The defensive line continues to improve, but remains the most glaring weakness of the defensive unit. There are some bright spots, however.
The most interesting development has been Randall Cherry. With Seth Nitschmann out due to a knee injury, Cherry has had to step up and fill in. He has done so nicely. Cherry has good size, and what the former OL lacks in pure speed, he makes up for in strength. Despite the DL worries, the end positions are going to be the anchor. That means that the DT play needs to shore up. If this happens, the DL will be good. Today marked a huge day for Fred Thwreatt. After being chastised constantly by DL Coach Ruffin McNeil yesterday, "Big Fred" showed up to play today by flocking to the ball and tackling quick-footed Shannon Woods several times in inter-squad play. Another hopeful to look out for is Brian Jones. Often compared to Thrweatt, although, not near as big, Jones needs to develop a "fire in the belly" mentality before he can be an effective DT. Look for Dek Bake and most likely Chris Hudler to anchor the interior. This gives a good mix of athleticism (Bake) and tenacity (Hudler) inside, which hopefully will shore up the once porous run defense. After returning from an injury last spring, Hudler leaped right into the thick of things making his presence felt. True frosh McKinner Dixon is trying to also make a name for himself and crack the starting rotation. Look for Dixon to possibly try to shore up some depth issues inside or play as a DE. If he continues to progress as is, he may find himself falling behind, but if he ups the tempo a little, he could easily be the #3 or 4 DE in the rotation. Key Dawson will definitely be the heart of this unit. His ability to get pressure on the QB led him to the team sack title in 2004, and we can expect to see the same out of him this season. Losing Adell Duckett means that the responsibility of rush end falls squarely on Dawson.
Backing up the line!
Linebacker has been a bit of a concern as lately. It seems that Sylvester Brinkley has quite a bit of ground to make up after seemingly sliding down to the third row of linebackers. Brinkley, who missed the first part of the fall due to family issues, needs to get back in the swing of things before he can regain the right to be the #4 LB. Pressing him at that slot is Paul Williams. Williams, who has had a good spring so far, can do it all. The only thing lacking is slightly suspect tackling. If Williams can shore that area up, look for him to be on the field quite a bit as well. Chad Hill is another that can press for playing time. Hill, who is currently getting reps as the 2nd MIKE, looks good, but has very suspect pass coverage.
Speaking of MIKE's, Brock Stratton is looking better and better as the fall moves on. After making several plays on the ball in coverage, something that has lacked in the pass, he looks more the complete package. He is definitely the most sure tackler in the LB corp.
Fletcher Session, who previously caught a lot of gripe from me, has earned my respect so far. I once thought he was too small and slow, but the kid has a lot of fire inside him. He takes his job seriously and is definitely the best coverage LB on the field at any given time.
John Saldi will play opposite of Session. Saldi needs to improve his tackling ability from what has been seen so far. Arm tackles won't cut it in the Big 12, and will get you burned by a long gain. All in all, the unit is stronger than last season. A year of learning has helped. If the fall is any indicator, look for a more improved LB corp.
The Deep Men!
This is my favorite position on the field, the DBs. I do have some concerns, however. Depth at the cornerback was not something that worried me, but after watching today's practice, I saw that after Marcus Bunton (the projected #3), there is nobody that has really caught my eye. Don't get me wrong, the top three CBs, Antonio Huffman, Khalid Naziruddin, and Marcus Bunton are all great in coverage, it's whats after them that worries me. There are several unproven guys in the D backfield. Clifton Eddington, Chris Parker, and SirDon Lewis are working hard, but nobody has really set themselves apart. If Darcel McBath returns prior to the start of the season on 9-10, my worries will be lessened, but outside of the top three, nobody has really stepped up. Daniel Charbonnet has caught my eye some, but he has to sit out due to transfer rules. Now safety is no worry. Obviously, Dwayne Slay and Vincent Meeks have the fast track to starter-dom, barring a complete meltdown. There were some questions about Slay's coverage ability, but there is no question in my mind that he will be an effective cover man, as well as run stopper. Behind the two starters are three players that are fighting for 2 spots. Joe Garcia seems to have the #2 FS spot wrapped up, so the real battle seems to be between Anthony Hines and Greg Aycock for the #2 SS position. Hines really showed me something in practice today. He is good in coverage and the bigger SS that Setencich and Co. like. Aycock is smaller and has just as good coverage ability, but it seems as if Hines is gunning for that position, and he may just win it.