"Five" is a series of five things, players, thoughts or whatever I think will fill a post.
1. CB Cornelius Douglas | Would it be fair to say that I think the success and failure of the defense rests on Douglas' shoulders? Probably not fair, but I think it is true and that is incredibly scary for someone that wants the defense to succeed. There were a few stories from this spring about how Douglas was shutting down opposing receivers, in fact WR Darrin Moore singled out Douglas as the guy that he had to play against all spring:
"I felt like we had a back-and-forth battle," Moore said. "He really grinded. He got a lot better this spring, as well as the rest of the defense. But I feel like me and him going together, we both pushed each other to the limit. We’re going to go hard every play, because we both want to get the best of each other."
There was no doubt that when I left the spring game, I came away impressed as to how quickly Douglas has adapted to cornerback and he was always stride for stride with whoever he was covering. I know that the rush defense wasn't good last year, but these things are inter-related and if Douglas can be a good cornerback then a lot of the problems with the run game will get better.
2. FS D.J. Johnson | I was actually going to do a post that was to focus on what players could do and not what they can't do. The idea for the post was going to focus on Johnson and Davis, two players who I think have been maligned a bit, some of it their own doing. I now that it is the natural reaction of fans to almost always think that the back-up is better than the starter, but that's an incredibly easy way out for fans that really isn't how things work. Coaches cannot throw players out with the bath water, it's just not that easy. Players are important cogs in the machine, and although they are not perfect, no player is, the job of a coach is to accentuate the positive aspects of a player and attempt to negate the deficient aspects of that player. With Johnson, he was a revelation his freshman season and I for one was impressed that he was able to contribute as a true freshman coming out of a private high school in Austin. As fans, we have seen all too many times Johnson chasing an opposing receiver down the field. Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman's main job with both Johnson and Davis is to make sure that both of these players can make positive plays for this team. I think the key to doing this is for Johnson to be lined up in the right spot. Johnson isn't a burner by any means, but he's more than fast enough to be a free safety. Most of the time, if you see a safety running down a play it is because the safety was lined up in the wrong spot, bit or cheated on a play that he shouldn't have or was simply out-run. Kaufman is to fix the first two things, which is that I think that a big part of last year's problem was that the players were not lined up correctly, which cost this team big passing plays down the field.
3. SS Cody Davis | This is really somewhat of a continuation of what I think about the coaches needing to put the players in the right spots, but how big of a deal is five yards? Five yards isn't that big of a deal. It's fifteen feet, it's really not that much space, but what if a coach has a player lined up five yards out of position, whether it be too close to the line of scrimmage or too far to the left or right? That five yards makes a significant difference and I think this is the reason why Tuberville not only hired Kaufman, but he also hired John Lovett. Lovett has overseen secondaries and coordinated some pretty good Miami teams, but the thing that they have both said from the beginning is that they want to scrap everything they did (or didn't do last year) and focus on alignment and technique. I've talked way too often about how simple that concept is, but the truth of the matter is that if a team has safeties that aren't the fastest safeties in the conference, then alignment and technique become critical. Five yards can make a huge difference and if Kaufman and Lovett can at all correct some of the alignment and technique issues, then I think you'll some pretty good play from Davis and Johnson.
More after the jump.
4. CB Eugene Neboh | Your other starting cornerback is a former walk-on that earned a scholarship last year. I don't think there were that many defections from the secondary (defensive line yes, but not the secondary), so this is a bit scary. I think that Neboh is a decent corner, nothing spectacular, but there wasn't a lot of talent at the cornerback spot, other than Tre Porter. The fact that Neboh is starting is worrisome because that means that there are or were no real scholarship players that have pushed him out of this spot, although I think that Happiness Osunde may be the other best option if he can fully recover from a knee injury suffered in the Baylor game. Neboh has always had the necessary speed and quickness, but I'd guess that he's lacked the proper technique to be a full time starter until this year. A year where there may not be many options. A healthy and able Neboh could cure a lot of the concerns at cornerback, if he can't play, then I'm officially worried.
5. DT Leon Mackey | The defensive line is at least a year away. I'm saying it and I'm okay with that. Mackey was supposed to be an equalizer at defensive end, but a punctured lung and Mackey running completely around plays at defensive end wasn't getting it done. At least the staff recognized that Mackey is an incredible athlete, but a guy of his strength, size and speed should be more effective than what he did last year, which was not very much. And even if you account for the punctured lung, his play wasn't all that impressive and I wanted more than that. So during the spring and offseason, Mackey has spent time adding as much as 15 to 20 pounds and is supposed to help anchor a defensive line that was ravaged by opposing offenses. This team needs bodies at defensive line. Competent and strong bodies that can help make the defense better. On the way up to Lubbock to the Spring Game, Tuberville singled out Mackey as a guy that he thought would make some waves. Sometimes I think that Tuberville does this to pump up players that maybe need an ego boost a bit, but it really is vital that Mackey make a significant contribution this year if the defense has any aspirations to getting back to okay (i.e, not turrble, but okay -- my standards are low).