. Deon is doing the right things in the off-season as he knows it's a contract year and he will provide some value in dime packages against our most pass happy opponents.
There are some good things about Deon - he's probably our quickest DB, receivers don't get easy separation from him in coverage, and he has some ball skills (3 career interceptions). His downside is a lack of physical play and his abhorrence for contact: he hides in run support and consistently gets worked over in the WR screen game. If only football was a 7 on 7 contest at a Nike Camp. Though given how 7 on 7s are breathlessly reported on recruiting sites, are you telling me that it's not?!
Marcus Davis, Freshman 6-1 190
There's no playing time for Marcus here except in mop-up. He's a VHT and if we play him, it will likely be on special teams. Muschamp will always train any DB with CB promise here first and then push them inside if they're not elite.
Eryon Barnett, Freshman, 6-2 180
See above. I'd like to see Eryon redshirt though.