A linebacker corps that was razor thin took its first hit before the season even started when Chad Anderson failed to qualify. It took hit number two in the first game when Ronnie Riley's knee
zigged while the rest of him zagged.
I could have sworn I saw a converted wide receiver playing inside linebacker at one point. That is not to say that the defense was all bad. Given the breaks it received, there were times when it faired rather well. Only once, versus
Being small, a step slow, and under-manned, the defense did about as good as was expected. The D played several of the better offenses in the country a good game for 3 quarters. Only after they were worn out did they give up loads of points.
Did I mention being bit by the injury bug early and often? The bad news, the top 6 tacklers from a year ago are gone. The good news,
With the addition of Juco transfer Kamal Ahmad,
Williams is small for a linebacker, but makes up for it in speed and aggressiveness. Pound for pound Williams can lay the wood with anybody on this team. There is not much depth at ILB, they may have to count on true Freshmen to play. Durrell White, and Bo Smith are the proto-types at this position, but they will be new. Claude Sagaille and Keith Shelton could earn lots of playing time, but OLB could be a problem spot if the injury bug comes back this way.
Defensive line will be a strength, although finding a 5th tackle would be a plus. A healthy combo of Caudill and Robertson, while getting needed rest from Moore and Robinson, means this may be the best
Defensive end has a lot of play makers. Burns, Grigsby, and Mielsch, give the Cats three solid ends. Add Chad Anderson to the mix, then factor in walk-on Deion Holts, and RS Freshman Raymond Fontaine and the Cats seem to be in good shape. Safety will see the return of Quentus Cumby.
Cumby looked great during the spring game, but at times he looked lost in the 2001 season. He has to improve his game for the defense to be successful. A good safety can knock a running back down for a 3-4 yard gain. Last year the safeties were dragging down the RB for an 8-10 yard gain.
Helping the corner backs in pass coverage is a must as well. Safety is the toughest position on the defense, probably one of the most thankless as well. The addition of Muhammad Abdullah, Travis Atwell, and walk-on Tim Funderburk adds depth where there was none last year. Atwell is a bigger/more athletic version of Patrick Wiggins. Abdullah has good speed and the physical presence a safety needs. If Cumby can't get it done, look for the Attwell/Abdullah combo to get a chance quickly.
No part of the defense was more frustrating than corner back. The 2002 season will usher in the Wesley McGriff era. Coach McGriff coached the running backs last year. Early on the improvement at RB was evident. He now moves to defensive back coach, the position he has coached for most of his career. Look for the CB's to more aggressive, taking on some of their coaches' attitude.
Derrick Tatum, Taco Burress, and Earvin Flowers look to be the top 3 at CB, after that Warren Wilson and Antoine Huffman get the nod.
The defense is young, there will be a learning curve. They have had a year in the system, they will now have more bodies than they had last year. Despite this youth on Defense, the future looks bright on this side for a change.