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?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree Ambrose should have been put on offense. It's not his fault it's the coaching staff. Stop knocking the guy.