March 27, 2007

That Horrible Blend

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 8:01 am

of experience and inexperience on defense.

We all know that the team is practically starting from scratch with the linebacking corp. Given the inexperience, position changes and huge, glaring question marks at that spot it is not unreasonable to wonder if it will even be the same kids starting come the season opener. The linebacker depth chart seems to be the ripest area for some of the incoming freshmen to have a chance and really impact in the fall. I’m not wishing or hoping for anyone’s failure. I’d love to see Justin Hargrove come all the way back from his injury and the position change, not to mention Dorin Dickerson turn out to be a linebacker savant. It’s just the questions at that area — and being coached directly by Paul Rhoads — make it terrifying.

Not that I should worry with the experienced D-line up front to help.

That’s part of what makes DE Greg Romeus so intriguing. His shear athleticism and potential as he is still learning the game with only one year of high school football makes him a project with so much “upside.”

“He has the ability to make plays, and you can’t teach that,” Gattuso said. “You can’t teach a kid to jump and intercept a pass or knock it down, or to recover and run the quarterback down on a bootleg. He’s got some really good abilities that God gave him. It’s just kind of refining him with what we can give him with what was naturally there.”

Where Romeus has flashed his athleticism through the first three practices, batting down several passes and chasing down plays in the backfield, he also has struggled to adapt to the nuances of the game. Pitt’s quarterbacks used long snap counts to draw him to jump before the snap Tuesday, and he had difficulty using his hands to shed blocks.

“It’s still all new to me,” Romeus said. “Learning the plays and trying to do the basics, all the footwork, is something that’s hard for me. I’m getting used to it the more and more we practice.”

Scary with the learning curve, but intriguing nonetheless.

Then there’s the secondary. Beyond the obvious question of how much of a drop-off will there be without Darrelle Revis. The early signs are that it’s Aaron Berry’s  job to  lose  and Kennard Cox will be back on the other side. It will be interesting to see if new Secondary Coach Chris Ball does anything noticeably different with getting them ready. It’s hard to imagine the actual schemes and the kind of coverage changing with the same guy still running the full defense.

The biggest question mark is whether Mike Phillips is all the way back from his horrific ankle injury of 2005. The senior has been a team leader and very much one of the stand-up guys on the team. Last year, though, his on the field performance wasn’t there. He was a couple steps slow and looked very tentative about making cuts. Assuming Elijah Fields keeps things together off-the-field and makes his workouts, Fields will be pushing for starting time.

Man, last year there at least seemed to be some hope with the 3 team leaders we had, but this year is looking pretty bad.

Comment by Chris 03.27.07 @ 8:19 am

The entire Defense makes me nervous. We apparently are still looking at 8 kids to fill 4 starting spots along the line. Last year was similar but what we heard from the coaches is that competition will bring out the best in all of them. That never happened because of either injury or the players never reached their potential. Will it be the samme this year? Personally I would rather hear that at least a couple of them are really standing out from the rest, at least then we could pin some hope on something.

The LB’s will start off slow but progress throughout the year. I think McKillop in the middle will do fine. It seems that his position is what the defense is built around. As long as he doesn’t over persue he will rack up 8-10 tackles per game. The outside it a huge question mark.

Hopefully Philips will be 100% both physically & Mentally this year. You are right he seemed tentative last year. Maybe making it through the whole year injury free and the fact that this is his last chance he will go all out. Thatcher is the key at safety though. If he can return to the form he had when he got hurt that will really help solidify the run D. Corners will make some plays but give up some plays, what else can you expect really….ok one thing you can expect is for Cox to come up and want to hit somebody…Hard!! I think we have enough good athletes to provide stability & depth behind Cox & Berry.

The biggest thing I am looking for out of the entire defense is steady improvement from game to game. That and no more fricking 200+ rushing collapses.

Comment by Tony 03.27.07 @ 9:02 am

Rhodes is the scariest thing about this defense. I’m not as worried about the linebackers- most of the tackles they made last year were 5 or more yards downfield. I’m not saying they weren’t good, but I don’t think their absence is fatal. I just want to see this D make teams beat them with the pass. Get 5 on the line, 8 in the box, and make Mike Teel throw for 350 yards to beat you. For God’s sake, don’t give up a 70 yard run up the middle to Ray Rice right after you pull within 3 in the second half. The 200+ yard rushing collapses are unwatchable.

Comment by Danster 03.27.07 @ 9:49 am

Agree about S. McKillop. When he was in the middle last year he seemed to have a grasp of what to do. He is definitely faster than HB, 3″ taller and 5lbs heavier.

As for the other LBs, it is going to come down the DL. I look for Malecki to be so much better this year. He had to start as true freshman. He and the others who had to play as true freshman received valuable OJT on the field. Hopefully that translates into better play this season. Mick Williams could be a disruptive force if can stay healthy. Duhart could possibly make an impact as well.

I think if they can get the weight back on Webster, he and McKillop will push each other. Dickerson and Nix are truly unknowns in the sense that DD is coming over from O and has not had playing time at the LB position and Nate was redshirted. But like it has been reported, DD was recruited by some big powers to be a LB and Nix was a beast in HS and is also up to 225 now compared to 197 last summer.

I agree about Thatcher. The kid is a beast. Berry is a player and will be able to hold up well at CB but as for him developing into the next Revis who knows. As with the LBs, the secondary’s effectiveness will either be enhanced or diminished by the play of the DL.

Comment by Kenny 03.27.07 @ 10:03 am

I would have to agree with the Danster. Run over Rhodes is whats scary about the D. I had hoped that DW would bring something to the table on that side of the ball but I have yet to see it. I would love to see some new plays or something other then just lining up in the exact formation for every play. It has always seemed to me that our D is way to predicable. I really think that most opposing coaches could write thier gameplan right now and not have to worry about the personal we put on the field.

Comment by Tony In Harrisburg 03.27.07 @ 1:22 pm

I am with you on that Tony. DW may want the to play the way the D did at the U, and expect the players to do so, but he needs to start crossing other teams up. Especially with the young guns who have to step in and play!!!

Comment by Kenny 03.27.07 @ 1:30 pm

“He has the ability to make plays, and you can’t teach that,” Gattuso said.”

Well then, why coach him at all?

Maybe, just maybe, after the last two years of pretty inept defensive play, DW and Rhoads will understand that whatever they attempted didn’t work. And, that now is the time to do things differently, shake it up and take risks, especially in light of the better ‘talent’ on the field. I’m hesitant to say that we can’t get any worse on defense – because the truth is we actually can – just not much. But, we hired Ball for a reason, and that was to be able to concentrate on both DBs and LBs with each having their own position coach. Expectations from this defense is so low that anything will be better than status quo.

The more I read about the individual defensive players competing for spots the more I think the kids will rise to the occasion. I didn’t necessarily feel that way in the spring of 2006. And Duhart can be thrown into the mix right away. The only thing holding this group back will be how they are coached and deployed, which is the opposite of what should happen when you field a team as young as this.

Comment by Reed 03.27.07 @ 5:34 pm

I’m shooting for a 1-10 season…it would bring me full circle to my first year supporting pitt back in 1998…I’m so burnt out with always hoping for a big win only to realize our team hasn’t been able to win a big game in over 4 years….

Comment by Marco 03.27.07 @ 11:13 pm

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