As excited as I’ve gotten over the quotes we’ve all seen about what’s going on with the defense, it’s worth tempering that with the realization that this is a major undertaking Grantham faces.
First off, there are the obvious personnel issues that are inevitable with a change in scheme as significant as this is.
… Look for freshmen like T.J. Sripling, Brandon Burrows and Jalen Fields to have a chance to contribute in the fall at outside linebacker, where depth appears to be an issue.
For now, walk-on Reuben Faloughi is a back-up outside linebacker, joining Justin Houston, Cornelius Washington and Montez Robinson among the top four at the position.
“I think there’s a couple of guys that we can move there down the road,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I do think that we’ll obviously be looking at a couple of young guys coming in to play. It’s something that does concern me somewhat.”
Grantham said that the incoming freshman will be evaluated early to determine if they are better suited at outside linebacker or end “and see where they can help us early. It may only be in a limited role in this package or something. We’ll definitely address that come summer.”
Something else that’s obvious is the realignment of approach and terminology.
The whole process has been different for players, many of whom spent multiple years under the guidance of Willie Martinez. The language and terminology are different, and the mentality has changed. Players have been forced to change their line of thinking. That’s a lot to adjust to in such a short period of time.
“This is a learning experience for everybody, seniors and all,” cornerback Vance Cuff said. “Usually going into your senior year, you pretty much have the defense down with what you’re playing.”
So it’s worth keeping the expectations grounded in reality. The two things that give me hope are first, that this staff knows how important it is to get the fundamentals down…
“We’re really trying to put in things to apply to concepts and how we want to play in a certain defense,” Grantham said. “What happens is they kind of learn, you know, the formations of an offense tell you a lot. Where people line up, where the receivers are, how close they are, how far apart they are, where the back is, the quarterbacks mannerisms. There’s a lot of things that you’re trying to teach them.”
And it is a lot, right down to the stance a running back is lined up in or the subtle way a quarterback moves his head before the snap. But Grantham has been quick to remind his player they are still just playing football. The object is to tackle the ballcarrier, as simple as it sounds. The players say they relate to the way he’s teaching them.
… and second, that legitimate competition for playing time seems to be back in style.
The competition for playing time has noticeably picked up on the defensive side of the ball. Last spring, the defense was full of upperclassmen, with most starting spots locked up early.
That’s not the case this year, not with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham keeping players on their toes. Grantham has turned up the competition by implementing a 3-4 defense. No player has been guaranteed playing time, and no starting spot announced.
“It’s great because it brings a lot out of players, knowing that you might not be the starter,” safety Nick Williams said. “Nobody has a starting job. You can get kind of content when you know you’re going to be playing as a starter on Saturday nights, so you don’t practice as hard.”
Yeah, talk is cheap, and Williams’ quote is an interesting contrast to all the wonderful talk about leadership and motivation we heard in last year’s preseason. So let’s hope it’s more than lip service with the new staff.