Saturday Practice Observations: Defense

It was the last day we will be able to watch them practice and it was the first day in pads. There wasn't a lot of hitting, but the defense got their point avcross most of the day anyway. Here is our account of the defense on Saturday in fromnt of a crowd of about 100 on the sidelines.

The defensive line has been solid even with light use of Dominique Easley. In fact we hardly see Easley used at all in team drills, and only in individual work. This allows the younger guys to really work and get themselves ready. Guys like Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard on the outside are benefitting as well as Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Darious Cummings, and Joey Ivie on the inside.

Let's start inside and the guys that start. Jacobs was pretty quiet Saturday as he was much of Friday's practice from what I saw. He doesn't get a lot of surge. I am impressed with Orr, who really looks to be in good shape, he has a good motor and he makes it tough on the interior offensive linemen on a consistent basis. Cummings is a bit out of shape to me. I did not see him make a play and he kust looks sloppy. He does better in one on one drills where he can match up and use his girth better, but when lined up in team, he disappears if an extra guy gets a chip on him. He needs to some weight room work in my opinion.

Ivie was probably the surprise of the day and what you can notice is that the staff is taking an interest in him. There was one point where he was doing well, but needed a little work and defensive line coach Bryant Young pulled him off to the side for an extended bit of time and really talked t him about a few things. This would be a welcome surprise for Ivie, who actually has a bit of a mean streak on the field and if he was 20 pounds heavier we wouldn't be talking about any issues.

On the outside, Dante Fowler and Tyler Moore had a good tussle all day long. Yesterday I thought Moore may have been the better man, today it went to Fowler. He is one quick dude and gets a great jump off of the line of scrimmage. His backup Alex McCalister also had his moments, but usually not against Moore. This is going to be a great duo at the BUCK position for this staff until Ronald Powell returns from injury.

Jonathan Bullard is also doing his thing however he kleft the practice field with a noticeable limp. I don't think he finished all of the drills, but I didn't see when he went down exactly. He was walking back to the stadium on his own, so it didn't appear serious and before the injury he was also doing his thing and really getting the better of D.J, Humphries for a good portion of the day.

Bryan Cox Jr. is going to be an interesting one to follow. He is in his new 260 pound body, almost 30 pounds over what he played at a year ago. It is taking him a little getting used to. He really did well when lined up on defense in either individual or as a team going against the offensive linemen. However in one punt coverage drill, he was planted twice by receiver Latroy Pittman and completely taken out of the drill. I don't know if it is a matter of running and playing in space, but he doesn't seem to have a solid foundation when he isn't engaged already with the opponent.

At linebacker, Alex Anzalone left the field with a shoulder injury after contact with Kent Taylor. The underweight Taylor has been the whipping boy on a few occasions din the last two days with his tall and lanky frame, but he also doesn't back down from contact and must have hit Anzalone just right to knock him out of action for the rest of the day.

The top linebacker over the two days has been is Antonio Morrison in the middle. There is little doubt in my mind he will assume the leadership role and they are giving him a lot of practice time right now to do that. He runs extremely well and we saw him run with receivers way down field numerous times. he is also quite a bit bigger than a year ago and plays the game ultra-physical which we all knew already.

With Anzalone out a bit, Daniel McMillian saw some work at MIKE and he also runs very well. He is fighting the mental battle right now and busting assignments, but you can see him in various drills on defense and special teams just what kind of athlete he really is. When this kid's light comes on he will hurt people.

Michael Taylor doesn't get a lot of work out there either. In the nickel it seems the two linebackers are more often than not Morrison and Darrin Kitchens and that leaves Taylor out at times. he also knows the defense better than any of them and is the benefactor there. He is much thicker this season as well, just an overall bigger body than a year ago. He did have an early interception of a Jeff Driskel pass in practice on Saturday.

I honestly didn't see a lot from Neiron Ball on the day, but one guy that made a couple of impressive plays was Jeremi Powell. First of all he is bigger than his 205 listed weight. I am not saying he is prototype size yet, but he has to be closer to 220 now. Yet, with the added weight, he was down field on a couple of plays and batting the ball away from receivers 15-20 yards down field. He also mixed it up a little inside. I really liked what I saw of Powell.

Heading to the secondary and one guy that has impressed me for two days is corner Brian Poole. He plays a lot in the nickel and so he draws a lot of different guys to guard that might line up in the slot, but he is all over them almost all of the time. It sets himself up to get beat a few times, but I believe as he gets more and more comfortable in the position and the defense he will continue to grow just like the corners did last year. Remember they played aggressive early on and got beat several times in year one only to come back last year and be very good at what they do, I expect Poole to be pretty good even sooner and get a ton of playing time this year. He probably has more pass break ups in two days than anyone else on the team.

Marcus Roberson gets the nod for Saturday though. He got to line up several times against Quinton Dunbar and all but once came out on tiop of that matchup. He is a little too physical for Dunbar unless Dunbar can keep from making contact.

Jaylen Watkins also had a couple of pass break ups on the day and helped with a secondary that kept the quarterbacks from completing less than three balls more than 15 yards down field on the day. That was a drastic change from Friday where the quarterbacks owned the mid-range and deep territory.

At safety Cody Riggs has been trying to make some noise over the last two days. At 184 pounds, Riggs actually looks to have a different posture as a safety than a corner from two years ago. He is the smallest defensive back on the team and no doubt he carries a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. On Saturday he took some frustration out on an unsuspecting Kent Taylor who took a short pass and got tangled with someone 10 yards down field, Taylor slowed up and I guess Riggs didn't hear the whistle. He laid Taylor out on the play and has been that kind of attacker for the last two days. A little while later in practice Riggs met his match when he went to hit Matt Jones and Jones planted Riggs on the turf instead. He has to learn to play this way after being a scrappy, yet physical, cornerback, safety is just a different type of player.

I haven't seen anything bad from Valdez Showers, just didn't notice him much on Saturday. Jabari Gorman is a different story. You kind of see in him what we saw in Pop Saunders, just a guy that is always around the ball. While he isn't a big guy, he is taller than Saunders and probably a bit faster. Gorman has the look of an SEC starter in my opinion.

I think what we have seen from this defense overall in two days is that from a passing game stand point I think this will be a very strong unit. They should get as good a pass rush as they have had in a long time from several guys up front. They have linebackers that can run with most and we know as long as Muschamp is here they are going to have a talented and very physical secondary, which they do.

The question in my opinion is about the running game. They haven't been able to do too much running in the two days, but the biggest issues remain in the middle of the defensive line, especially when Dominique Easley isn't out there. They are still very physical to be a good run stuffing team, time will tell if they will live up to being as good at that part of the game as they bhave been for two years.

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