1. Is the front seven going to be better?
Even with the losses of Moses McCray(injury) and Nigel Carr(released), the front seven appears to be much improved. The linebacker depth chart has received an infusion of talent with Christian Jones, Holmes Onwukaife, Nigel Terrell, and Telvin Smith. With returning starters Nigel Bradham and Kendall Smith, that presents plenty of options for Coach Hudson. Mister Alexander has slid into the starting role, Jeff Luc(in for Spring) and Vincent Williams provide more depth.
The defensive line is has been much maligned, but they have consistently received positive reviews thus far. Bjorn Werner and Dan Hicks have stepped up to provide depth at DE. The tackle situation appears to be a year away from ideal, but Jacobbi McDaniel, Demonte McAllister, Everett Dawkins, and Anthony McCloud should be solid inside and improving weekly.
One thing that we can't afford is too many injuries to the defensive line, depth behind the two deep is scarce right now.
2. Who is the running back?
Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson have waged a fierce battle with Thomas having the slight upper hand at this time. Both will see plenty of carries this year and the hot hand will rule the day. Ty Jones has also looked excellent in camp and he should see some carries thrown his way as well.
3. Is the offensive line as good as advertised?
Incomplete grade here. Injuries have hit hardest on the offensive line thus far with guys like Andrew Datko and David Spurlock having missed significant time. It has allowed Garrett Faircloth and Rhonne Sanderson some additional reps with the first team. Both Datko and Spurlock are expected back on Tuesday which should allow the no.1 unit to gel.
The next two weeks along with the game with Samford should provide plenty of time to get on the same page.
This is probably as deep as we have been in a while as the second unit has several players who can be counted on. As Blake Snider and Bryan Stork continue to get stronger and more physical, they will see more action. Antwane Greenlee remains a bit of an enigma.
4. Who are the corners?
NoleDigest has been saying that the starters will be Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes; that appears to be the case. Ochuko Jenije has worked at both CB and S(replacing a banged up Moody). Mike Harris and Lamarcus Joyner are both newcomers that should see the field next year as well. Joyner brings that special athleticism while Harris has a few years in JUCO under his belt. With five players to contribute this unit should not be a concern anymore. In fact it should only get better as all except Jenije are set to return in 2011.
5. Is Ponder fully recovered?
This was not much of a question heading into the season after a strong Spring, but it is also a fragile situation when your star QB is returning from injury. Ponder did not suffer any setbacks and that is the best news thus far. He appears to be 100% and poised for a huge season.
While there would be a drop-off if Ponder goes down, we are confident that Manuel and Trickett are well on their way to being successful QBs. Manuel would start for many teams across the country this year.
6. Is this coaching staff as good as advertised?
Probably better as these guys seem to have a healthy respect for each other and early returns on the field are fantastic. We will wait for the real results, but this team is bigger, stronger, and better coached than the previous decade. Results should follow.
That is just talking about their actual coaching skills, these guys are ace recruiters; that will pay dividends for years to come.
Are we ok at wide receiver?
We think so with Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling leading the way, but there is no proven depth behind those two with Fortson's departure. Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead appear to be the next in line with further competition coming from A.J. Alexander, Josh Gehres, Kenny Shaw, and Greg Dent. While the numbers are there only time will answer if these youngsters are willing to step up. Reed and Easterling are ideal candidates for the #2 and #3 roles, but each will have to up the ante, at least early in the year.
Do we have any play-making safeties?
Nothing proven right now and Moody has been banged up thus far in camp. JaJuan Harley was a player that was expected to step up, but he does not appear ready to force his way onto the field. It looks like Nick Moody, Terrance Parks, Gerald Demps, and Jenije will be the players who get the first crack at making something happen.
In Coach Stoops new scheme the safeties are set up to succeed, let's hope that they are ready to take the next step.