Tuesday, April 13, 2010

questions and unanswers

Spring practice wrapped up with the spring scrimmage on Saturday, which means that super-obsessive football fans have nothing to do until August and everyone else stopped ignoring spring practice. As a baseball player way back in high school I had a coach who liked to say, "Everyone looks good in the cage." I think that's sage advice, and so I don't obsess over who looks good and who beat who in spring practice, because they all looked pretty damn good last year in the spring and then we went 3-9 and fired the coach.

That said, however, spring can answer a few questions for us. So today I'll put my best foot forward in seeing what spring ball might have settled, and what remains to be seen.

Questions we now have answers to:

- Who's going to start at quarterback against Richmond?

That would be Marc Verica. I wish I wish I wish I could find the Jeff White article that more or less let it slip, but I can't - something about how the coaches were having a pretty spirited backup battle between Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss. Verica didn't blow away the competition, but his experience gave him a major leg up and he'll have to implode in the August to lose the job.

- What will the uniforms look like?

"Oregon of the East" caused a lot of consternation among tradition-minded fans (like me) who didn't really like the idea of diamond-plate patterns, random striping all over the place, or dressing like the Oakland Raiders when your school colors are those of the Green Bay Packers. Basically, those of us who don't want a clown show to take the field where the football team is supposed to. Fortunately, there's a much simpler, classier approach in place and we can step back from the ledge now.

- Will the offense still suck?

I think most folks are optimistically willing to keep this in the "unanswered" category, but in good conscience, I can't. The spring game generated two articles about the lousy offense on display - Verica was 8 for 23 and the entire running game stunk. And this was against a defense learning a totally brand-new playbook, featuring many players in entirely brand-new positions. This offense is going to need stability before it turns into something that coaches have to bother game-planning against, and that means a lot more than half a year figuring it out.

- How will the change to the 4-3 affect the defensive positioning?

You already knew some people were getting shuffled around, but moving Ausar Walcott and LoVante' Battle from safety to linebacker (which thanks to the alignment change already had a glut) necessitated even more movement. Mostly we know how that goes now:

* Walcott and Battle are outside linebackers.
* Terrence Fells-Danzer is a fullback, and Cam Johnson, Jeremiah Mathis, and Billy Schautz - all former linebackers - are defensive ends.
* Matt Conrath and Brent Urban are defensive tackles.

I'm still not sure I'm big on moving Walcott and Battle, by the way. Speed on defense is a good thing, but so is a depth chart in the secondary, where we're awfully thin. And we're even thinner at DT - I count four, which means there's no two-deep if even one goes down - so I expect at least one more move there. Wouldn't surprise me if incoming freshman Stephen Lawe finds himself on defense come fall camp.

Alright, but it wouldn't be any fun if we knew everything. Here's what remains to be seen:

- Who's going to start at quarterback in mid-October?

Verica has likely established himself as the first option, but not as the kind of guy who puts a deathgrip on a job. If we're an uncompetitive 2-3 (or, horrors, 1-4, meaning a Richmond loss) coming out of what'll probably be a total catastrophe of an Atlanta trip in October, you know it'll start to be time for a quarterback switch. Barring Richmond becoming the new William & Mary, Verica will probably keep the job throughout September because the competition isn't good enough (or is way too damn good) to properly gauge how the season is going. FSU and GT as the first two October games will be a much better yardstick as to whether we should start looking at the future.

- What will the running back depth chart look like?

Pure chaos right now, that's what. There are seven options here: Raynard Horne, Keith Payne, Torrey Mack, Perry Jones, Dominique Wallace, K.P. Parks, and Khalek Shepherd, and only four of them participated fully in spring practice and none of those four really grabbed hold of the job. Why don't we know anything?

* Horne has never really been much more than a change-up back, in to spell the starters.
* We really kind of know what Payne is capable of, and honestly it's not stardom.
* Mack flashed a lot of talent in spring ball last year but couldn't pass-block to save his life (and definitely not his quarterback's), thus whenever he was in the game, defenses keyed on the run.
* Jones is the size of the period at the end of this sentence, and not going to be an every-down guy, ever.
* Wallace might have the best size/speed combination but is still recovering from last season's injury.
* Parks and Shepherd ain't even here yet.

I don't see Horne, Payne, or Jones being #1 options. Any one of them might make a great change-of-pace type but they're not toting the load. There's a great chance here for Parks - who just might be the most talented of the bunch - to step in and make his name. Shepherd, too.

- Is the defense that awesome or is the offense that bad?

Such is the nature of spring practice that you can never really tell, unless you have a coach's eye, whether good results are really good results, or just bad news for the other side of the ball. The defense does remain highly talented, however, and I think they'll still look about as good as they did last year. But with the alignment switch, you never know.

- Who's the placekicker?

London said he'd pick one that would be the starter going into fall camp, but he hasn't told us who.

So with all that, I've updated the depth chart for ya, and today's addition of Ross Burbank to the commitment list (less than a week after his offer - this is a guy who definitely wanted to be a Hoo) merits a recruiting board update too. The depth chart, by the way, has one tiny format change: no more walk-ons, for the most part. It got to be annoying to track the comings and goings. If they've got a real shot to actually participate (Matt Snyder, for example, or the kickers) then they're still on there, but the ones who aren't a threat to see the field aren't there any more. Should be easier to track that way.

Tomorrow: uniforms!

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