With features including the debut of Jacob Eason, the emergence of Tae Crowder in the absence of Nick Chubb, and an obvious development at the vertical wide receiver position, the defense appeared to not make many strides in the right direction.
Smart issued a challenge to his defense after a lackluster performance in their scrimmage last Saturday. Based on a disdainful tone in his voice, it was obvious that there was still work to be done. “No, I was not pleased with the defense, they did not answer my challenge,” Smart said.
“We didn’t do today what we had done all spring defensively. We normally swarm to the ball and play with intensity, that didn’t happen today.” While there certainly were some bright spots, like DeAndre Walker appearing unstoppable off of the edge, accumulating four sacks, there were plenty of holes.
The starting defense managed to surrender 34 points against a multitude of quarterbacks, including faltering against fourth string quarterback Nick Robinson as he orchestrated an 80 yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. The secondary was sluggish when picking up running backs out of the backfield, the linebackers failed to fill the middle on obvious run tendencies, and the top was taken off multiple times by vertical wide receivers.
Even though the starters saw less playing time than usual, trying to get as many players into the game as possible, the second group battled time and time again. According to Smart, “I will say, the second group played harder than the first.”
It all seemed to start up front. A lack of pressure on the quarterback left the secondary having to hold coverage assignments much longer than usual. Linebackers failed to range laterally to pick up tight ends, and the secondary permitted young wide receivers like Jayson Stanley, Riley Ridley, and Michael Chigbu to run free in open space.
Coach Smart summed up his press conference putting it quite frankly, “The bottom line: we have to get better on defense. We not only have to be more physical, but we have to get bigger.”
That will be the new challenge moving into summer camp: take everyday improve from the day before. The team will see a little less of Smart a bit more of strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair as the summer progresses. With an increased training regime, the Bulldogs look to continue growing physically, but more importantly, mentally.