Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Football - What do we Know?

Ok, we've had two week of practice. We've had two scrimmages. We have the fall freshman in the mix now. It's becoming more clear who will redshirt. Now all future practices are closed, so we'll only know what coaches want us to know. So what DO we know at this point?

We went into fall practice fairly healthy. After week one it seemed like we were running a mash unit. While getting banged up is part of the reality of fall practice, it's still concerning. A bunch of guys were dinged up during week one and made their way back by the last scrimmage. However there are still a lot of question marks. So what do we have?

  • Michael Johnson looks to be ready but has had off-and-on participation. Word is he is 100% ready, but let's get 4 quarters against the Irish under his belt first.
  • James Johnson did not participate in the spring and was absent a decent amount the past two weeks as well.
  • Colin Peek continues to nurse an Achilles issue. One of those deals where he could be fine or just have it nag him for a long time. Word is he should be back in practice Monday - just in time to put some secret tight end packages in place.
  • AJ Smith - he was the clear leader for the open RT job until he injured his elbow. Supposedly should be ready to go by Notre Dame, but how long can a guy go without practicing and truly be ready? Guess we'll find out.
  • Demaryius Thomas caught a cleat in the turf and twisted his knee pretty good. While the injury was not as bad as feared he's a bit rusty working his way back in - as expected. Will we be seeing the 100% BeBe early in the season? Will fans get a glimpse at what players have been raving about? Time will tell.
  • Andrew Gardner is dinged up (shoulder) and true frosh Clyde Yandell is getting most of his 1st team snaps, as back-up Jason Hill is also hurt. Gardner should be ready for week 1 - but again, let's really hope this is not one of those nagging things.
  • Travis Chambers also nursing some kind of shoulder injury.
  • Matt Rhodes was limited some during the first week and then again in the 2nd week with some foot issue. He will probably be fine for Notre Dame.
  • Andrew Smith was helped from practice last week with some kind of knee issue.
  • Jamal Lewis sprained his ankle but is back again.
  • Kevin Tuminello was fighting some illness in week 1.
  • Logan Walls still nursing a broken leg suffered playing high school soccer. Very strong candidate to redshirt.
  • There are even more "dings" to go around. Mike Cox's sprained ankle. J.Dwyer's leg. Really too many to discuss - but which will be an issue? Stay tuned......

Anyone EVER remember a summer where we (or any other team for that matter) lost 3 QB's to transfer? Well, it's happened. First, it was Jonathan Garner, then it was Steven Threet, and now it's Byron Ingram. He's headed somewhere else and I'm sure we'll hear where once he makes that decision. Maybe guys seeing writing on the wall? Nobody knows the real story, but with talents like Nesbitt and Renfree coming in next year - and throw in Drew Little as a high likelihood to commit next year - and certain guys certainly could get lost in the depth chart. Three QB's transfer in one off-season. That's a new one to me.

There are a handful of guys that are academic question marks - Pat Clark, Cord Howard are the key guys. Stay tuned as we should be confirmation of their status this week............

....and they are making their mark. Some of the most impressive include Derrick Morgan (spring arrival getting in the 2-deep), Morgan Burnett (wow, maybe a starter by year-end?), Mario Butler (showing some talent), J.Dwyer (moving up the depth chart quickly), DJ Donley (WR reps making people forget him as a DB.... for now), Josh Nesbitt (get ready for the Tim Tebow package), Roddy Jones (surpising people with his speed, but just too stacked at RB for pt), Willie White (making some nice catches), Clyde Yandell (getting 1st team reps with Gardner dinged up)....... and there are others...


On Josh Nesbitt:

"We knew he was a great running quarterback coming in, but we want to see what he would do with a package like the one that the University ofFlorida has used. He showed today that he has great running ability and made a lot of plays. He's well on his way to being a productive player this year."

On D.J. Donley:

"He's very impressive. He's a big target that looked good today. He's got a lot to learn about running routes and a lot to learn about assignments, but he has a chance to be a very good player."
Here's my redshirt guesses:
  • Definitely not: M.Burnett, D.Morgan
  • Probably not: J.Nesbitt, J.Dwyer, DJ Donley,
  • Probably will: C.Yandell, R.Jones, W.White, M.Butler, J.Tarrant
  • Definitely will: M.Peterson, N.Claytor, J.Peters, A.Rocker, L.Walls, K.Jackson, B.Jefferson, J.Gilbert
Now, the X-factors in all this is of course injuries and needs on special teams. Lots of guys that will see the field a significant amount of time NEXT season are likely to see time on special teams this season.

There are a few key spots still up in the air worth discussing:
  1. LB. After Wheeler and Guyton, the 3rd spot is still up for grabs. The two guys battling are Shane Bowen and AT Barnes. At this point, Bowen is "the guy". However, remember that this 3rd LB spot comes out of the game in nickel situations, while D-Rich comes out and Adamm Oliver slides over to DT - bringing in M.Johnson. This will be interesting to watch.
  2. RT. It looks like AJ Smith has this one locked up. However, his injury could throw the mix open again. If Cord Howard can straighten out his academic issues, he could make a run. With backup Jason Hill hurt, this position could be wide open, particularly if Clyde Yandell or someone else steps up. However, look for Smith to lock this thing down when he returns.
  3. DB's. There are still some guys trying different positions. It should line-up like this - Avery Roberson and Jahi Word-Daniels at the corners, with Jamal Lewis and Djay Jones at safety. However, look out for Joe Gaston and Morgan Burnett and possibly Pat Clark (if he can straighten out his academic issue). The only real issue is personnel for the nickel package. Who goes where? Who's the 5th guy? Still to be determinined.


The D-Line is the heart of this Jacket team. They are not incredibly vocal, but as a unit, they are talented, athletic, deep and experienced. On the inside, look for D-Richard and Vance Walker to anchor the starting unit. Personally, I am looking for Vance Walker to be THE #1 jump in terms of on-the-field contribution this season. I am expecting big things from him. While he won't get the press of a BeBe Thomas, I think he has the chance to make the biggest jump. Remember, if Robo and MJ and Oliver are having monster years on the ends, make no mistake that the play of the DT's will have a lot to do with it. Look for Elris Anyaibe and Marcus Harris to get some snaps in the 2-deep. Maybe even a few from RFr Ben Anderson.

On the ends, there are "players" everywhere. You have Darrell Robertson and Adamm Oliver anchoring the starting spots. While I am expecting big things from Robo, I am still in shock that he got hip-checked and body-slammed by our fair-haired QB. When you're 6'5" 240lb, that's not supposed to happen........... ahhh, I'm only ribbing him.................... This unit is stout - athletic, skilled and deep. On clear passing downs, look for Oliver to slide to the middle, with Robo and Michael Johnson to man the ends. Meanwhile, I fully expect Derrick Morgan to see action on a regular basis. At 6'4" 270lb, he brings something quite different that MJ and DR.

Overall, one of the best DL units in the ACC, and they should once again wreak havoc on O-Lineman.

Battles are won in the trenches, so we move across the line............ and it's a good one. Athletic, experienced and pretty deep. This group clearly excels at setting up the run, particularly from the 20-to-20, helping Tashard Choice lead the ACC in rushing last season with a solid 5.0ypc. At times they bogged down in goal-line situations which can happen when coverages get compressed. In terms of pass protection, I would rate them above average, but not elite. This year will bring a new challenge, as Bennett will not be a scrambler. This could work for them and against them at the same time. It's a little clearer how to hold your block when you know where your QB is going to be. However, we are also likely to give up more sacks, as Reggie was the scramble and thow OB master.

Andrew Gardner is the clear anchor of the line, and looks to stay at LT even though we sport a lefty QB. AJ Smith should win the RT spot, with Nate McManus and Matt Rhodes at the Guard spots. Then you have Kevin Tuminello at center. Throw in Colin Peek as a hopefully healthy tight end and you have yourselves the making of a winning line. But will all these guys be truly 100% when the season starts? Every one of them has battled some type of minor injury this fall.

Keys will really be staying healthy and developing consistent pass protection. There will be plenty of teams stacking the box to force the Jackets to throw, so they will be put to the test.

Enough has been written about Taylor Bennett. He has looked decent enough in practice, and looked good during the scrimmage, except his tendency to hold the ball too long. No problem with the green jersey........ It will be a problem in South Bend.

Calvin Booker has locked up 2nd string and is sporty a new physique - about 20 pounds lighter. He is also sporting new confidence, better control and leadership and command as a QB. He made a big jump over the summer and appears to be a very capable guy to step in should something happen to TB

While Josh Nesbitt is probably the #3 guy on the depth chart at this point, it is likely that he could see more time than Booker. Why?........ The "Tebow" package. Nesbitt has displayed his athletic abilities running the football and Coach Gailey has made it clear he just might use Nesbitt at times on clear running downs to add a new threat on the field. His accuracy and decision-making are clearly at an inexperienced level, so I think his playing time would be very limited. He clearly has a cannon of an arm and he is fast, so there are some interesting things Coach Bond could do with him.

No Calvin Johnson. So where are we going to get some "truth"? Well, you've got James Johnson locking up the #1 WR position, but he's been in limited action due to some unknown injury - and he didn't participate in the spring. He started the fall slowly, dropping too many passes, but he has come on strong the 2nd half of the week, until an ankle injury slowed him down again.

Greg Smith is quickly locking up the opposite #2 WR position. In fact, based on practices and the scrimmage, Greg Smith might even be TB's #1 go-to-guy. Those two guys seem to have a good communication between them. He has impressed this fall more than anyone, and could have a big year.

Demaryius Thomas looks to be the key slot guy - that is if his knee injury proves to be a minor one. He has wowed him teammates so much that they call him "baby Calvin". Correy Earls is another speedster to look out for and true freshman DJ Donley has impressed coaches as well.

This group will establish their pecking order and their identity probably by the 3rd game. Should be interesting.

Stacked. Not much more to say. We bring back the ACC's leading rusher, Tashard Choice, along with Jamaal Evens and R.Grant. Throw in the best fullback in the nation Mike Cox. Oh yeah, throw in freshmen Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones, both who have impressed early, and you have a stacked and packed group of RB's.

Key for Dwyer and Jones to get playing time in clean-up duty is protecting the football. They have not had a clean record this fall in that category. There is also a chance these guys could win roles returning kicks or punts

Barring injury - it's probably going to go down like this:
Tashard = workhorse = 20-25 carries per game
Cox = ice-breaker = bowling over defenders to give Choice free reign
Grant = multiplicity = slot one down = halfback one down = wideout one = versatile
Evans = mop-up duty + "give TC a rest" guy + kick-off returner
Dwyer / Jones = guys we would REALLY like to redshirt, but probably will only RS one.

Philip Wheeler is the unquestioned leader of the defense. He's the new #1 team freak, as Calvin left for greener pastures. Gary Guyton should have a monster season, and someone new will establish themselves as the next in a line of great LB's at Tech. Shane Bowen has staked that claim so far, but others are nipping at his heels.

It's not often you have a starting defensive backfield of all juniors and seniors - and you're still worried about pass protection. That's where my head is at though. I still see Jon Tenuta devising scheme's to force QB's to get rid of the ball quickly so as not to test this group and get burned. There is a lot of experience back there, but I'm just not sure how much high level talent is there. Can't wait for them to prove me wrong.

My general feeling is that we will be fine in pass protection. I just wonder how they would fare without every other player blitzing the QB.

Again, the only real question mark is what the nickel package will look like. That will be determined in the next two weeks, but is likely to change often based on results.

We do have the nation's #1 returning punter in super-weapon Durant Brooks. We do have a senior FG kicker, Travis Bell, who is giving us reason to think he could be "automatic" again from 40 yards and-in. Those are the pluses.

However, we do have a kick-off unit that struggles to kick deep and then cover those kicks. We have a kick-off return until that had few "bursts of joy" and mostly returned us to the 15-30 yard line every time.

Is it a scheme problem? Is it our teaching of proper wedge techniques? Is it on-the-field talent and good ole' execution problems? Don't know, but overall, there needs to be some serious improvement in key areas for us to taken another step forward this season.

This will be the #1 reason why some of these freshman will not redshirt. We need some speed and talent on special teams, and it's always hard to put your starters in on those plays - too much chance of injury. So of course - sacrifice the freshman. Of course this gives many of them a feel for the speed of the game.

Coach Bond knows we'll all be watching. It's been popular to brush-off Patrick Nix and welcome Coach Bond as a huge upgrade. Heck, I think that Kool-Aid tastes decent. However, how are we going to feel if we lose one of these games 14-10? How are we going to feel when the inevitable happens - our offense can't move the ball? Patrick Nix did better with what he was given the one year he was allowed to call the plays. Points did go up. I am as excited as everyone about Coach Bond, but once again - let's see what the games bring. I certainly like the enthusiasm and hands-on coaching style he has brought. I just hope it translates to the games.

So your team has a brand new QB. You just lost college football's best wide receiver in a decade. Your returning WR core is largely inexperienced. You lost both starting tight ends and only one other guy has ever taken a snap in a game - and he's injury prone. You also have one of the best O-Line's in the conference and the conference leading rusher returning as a senior.

I think it becomes clear how this thing is going to play out for Jacket oppenents - at least early in the season...............
...........Stack the box.
.......... Stuff the run.
...........Force the throw.

Bottom-line: Make GT beat you through the air. Force Taylor Bennett to beat you............. How will Bennett and his pass-protection and this group of inexperienced receivers respond when Tashard Choice is stuffed on first and second down? When it's 3rd-and-8, what's it going to be?

That could be a key thread to pull on. The hope we have in Taylor Bennett is well founded but don't crown this young man yet. If you don't think he's going to have multiple INT games, low completion percentage games, bogged down offense games - then you need to take off the rose-colored glasses. He will have his highs........ and his lows. This is high first shot to run the offense, and it should be exciting................ and at times frustrating.

As usual - as long as our stout D keeps us in every game, our offense should have a chance to punch through some plays and give us a chance to win. I can't wait!!