Friday, April 25, 2008

Post-Spring Thoughts: Part II

Coming into the spring, the defense faced many difficult questions: Who would step up to replace the production of Trevor Laws? What would Jon Tenuta bring to the defense? How would Tenuta and Corwin Brown mesh? I am not sure the spring answered all of our questions about this defense. Here are my thoughts about what we did learn:

1. The DL needs Pat Kuntz back, and the sooner the better. This unit was woefully thin this spring, both in sheer numbers, and also in top end talent. The good news is that I expect Kuntz back this summer. The Irish DL will need Kuntz's attitude and enthusiasm this season so he needs to come back mentally focused and athletically in shape. The Irish do not have the luxury of easing him back in while he works his way into playing shape. He has to show up ready to go.

2. Without counting the incoming freshmen, I think the Irish have 5 DL they can turn to for solid minutes -- Kuntz, Justin Brown, Emeka Nwankwo, Morrice Richardson, and Ian Williams. We all know what Kuntz will give you -- solid production, great effort. Ian Williams looked good to me this spring, but he also looked like a guy who at times could have used some competition at his spot to push him a bit. Let's face it, Ian was really the only legit NG on the roster this spring. The 2 surprises were Emeka Nwankwo and Morrice Richardson. Emeka is going to be a player and the proverbial "switch" has gone on for Morrice. There are some very interesting possibilities for alignments with these guys. In their 3 man line sets against more power running teams, I think you could see a lineup of Kuntz-Williams-Nwankwo, which will provide a lot of girth up front. Morrice Richardson will always have a role in this defense because he has speed and pass rushing ability that few others on this roster have at DL right now. The guy who is somewhat lost in the shuffle is Justin Brown. He will give the Irish minutes, but I just don't see the coaching staff being sold on him. Paddy Mullen has not become a factor to this point.

3. The difference in LB play this spring under Tenuta was noticeable. They were more aggressive, looked more instinctive, and true to Tenuta's mantra, they played "downhill." The Irish know they have 3 LBs they can count on -- Mo Crum, Kerry Neal, and Brian Smith. Crum is a smart football player and captain, Kerry looked outstanding and I heard he was unblockable at times this spring, and Brian Smith, while he will never be spectacular, will be extremely solid. What I think the Irish were trying to do this spring was find that 4th LB. Toryan Smith is the logical choice, but judging by the moves that were made this spring, it appears he did not nail down a starting spot. I have always liked Scott Smith, but in order for him to be the guy, you would have to move Brian Smith inside, which I don't think the coaching staff is sold on yet as an every down solution. I believe this group is improved -- I just don't know if along with the DL they can consistently stop the run against the better teams.

4. That brings me to a young man by the name of Harrison Smith -- a natural safety who is blocked at that spot by some very talented returning players. However, every time the coaches look up, the kid is making plays. When he was recruited and I watched Harrison's tape, everyone talked about his blazing speed at safety. What jumped out to me, though, was that this kid has tremendous, unusual for his age, instincts on the football field. Yes, he has great speed, but his instincts allow him to appear even faster. You watch his tape and it seems like he is all over the field because with his instincts, he is always around the ball. Harrison is not a natural LB and won't be an every down LB for the Irish this year. What I think they will do with him is make him their X factor -- their rover if you will. He will play a lot of snaps, but they will come at multiple positions. One play he might be a 3rd safety in a spread defense, another play he might be a LB in a nickle alignment, you might even see him rushing off the edge a bit. He will be on the field.

5. It won't be easy, but the Irish defense really needs 1, maybe 2 of their LB recruits to give them some time this season. I think Darius Fleming's talent will get him on the field a bit. However, the Irish need either Filer or McDonald to become a factor for depth as the season goes on.

6. The Irish secondary is the best it has been in a decade. They are talented, deep, and experienced -- adjectives we can't use to describe every position group on this team. David Bruton is going to be outstanding and I firmly believe he will be a round 1-2 pick in the NFL draft next season. Kyle McCarthy is probably not the second most talented safety on the roster, but he is perfect for what the Irish need from that SS spot. He is smart, knows the scheme, is fundamentally sound, and perhaps the best tackler on the defense. With the run defense question marks the Irish have, Kyle is an extremely important guy to have on the field. The athletic ability and range of Bruton will allow the Irish to shift Kyle closer to the lone of scrimmage in certain instances to support the run. At CB, you can run any of 4 guys out there -- Lambert, Walls, McNeil, or Gray and feel quite comfortable. The guy who actually impressed me the most this spring was Raeshon McNeil. he is not the natural athlete Walls is and isn't as quick as Gray, or as strong as Lambert, but his technique is outstanding and he is very consistent. He had a wonderful spring and earned himself some minutes.

Bottom line is this defense will be faster and more aggressive than last season. They will force more turnovers. However, their overall success will be determined by their ability to stop the run. While the Irish have talent on this defense, their lack of depth at DL and LB will become a major issue if they are kept on the field with time consuming drives.

Your thoughts???


Sir John from DD said...

I compliment you on another great analysis,Irish Glory. Your better then reading Blue and Gold or Irish Eyes. I too hope Kuntz comes back in shape since he missed practices I expect a bit of Roughness to him. Good call on thinking the Staff was looking for a 4th LB. Your always a good read.

Matt Fairchild ( said...

IrishGlory, I whole heartedly agree with everything you just stated. Great analysis by the way. Players like Morrice Richardson and Harrison Smith will be huge factors in the success of the Irish D this season and I think both have the potential to be All-Americans in 2009. I'm still disappointed in Toryan Smith having not stepped up his game. I thought by now he would have locked up a starting job especially going against younger competition.

What are your thought on Gray maybe locking down the other corner spot next to Darrin Walls?

Anonymous said...

i must admit, this comment surprised me a bit, "Brian Smith, while he will never be spectacular..."

really? i think he made quite a few plays last year that could be thought of as spectacular. certainly in the pass-rushing dept. and the interception return against BC was a spectacular play.

anyway, dead-on with the rest of your analysis. i like the linebackers a whole lot more this year but i would expect to see flier maybe splitting time with toryan by mid-season. fleming will get some situational time as well, i think.

IrishGlory said...

Matt - I think Gary Gray will play quite a bit this season, but I would be shocked if he locked down the corner spot opposite Darrin Walls this season. That is Lambert's spot to lose and I haven't seen anything from him to indicate he is going to lose it. I also think Raeshon may be slightly ahead of Gary, plus he has more experience.

Anonymous - I certainly agree with you that Brian made some spectacular plays last season adn he will make many more in the future. What I was trying to get across, and I likely did so inarticulately, is that I don't think Brian Smith has All-American first round NFL draft potential/ability. I think he is a smart, fundamentally sound, very good LB who is going to be a fixture at LB for the Irish. He just doesn't possess the same God-given ability as a Kerry Neal. In some ways, and I don't know how far back you go with irish football, Brian reminds me of an Anthony Denman at LB. Anthony had a very very good career at ND, but he just didn't possess that elite natural ability. Does that make sense? I am not trying to downgrade Brian in any way, as I actually believe he will be a future captain.

Anonymous said...

i have not seen them in person but thru the tube Brian Smith looks SPECTACULAR TO ME! Harrison will be an AA ball hawker..a younger, taller Zibby. One of our new LB's will be ready to play. I actually like our LB depth. Need a 5 star player there...but he's coming. GO IRISH!!

Anonymous said...

The one thing that does not come through is that on DL we have H. Williams and B. Newman comming in the fall. B. Newman is much more highly rated as a college prospect than Ian during his HS years. While this does not alwayse translate to college success, it is an endorsemennt

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the observations. I think this fall the defense will suprise many. In part because the schedule is not as front loaded, and the offense will help keep them off the field. Success breeds success.

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