Spring Mailbag Part III April 22, 2013
How deep do we go along the D-line? Nelson looked good – any other surprises?
I’m not sure which direction to go with the defensive line. We return nearly everyone at linebacker, but on the d-line and in the secondary everything is new. With the secondary, I think it’s clear we’ll struggle simply because of no experienced. Two sophomores at corner backed up by two freshmen, and a junior and a freshman at safety backed up by a walkon senior and a freshman. That’s so young.
On the defensive line, it’s a bit different. As most of you know, I’m a 4th year and 5th year guy on the lines. Skill position players can play early, but for linemen, everyone gets a redshirt and disappears for three years, re-appearing as redshirt juniors. You pretty much need to be a Corey Liuget or an Akeem Spence to play earlier than that. Almost everyone needs three years off the radar (including Whitney Mercilus).
Well, with the defensive line, we kind of… have that? Houston Bates starts at Leo. This is his fourth year – he’s a redshirt junior. Austin Teitsma at the 3-technique defensive tackle. This is his fourth year – he’s a redshirt junior. Jake Howe at nose guard. This is his fourth year – he’s a redshirt junior. And Tim Kynard at defensive end. This is his fifth year – he’s a redshirt senior.
After that, no real depth. At least no experienced depth. The backups are rs-soph Darrius Caldwell at Leo (if he clears his academic issues), rs-FR Vontrell Williams at DT, true-soph Teko Powell at DT, and rs-soph Kenny Nelson at DE.
So let’s see… the majority of the talent is in the younger guys (and especially the really young guys like Jarrod Clements and Paul James who arrive this summer). And we have mature 4th and 5th year players, but none of them have very much experience besides Tim Kynard. Oh, and we play in the Big Ten against mauling lines like Wisconsin and Ohio State and Nebraska.
All signs point to… a mauling. Sorry.
It seems we have question marks everywhere, but wide receiver was considered a spot where we didn’t have much depth or playmakers. Do you think Martize Barr fills the gap, or are there others that will step up? Also, what did you think of Justin Hardee during the spring? He made some plays last year and showed some potential.
I think there are a lot of options, but there were a lot of options last year, too. I started to feel pretty good about the offseason strides the receivers made, and then I put myself through The Test.
Whenever I’m feeling really good about the team, whether in Rantoul or in Spring Ball, I always apply The Test. I picture a second quarter drive against Michigan State (not sure why, but it’s always Michigan State). We get a six yard gain on first down, but on second and four, despite a 12 yard completion, a holding call brings us back to 2nd and 14. And then the right guard jumps on the snap, and suddenly it’s 2nd and 19.
Can we recover from that? Can these receivers and this quarterback get us 20 yards on the next two plays? Or will we fold in every scenario like that? Will we all look at 2nd and 19 and think “punting is a 98% possibility”?
Because those are the situations this team will face. Football looks great without injuries and penalties and turnovers. Watch any team in the spring or the summer, and you’re bound to enter the “wow, we can really move/stop the ball” zone. But introduce injuries and penalties and turnovers, and most teams crumble.
These receivers, at this point, don’t pass The Test. I don’t see that AJ Jenkins or Rejus Benn or Brandon Lloyd or Walter Young that makes me say “no problems here – drag route to Jenkins and we’re in third and short”. We need a playmaker, and I still haven’t found him. Ryan Lankford is probably the go-to, but he’s not physical enough to be The Guy. Justin Hardee looked great this spring, but he’s still a sophomore learning footwork. STEVEHULL could be a big surprise (makes me think of that one year where we were suddenly all “hey, throw it to Kornfeld”), but who knows how long the shoulder holds up. Millines could be the guy, but it sounds like he’s gone. We keep waiting for Spencer Harris to do more. Miles Osei is quick, but he’s a quarterback playing receiver. Of anyone, Barr looks the part, both in how he attacks the ball with his hands and how he digs into his cuts. But how will Juco translate to Big Ten?
Save us, Marchie Murdock. (No, really, I love Murdock on tape. Love love love his senior film from last year – 33 times better than his junior film. Please oh please.)
For me, one of the most infuriating things of the past few years has been the absolute ########### on punt returns. The defense will hold, the other team will be forced to punt, and then, like clockwork, we have a muffed punt, or the returner will let it bounce and we are backed up on our own 13 instead of on the 32, or the returner will actually field the ball cleanly, try to make a move, and be buried under 27 players in Ohio State uniforms.
Anyone who has spent anytime on your website knows that this (along with a certain football coach in Evanston) is one of your obsessions. Have you seen ANYTHING this year that leads you to believe that the return game will improve from the disaster it has been recently?
I’ll hang up and listen.
Not really. But we could run back four punts in the first five weeks and I you wouldn’t be able to convince me they were fixed. We could lead the Big Ten in punt returns for three seasons and I’d still have a “not convinced” stance (and a facial tic). Once more, just so we can marvel:
2012: 118th (25 punt return yards)
2011: 118th (24 punt return yards)
2010: 117th (60 punt return yards, 37 by Terry Hawthorne in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl)
2009: 114th (50 punt return yards)
2008: 94th (117 punt return yards – WOOT)
2007: 88th (177 punt return yards – PINCH ME)
2006: 111th (116 punt return yards)
2005: 112th (72 punt return yards)
Just unbelievable. Just impossible to comprehend. I… I just……
So, I’ve put all of my hopes in Darius Mosely. I’m blindly dubbing him Eugene Wilson 2.0 and will refuse to believe anything else until it isn’t true. Mosely for president of Stunningly Good Freshman Punt Returners Of The World.
I can’t type anymore. I hate everything about looking up those statistics again. I’m a mess. So I’ll just say this:
I think Martize Barr wins the punt return job. I think we might have kind of finally learned maybe a little bit about blocking on a punt return. So he might clear 100 yards this year. 100!