We’re getting down to it, as we now sit just 19 days until kickoff against Idaho. Many expect that the defense will be good this year, and it will probably have to be while the new faces on offense settle in.
But where, exactly, do you think the defense will excel? Will they be stout up front and stuff the run? Or will the secondary shut down the passing game? Let’s take a look.
Up front, the defensive ends are the best known commodities. Yetur Gross-Matos, Shane Simmons, Shaka Toney, and Daniel Joseph are a fierce set of defensive ends, with young players Jayson Oweh and Nick Tarburton waiting to step in as needed.
At defensive tackle, Robert Windsor is, right now, the only real sure thing. Antonio Shelton, PJ Mustipher, and Damion Barber are the next three DTs up, but are either inexperienced, or have yet to fully flash on the field.
At linebacker, the starting trio of Micah Parsons, Jan Johnson, and Cam Brown have excellent athleticism on the outside, with sure-headed no-nonsense play in the middle. Still, Johnson isn’t quite the athlete as some other linebackers on the roster, including Ellis Brooks, his presumptive backup. After Parsons and Brown come Jesse Luketa, and Lance Dixon; similar to DT, they are either inexperienced or have yet to really show their full game.
At cornerback, John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields are, on paper at least, as solid a CB tandem as there is in college football. Donovan Johnson looks to be the nickel CB, and is yet another solid cover man. But, like elsewhere, the backups have some question marks - D.J. Brown, Keaton Ellis, and Marquis Wilson could be good, but having to rely on them would be worrisome.
And lastly at safety, Garrett Taylor and Lamont Wade are decent in run support, but their coverage abilities remain to be seen. Similarly, the backups Jonathan Sutherland and Jaquan Brisker are either new to the team or have to fully show their abilities in game time.
So, what does all of this tell us? The pass rush from the ends, athleticism of the outside linebackers, and shutdown corners probably indicate that this defense will be quite solid against the pass. Up the gut of the defense is where the most questions lie.
There are bodies at DT, but they need to take the next step. First team MLB is solid, but not out-of-this-world, while the backup is quite athletic, but not enough to take over the starting role. The safeties do appear to be solid in run support, but coverage is a question.
Long story short, I think the defense will be good against both the pass and the rush, but if I were an offensive coordinator, I’d go run first against this defense. Runs up the middle would negate the sheer playmaking abilities on the outside, and sooner or later the safeties are going to start cheating toward the line in run support. That’s when I’d go play action and see if I could hit a tight end up the seam or a crossing route in the vacant spot where the safeties should be.
What say you? What will be the strength of the defense, and how would you try to beat it?