The usually solid Irish secondary suffered some setbacks during the Michigan game so Irish Eyes thought we would speak with secondary coach Trent Walters to get his feelings on his secondary.
The secondary bent and even broke at times against Michigan. Even the usually reliable Vontez Duff got turned around on a play. Walters said he thought Duff might have played his best game against Michigan. . "Just a lack of concentration," said Walters on Duff's one bad play. "I thought he played really well. In fact he only had one bad play and that was the one that everybody saw. He probably played the best game he's played."
The one thing the Irish secondary lacks right now is a guy who makes plays—someone who can make a break on the ball like Shane Walton did so many times last year. "Right now we haven't had anyone do that. I think our guys are capable of doing that, we just haven't done it. We expect that to happen, it's just a matter of when."
Freshman Freddie Parish appears like a player who could make a play on a ball. Parish is talented and his talent has gotten him on the field quicker than most expected. Walters thinks Parish is going to play a lot this fall. "I think it's just a matter of experience and getting everything down to where he's confident and we're confident that he knows not only all the coverages but knows how to make the adjustments when different things happen. I think that's going to be soon and I think he'll play a lot before the season is over."
The Irish haven't had the kind of pass rush many expected which always helps a secondary. The Irish defense has sacked the quarterback only three times so far this year—in comparison, the Irish quarterbacks have been sacked nine times in two games—not the kind of numbers they had hoped for.
Walters says his secondary can't rely on the pass rush. They have to be able to do their jobs without relying on pressure from the front four. "We never use that. We try to go on the premise that we've got to cover regardless. There are times when we get a great pass rush and we're OK and other times were not going to get a pass rush and we still got to cover. We're out there every play and we've got to be ready to do our job."
Jason Beckstrom was considered the incumbent at the boundary corner position. Beckstrom has been nursing a hamstring injury and hasn't played as much as Walters had hoped for. Preston Jackson has been filling in for Beckstrom and Jackson has been a nickel back most of his career. Walters says he's going to stick with the best guys and try to improve their level of play.
"You try to improve. You try to play your best guys and we don't want to start making wholesale changes. You look at your guys and say ‘who are the best guys I have' and you line them up and you play. You go on attitude, effort, execution, everything and go from there. I have good confidence in our guys and I think our guys will perform."
The Irish secondary was a very good tackling unit in 2002. This is one area Walters would like his 2003 unit improve on. "We're not tackling the way we want to tackle and we're not tackling the way we tackled last year. That's another area of focus we stressed today—we worked on tackling. In order to be a good defense, you've got to be a good tackling team. A lot of times when you play a good team, they're a factor too. It's an area where we've definitely got to improve."
The Irish secondary will face Michigan State on Saturday. Walters isn't sure which quarterback his secondary will face but he's preparing for Jeff Smoker. "You make adjustments as you go. Once you get in a game, you see how he's playing and then you decide how you want to defense him. Right now we'll defend them as if Smoker is going to play and we'll go from there. We're preparing for Smoker."
Replacing Shane Walton and Gerome Sapp is not an easy job. Both players made a lot of plays for the Irish last year. The secondary might struggle for a bit but Walters is a solid coach and should be able to get them on track shortly.