Random Thoughts: On Rating Defenders

This might be stating the obvious, and daCoach probably should have run this before the first game, but anyone watching the progression of orange shirts that started back at Spring practice, had to be a little worried about how "young" the Northwestern Defense looked. Coach Roy has got some insight into how the NU D's future this year just might be in those recruiting stars.

The Recruiting Experts at Scout.com have this system
Prospects are ranked, then assigned stars, based on how well a player projects out of high school. 5 stars is the top, all the way down to 1. My rule of thumb is that the number of stars suggest when you can reasonably expect them to start getting playing time, and then start.

A 5 star player should provide early if not immediate impact to a program. 4 Star players will probably start early, 3 Star guys should certainly contribute and play as a Junior and Senior, especially with a redshirt year, and 2 and 1 star guys might be considered "projects" who would need a lot of work to rise to the Div I playing level.

By my records, the only SuperPrep/Scout.com 4 star recruit on the present defense is RS Soph Deante Battle - he has been playing about 40% of the time, coming in to spell Senior Herschel Henderson.

The other defensive back starters are: 2 star Reggie McPherson, and one star Marquice Cole. Frederic Tarver was a member of the recruiting class of 2001, and the media guide doesn't list the number of stars but came in as a WR.

True freshman Brendan Smith, who plays a lot at safety was the New Hampshire Prep player of the year, but was rated only 2 stars. The other 2 on the 2-deep, Cory Dious rated 1 star and Andre Butler came in as a defensive back last year - he was a top prospect out of Illinois.

In any case, I show 5 former walk-ons playing d-back for NU.

Now over on the D-Line, Barry Cofield [and the injured Adam Hahn] are the only two 3 star players listed. Everyone else was a 2 star except the two walk-ons who were rated with 1 star.

This is not to denigrate the talent of these kids, its just how they were ranked by Scout when they were recruited. NU's Big 10 championship teams were loaded with kids who were not rated highly, but played at a much higher level.
Now pass defense is part D-Line, Part D-Backs.
Right now NU is starting one 3 star as a Senior, and 5 different 2 star kids with 3 and 4 years left [counting 2005]. The play of the D-Line this year is a testament to the Spring play of all the guys who were not hurt and who jumped in and learned their positions early.

The 2005 D-Line was supposed to be anchored by two seniors, Howard and Cofield. Howard left and Cofield, as good as he is, wound up being the only guy they have to double team up front. The other DT starters are Trevor Schultz, a true Junior - he didn't redshirt - and Kevin Mims, a RS Frosh who came in as a DE.

On top of all that youth, D-Line coach Eric Washington has never had all 11 of these guys healthy during his tenure.

In the backfield, those who didn't like Jeff Backes at corner have to now be missing his speed and fire. Backes got burned, but he also had the speed and cover skills to keep an offense honest. The Cats came out of the Spring with two decent experienced cover corners and a good Strong Safety. By the end of August they had one decent cover corner who was coming off an injury year, and one back who had actually started a game [Henderson].

When Howard was unable to play - even back in the spring, the future was starting to get dicey. When Backes had to step down, and Bryan Heinz got injured, the 2005 defense was going to be a big question mark, and I think it still is.
On the injuries -
Our guys tend to get hurt when they're young. The present O-Line is made up of guys who, with the exception of Strief, had injuries as frosh and sophs that kept them off the field. The D-Line has a couple of guys who are injured right now, but they're freshmen. You sense that Walker would like to have them in there, but sitting out won't hurt their future playing abilities.

The rest of our starters, barring serious injury, are probably a year away from becoming impact players. As with Howard's freshman, and Castillo's Soph year [2001], these kids are getting a baptism of fire, and should learn from the experience.

Anyway, I think many of the defenders are playing over their heads right now. In most other programs, many of these guys would only be expected to play as seniors. Injuries, etc, have forced them on the field a year or two early, and in my opinion, our defensive coaches have done a remarkable job adjusting to an injury situation that started in the Spring and continued through Kenosha into September.

Here's a picture that I ran back during Spring Drills. It shows 5 Scout Photo - The problem with the Defense - Sp 2005of the projected 2005 starters standing along the far sideline of Trienens Hall wearing orange. These and other injuries forced some of our present starters to maybe have to play earlier than originally planned.

We've already burned a lot of redshirts this Fall, and while most of these Cats are talented and should be impact guys down the road, we have to remember that six of them are true frosh and others are first time starters.

The last defense that played a lot of first year starters [2001] got waxed, remember?
-- da Coach

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