Under Construction: The defensive line was pretty banged up and I thought that the players up front just couldn't muster much pressure on the quarterback. Of course, when you're talking about a 164 play scrimmage where there's a handful of players that get playing time and not just the starters, it's not going to look perfect. I mentioned this a couple of times to the group after the game, that I'm a bit concerned about Brian Duncan's ability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. I tend to think of Duncan of being a bit undersized, but truthfully, he's the same size as Daniel Howard. The key is probably technique and time. He's virtually learning an entirely new position, a position which requires him to completely change how he approaches the game. Of the players that I think can effectively make that change, it's Duncan and Bront Bird. I get the feeling that whatever either of them are asked to do, they'll do for the betterment of the team.
But back to the defensive line, despite missing DT's Colby Whitlock, Myles Wade and Chris Perry I did think that some of the young players made an impact. DT Donald Langley stood out as being a strong player and pretty danged athletic for his size. DE Kerry Hyder, who I had to figure out who it was, and DE Aundrey Barr, also stood out a bit. There's definitely talent there. Now the question becomes, how much of an impact will the new defensive linemen make, in particular DE/DT Scott Smith and DE/DT Lawrence Rumph. With the incoming talent and the talent that I think is currently there, the defensive line will be fine and I think they'll be much deeper than they have been in previous years.
Making Improvements: What's being reported and what's being stated about the defense is true, that the defense was fairly vanilla. I always find myself focusing on one thing or another, and I caught myself focusing on the offense more than the defense. In any event, I did think that the defense is doing a better job of getting to the ball and running down the ball carrier, no matter who it is. I don't think this defense lacked effort under McNeill's watch. You can say a lot of things about McNeill, but him having players give full effort wasn't one of them.
What I can say is that I think the defense will be more unpredictable and the defense will have pressure coming from a bunch of different angles (although this wasn't on full display last week). And not just pressure on the quarterback, but pressure on the offense. The conundrum is that with the defense giving a bunch of different looks, this is a relative departure from McNeill's stance of keeping things simple. I don't think it's rocket science, but I'd also say that there's a fine line between overwhelming these guys, which is the impression I got from this spring, versus letting them play. From all of the reports, perhaps overwhelming them in the first two weeks was the best way to handle the situation as you've got to find the players that can handle the stress. You've got a limited amount of time to find out whether or not these guys can play and if they can't.
Tuberville has said a number of times this spring that there's still work to be done and he's anxious to get some of the new signees on campus and up to speed:
"We got a lot done this spring, but we’ve got a long ways to go," Tuberville said. "We’ve got to work on our depth, and we’ve also got to get some of these young guys that we signed in here in June and get them on the team and get them ready to go."
Tuberville has said this a number of times and I have no doubt that he's seen the relative speed on the field and he wants to be even faster. I referenced Eugene Neboh earlier last week and kept wondering why he was was getting so much burn, and when I researched Neboh, it became apparent that Neboh may be really raw in terms of play-making ability, but he must be fast. Same thing goes for Jarvis Phillips.
2010 Impact Player: If you would have asked me who the impact player was before the game, I would have said it may need to be DT Colby Whitlock. Whitlock didn't play and right now, I see the 2010 impact player being Bront Bird. I get the feeling that he's not going to come off the field very much and I still think that Willis and Tuberville will want to create pressure with Bird from a few different spots. I keep talking myself into the thought that had Brian Duncan stayed inside, I still would have picked Bird, but my thought is that Bird's a fairly unique player that should have an impact because he can play inside or put pressure on the passer. Perhaps better said, if Bird isn't having a truly impactful year in 2010, then I'm worried that it could be a really long season.
Future Watch: We've talked about this a bit prior to the start of the spring practices, but right now, my money is on whoever is fast, especially given Tuberville's constant reminder that he wants player that are fast. In the 2010 recruiting class, Tuberville signed three defensive backs that were clocked at a 4.4 40-yard dash, Brandon Smith, Phillip Warren and Tre'Vante Porter. In the 2009 recruiting class, only D.J. Jonson was clocked with a 4.4 40-yard dash time. Thinking this through, in the 2009 recruiting class, Leach signed what would end up being six defensive backs (with Daniel Cobb being moved to linebacker) and went to the well again to sign six more defensive backs in the 2010 class. Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this, but as talented as I thought the 2009 defensive back class was, Tuberville could have shored up the offensive line a bit or some other position of need, perhaps receiver, but instead opted for more speed in the defensive backfield. Picking right now, I'm going with Tre'Vante Porter, who may be the most polished and ready to play of the defensive backs. Think Will Ford, but faster.
Optimistic 2010 Prognosis: I'm pretty comfortable with the defense. Despite losing some players that contributed heavily, I think prior to this fairly impressive streak of recruiting players that are able to fill positions, there's not going to be that big of a drop-off in talent. The biggest concern heading into the spring was defensive line and despite the handful of injuries prior to the game, I left the game thinking that it's not as bad as you might think. And to think that the defensive line should be bolstered by guys like Lawrence Rumph and Scott Smith, I think the pass-rush aspect of the defense will be fine.
The linebacking corps was developed slowly over time and credit needs to be given to McNeill for pushing playing time for guys like Sam Fehoko, Tyrone Sonier and Julius Howard. When Bird and Duncan leave after 2010, the defense should be in relatively safe hands.
The secondary may be even better this year than last year, and although it's blasphemy to suggest that the incumbent safeties, Cody Davis and Franklin Mitchem, may not see as much time as they did last year. They were very steady last year and the don't get beat deep often, may be replaced by players such as Terrence Bullitt and Yashua Williams. They may not play as technically sound as Davis and Mitchem, but they may be a step faster.
If there's even a semblance of a pass rush in 2010 and Willis and Tuberville can create some opportunities for the defense whether it be because of scheme or talent, then I think this team doesn't fall far from where it was in 2009. If the pass rush and sacks can continue, then I'm more optimistic. The basic concept of last year, which was don't get beat deep, keep everything in front of you and generate a pass rush without blitzing, worked to an extent, but it was still mediocre. Texas Tech was still 6th in scoring defense, 7th in rushing defense, 5th in passing defense and 6th in total defense in the Big 12 in 2009. Optimistically, if the defense can improve to the top third in the conference and the offensive drop-off is slight, then that's where you hang your overly-optimistic-hat.