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The Defensive Revolution Begins

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Let the revolution begin. LAJ's Don Williams writes this morning that redshirt freshman S Daniel Cobb (who was also from Killeen, but his mother and family are safe from the Fort Hood tragedy) will hopefully replace current weak-side linebacker Marlon Williams, who will play his last game for the Red Raiders in January. Read the article first, as Williams goes through a couple of different scenarios regarding who will play where, including going through the motions of eliminating Sam Fehoko (will play middle linebacker), Julius Howard (will continue to play safety) and Tyrone Sonier (will play strong-side linebacker).

Per defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the solution is going to be moving Daniel Cobb:

"I think he can handle it," McNeill said this week. "He’s been doing a pretty good job for us. When you move a DB down, it’s the run game he has to get used to. But he’s got athleticism and a really good mentality about him. The pass-coverage part, he’s been a safety and that helps him in pass coverage quite a bit. The run game is the phase he’ll have to learn."

Snip

"There’s a certain type of guy that I want at (weak-side linebacker)," McNeill said. "I’m looking for that guy that can cover down more on wide receivers. He has to cover down on wide receivers more than a (strong-side linebacker) normally. People are spreading us out."

For those of us who have wondered why McNeill continually puts a linebacker, who we all know cannot cover a slot receiver, on a slot receiver, then this move, as admitted by McNeill, that it's time for a change.  And it's not just the slot receiver, but it's also the running quarterback that simply plagued this year's squad (Houston, TAMU and Oklahoma St.) in terms of being able to run out of the pocket and pick up incredibly easy first downs.

When Leach, McNeill & Co. recruited and signed 6 defensive backs in the 2009 recruiting class, there were some of us that were curious as to why McNeill would sign so many defensive backs, but the potential signing of another large group of defensive backs will continue in 2010:

2009: Terrance Bullitt, Daniel Cobb, Will Ford, Yahshua William, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips

2010: Urell Johnson, Desmond Martin, Russell Polk, Tre'Vante Porter and Brandon Smith

The 2009 list doesn't account for LB Brandon Mahoney, who apparently had a shoulder injury all year while redshirting, but has quite a bit of explosiveness and LB Dion Chidozie, who according to McNeill, hasn't played with confidence while redshirting, but is getting more comfortable later. Both Mahoney and Chidozie are speed guys, but McNeill is looking elsewhere. I have no idea if McNeill has the same type of thought with the 2010 class and if I had to guess, Carter S Russell Polk might be the most likely candidate to eventually make the move.

Without looking ahead, it's comforting that McNeill sees the same thing we see when DTN discusses a game and one of the flaws of the defense. And for those of us that aren't in the locker room or in staff meetings, I think this is confirmation that the team understands it's defensive limitations, but the staff understands that it's foolish to throw out a player out on the field that doesn't have some experience, and despite physical limitations, that experience plays into how this staff makes personnel decisions.

Personally, this makes me truly excited about the future. I think this staff is trying ot adjust, but adjusting during the middle of the season isn't always easy, especially when the potential options available don't have the speed that a true freshman has, like Cobb. It was one thing to get Will Ford and D.J. Johnson early playing time, but that may have been out of necessity, with such little returning depth in the secondary, especially safety. I don't think it's any sort of heresy to suggest that McNeill sees the exact same thing that we all see, whether it be a linebacker struggling to keep pace with a slot receiver or that same linebacker being unable to contain a quarterback on the run.  Implementing change, especially during a season can be difficult, but the fact that the staff recognizes the problem and is actively trying to address the issue is encouraging . . . very encouraging.

I also like the idea that McNeill isn't completely selling out to only recruit speed linebackers as there have been years that McNeill converts high school defensive ends to linebacker (Fehoko and Sonier come to mind immediately) and McNeill also has a commitment from Fred Harvey, a 5-11/230 middle linebacker type of player and Zac Winbush, who already has a 6-2/200 frame that will eventually fill out nicely.