Sunday, August 30, 2015

Football 2015: Preview the defense

You might have been taught when you were young to tackle the toughest task first.  I have never been a proponent of that approach.  So I previewed the offense first.  Now, the defense.

Since BG walked off Ford Field as the champions of the MAC, it has been a difficult time for that defense.  Mike Elko had built a prodigious unit and system that was dominant in its final games, even after losing Gabe Martin to injury.  Then, last year BG had one of the biggest regressions in any unit we have seen, especially given that so many of its players were back.  Yes, BG had injuries--but fewer than other MAC teams did, including UT--and was shredded relentlessly by WKU when 100% healthy.

BG finished 8th in scoring defense and 9th in total defense.  Beyond the injuries, something was not right.  (Not helpful was an offense that seemed to specialize in 3 and out possession that lasted like 2 minutes.)

Anyway, BG then lost nearly the entire unit.  Looking at the depth chart from the Camellia Bowl, BG returns only 3 starters...Schweiterman, Royster and Sanford.  BG lost 2 additional players from the second string.  Four of the graduated players are in NFL training camps (making last year's struggles all the more disappointing).  Thomas, Croley and Johnson were expected back but left the program due to legal issues.  A struggling defense lost most of its players and some of them were top producers.

Coach Babers did some re-shuffling over the winter.  He moved Kim McBroom, last year's DC, into a new position and brought in Brian Ward as a new DC.   Ward has a strong defensive pedigree in FCS and should help to solidify the defense from a scheme and preparation standpoint.  The question is, does he have the players he needs to get the job done.

One digression.  Coach Babers is an offensive coach, but people who think he doesn't care about defense are not right.  He had a good defense at EIU and he has worked hard to recruit defensive players and there is the Ward hire.  Coach Babers knows great teams are good on both sides of the ball.

So, the players.  One thing is that while he didn't play last year, Zach Colvin is a returning player on the d-line and he's needed.  It is great to see him back after a very difficult year.  Brian Baird and Terrance Bush--both players with some experience, especially given the rotations on the d-line--are starting on the ends, and Colvin and Royster will be at tackle.  Speaking of rotations, the the backups at ends (Brian Sanders and walk-on David Koniowalski) have not played at all.  In the middle, Mike Minns and walk-on Schweiterman do have some playing experience.  This is going to be a critical unit.  If the more traditionally built teams can run the ball down our throats and eat the clock up and keep that offense on the bench, we're going to be in trouble, especially when the weather turns.

At LB, BG lost two great players, Gabe Martin and DJ Lynch.  Austin Valdez has stepped up at one spot and James Sanford returns on the other side.  In the middle, Nate Locke was the backup for the Camellia Bowl and the remains the backup now.  The Fall Preview from BGSU showed r-So Aaron Banks starting at MLB.  Banks came to BG as a S.

Depth at LB includes former S Nillijah Ballew who was highly recruited to BG and now moved to LB.  Of course, there is Locke and Trent Greene on the other side.

Phil Steele ranked the BG LBs as the worst in the MAC.  I'd say that's a little harsh but they aren't starting off any higher than the middle of the MAC.  Maybe they have been coached up...but this is as big an area of concern as the line for many of the same reasons.

In the backfield, BG lost a starting CB.  Clint Stephens is back and playing alongside Darrell Hunter, who had trouble finding the field last year but has a lot of playing time under his belt.  At S, BG has Dernard Turner, who was effective last year while Ryland Ward was injured and, of course, Eilar Hardy the Notre Dame transfer.  Depth is critical here as well, and BG has untested players listed as second string guys at 3 of the 4 positions.

In general, I think the backfield is OK at the front line, but softer in nickel and dime sets.

Anyway, it isn't that the defense doesn't have a chance to be competitive, just that there are a huge number of question marks that have to turn out right (as in, run the table) in order for the defense to be above average.  In addition, this year's defense is incredibly vulnerable to injuries at most positions.  Finally, they have a challenge in that they don't get to practice against any mainstream offenses.

Best case scenario is that the offense is what we expect and the defense is good enough to get a few stops--by punts or by turnovers--and that formula is a winning one.  Worst case is that the offense has too many quick possessions and the defense gives up nothing but long drives....and that won't be a winning formula.

One last note.  If the defense stays healthy and is well coached, they also have the chance to improve.  Their are lots of new guys and if they are being well coached they could be much better in November than they might be Saturday, so I'd encourage fans to see it as a work in progress as well.

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