Coming into this season, there seems to be two primary problems that preseason magazines are focusing on: interior line play and linebackers. This makes sense, of course, as we lost all 6 starters in those two positions. However, there are more than just two potential holes on this team. This week, we'll be documenting all of these "mini-issues", if you will, with closing out the series today by taking a look at the defensive end position.
Why It's a (Potential) Problem
The Potential Solutions
The best defensive end we had last year, easy. He got to the QB enough to be a primary pass rusher, but not when matched up across Russell Brorsen, or someone like that. Still, he should be improved; perhaps good enough to be all-Big 12. Maybe. He certainly has the potential. And, he isn't awful against the run, either; but he's clearly a pass rusher primarily.
With him, though, it's still mostly potential. He has to get better against the run, particularly with only 2 LBs. If he can be a bigger factor in the run game while maintaining similar production in rushing the QB, it should be OK. If not, then we'll be in trouble. He's good enough to blow my small expectations out of the water; it's just a matter of if he does it, or not.
And when the most proven commodity at the position has potential surrounding any potential production, it usually isn't a good thing. I mean, it can be; that's what potential means. But if he busts out, or just performs the same as last year, it won't end well.
For the rest of the ends, I'll just break them into two camps. One is the veteran reserve role, consisting of Max O and Jeff Wheeler. Both were the third-down pass rushers that were brought in obvious passing situations in the past, with mediocre results at best. Now, less will be expected of them, but they are probably the second and third "surest" things, respectively, left at d-end. If everyone flops, they'll have to step up. Even if not, and someone like Quintin Woods emerges, they'll be depended upon to be a steady, veteran presence.
It's likely too late in their careers for either of them to take a huge leap, which is needed if either becomes the consistent presence opposite Laptad. But, both of them should be good enough to be decent off of the bench, particularly in getting to the QB. Depending on how things go with Woods and the freshmen, that may get them considerable PT or it may not. As long as they provide some baseline for the newcomers to reach, I'm happy.
That's really the key with Onyegbule and Wheeler. Provide some baseline of production for the Marshalls and Youngs and Sellers of the world to reach, or they don't see the field. That way, we at least have decent players go out there, plus it creates competition, bladdy bladdy blah.
D.J. Marshall, Kevin Young, Tyrone Sellers
I listed them in order of likely appearance in games, based mostly off of time-in-the-program. Even though Kevin Young tried his best to be Xavier and C.J. before it even happened, he was here for the spring semester. Sellers wasn't, while Marshall spent a year last year redshirting, getting bigger, learning techniques, all of that fantastic stuff. So, while Marshall is often overlooked, I think he's the most likely to see the field. Most likely in some kind of third-downs-only, pass rushing type. Or something.
All of them have, you guessed it, potential. Loads of it. A bunch. It's just a matter of when it comes out. I'm pumped beyond belief for all three. Particularly Kevin Young, who I think could be just as good against the run as against the pass.
So, The Solution Is...
Well, as scary as it may be, we pretty much have to depend on Jake Laptad providing production. Given the immense uncertainties of every other defensive end on the roster, his half-sure-thing is going to have to do as if he was Julius Peppers or something. And, someone else is going to have to step up.
Quintin Woods is the favorite, but really it doesn't much matter. As long as someone steps up opposite Laptad, it's a success. Combine that with the two veterans, Onyegbule and Wheeler, and you can survive the season with an average pass rush. Or whatever. If any of the freshmen can step up and provide much of anything, it's just an added bonus.
Really, I'm actually not that worried about the pass rush. Of all of these "underrated problems", I'm least worried about any potential pass rush. I think we're going to be fine. Laptad can be awesome, Woods is going to provide something, and the seniors will be good enough to get 5-10 snaps a game. Or whatever.
So, don't freak out entirely.
Planning on doing an Underrated Strength mini-series, probably starting next Tuesday. Hopefully all of the negative will I've built up in this year's team will go away when we go over the strengths beyond just the passing game.