Full credit for this post goes to a radio guy named Jeff Cavanaugh who is on the radio at 105.3 in Dallas. I was listening one afternoon on my way home and he said something really interesting, which is that in the secondary and the offensive line, you are really only as good as your weakest link.
That really hit me like a ton of bricks and I think that the coaching staff, at least based on how they’ve put together this roster, think the same way.
First, let’s just talk about the theory behind this, which makes a ton of sense to me. If there’s part of a secondary or offensive line that fails, then it puts pressure on the other parts usually revealing a weakness for the offense to exploit. In fact, my guess is generally that when teams are game planning, this is probably the biggest aspect of their game plan, which is for the offensive coaches to figure out what part of the secondary that they can exploit with receivers and on the other side of the ball the defensive coaches are eyeing that offensive line.
The players who end up needing help is what creates the mismatch. If an offensive lineman consistently needs help or if a lineman loses a matchup, then there’s pressure on the quarterback, or perhaps a run play gets blown up, and the play is a complete loss.
Same sort of idea for the secondary, if the point of a cornerback is to be on an island, if a safety is having to constantly shade ot help, that opens up the run game, or if it is a single-high safety, the other cornerback can’t make a mistake because of that player. The same thing could said of a safety who doesn’t have the wheels to stay with receivers who go deep or doesn’t tackle well.
Opposing offensive coordinators are probably trying to find the weakest link and trying to figure out ways to exploit it AND trying to figure out how to get their best players to exploit those weak links or simply just have those guys beat their players.
What those grades told us is that the safety position was an F and the cornerback was a C+, largely carried by the excellent play of Zech McPhearson and DeMarcus Fields. The safety spots were largely manned by Eric Monroe, who was terrible from a grading perspective, and Thomas Leggett, who was also not very good.
There’s a ton of good news here because the coaching staff ended up seeing what we all saw, which is that the secondary was the weak point of the defense, and didn’t try to fix it with incoming freshmen, but transfers with multiple years and experience. It’s not a guarantee, but maybe it is a greater probability of success because at the very least, they have a year of strength training on the collegiate level.
Enter in Duke safety transfer Marquis “Muddy” Waters, NC State safety/cornerback Malik Dunlap, UCLA cornerback Rayshad Williams, and Wisconsin safety Reggie Pearson. That’s a significant upgrade and I’d think that finding the weakest spot is going to be significantly different than it was last year.
As to the offensive line, my other huge weak-spot after the year, was upgraded with the addition of TCU tackle TJ Storment. I’m not sold that this is a magic pill, i.e. the addition of one player is going to make everything better, but it does allow some players to move around to what is likely more natural positions. Storment moving to left tackle moves Caleb Rogers to right tackle, which is a significantly less pressure as it is most likely that the best pass rusher will be on the left side of the field, and it also allows last year’s right tackle, Josh Burgers, to move to right guard, a position he’s insanely more suited to play.
I went back and watched the video from the first game and it was clearly evident from the first game that Burgers was a high-effort player, but did not have the strength to hold the right side. Rogers will have a full year under his belt splitting time at left tackle with Ethan Carde. I don’t know that Rogers will be an absolute success, but throwing him into the fire of left tackle was a rough spot for sure and he’ll likely just be better with less pressure.
With Burger at right guard, he’ll able to utilize his quickness much better than at tackle. With Dawson Deaton at center, one of the better players, this should allow for the only question spot to be at left guard where the staff should just state that the best man should win, whoever that is. I thought the interior of the right side last year was a bit of a mess, missed handoffs, missed assignments, just not blocking, etc. I don’t think that will be Burger’s problem.
What the secondary addressed was talent AND depth, while the offensive line’s move of Storment helped move some pieces around, the line still has a depth problem. I’ve advocated and will continue to do so, an additional offensive lineman or two.
And with the infusion of talent, which we’ve really yet to see, the hope is that the secondary and offensive line will be better and the weakest link is hopefully significantly better than it was last year.