Friday, January 25, 2008

Diminishing Depth on the Defensive Line

In the past 2 weeks, the Irish defensive line has suffered 2 significant blows, first with the news that Pat Kuntz is not currently enrolled at ND (though he hopes to return) and second with the news this week that Derell Hand's football career may be over due to a reported spinal condition. With the graduation of dominant DE Trevor Laws and also Dwight Stephenson, there is some reason for concern about the DL going into the spring.

This spring, the Irish will be painfully thin from a depth perspective at DL and even more painfully lacking in experience at this critical position. As it stands now, the Irish will barely be able to field a 2 deep of scholarship players along the DL. At DE, the Irish will have Justin Brown, Paddy Mullen, Emeka Nwankwo, Kallen Wade, and Sean Cwynar. At NG, it is basically just the Ian Williams show. That is 6 scholarship DL on the entire roster!! From a sheer numbers standpoint, that is a very scary situation. What is even scarier, however, is that the 6 guys we are talking about are not experienced, grizzled veterans and 1 of the 6 (Cwynar) is a freshman who will simply be trying to learn the system. Of the 6 listed above, only Justin Brown and to a lesser extent Ian Williams have played extensively. Ouch. Obviously, someone (likely either Nwankwo or Mullen) will have to cross train at both end and NG to provide some depth. I really have no idea what the Irish would do if God forbid Ian Williams were to suffer an injury.

So that is the bad news. You can't sweep it under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist. However, I don't subscribe to "the sky is falling" crowd. Why? First, I believe Pat Kuntz will return to ND this summer and will be on the field when the 2008 season kicks off. I cannot overemphasize how important a player he is on so many levels for the 2008 Irish. If he returns, I believe Pat will shift to DE opposite Justin Brown to establish a starting trio of Kuntz-Williams-Brown. Kuntz is also able to shift to NG to spell Ian and to DT when the Irish go with a 4 man front. You can't mask the fact that the Irish will not have numbers on DL next year. That is why guys with positional flexibility who can play at a high level at multiple spots like Kuntz can are invaluable. Second, help is on the way. With this recruiting class, as of now, the Irish have reinforcements coming for the D Line. Sean Cwynar is already at ND as an early enrollee. This summer, Ethan Johnson, Brandon Newman, and Hafis Williams will join the corps. 1, likely 2 of these guys are going to have to be ready to contribute and give the Irish some snaps. A guy like Ethan Johnson is critical because on obvious passing downs, he has the speed and ability to give the Irish production at DE. Third, Corwin Brown and Charlie Weis have a plan. They know they are down numbers at DL. I think you will see a very diverse scheme next season to try to work around the problem. As strange as it sounds after saying the Irish lack numbers, I believe the Irish will show more 4 man fronts next season, with a guy like Kerry Neal sliding to DE to rush the passer occasionally. I also think you will see a lot more aggressive defense next year with much more pressure. Corwin knows he doesn't have the depth to sit back and allow teams to go on long drives. One way or the other, he knows he needs to put pressure on the opposing offense and get his D off the field as quickly as possible. Additionally, it is possible that someone like John Ryan will bulk up and see time at DE.

What does all of this mean? It is way too early to tell and there are way too many variables involved. Will Kuntz return? Will the freshmen be ready to contribute? Will someone like Kallen Wade make huge strides in the offseason? The bottom line is that at this point, the 2008 Irish DL has many of the same issues that faced the 2007 OL. Lack of depth, lack of experience, and guys who will be forced to play key minutes before they are ready. DL has clearly emerged as a big time position to watch as the spring approaches.

NOTE: After signing day, I will be doing a series of articles over a period of days/weeks sharing my thoughts on the Irish recruits by position group.

Friday, January 11, 2008

IrishGlory Q&A

Just wanted to take some time to address the latest round of questions about Irish football:

Q: Hi--- I thought offensive line play improved with Wenger at C.. your thoughts?

A: This is probably going to be a longer answer than you were hoping for because I have several thoughts on this. In general, the O Line did appear better with Wenger at center. However, I am not willing to draw any sweeping conclusions from that mainly because 2 games is a very small sample size and the 2 opponents were Duke and Stanford -- abysmal teams simply playing out the string. Nevertheless, I thought the line play with Wenger at center was a positive for a couple of reasons. First and most blatant to me, having Wenger at center allowed the Irish to once again incorporate the shotgun into their offense. Whatever the reason, John Sullivan simply did not execute the snaps in the shotgun this year and as a result, the Irish almost completely abandoned the formation as the year progressed. With Wenger at center, we saw Jimmy in the shotgun quite a bit. This was significant because the shotgun formation is where Jimmy is most comfortable at this stage of his career (as are most young QBs). He played much of his high school career from the shotgun and the formation gives a young QB more time to make his reads without worrying about the nuances of his footwork on a dropback. It is not a coincidence that Jimmy's performance improved as a result. Second, I have always said that O Line is a position where you absolutely need great chemistry. As Charlie stated, John Sullivan is a dominant personality. For better or worse, the guy is a dominant personality. That is fine when the rest of the line are his peers and there is a relationship there. However, when the majority of the line is comprised of young guys, they are naturally going to shrink back and allow the dominant personality to control things. This lessens communication and chemistry. When Sully went out, you had a guy like Sam Young going to Charlie to see how he could be a better leader. You had Dan Wenger getting quoted in the paper supporting Jimmy as the team's QB. You had Eric Olsen jumping up and down after running downfield to block for a long Robert Hughes run. In short, I think guys felt like they could breathe a little bit and take more ownership of the team. This is not a knock on John Sullivan at all, it is simply an observation of what I saw. I think the O Line next year has a real chance to surprise. I know the talent is there. What we don't know is if the attitude and effort will match that talent. Only time will answer that question.

Q: What do you know about Bartley Webb's ability?

A: Not a whole lot unfortunately. It should be noted that there have been strong rumors that Bartley has an injury that could end his football career at ND, although that has not been officially confirmed by Charlie. What I remember about Bartley from his high school film was that he was big kid with long arms who was somewhat gangly and awkward in his movements. He played with solid effort and had ability, but he was very raw from a technique standpoint and he did not appear to have great footwork or athleticism. He also played in a spread type offense and he had a ton of talent around him on that team, particularly on offense. I remember thinking he had a chance to be at least a solid depth/backup guy at ND, but he was going to need time to develop. I always hate to see a kid's career derailed by injuries so I hope it turns out for the best for Bartley.

Q: Judging by the type of recruits Charlie is bringing in on offense, what type of offense do you think he is trying to create? A smashmouth running style or a passing offense?

A: Good question. Honestly, Charlie's strength as a coach is his ability to gameplan against opponents. I think what he is trying to do first of all is upgrade the talent level at every position. That goes without saying. Second, I think he is trying to amass enough weapons and talent that he can attack an opponent's weakness, whatever that may be. If you look at the Patriots, for example, they have enough weapons that if a team is weak against the run, they can pound the ball all day long. If a team is weak against the pass, they can throw the ball all over the yard. By contrast, look at a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have to run the ball to win. If they can't run, they lose. What I think Charlie is trying to do is what we saw a little bit in year 1. Week to week change the gameplan and know you have the arsenal to do it. If I had to guess, however, I think ND will always be a pass-first team under Charlie.

Q: Did Omar Hunter lie to Charlie about his commitment and has he been committed to Florida for a while now?

A: There is plenty of smoke to that fire. However, I will say that what goes around has a way of coming around. There are rumblings that Omar may have a little love left in the heart for Georgia, who is making a late push. I think it would be quite funny if Omar landed at Georgia. Then Mr. Meyer's recruiting would have resulted in Omar leaving a team Meyer would have only potentially played in a bowl and landing with a team that Meyer will have to contend with in the SEC for years to come.

Q: After watching the high school all-star games, which ND recruit was the biggest surprise and which was the biggest disappointment?

A: No one was a disappointment. I am not going to label any kid a disappointment after 1 all-star game. Some are certainly more ready to play early than others, but I thought they all were extremely talented. As for the biggest surprise, I would have to say Braxston Cave followed by Mike Golic. Braxston really impressed me not only with his size and strength, but also his aggression and technique. I really really liked what I saw from him. As for Golic, he is so undersized right now that I didn't know what to expect. What I saw is a lot of what I saw from Mike Ragone this year at TE, who was also undersized for his position. His lack of size hurts him and he will be much better when he adds size and strength, but Golic is a battler who doesn't back down and plays with very good technique. Every time I focused on him, I expected him to get blown back and it didn't happen. He needs lots of time to develop, but I think he is going to be a player down the road. He is not just a depth guy.

Thanks for all the great questions and keep them coming to GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ian Williams: Freshman All American

Yesterday, it was released that Ian Williams has been named a Freshman All American. Following the text of the release, I share my thoughts on Ian and what his performance shows:


Notre Dame nose tackle Ian Williams (Altamonte Springs, Fla./Lyman) was named to the 2007 AON Insurance Freshman All-America Team, the Football Writers Association of America announced Jan. 7 during the association's annual awards breakfast.
Williams finished his first season with 45 tackles, including 19 solo stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. He played in all 12 contests and started the final two games of the season for the Irish. Despite playing primarily as a reserve for much of the year, Williams ranked sixth on the team in tackles and was the only player ranked in the top-12 in tackles on the team who did not start at least four games.
He was one of six true freshmen named to the defensive unit on the FWAA Freshman All-America Team and was one of 13 of the 28 freshman All-America selections who was a true freshman this season.
Williams was named to the all-freshman third team and was an honorable mention member of The Sporting News all-freshman team.

My thoughts: Before anything else, big tip of the cap to Ian Williams. This award is a tremendous honor and is truly deserved. Ian played hard, played with passion, and was extremely productive with the playing time he earned this season. Perhaps what impressed me most about Ian was how much outward emotion he displayed in his play this year. You could just tell watching him that football was important to him, that winning was important to him, and that protecting his teammates was important to him. Ian is only going to get better as he refines his technique and gets stronger.

On a more macro level, I like what this award symbolizes as far as the evolution of the Notre Dame defense is concerned, especially in light of the Omar Hunter decommit. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, a lot of misinformation has been spread to recruits about what they can and cannot do in this defense (I am thinking of one misguided coach in particular... ahem Urban). There is a myth out there that in the Irish 3-4 defense, D Linemen are essentially glorified statues, where their only responsibility is to engage O Linemen so that the LBs can make all the plays. This is a myth about the 3-4 in general and is especially untrue in the version of the 3-4 personnel that the Irish employ. For example, when Omar announced that he was decommitting, one of the reasons he gave was that as a NG in the 3-4, he would be constantly double teamed, and therefore unable to truly display his talents as a playmaker. Now I love Ian Williams and have already lauded his performance, but the reality is that he was not busting through double teams on every single play en route to recording his 45 tackles. Why? Because the Irish defense was able to present offenses with multiple looks, shifting, stunting, and playmakers at other positions. You couldn't simply double team a freshman NG every play because that would leave either Trevor Laws or one of the young athlethic OLBs either single covered. The reality is that Trevor Laws is the guy who was double teamed on most plays. And that is why the talent on defense that is being brought in with this recruiting class is so critical.

I am often asked who I think is the most important recruit in this class or most important recruit on defense. Honestly, the best part about this class, especially on defense, is that there is big time talent being brought in at ALL positions. The balance of this class as far as talent dispersion is critical. The best feature of the 3-4 is the unpredictability it creates for opposing offenses. It is much more difficult for opposing offenses to discern where the pressure is coming from in a 3-4 as opposed to a 4-3. This year, however, the Irish simply didn't have top level talent at every position on defense. Offenses could target a Trevor Laws and isolate on him because they weren't real worried about a guy like Dwight Stephenson on the other side beating them. They could concentrate on picking up the outside rushers Neal and Smith because they knew that with their inexperience, the Irish coaches weren't going to use them in pass coverage a whole lot and they had very little fear that a guy like Joe Brockington could make them pay with an inside rush.

Now fast forward a couple of years, when you have talent at depth at NG with Williams, Newman, and Hafis. You have playmakers at DE in Ethan Johnson and Sean Cwynar. At LB, you have guys like Kerry Neal, Brian Smith, Darius Fleming, etc. who are bigger, stronger, and faster. On the inside, you have the talent of a Steve Filer or Anthony McDonald. Then add to that the athleticism of guys like Harrison Smith and veteran lockdown corners like Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil and emerging Gary Gray. That is a scary thought for an offense. You can't just pick one guy like Trevor Laws and target him. Are you really in that scenario going to take 2 blockers and assign them to the NG on EVERY play??? Fine by me if that is what you choose to do, because I will just make you pay with a LB or corner blitz off the edge.

This is sort of a long winded rant against the misconceptions about the 3-4. The bottom line is Ian Williams had a heck of a year and is going to have a heck of a career. He is one of the many building blocks that are going to restore this program to prominence. How many days till spring ball kicks off????? GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Army All American Game Thoughts

Like most Irish fans, I anxiously awaited the Army All American Game that was played this weekend. It was a chance to take a glimpse at the future of Notre Dame football. After only seeing highlight clips of most recruits, it was a chance to watch them compete over the course of a game and see how they stacked up to other immensely talented football players. Having suffered through the down times in recruiting under previous regimes, when ND would have 1 or 2 players in this game, this year was a bonanza for Irish fans. Every time you turned around, there was another ND recruit doing something on the field. Here are my thoughts on the game, including ND recruits and non-ND recruits:

1. It sounds cliche, but the talent level at this game has steadily increased every single year. Watching these kids perform, who have not played with each other all year, is incredible and a testament to the AAA game coaches, the players, and their high school coaches. I think last year's game had more top end star appeal with Jimmy and Mallett, but this year's group was more talented top to bottom in my view.

2. Terrelle Pryor is the real deal. He will be a QB in college and a darned good one. Everyone says his passing is poor and to an extent they are correct. However, he will wind up in a system that suits his abilities and that will make him a lot more dangerous as a thrower than he is. He is a phenomenal athlete who is tailor made to run the spread offense Rich Rodriguez is trying to build at Michigan. I have never before wanted Ohio State to land a recruit, but I would much rather see Pryor at Ohio State as a Notre Dame fan.

3. Dayne Crist is perfect for the Irish offense. Big, strong armed, passer with great leadership skills. Dayne has to work on fundamentals, but he impressed in this game. Unlike Jimmy Clausen, who was forced to play before he was ready, Dayne is walking into a great situation with the Irish where he can take the time a QB needs to develop and be ready to play when he is ultimately called upon.

4. None of the RBs this year jumped out at me. I don't think this is a great year for RBs nationally. Plenty of talented guys, but I didn't see any can't miss superstars.

5. At WR, to me it was Mike Floyd and then everyone else. Floyd was head and shoulders above the other WRs. He is just so polished for a young kid that it is startling when you watch him play. The future is incredibly bright for Mike Floyd. Other receivers that stood out to me were Dan Buckner and Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin is more of a player than I thought he was. When he develops the immense raw talent he possesses, he is going to be an absolute beast for DBs to try to handle. John Goodman looked good, but will need to get bigger. On a side note, Goodman has a heck of an arm and could be a nice option on some trick plays, especially since he looked good as a holder. Kyle Rudolph was quiet at TE because it appeared the East QBs were taking a page from the Bob Davie playbook when it came to looking at the TE in the passing game.

6. Offensive Line was difficult to evaluate because my attention was naturally drawn to the skill position guys. Plus, I believe there are rules in the game regarding blitzes, etc. Trevor Robinson is a big, hard nosed kid who looked solid in the run game. He looks awkward in pass protection and will need to improve there, likely because he didn't do too much of it in high school. Mike Golic looks like a TE with his build right now and I expected him to get beaten up in there, but every time I looked, he was holding his own and getting to the second level on his blocks. He needs a lot of time to build his frame, but he will be a player before his time is up. Lane Clelland held his own, but needs to get a lot stronger at the point of attack.

7. At Defensive Line, the guy who jumped off the screen was Marcus Forston. He was head and shoulders above the other D linemen at the game. Brandon Newman looked good, but he needs to take his conditioning more seriously.

8 On defense, the LB position was the best overall position group for talent, by far. Arthur Brown and Etienne Sabino are absolute studs. The guy who surprised me with how good he looked was Kyle Prater. He is just a hard nosed kid who is a playmaker! Darius Fleming looked extremely athletic on the outside, while Steve Filer played well, but appeared to be thinking too much, which prevented his true ability from showing up. If I was ranking, I think Arthur Brown and Sabino are clearly the top two, with Prater, Fleming, and others right below them.

9. In the secondary, the top 2 cover guys I saw were Robert Blanton and Boubakar Cissoko. Blanton is never going to wow you with athleticism. However, every time you watch him, he just finds a way to get the job done and stay with guys. Cissoko is small!!! He will always struggle with bigger receivers, but don't let that fool you into thinking he will be a bust. His speed is exceptional and his cover skills are excellent. He will have a solid career, but he is someone that a defensive coordinator is going to have to help on big receivers. He will have a lot of trouble against a guy like Duval Kamara. Patrick Johnson will also be a big time player.

10. In somewhat of a surprise, Gerell Robinson picked Arizona State over Notre Dame. I honestly thought he was going to be Irish. This is going to sound like I am saying this because he picked another school, but that is honestly not the case. Gerell truly looked a lot better at safety than I think he looks at WR. He will be successful whatever position he plays. However, he looked very instinctive at safety and not afraid to stick his nose in there. With his size, I think he could be a tremendous safety at the next level. I think he is a good receiver prospect, but what I saw Saturday told me he could be an exceptional safety with time. Regardless, Arizona State got themselves a good one.

11. I didn't watch the ESPN Under Armour game. I did speed through to take a look at Braxston Cave and came away very very impressed. He is better than I thought he was.

Those were just my impressions. What were yours? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to post them in the comments section.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

IrishGlory Q&A

It has been a while since I have answered some questions so I thought today would be a good day to do that. I really enjoy reading the questions from you all so keep them coming to! The new year has re-energized me and I can't wait for the high school all-star games this weekend. I am already counting down the days till spring practice. So here goes...

Q: [paraphrasing] It appears that the play of the Irish offensive line has steadily declined since 1996 and bottomed out this year. To what do you attribute this to?

A: There are a lot of parts to this question and not one single factor you can point to because the decline spans 3 different coaching regimes. In general, however, I agree with your premise that the play of the O Line has deteriorated over time. A tremendous factor in the period from 1996 until Charlie was hired was complete lack of offensive identity. When Lou Holtz left, many wrongly perceived the Irish offense to be stale and in need of "modernizing." Bob Davie sought to be the architect of this "modernization." From Jim Colletto to Kevin Rogers, I don't think even the coaching staff knew what the identity, the staple, of their offense was. Was it a passing offense? Option? Power running? The coaches tried all of them, never settling on anything. For years prior, the Irish had a tradition of mammoth O linemen who punished people in the running game. In this period, they lost that identity, and once that is lost, it is difficult to recapture. After Davie was shown the door, Ty Willingham came in promising to bring this identity, the West Coast Offense, to ND. All talk, no action. The offense Ty and Diedrick created was like a ship without a rudder, it was throw things against a wall and see what sticks. Nothing stuck. No identity. Combined with horrendous recruiting, what I will generously call inadequate coaching, and lack of depth, it is not surprising that O line play disintegrated. Charlie is not blameless. While the offense was prolific during his first 2 years, I never saw dominant O line play. I believe the skill of Brady Quinn and his receivers and Darius masked many deficiencies on the O line. Lack of physicality has been the common factor that I will point to with the line under Charlie. Let's hope he gets that fixed this offseason. He has also largely been hurt by the poor recruiting and lack of depth left by his predecessor.

Q: Would you please share your thoughts on the Omar Hunter situation?

A: I have deliberately avoided writing on this subject because it has been so thoroughly covered by others, who have done a fine job bringing out all the key points. My thoughts are these... Omar Hunter is going to be a phenomenal football player. He is the top defensive line prospect I have seen this year (Everson Griffen was my top D Line prospect last year). Losing him AS A PLAYER is a tremendous loss. However, what the Irish need is guys who have talent and are committed to being at ND. We saw this year that guys can have all the talent in the world but if they are not connected to the team and connected to the university, then they don't do you much good. ND has talented NG recruits in Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams (and possibly Mike Martin). As far as recruiting tactics go, this is a dirty business folks. Some guys (ahem Urban) play the game dirtier than others, but if you want to battle with the big boys, this is the nature of the business right now. Wishing everyone would be honorable and truthful doesn't make it so. Charlie said when he was hired that he wanted to battle for the best players and we would win some and lose some. We lost this one. We have won far more than we have lost this year in recruiting. I for one am elated that we are again battling for the top guys. The alternative is going back to the Ty days and battling Syracuse and Baylor for recruits.

Q: With Bill Parcells now running the Miami Dolphins, do you see Charlie leaving to become their head coach?

A: NO!!!! Among the innumerable reasons why this won't happen, and they have been discussed many times before, if Charlie ever were to go to the NFL, you can be assured that it would not be to the AFC East as long as Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady are in New England. Charlie is extremely close to Tom and remains a trusted friend of Bill Belicheck. No chance he chooses to throw away the relationship with Belicheck (see Mangini, Eric) and compete against them twice a year. Charlie is the ND coach and I believe he will be the ND coach for years to come.

Q: Do you think there will be any surprise recruits down the stretch for Notre Dame?

A: If there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are ALWAYS surprises down the stretch in recruiting. Sometimes good, sometimes not good. I feel ver comfortable with the guys the Irish have on board and are still targeting. Mike Martin, the NG other sites have reported as now being recruited by ND, could be a pleasant surprise down the stretch. I guess if I had one curiosity about this current crop of recruits it would be that I thought the Irish would target at least one more true offensive tackle prospect because I believe the guys they have landed, with the possible exception of Lane Clelland, are all interior guys and I don't think Clelland will be ready to contribute for a while. I take this to mean they are confident in the development of Matt Romine and Taylor Dever.

Q: If you had a top 3 pick in the NFL draft this year, who would you pick and why?

A: Great question! This may surprise some, but I would take Jake Long of Michigan hands down. True LT stud prospects are next to impossible to find and when one falls in your lap, you take him, lock him up, and make him your cornerstone bookend for a decade. Just look at what a guy like Joe Thomas did for the Cleveland offense this year. Long is a notch below Thomas in my view, but he is still exceptional. I am not sold on any of the QBs this year being elite franchise QBs and Darren McFadden is excellent, but not as valuable in my view as Long. I can find an excellent back elsewhere, I can't find a cornerstone LT elsewhere.

Thank you for the questions and keep them coming! GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 Review: Secondary

I am back after taking some time to relax and enjoy the holidays. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year to all!

This will be the final article in my series reviewing the 2007 Irish squad. I know I haven't reviewed special teams, but I can't bring myself to do it. It is a new year and positive thoughts abound. Thinking about the 2007 special teams, with a few exceptions, would just be an exercise in frustration and I can't bring myself to do it. Anyway, on to the 2007 secondary!

Statistically speaking, 2007 saw marked improvement for the much maligned Irish secondary. The stats indicated that the Irish pass defense improved greatly. Was this genuine improvement or simply a byproduct of teams running the ball with more success against the Irish? I suspect it was a little of both. I saw plenty of encouraging signs from the Irish secondary and plenty of areas where they still need to improve. Overall, I thought the defensive scheme switch and the presence of Corwin Brown, himself a former NFL DB, really helped this unit. Also, as I have said on many occasions, I think you would be hard pressed to find a better secondary coach than Bill Lewis. I know some may disagree.

One of the biggest positives I saw this year was that the secondary seemed to fit in much better with the defensive scheme this year than in previous years. This is not to knock Rick Minter, but I never got the sense that he and Bill Lewis were on the same page. It always seemed as though the secondary was a separate part of the defense rather than flowing into a cohesive unit if that makes sense. I saw a much better synergy, and much better communication among players on the field, under Corwin and Bill Lewis. Another positive I saw this year was the secondary played much more physical. Finally, after years of begging for it, we saw corners line up in press coverage and be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage, rather than giving ridiculous cushions and allowing free releases. With the style of the recruits in the current class, I believe you will see a lot more physical play out of the DBs in the future. A third positive was that the Irish did a much better job eliminating the "explosives" or big plays against them. This was the result of improved communication, an improved pass rush from Trevor Laws, etc., and more physical play at the line of scrimmage.

As for the negatives, the big negative I saw repeatedly was poor tackling. At times it was simply horrendous and difficult to watch. At times it was even poor effort in tackling. Often, it was horrendous angles. With the move to a more physical practice style in the fall, I expect this to be a huge target area for improvement. I also believe the Irish must become even more physical with receivers consistently. I think the Irish have some nice cover guys, but what they sorely lacked this year was a mauler in the secondary who would make opposing receivers pay for coming over the middle. There never really was anyone who punished the opposition. The Irish desperately need someone to emerge in the secondary who has the attitude that he owns his portion of the field and whoever enters his territory is going to get hit hard and hit often. I don't know if the Irish have that person right now. Let's take a look at some individuals:

Terrail Lambert: I thought he had a solid year. A lot of people are down on Terrail for reasons I cannot understand. I for one am glad he is coming back next year. Terrail will never be a natural and fluid cover corner. Its not who he is. That is why he often looked lost in Minter's scheme. He is a shorter, stockier guy who is much better playing in the face of a receiver and bumping, which he did fairly well this season.

Darrin Walls: Darrin made a huge step forward this season. He went from being an athlete who can run like a deer to being a legitimate cover corner who happens to be a phenomenal athlete. The sky is really the limit for this kid. Darrin needs to continue to become more consistent and he needs to be physical every play. What I saw this year was flashes. Some plays, you could just tell the light had gone on for him and he was physical and fundamentally sound. Other plays, he drifted and was passive, and tried to rely on his athleticism, which had been good enough to get the job done until this level. When Darrin learns to be that physical guy every play, watch out, because then his athleticism will emerge in tandem with fundamentals.

David Bruton: My pick for one of the defensive captains next season. What we saw from David this season is what I expect from Darrin Walls next season. David really "got it" this year. He is never going to be the kind of big hitting safety I mentioned earlier, but he can tackle. He is also a tremendous natural athlete who is perfect to patrol the secondary as a free safety. He learned to read QBs much better this year and I think he will be even better next year. Some guys reach their ceiling and then level off in college. David is not one of those guys. He is someone who is going to tap his potential in college and then get even better at the next level.

Tom Zbikowski: I like Tom. I like his attitude, how hard he plays. I just don't think he was ever the dominating safety that some made him out to be. I think he is a decent talent at safety but we may have seen his ceiling. I could be wrong on this, and I hope I am. Tom was never afraid to stick his nose in there and always played hard. However, he remained a liability in coverage and is not an instinctive safety. I have a theory in football. I think guys either have an offensive disposition to their game or a defensive disposition. I really feel that Zibby's game always lent itself better to offense. I think he could have had as much, if not more, success on the offensive side of the ball as a back in college.

Ambrose Wooden: Really good kid, nice guy. Not a DB. Never was, never will be. Ambrose epitomizes the futility of the Davieham regimes' attitude of recruiting athletes and thinking you can just plug them anywhere because you recruited poorly at a certain area. It doesn't work. Never has and never will. Ambrose is a poor tackler, who moreover looked like he didn't like to tackle guys. He is a guy with an offensive mindset. Before I say this, please know that I am not comparing the players. Now, take a look at the way Florida used Percy Harvin yesterday. Then, think about how prolific an offensive player Ambrose Wooden was in high school with the ball in his hands and the speed he has. Did you ever see that speed show up on defense? Nope. Ambrose always was an offensive guy in his mind. He should have been a slot receiver/sometimes RB/once in a while QB in a spread formation. In short, the Irish needed his speed running forward, not backpedaling.

Raeshon McNeil: See Darrin Walls above. Not quite the level of athleticism, but good skills and needs to do the same things Darin needs to do.

With a few departures to graduation (Zibby and Ambrose) there will be some competition going into the spring and fall. Keep an eye out for Gary Gray at CB, who I hear great things about, and expect lots of competition for that safety spot. The open safety spot will be one of the hottest competitions in camp and there are several solid candidates who offer different skill sets from one another. Should be fun.

Your thoughts?