Our defense is struggling partly because of coaching. But it is also struggling because of talent. It isn't all "Willie Martinez is teh Suxors." There are other issues at play on defense. Some of it boils down to this is a rebuilding year talent wise. It happens.
(NOTE: I'm not ripping on our players. I'm simply stating an opinion, and I'm comparing them to other Dawgs. I'm not questioning anyone's work ethic or heart. Some of this was taken from a post last week about linebackers I made on the Porch. Sorry if it's rehashed to you.)
We're missing guys like Witherspoon.
Consider the Linebackers:
SAM: B. Miller/Verdun-Wheeler is a talent downgrade from Boss Bailey. But that's not all. You have to go back to '97 or '98 when a Luckie brother was manning this position to find a time when we had lesser talent at such an impact position. The current guys here just don't have the talent, speed, strength and/or violence combo that the position had for several years. Dewberry is fast and does appear to have the elite physical tools. However, for whatever reason, he isn't seeing the field in meaningful snaps. We're willing to throw a FR QB out there with the game on the line to sling it all over the field, but we're not willing to rotate a guy with wheels in on 3rd and 8 to blitz the QB? I don't get that.Look at how Auburn used Tray Blackmon in his first start. They used his athetic ability balls to the wall. If our existing guys aren't going to do much in coverage, then why not pull them out and let the faster, young guy blitz? The Good News: Dewberry will get more chances in the Spring.
MIKE: Jarvis Jackson is a talent downgrade from Odell, Tony Gilbert, Kendrell Bell and Will Witherspoon (who played MLB some in '98). Again, you have to go back to a Luckie brother in '98 to find a guy that has struggled more at MLB. And really, I'd take Greg Bright and Randall Godfrey before Jarvis which takes us back to around '91. (Technically, you have to go back to Taylor playing hurt and out of position last year, but the point is the same). Granted, Jarvis has been hurt all year. Granted, he's a warrior who's fighting through the pain. But he lacks the speed of some of those guys or the violence and strength of Gilbert to enforce the middle. Marcus Washington also lacks speed. The Good News: Speed is being redshirted.
WILL: Tony Taylor isn't having a bad year. He could actually make 3rd Team All-SEC or honorable mention All-SEC. That said, he's not Will Witherspoon or even Orantes Grant. You have to go back to around 1995 to find a guy that you'd take Taylor over. The Good News: Ellerbe and one of the Akeems bring more speed here. If Ellerbe can stay out of trouble, he could be the answer here or elsewhere. Better coaching might help improve all three spots.
He was glorious.
Consider the Safety Combo:
The combo of Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson doesn't really compare to the past combos of Blue/Battle, Blue/Davis, Davis/Jones, Jones/Curry, Curry/Phillips, and Phillips/Bierra. You have to go back to when guys like Kirby Smart (God bless the guy for his INTs vs. UF in '97) and Trey Sipe were playing flag football with Jamal Lewis to find a combo that is weaker than this pair. The Good News: Willie Martinez has a great track record of coaching Safeties. We are putting them into the NFL, and it's not just guys that the previous regime coached. There is also talent in the pipeline in the form of Byrd and R. Jones among others. The Bad News: Byrd continues to not start. A move that baffles me.
Consider the DTs:
Three of our top four defensive tackles are a Soph and two freshmen. Our lone senior defensive tackle, Ray Gant, that can contribute at a high level has been banged up virtually all season. The young guys have big time talent. That said...they simply aren't Sullivan, Stroud and Seymour....YET. The Good News: We have the bodies to make this work out HUGE in the near future. The Bad News: We don't have a time machine in Butts-Mehre.
Who has two thumbs and doesn't blitz?
I look at the CBs and I see a comparable product to what we've had the past several years. They aren't Jennings and Minter of 2005 or Bryant and Thorton of 2002, but they are comparable to the Jennings and Minter of 2004 and most CB tandems that we've had over the past 10 years. They would look a helluva a lot better if the QB didn't have all day. The Good News: All our CBs will be back next year. Also, Martinez has done an excellent job with our CBs over the past few years. The Bad News: We have a some young guys out there learning on the fly. Sometimes bad things happen. It's football.
We need more of this. Image: Jim Hipple
Moses simply isn't making plays. That's not earth shattering news. Johnson is making plays, but not as frequently as he was earlier in the year. We need more out of these guys. The Bad News: If Johnson bolts for the league, we're downgrading here next year in a catastrophic fashion. The Good News: we have a talent / speed upgrade next year at every position on defense except DE. So we can weather it if CJ did leave.
If you look at the talent situation this year, and all you come back with is..."Richt won with Donnan's players." Then you missed the point. Donnan would've loved to have players like Owens, Weston, Atkins, Johnson, Moses, Dewberry, Oliver, Allen, Remarcus, Byrd and R. Jones. Donnan recruited only 1 player from last year's SEC title team, and I'm not sure that Will Thompson was the reason we won the title. We've won these past 5 years because of more reasons than "JD gave Richt players."
If you look at the overall situation this year, and all you come back with is..."Richt only won because of Van Gorder." Then I'd argue that you're missing some bigger picture issues. As many others have said, Richt has an overall infrastructure in place that WILL continue to be successful. That doesn't mean it doesn't need tweaking.
Frankly, we just picked a lousy year to have a defensive talent rebuilding year, a razor thin OL that is very banged up, WRs with the yips, and a FR QB. If any one of those four things doesn't happen this year, we're a 6-1 team with a tough close loss to UT. We're not 5-2 team wondering which end is up.
The team does need to overall haul a variety of things, but let's not put this all on the coaches. And frankly, it's not fair to put it all on the players. Some of it is just the fact that we haven't caught the breaks we needed to catch.
Before the season, I said:"If we stay healthy along the OL, get smart play from the QB and avoid the dropped passes of the past, we could win the East or better."
Well...none of those things have happened. We are what we are. But we can get better. I still think we upset AU, UF or GT. (and yes, right now GT would be an upset)
(note: yeah, I recycled the two thumbs line. So what.)