Here is a breakdown of several younger players on defense who have turned heads in practice this season and are expected to impact the depth chart next year. Their class standing listed below is where they will be in 2006.
Tony Davis (5-foot-10, 194 pounds, RS Soph. CB):
Although Davis saw action in nine games this season, his playing time was limited, allow him the opportunity to pull down only four tackles this season. However, with the departure of Zemaitis and Phillips, the defensive staff will be on the search for players to step up and fill the holes the two senior corners will leave behind.
Along with Justin King, Tony Davis is the likely candidate to have the early edge to win the job this off-season. "He's fast, aggressive and smart on coverage," one observer explained. "His coverage skills have improved this season in practice, especially with the oportunity to cover guys like Butler, Williams and Norwood."
Davis has good backpeddle skills and a smooth transition on route coverage. "He needs to work on backing off some to help read shifts the receiver throws at him," another observer said. His running style is described as "fluid" and "smooth."
All in all he plays tough and aggressive and should have the advantage to earn the starting job heading into spring practice. This season has made him stronger and smarter on reads, which, if he continues to improve "could make him an outstanding corner."
Sean Lee (6-foot-2, 227 pounds, Soph. LB):
Sean Lee has been impressing observers in practice all season long. His work moved him up the depth chart to second team linebacker in September and got him onto the playing field for seven games, where he pulled down six tackles.
"He is a natural football player. Physically, he has been adding size and strength all season. Fundamentally, he focuses on the details of his game. Mentally, he's intimidating," an observer shared.
Lee sustained a minor knee sprain in the preseason, but "bounced back in no time." In terms of his game mentality, he does get "inside players' heads." As one observer explained, "He talks a lot — a lot of guys do that. But Sean plays incredibly intense. He thrives on contact and plays mad most of the time."
He has a excellent ability to read offenses and has been learning a lot from starting linebackers Tim Shaw, Dan Connor and particularly Paul Posluszny. "Paul works a lot with the younger guys. He's always talking to them about situations and technique — it helps to have the best backer in the country working with you. It will make Lee and [Jerome] Hayes that much better."
Although the linebacker starting positions are thought to be locked up in 2006 with Connor, Shaw and Posluszny, "Sean will add some great depth," an observer explained. "We should see him get more rotation time so he can refine his play and be ready to step in. I am not sure most really understand the depth this unit has."
Anthony Scirrotto (6-foot, 195 pounds, Soph. S):
Although Scirrotto saw action in nine games this season, his time was primarily on punt returns, with five runbacks for 42 yards. He also managed to pull in one interception, against Illinois. Despite the fact that he did not see significant time at safety, observers feel his speed and technique will place him in the off-season mix for the openings Harrell and Calvin Lowry will leave behind.
"He's is a prospect in this last class who was really overlooked. He is quick. A lot of people do realize he played quarterback throughout high school, so he understands the tendencies of passers which helps him read and react," an observer explained.
He not only has impressed observers with his speed, but has also turned heads with his tackling technique. "He was among the freshmen with the best wrap-up technique. He knows how to set his body and take down an opponent, which is key in the open field."
Josh Gaines (6-foot-2, 264 pounds, RS Soph. DE):
Gaines is another player who saw limited action in 10 games this season, but with the depature of Hali and Matthew Rice, Gaines is expected to take the reigns and battle for a starting role next season. "His playing this season really helped him refine his fundamentals and overall play," an observer shared.
Gaines plays "aggressive" and "intense," which helps him apply pressure on the pocket, but has also taken him out of plays at times with overpursuits. He has good fundamantals with his base and tackling technique and "plays all out" on snaps.
His strength was questioned this past off-season, but "he's done well with his conditioning and added size and power to his game. He's learned a lot from the current ends and has worked on getting his center lower and using shifts to leverage his assignments."
He is quick off the snap, but will need to couple his speed and power to refine his game. As another observer explained, "That will come with repetition in practice and games."
Mike Lucian (6-foot-2, 284 pounds, RS Soph. DE):
This season Lucian's technique has "benefitted from the repetition of drills." He has improved a variety of areas with his technique — like his forward surge off the snap. Lucian sets a nice, wide base consistently.
"He can apply good pocket pressure, but needs to keep his feet moving and learn to shift direction to keep his assignment off balance," an observer shared.
Lucian will be looked to to step in with Gaines for the departing Hali and Rice at end, a position that will have to make up for a lot of lost talent and experience in 2006. "Mike has the foundation to make a big impact. This off-season will be a big swing point for him that determines if he is ready to step up an make that impact next year."
Stay tuned to Fight On State for our five players who could make a sudden impact on offense next season.
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