Position Breakdown – Defensive Tackles August 29, 2011
This was a bad combination. Previewing the position we’re all worried about, and doing so at the beginning of game week when the jitters and nerves are starting to take over. Warning: blogger meltdown possible.
Aug. 22: Quarterbacks
Aug. 23: Running Backs
Aug. 24: Tight Ends/Fullbacks
Aug. 25: Wide Receivers
Aug. 26: Offensive Guards/Centers
Aug. 27: Offensive Tackles
Aug. 28: Defensive Ends/Bandits
Aug. 29: Defensive Tackles
Aug. 30: Linebackers
Aug. 31: Cornerbacks
Sept. 1: Safeties
Sept. 2: Kickers/Punters/Returners
Sept. 3: FOOTBALL. Football football FOOTBALL.
Starters: Akeem Spence, Craig Wilson
(Do you know what I would give to be able to put Corey Liuget’s name in this space? Does anyone understand what I would do? We’re talking “accept a 3 year prison sentence later in life for just 13 more games from Corey Liuget” kind of stuff. Seriously – if I could make some type of deal where Liuget plays one more year but I have to accept a 3-year prison sentence from, say, age 73-75, I’d think about it. That’s a long way away, and we could go big-time bowling with Liuget…)
To preview the starting defensive tackles, I must first implement the Iowa Rule (for some reason, I always use Iowa for this rule). You’re flipping through a preseason college football publication and you read that Iowa moved an offensive tackle to defensive tackle because attrition had left them with no scholarship seniors, juniors, or sophomores at that position besides the other starter. And then you see that they recruited three freshmen defensive tackles for depth, but 2 of the 3 didn’t qualify and the third is in jail after assault charges. You would think “holy crap, I don’t care what offensive lineman they move over there, their run defense is going to be abysmal this year”, wouldn’t you? Sight unseen, no team can overcome having 1 scholarship senior, junior, or sophomore at a vital position like defensive tackle, right? That’s the Iowa Rule. If I saw this happen to a team I hate, I’d be celebrating their demise.
But that’s where we are. Corey Liuget is gone. So are Reggie Ellis and D’Angelo McCray and Ugu Uzodinma. Clint Tucker and Willie Beavers never got here. Chris Jones got here but went directly to jail without passing go.
So we moved Craig Wilson over. And truth be told, I think he can do an admirable job. He’s crazy big and surprisingly mobile. If he can throw his weight around and clog up the middle, I think he can do a decent job as a nose tackle. But that’s as far as I can take it. Other teams spend 3 years training big guys like Craig how to play defensive tackle before unleashing them on the Big Ten. Wilson gets a 6 month crash course and is then tossed to the Red Wolves. Best of luck, big man.
OK, I saved the best for last. All is not lost. We do have one scholarship defensive tackle who arrived as a defensive tackle and has stayed at defensive tackle to play defensive tackle. The really good news: he was on just about every Freshman All American Team last year. The bad news about that: Freshman All American teams are sometimes just “Freshmen Who Played A Lot” lists. The good news about that: Freshmen who find the field are usually pretty good.
And I think Akeem Spence is pretty good. Maybe really, really good. But there’s one big question mark this season: can he play the 3-technique? He was the shade defensive tackle last year, clogging up the middle and allowing Martez Wilson to make plays. This year, with Liuget gone, he moves over to the 3-tech. Can he be an offense-disrupter like Liuget, seemingly spending half the game in the offensive backfield? No – probably won’t have another defensive tackle like that for 20 years. But he can be Liuget-lite. We really need a Liuget-lite.
Backups: Wisdom Onyegbule, Austin Teitsma, Jake Howe
Go over to that Michigan State fan in your office. Tell him you have a Big Ten roster question. If he gets it right, he gets $1,000. If he doesn’t, you get $5. When he agrees, ask him to name one – just one – of Illinois’ backup defensive tackles. Easiest $5 ever.
Again, when I use the Iowa Rule, our situation looks bleak. A high school fullback we asked to gain 60 pounds and play DT – he’s now a redshirt freshman. A high school wrestler we put at DT and are asked to be an undersized pest – also a redshirt freshman. And a senior walkon. If Iowa was in this situation, I’d snicker. But it is what it is.
First guy off the bench will be Onyegbule. Wisdom played in 5 games last year, including the Texas Bowl. In my opinion, he was clearly ahead of Teitmsa and Howe in Rantoul, so I think he’ll be our third guy. If all goes right, Onyegbule could be more than just All Name Team by the end of the season. Could be a great story: walkon who perseveres, earns a scholarship as a senior, and contributes at a position where the team desperately needs some depth.
Teitsma would be next, in my estimation. Actually, that’s not true – Howe might be the 4th guy. I’ll put it like this: Teitsma is probably more ready technique and motor-wise, but he still needs to gain weight and strength. Howe is probably more ready size and strength-wise, but he’s still learning the position. So I think we’ll use the redshirt freshmen situationally. Against the run, it’s Howe. Passing downs, it’s Teitsma. Goal line, Howe. Fast-paced opposing offense – Teitsma.
Ideally, Howe and Teitsma don’t have to play until 2013. They get a full 3 years to learn the position and develop the strength and technique before getting tossed into battle. But we don’t have that luxury. Unless there’s some way to bring Corey Liuget back.
Wait, is there?