Man…first…sorry so long since I last posted…kind of went into a summer black hole. Mostly, I was pretty much heads down on the 2012 edition of Bonesville Magazine which will hit the presses in early August and be out to you guys by the opener.
Anyway, more importantly, I had a long talk with Brian Mitchell and man, he has me jacked up about this defense.Bonesvillewas kind enough to run my Q&A with Brian, today, – which can be found here if you are interested – and if the emails I am getting from that piece is an indication, I am not alone in my excitement not only for football season, but for the potential this defensive unit has.
One thing about Coach Mitchell I have noticed over the last two years is that he is typically very guarded in term of speculating on potential…that is to say, he typically downplays expectations. But, this time around, you could hear it in his voice. This group of kids are his group…his type. He loves the guys who love this game. Call them old school types, whatever, he really loves the old less flash and dash and more lunchpail type of players. And he has a stable of them this time around.
So, how do I read between the lines…here are some of my thoughts – my personal thoughts not to be construed with anything Brian told me – based on what I as hearing and have seen.
We really may have one of the best Nose Guard tandems in the league if not beyond. Brooks is phenomenal and truly the anchor in the middle. If you rewatch games from 2011 – which I admit I do sometimes – it is hard to find bad tape on him. I think he could have legit NFL shot ahead and Terry Williams is a freak of nature. It is like he was simply built to play nose guard. He is a beast and to hear that he is pushing Michael, then I am MORE THAN excited to see how opponents adjust to try to push these two animals out of the way. There is a reason that Jeremy Grove had 120+ tackles and that we got another 120+ plus out of the other ILB position (Kyle Tudor and Daniel Drake combined).
Brian Mitchell is excited about John Lattimore…real excited. He was the first name out of Coach’s mouth when I interviewed him. Now, we have not seen Lattimore on the field yet, but he certainly looks the part and was a beast in Camp Connors this year. I think Lattimore is a starter after Game 1 no deference to Matt Milner, who I think along with Justin Dixon on the other side are more suited to be your pressure ends – for pass rush situations. Milner is a playmaker and has a knack – ala Zack Slate – to make things happen around the quarterback. And, Mitchell went on and on about Lee Pegues and if nothing else, that man will be a huge load to content with if you are a tackle. That gives us a serious two-deep at DE that allows a ton of flexibility with Lattimore being a do-it-all DE, Pegues a run buster, and Dixon and Milner being edge contain specialists.
As much as I love Jeremy Grove and as much as it was his unit a year ago, I believe that this is Derrell Johnson’s unit now. Not from the standpoint of leadership and not even from a tackles perspective – Grove will serve there – but from a game-changer perspective. This move is one I have waited for since he stepped on the field. Johnson just has the “it” factor. You watch games from last year and he just is always there in the final frame of a tackle. At the Will position, Mitchell said it himself, Johnson will be the feature schematically. Can’t wait to see this in action. I agree with Mitchell, too, that it will make Chris Baker much better and then there is Jake Geary…one of my favorite players – dat kid has heart and plays like it. We are simply loaded at Will.
Now, I am not so bullish on the Sam position, but we have talent there. Maurice Falls has the goods athletically and Mitchell is very excited about him, but I am not sold that we are two-deep there with starters. I know that Mitchell considers Montese Overton a phenom who he really had a hard time redshirting last year but I feel like maybe Geary could move over there rather than be in a 3-way battle, but we’ll see.
Inside…well…I love Grove…man what a perfect Mike backer. Smart, heady, and does his job. By design, he should have had the most tackles and he did. Love the workmanlike performance and Ty Holmes isn’t just an adequate back-up…he is good and kudos to him for keeping his wits about him while playing behind an All-America. We are set there. At the other ILB spot, I am torn between two wonderful players. I have the mojo for Daniel Drake. What a great kid…awesome plugger in there, too, but Tudor is also a great kid. I imagine we will see more Tudor when the other team is a more pass-oriented team and more Drake when the other guys are running at us. Again, we look good. And then, also, there is Zeek Bigger…were any of you as impressed with him as I was in spring camp and the PG game?? I think that kid is going to be a very good MLB.
OK…here is where I diverge a little bit from Coach Mitchell. I like some of the talent back there, but am not convinced on a few of the details. Let me get over the easy part first…Damon Magazu…love him, he is the Nick Johnson of the secondary…doesn’t look the part, but is a master of it without fail. Reliable is spelled M-A-G-Z….and I like Venable, too. Good there.
And, surprisingly, I feel good about Leonard Paulk. I never thought I would be able to transition so readily to the corner who followed Emanuel Davis, but Paulk has such an infectious attitude and style of play, I have to say, I think we will be fine on the boundary. He proved a lot by having the aggressive approach he had getting the emergency start against USC last year. Rocco Scarfone appears to be another kid built in the mold of Danny Webster and Damon Magazu…still a wait in see though, so depth here is a question mark, too.
Here is where I do not share Coach’s certainty. I am not sold on Jacobi Jenkins at Field Corner. He is a great, hard-working kid, but he has had nothing but opportunity after opportunity for almost 2 years and did not lock it down. I really like Blacknal – at safety – but didn’t think he was stellar at corner. Good, yes. But if Jenkins was the future, then he should have won that job a year ago. He has 12 starts in his career…and yet is still fighting for the job. Hope I am wrong cause he is a great kid. I am hopeful that Adonis Armstrong is the stud they are saying he is because I think we are going to need that. Perhaps it will be a committee approach there.
I am a little surprised how spring finished at the CAT position (strong safety). I fully expected Godfrey Thompson to win it so when it was Lamar Ivey I wasn’t sure how to read that. I thought it would be Godfrey over Desi Brown because I always saw Ivey as not as aggressive as we would expect. HOWEVER, Mitchell loves Ivey and pointed out that Ivey was fantastically aggressive in the spring. I think that the battle will reconvene in Fall and Thompson will win out eventually, but it is a good we have three guys battling there.
In summary, I think we are on the verge of seeing something very special from the defense this year. If our offense can minimize the turnovers, it might find itself rewarded quite a bit with short fields provided by this team. The defenses collective goal is to become a top-30 defense this year and if they make it half way there, we should be right in the mix for the CUSA title again.
Those are my thoughts my friends. Please chime in and share your’s. I love hearing others opinions and honestly…i sort of need it if I am going to survive these next two months without Pirate football.