I'll also say that I have very few worries about the front, especially the DEs and LBs. Do we need to improve pass coverage with our LBs? You bet. But there are reasons that we have three LBs on the pre-season award watch lists. Add in another (Herrera) that was the second leading tackler in the conference last season, and we clearly have talent at LB that can be coached up.
Same goes for the defensive line, with Sterling Bailey (9 starts in 2013), James Deloach, and Mike Thornton (32 appearances, with significant playing time in 2013). Throw in NG Toby Johnson, who appeared in seven games last year after transferring from Hutchinson CC in Kansas, Jon Taylor (appeared in ten games), Ray Drew (7 starts in 2013), Chis Mayes, and Josh Dawson (25 appearances/1 start) in back up roles, we have a strong two deep on the line.
Hopefully, Pruitt can utilize some of those back ups more artfully than Grantham
One other thing to be hopeful for about this season: Pruitt won't likely do much different, alignment wise, than Grantham did with the front seven. Much of the heavy lifting will be done with the DEs and NG filling gaps, with the line performing nearly the same role of preventing easy inside yards, while pushing the pocket back into the QB on pass plays. The big difference will come from philosophy after the snap with the LBs, as Pruitt's system is both simpler from an execution standpoint and more reliant on the LBs to blow up plays with speed. In that regard, I feel pretty good about our talent.
I'll get to the Dbacks in a minute, but one thing that's been rolling around in my mind was prompted from something I read in the spring about the work Pruitt has cut out for him at UGA:
But can Pruitt develop players that have been coached by Grantham into savvy, intelligent players, like the ones he coached at Florida State?Inside the question is quite the damning statement about Grantham and his players, right? But it does get to the crux of the matter with the LBs, as those guys often times were the players most likely to be caught trying to figure out just what the defense was supposed to be doing when Grantham was behind the white towel.
I believe that was the source of Pruitt's 'we have no starters' mantra in the Spring/Summer. He's reinforcing the notion that all of the defensive players have new stuff to learn, and those that are most willing to buy in are most likely to play on Saturdays in the Fall.
Now about the defensive backs....the addition of Fenteng will help, there is no doubt. From a coaching stand point, Pruitt is looking at this group like he's got a bunch of freshmen starters. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Malkom Parrish is a regular, especially in our nickle/star package. As for the approach, it isn't that the returning players have no experience, but with any luck, Pruitt has completely de-programmed them and is rebuilding them in his image.
A great piece on Damian Swann (h/t Blutarsky) is an illustration of the bigger issues, and de-programming, I'm talking about.
Like Blutarsky, I was envisioning the missed tackle on Watkins when I was reading this. Swann didn't become a terrible fundamental player over night. It took coaching. Or the lack thereof. Think about [It's not us, it's THEM]'s complete whiff on the 99 yard TD pass in the Gator Bowl. The same issues Murf Baldwin identified with Swann's coverage happened on Enunwa's TD against Georgia.
One last thing, my bigger concern is injuries. I think we'll show growing pains, but be better coached, thus better prepared, defensively. However, we are thin at safety. In fact, we are an injury away from Swann become a FS or having a true freshman step in at FS or SS. Or a converted RB starting there all season. Here's hoping that particular bug has left the building.