08 August 2011
So, uh, camp starts today. I'm obviously a little behind on my previews, but that's what happens when you spend all of your free time retweeting praise about Steven Adams. Despite the tome crunch, I plan on having this all wrapped up by Wednesday, starting today with the secondary.
Yes, the "High Octane" offense is going to be a lot of fun to play in. But one of the most interesting changes, at least defensively, will be in the secondary. There won't be any major changes in personnel, but the way the players will man their positions should be markedly different. The difference? Aggression.
Dave Wannstedt's system was simple: the front four generate pressure on the quarterback, at the very least flushing him out of the pocket and making him make more difficult throws on the run. The secondary can then play off their men in bend-don't-break coverage. In theory, that's a great system. And indeed, Pitt led the nation in sacks in 2009, the most successful season under Wannstedt. But despite overwhelming pressure on the quarterback, the 2009 season was plagued by defensive lapses, particularly in the secondary. Fourth quarter comebacks by NC State and Cincinnati crushed the Panthers' season. On major theory on how they were so successful is because they could also know where the pressure was coming from.
That doesn't seem as if it will be the case under Todd Graham, who will emphasize creating turnovers, apparently even at the cost of giving up the occasional big play:
But can the Panthers stop anybody?
It's a fair question, given the background for Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. When they were at Tulsa together for the previous four years, the Golden Hurricane annually had one of the top offenses in the country. But the defense never ranked above 74th in yards allowed and twice finished 107th or below in that span. They were also 74th or lower each year in points allowed and 89th or lower every season in pass efficiency defense.
"We made a conscious decision when we went to Tulsa that we we were going to score points," he said. "I knew that was going to take its toll on the defense a little bit, and it did. The difference here is that we, as a program, are far ahead of where we were at Tulsa in terms of personnel."
Free Safety: Jarred Holley (RS Junior)
Bandit Safety: Jason Hendricks (RS Sophomore)
Cornerback: K'Wuan Williams (Sophomore)
Cornerback: Antwuan Reed (Senior)
It's a young group overall, but it's fairly experienced. Todd Graham was optimistic about them going into the spring:
K'Waun Williams has impressed me. As a freshman last year, he had a good bowl game and he is a guy who's extremely fast and extremely quick. The way we play corner, we like to press up and put our hands on guys and stuff like that. Antwuan Reed is recuperating from a concussion, but he started all last year so we feel good there. Buddy Jackson is a senior and a tremendous athlete -- he's just got to buy into our way of doing it.
Then we've got some young guys. Lafayette Pitts is a kid who's coming in, and I think that's where we helped ourselves in recruiting, at the corner spot. Brandon Ifill is another guy we feel really good about at safety or corner.
Personnel-wise, it won't look any different than if Wannstedt was calling the coverage. Jason Hendricks and Jarred Holley will return as the main contributors at safety with sophomore Brandon Ifill working in the rotation. At corner, Antwuan Reed will likely retake his starting job after missing spring practice with a concussion. K'Wuan Williams should start after being the third corner last season and earning a start in the bowl game. Seniors Buddy Jackson and Saheed Imoru will likely battle for the third corner spot, with Jackson appearing to be the man on kick-off returns.
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