6. Redshirt Freshmen Defensive Backs. I think both Gibbs and Kingsbury are pretty excited about those redshirt freshmen defensive backs. I have no expectations because I haven’t really seen any of them play. And the staff really isn’t afraid to play a redshirt, Demarcus Fields earned his time and was starting by the end of the year (as an aside, Fields is the trash-talking-est defensive back that we’ve seen in quite some time and I sorta like it even though he’s not perfect). Adrian Frye, Quincy Addison and John Davis, Jr. all used up their redshirt last year and competition breeds better play. The secondary, at least for me, was the one area that needed the most work despite some guys that played well and surprised (Octavious Morgan, Devaughnte Dorsey, Justus Parker being some of them with Fields in there as well), but there were other guys that seemingly regressed a bit, Desmon Smith and Douglas Coleman.
7. Spring #3 of Rusty Whitt: It is my hope that Rusty Whitt stays around as long as possible and there may not be a more important aspect of the improvement of the football team. Before Whitt’s arrival, I thought this team was soft and simply not physically imposing. In 2016, I thought the defensive tackles were as weak as I’ve ever seen them and the improvement from 2016 to 2017 was significant. And now, we’re in year number three for Whitt and I’d like to think that Whitt will make the push that improvement even further. Last year, there was no double-t and a caste system of t-shirts and levels that had to be earned. Before Whitt’s arrival, I think I didn’t know how important a strength and conditioning coach really was, but that’s the guy (along with the strength and conditioning staff) that’s essentially around the team during the spring and the summer. There’s so much that hinges on what Whitt and his staff can do. Improve the team as a whole incrementally and you could see a bigger difference in 2018.
8. Rush the Quarterback. I know I’d like to see the offensive line essentially stop that speed rush, but that’s one area that simply has to improve for the defense, which will in turn improve how those defensive backs perform. We discussed Gilmore’s return from injury, but Eli Howard needs to get quicker off the blocks. He’s got a great motor and that’s a really great thing, but with these quick passing offenses, the rush needs to come quickly. I thought that Kolin Hill improved significantly from his sophomore to junior year, but I think we need to see something from the some of those guys that sat out last year. Houston Miller and Noah Jones will hopefully make a dent in the rotation and I’d love to see Nelson Mbanasor be a quicker defensive tackle that can maybe make a push inside. Tony Jones received very limited snaps, but he nearly led the team in sacks.
9. Runner By Rotation or One Guy. There’s part of me that thinks that the running back will be by committee again and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it would be really nice to see one guy emerge as the primary runner, but I don’t know who that guy is. I don’t think any of the candidates are going to win that job because I don’t know if that guy exists. I know that we were all really pinning our hopes on Devin Brumfield, but now that’s not happening and I think the likely scenario is that Tre King starts, Ward gets some carries and earns some of those carries back and Nisby gets the goal line and short yardage situations.
10. Opposite Vasher. I’m guessing, assuming that Vasher takes on that extra role of being responsible on and off the field, he’s assured of being the z-receiver. What needs to be decided after that is who plays the X-receiver. I am guessing that Quan Shorts is thinking that he’s waited three years to have that opportunity and if I had to put money on it, I’d put my money on him to win the job coming out of the spring. I know there are some talented freshmen arriving on campus, but wide receiver is nuanced and it takes time. I think it would take a one of those freshmen to have a truly spectacular spring to get in the rotation. Heck, as talented as Vasher is, it took him a year and a half to really break into the rotation and set himself as a starter. It’s just somewhat unrealistic to think otherwise (that’s really true of any freshman, except for a guy like Jack Anderson who was one of the top guys in the entire class).