Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Huntsville, Alabama
Some thoughts about our team heading into the season
Well I am finally in the mood for football season. For what seems like the first time ever I haven't had football fever during the Summer. I'm guessing that is what the first 5 months of marriage do to you. Its also been an eventful Summer with the World Cup and 2 exciting Golf major championships. However, after watching Coach Spurrier's press conference yesterday, its finally hit me and since I don't really write too much anymore I just wanted to give me outlook for the team this year.
Offensively, as some are well aware, I don't think this year's team will resemble anything of the past 3 years. Now whether that is a good thing or bad thing, we will just have to wait and see. I think you can say that about both sides of the ball. The formula that USC has been so successful with recently, this team doesn't have the personnel to continue with. On offense, Connor Shaw's mobility and turnover margin was the lifeline to its success. Those crucial 3rd and medium range yardage conversions and being able to pick up small (or even big) chunks of yards on a broken play kept USC from playing behind the sticks. It also kept our defense on the sideline and a lot of the times those guys were fresh heading into the 4th quarter. In fact, the two games we lost, the opposing teams ran more plays than we did. That kind of stuff is what we took for granted and we will miss it this year.
The threat of him taking off force teams to play a lot of Cover 2 to keep everything in front of them. If you tried to blitz him and missed, the entire field opened up. His running ability also created a lot of opportunities for Mike Davis because Connor could manipulate the defensive end on the zone stuff. Well that is gone now. Dylan can run some of the zone plays but he isn't going to be much of a consistent threat in-between the 20's. When he has ran the football (quite well I might add) its been in the red zone. Also with the ongoing battle at backup QB, we don't have a backup plan if Dylan got hurt so we have to monitor how many times we call his number.
For the first time in a while, teams are going to be able to man up across the board against us and bring the blitz. This is troublesome because our highly thought of offensive line hasn't been the best at pass protection. For all the acclaim that Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell have received, they fall victim to the speed rush and overloads. But honestly, what OT out there these day doesn't? Defenses are just flat out fast now. Putting my garnet glasses on though, I see a unit that has 3 sure fire NFL draft picks. I see a potential for 5 if Stadnik and Waldrop continue to develop at Center and Guard respectively. I think its hard to find another line you can say that about in the SEC. Have to like the young guys behind them too and hopefully they can get some snaps against lesser competition on our schedule. If nothing else, our line has got to be able to move defensive fronts backwards and play with some attitude. I don't know whether its the scheme or just the players we have recruited in the past but sometimes I don't see that mean streak or intensity that you see from lines at LSU, Alabama, etc etc. Hopefully with this group, things will start to change a bit and flow down to the young guys in the future. That's really the one thing that has been missing and maybe it has to do with the zone stuff? Maybe getting under center more will be just what the doctor ordered? They sure looked like they figured it out against UCF.
But after the criticism, I do like a lot of things about this offense. First of all, Coach Spurrier should be more comfortable calling plays with Dylan Thompson. For all the good that Connor Shaw did, he wasn't perfect. He didn't have the best field vision and he didn't make some of the throws that Dylan is capable of. I think Dylan allows Spurrier to work sideline to sideline because of his ability to throw the deep curl, comebacks, square ins, and the back shoulder throws. This should open up the middle of the field where guys like Jerell Adams and Nick Jones can make a living. Dylan (and the offense in general) being so experienced in the system should allow Coach Spurrier to utilize his entire playbook (I don't mean trick plays either). We don't have to live in the shotgun 95% of the time anymore. Coach Spurrier mentioned that we will probably be more under center this year. I think that has to do with his concern about shotgun snaps by the center and the above. So we should see far more sprint draws and toss plays. Hopefully he and Coach Elliott have installed some more variation than just the off tackle we saw against UCF. If we can get the passing game going early, that sprint draw could be deadly with such an aggressive runner like Mike Davis. If you can get the rush up field and leave Mike with a one on one with a linebacker or safety before he breaks into the second level, that's advantage Davis almost every time.
I really like our skill positions because we have a mixture of every thing. We have our budding superstar, Shaq Roland, who can do everything. We have a stocky built slot receiver that can mix it up in the run game but also catch the football (Pharoh Cooper). We have probably our best B receiver of all time in Nick Jones who is just rock solid all around. We have arguable the best deep threat in the conference in Damiere Byrd, whom has also shown that he can not only play all 3 receiver spots but also make plays in the short, medium, and long passing game. Then fill in the gaps with the experience of Shamier Jeffery and KJ Brent who have been super in practice .. you just have to think eventually one of them is going to contribute before they leave. IMO, both of them just need one good thing to happen to set them off kind of like Moe Brown. Specifically with Shamier - we need to see one of those catches that make our DBs shake their heads in practice (he has had multiple ones).
Then you look at the running backs and tight ends. Even more diversity. Mike Davis is the star. Violent runner, breakaway speed, great hands. The guy has it all but he needs to stay somewhat healthy. Shon Carson has shown some big play ability but is mostly dependable and won't lose the game for you. He has shown some spurts in his playing time but I'd like to see the Shon Carson that is talked about in practice more. Brandon Wilds gives you the physicality. He is a 100 yard machine when given the touches. Then David Williams is the home run ball. But outside of that, all 4 guys are able to catch the football. This is going to be pivotal this year because the check down option is going to be used a lot more than it was with Connor Shaw who would just pick up the yardage himself. I would estimate that these guys should have 50-60 receivers combined this year. Have to like the experience with this group too. I don't think breakdowns in blitz pickups will happen too often.
I don't see much changing in terms of production from the Tight Ends. Its possible they see a small spike in their production but I don't see neither Adams or Anderson eclipsing 25 catches. I do, however, expect their yards per catch to go up as I expect them roaming down the seam more. I also think the addition of Cody Gibson as the blocking tight end to pair up with Rory when we want to hammer away at defenses late in the game will be a welcomed sight.
Defensively, our bread and butter has been the pass rush. It has allowed us to drop a bunch of guys in coverage and force the QB to make the correct read or make a tough throw. We've been spoiled by that to say the least and its no secret how talented our defensive ends have been. However this year looks like we will finally show a chink in the armor barring someone(s) stepping up and out performing expectations. We got away with an inexperienced secondary 2 years ago when Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree were breaking in as new starters but that team had a tremendous pass rush spearheaded by Jadeveon Clowney and crew. This year, not only do we have a young secondary, but we are with an inexperience and possibly less talented at the defensive end positions. That just doesn't appear to be a winning formula, I would gladly trade having inexperienced corners but a veteran superior talented DE(s) or a veteran superior talented CB(s) and inexperienced DE(s) over what we have now.
I think the 3 man fronts will work eventually. We are loaded up with Defensive Tackles and hybrid DE/DT, DE/LB type players. But we are going to have to blitz and opening the field up with inexperienced corners is a big, big risk. I just think this unit is going to be out of their element for a while. I pray that the freshmen (Wes Green, Chris Lammons, and Al Harris) can tackle in open space. If I am a offensive coordinator, I'm throwing a crap ton of quick screens to see what they are made of. I also worry about those guys hitting a wall at some point this season. Harris could really use another year in the weight room, Lammons was a high school QB that is learning on the job and probably another year away, and Wes Green probably could use one more year too. But these are the cards we were dealt and Coach Ward / Coach Brown are going to have to make it work. I think ideally, we would like to see Rico McWilliams comes into his own and lock down one corner spot. I'm not really worried about Brison Williams playing corner. He is a veteran and has slimmed down. He'll be fine. Really like what we have at Safety with Elder, Moody, Gurley, and Marcus. Elder has a chance to be a superstar and the other 3 should be rock solid. Can't wait to see Chris Moody in his first legitimate action. It appears like the light bulb has popped on for him. I really was high on him coming out of high school.
Linebackers should be fantastic overall. I'm curious to see how much the rotation changes between now and the end of the year. All of these guys deserve to play and I'm guessing the depth chart will be a revolving door until (hopefully) players can start locking down the jobs. Looking at the 2 deep at all of those spots, you could argue a case for all of them need to play:
MIKE - Holloman / Lewis / Roberts
WILL - Moore / Walton
SPUR - Golightly / Diggs
BOB - Allen Williams / Bryant
I think the SPUR and BOB battles could be flip flopping every week. I don't foresee Walton moving to MIKE yet because of the experience there but we have to find ways to get him and Moore on the field at the same time. Someway, somehow.
Finally, the defensive line. A lot of people know my feelings about it. I don't see them changing unless Darius English is a manammal off the edge (can he play against the run at his new weight?). I think the best we can hope from him is between 8 and 10 sacks which should put him in all-conference discussion. I think Gerald Dixon is going to be rock solid. Not going to do anything flashy but he will play his assignment and won't get you beat. I love watching that guy play football. I also think David Johnson is going to have his moments. Undersized but can get after the QB. But other than that, I just don't know what we're going to have because honestly, there isn't much there. The defensive tackles are going to be phenomenal IMO. Dixon, Jr. and Surratt are just as solid as Dixon but the real playmaking ability is behind them with Lamin, Griffin, and Green. All explosive players that could provide game changing moments. Deon Green could be the surprise of the year if he gets some reps at DE. He has had such a good Fall camp from what I understand that one would think we have to get him out there to rush the passer. Hoping for a breakout season from Phillip Dukes as well. Now in his 4th year, its time for him to start coming on.
Now I've gotten a lot of questions about my attitude lately and why I have been a little more negative than in season's past. I think the best explanation I can give you is that I am quietly optimistic about this year's team. I guess its a creature of habit thing. We have been so successful lately doing one thing and now it appears we have to adapt to a new philosophy and that gets me worried. Its weird though because I've always been a proponent of us needing to open up the offense more. But I reckon I've gotten use to the way we have been playing. Sometimes its just hard for me to fathom that a team that has been an opportunistic ball control offense and a rush 4 + drop 7 defense is going to open it up offensively and use 3 man fronts w/ blitzing from the second level and keep the train going. But this is why Coach Spurrier and his staff are making the big money. If there is anyone that can make it work, its those guys. I'll be anxiously watching and cheering loudly just like the rest of you guys.
Here is to beating aTm on Thursday!
Follow me on Twitter! @Ch4ncey
As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round. - Ben Hogan