So, like many people, my thinking is swinging between the depressing "Argghhh here comes another 3-9 season" and unrealistic expectation of "Tate & D-Rob are the 2nd coming of my lord and savior". I tend to fall more toward the former than the latter, and that is depressing.
So, in a series of diaries I'm going to try to convince myself, and maybe some of you, that significant improvement is on the way this season. If you think we're going 9-3 or 10-2 I hope you're right, but that seems lofty. The aim and tone of this is set to show we can go 7-5, or maybe 8-4 if we get some bounces.
For my first submission, I'll look at DBs and try to convince everyone that overall we are better off at this position than last year. I can't stress enough that "better off" is relative...
Donovan Warren: Warren is a stud, he was in on 52 tackles, had an interception and 4 pass breakups. Considering it seemed like the opposition went at him relatively infrequently, this is quite impressive. He seems to be a sure tackler, and limits the YACs (yes, I do remember the slant that went for a TD, and that seemed like an isolated event). I think most are pretty confident with him, so I won't waste more time here.
Boubacar Cissoko: I assume he will be taking care of duties on the other side of the field. This probably makes everyone kind of nervous because he is so smurf-y, but i'm going to try and talk you into it. In spot duty as a freshman, he broke up 3 passes (tied for 2nd on the team) and was in on 15 tackles. Also, he's FAST with a (fake) forty time of 4.4 coming out of high school. Let's not forget that he was a 4* to rivals even with his height, and it's their job to know these things. He should be at least serviceable. Morgan Trent was a huge letdown for me this past season after showing promise as a junior, so I'm hoping Boo-Boo can fill his role, though probably not in the leadership realm.
Others: After that, I think incoming freshman Justin Turner has a chance to play a role similar to what Cissoko did last year. He also has the size Cissoko lacks. In a perfect world, he is successful enough to move to a full-time corner for the last third of the season. This would allow Cissoko to move to a nickelback role, which is his true calling in my opinion. I don't think that will happen, but it's the ceiling of what he can achieve as a true frosh. We also have Woolfolk and Johnson who have some game experience. They certainly can't be every-down players unless they've shown some significant improvements but they add depth and a little veteran knowledge to the mix.
The only contributing CB we lose is Trent, who as previously mentioned was a disappointment this season. I think he had a good head on his shoulders and was a good leader, but he was exposed as kind of meh as far as his raw skill and instincts go. His stats were similar to Warren's, but it seemed like they went at him twice as much. He also gave up a few big plays that don't show up on the stat sheet.
Oh god, how could these be any worse? What a nightmare in 2008. Okay, enough of that, here comes an analysis of the players.
Stevie Brown: I'll be gentle on this one since this is a relative comparison to last year, and not judging on an absolute scale. At worst he's the same, but it is much more likely that he improved at least some. I'm not saying he'll be "good", but he should be better than last year. I'm really hoping the best for this kid, he shouldered a lot of blame last year, and some (though not all) was undeserved. He may have played poorly, but man he took a ripping when he clearly was trying his absolute best and was more upset than anyone at his failings. Would love to see him get some redemption. Moving on.
Michael Williams: Who is going to fill in for Harrison? Other than QB, I think this is the most important question on the team for next year. It isn't because Harrison was great (he was average at best, just looked good in comparison to Brown). It's because we all witnessed, painfully, exactly what poor safety play can do to a defense. Just imagine how much worse things would have been last year if our two safeties had been Stevie Brown and... Stevie Brown. No thanks. Anyway, I think Michael Williams is the kid most ready to step into the other starting role. Not only does he have the most game experience (18 tackles, 2 for loss), he also was a 4* recruit to rivals coming into college. He was the only not-terrible DB in the Illinois game last year. In fact at a quick glance at UFRs, I did not see one negative play for Williams all year (I only looked at a few games, definitely could have missed something). I don't know what reasons the coaches had for not playing him last year, but those reasons couldn't have been good enough. My only concern here other than inexperience is speed. Coming in, rivals lists him with a 4.67 which is not very quick for a DB. I can't find anything more recent. Silver lining? 2 years of Barwis hopefully improved his speed and at safety, much more than corner, you can overcome a lack of blazing speed with heady play (which the lack of negatives in the UFR suggest he has).
Brandon Smith: He (I think) redshirted last year. He was a 4* to rivals with 4.5 speed, and he was a big dude at 6-2 210. He had 9 INTs in high school his junior year and was an Army All-American. He is a wild-card in this race and could go either way as a total bust, or push Williams for the starting position.
Others: We have a frosh righteously named Vlad Emilien. He'll probably end up an LB, but maybe he'll play some safety as a true freshman before he bulks up and makes the transition. There's a chance he's underrated, since he was injured for his senior season, but there is probably just as good of a chance that the injury set him back and he's overrated. Let's hope for the former. Artis Chambers left so, like... bummer. That leaves freshmen Adrian Witty and Mike Jones and other people that we better hope don't see the field. If they do, not to be a jerk, but: yikes.
Cornerbacks we should have an improved Donovan Warren, an improved Cissoko that hopefully can be the equivalent of Morgan Trent, and a freshman that has a chance to play the role Cissoko played but with better size. We also have a couple guys that can handle spot duty, and they even have some minimal experience. Net gain.
Safeties we have a he-must-have improved Stevie Brown, one guy that saw spot duty and showed a lot of promise, and another somewhat unknown guy that came in highly rated and was red shirted. Actually, you know what? Screw this. There is no possible way our safeties are worse than last year. Even if they are a push (they will be better than a push), with the improvement at corner our defensive backfield shows a net gain.
OFF TOPIC: Somebody less stupid than me should post a formatting how-to. I want to use neat bullets and bold and such, and this being my first actual submission, I have no idea how to do that.
UPDATE: I know how to bold things now. Woooo progress.