There are only six days left in spring football.
I should actually be more accurate - there are only six more practice sessions in spring football which means we are clearly in the home stretch and that should mean things around rounding into form. Here is a brief progress report on the defense (tomorrow offense) based on my observations and in talking to coaches/players each day....
1.) I think that the strength of this team is going to be on defense - provided the defensive line can stay healthy.
In Tyrone Ezell, KK Mosley-Smith and Aaron Donald, there are three pretty good tackles to build around, though I'm not sure if there is much more quality depth beyond that and that could be a problem if one of them goes down during the season. Jack Lippert is the next guy in line from what we can tell at tackle but there seems to be a bit of a drop from the other three.
I also like Bryan Murphy at end but I do worry about his size - and thus his durability. He does have a lot of ability but already he has had several little nagging injuries that make you wonder if he can stay healthy for a whole year. TJ Clemmings is a bit of a project, he is still not a very physical player but boy he has a lot of God given talent and ability and he is still young so they are working on him to become more physical. The next two guys at end right now seem to be Devin Cook and LaQuention Smith and I have seen some good things from both at times but consistency with this group is an issue.
Inoke Breckterfield talked about the group today and it is clear he is going to continue to push them and he is going to set the bar very high. He had KK on the second team today and said that KK needs to lose some weight and get into shape if he wants to get back into the mix with Ezell at the starting spot. He also said he wants to see a little more "fire" and consistency from Murphy - again, it is spring football motivational stuff so a lot of the coaches are being non-committal about who is playing well and who is not, unless it is a guy like Donald, who is so good and so consistent that there isn't much else to say.
2.) The deepest position on the defense is at safety as there are going to be two very good players who aren't starters at that position. That's because right now, there are four - Ray Vinopal, Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks and then Jarred Holley, who isn't playing right now due to injury - guys who can play. Vinopal to me is the most surprising guy in camp - I didn't think he'd be as good as he is (though, part of it may just be the quarterbacks keep throwing him the ball.......) but it seems like he is around the ball every day and it seems like he gets an interception or two every day as well. Taglianetti is just a great football player and, like Vinopal, knows where to be and what to do and Hendricks had a nice interception today and seems to be having a good spring. This is going to be an interesting position (the two safety spots) to watch because there are four guys who are capable of being excellent starters. Vinopal, right now for my money, has been one of the best players of the spring but once the fall comes and Holley gets back in the mix it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
3.) Dan Mason continues to amaze me at linebacker. He shouldn't be able to run the way he does, he shouldn't even be able to play. That's what doctors and trainers have said and basically he has to wear a brace to keep his foot in one spot because the nerve damage he suffered. It is the ultimate testament to a guys will to win and will to perform. I am amazed by what he has done this spring, I really am and he has played very well on top if it all. He is also an emotional leader for this unit - he is everything you want in a middle linebacker. The two outside linebackers have been Shane Gordon and EricWilliams. Gordon is sort of a poor man's Clint Session in that he is very athletic, he's fast and he makes a lot of plays on his ability and makes some spectacular plays as a result of his ability. He also misses some plays, misses some tackles and gets lost from time to time so consistency is going to be a key with him. Williams is tall and he is fast and he is reasonably good running forward but he still has some work to do going side to side and in coverage. Let's not forget that Todd Thomas is going to be in the mix when healthy as will Ejuan Price but from what I am looking at, this group may be a little bit thin as well. I know, there are still some guys like Carl Flemming and Manny Williams hanging around but their clock is ticking and it is fair to start wondering if it is ever going to happen for either of them.
4.) K'Waun Williams had surgery on his knee and is out for the balance of spring but is expected to be ready for the season, so that's a good development for two reasons - one, he is healthy and will be ready to play and two, with him sitting the next six practices out the younger guys in that group will get all of the reps. I think what I see when I look at Lafayette Pitts, Cullen Christian and Lloyd Carrington is three guys with a lot of athleticism and a lot of ability who all need a lot of work because they just don't have much experience. Keep in mind the corners will be asked to do a lot more this year in terms of actual coverage because they will play a lot more man than in the past so it is going to be important for two, if not all three, of these guys to really get ready to play. Matt House, the secondary coach, said he likes all of the six corners in the group and he thinks they all have the ability to play. But he acknowledged that because of their inexperience they are still in the learning curve. The good news is they all can run and that's a good start but this has to be group that really takes advantage of these next six practices.