|Cameron Gordon has impressed the coaches again this spring
If you missed yesterday’s discussion of the offense, here it is. And now for the defense:
Defensive end: As we know by now, Craig Roh has switched to strongside end. He has done fairly well at the position, but he’ll need to spend the next several months eating a ton and bulking up. The coaches want him in the low 280s and right now he’s about 270. Insiders say Frank Clark looks like the starter at weakside end for the upcoming season. Brennen Beyer, who switched from SAM linebacker this offseason, also has reportedly fared well but looks to be a step behind Clark at the position. Beyer’s a thicker, run-stopping sort and Clark will have to work on that aspect of his game. Nathan Brink is the presumed backup at the 5-tech position but has been limited due to his late-season broken leg. Keith Heitzman is also in the mix, which would be great for depth at the position. I would not be surprised to see one or two of the freshman defensive ends get some action, such as Matt Godin at 5-tech and Mario Ojemudia on the weakside, although Heitzman’s emergence might preclude Godin from having to burn a redshirt.
Defensive tackle: The first team defensive tackles appear to be Will Campbell at nose tackle and Jibreel Black at the 3-tech. Campbell looks fit and is being more consistent with his technique, but the coaches continue to work on that aspect. Black needs to add weight, but he’s more athletic than most 3-techs (especially compared to Will Heininger), so he adds a different dimension. Richard Ash appears to be the backup nose tackle. Meanwhile, Ken Wilkins has supposedly taken a leap forward this spring. He was mired on the bench last season and there were a lot of questions swirling about him, but it seems the light has gone on. He could be the #2 defensive tackle going into the season. Chris Rock has also earned a tiny bit of buzz and has put on a significant amount of weight to play the 3-tech.
Linebacker: I don’t mean to overstate things, but the competition between Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon appears to be neck-and-neck for the SAM position. The coaches really like Gordon’s athleticism, and he’s done a good job in pass coverage, which makes sense because he’s a converted safety. Ryan has continued to progress after having a solid redshirt freshman season. There was a huge dropoff last season between Ryan and Beyer, but that won’t be the case this year (if Cam Gordon can stay healthy). At the MIKE spot, Kenny Demens hasn’t necessarily taken the forward steps that the coaches want. He has been hampered by a thumb injury, and the #1 middle linebacker in his absence has been freshman Joe Bolden. Mike Jones is buried at the #3 spot. The best linebacker this spring has been Desmond Morgan, according to several accounts. He’s put on a decent amount of weight after playing at 225 last season, and insiders suggest he’s probably close to 240 now. The backup to Morgan at WILL has been Antonio Poole, who redshirted last season.
Cornerback: Blake Countess has one cornerback position locked down. At the boundary corner position, Terrence Talbott has stepped up to challenge J.T. Floyd. Insiders say that Floyd’s “benching” is partly due to him underperforming and partly due to rewarding Talbott for hard work in the offseason. It might be unlikely that Talbott takes a job from a fifth year senior, but the possibility exists. He’s made his move not by being a great coverage guy but by supporting the run and turning into a very good tackler. Those are the top three corners right there. Raymon Taylor continues to earn buzz as perhaps the secondary’s best athlete, but he’s still not ready mentally and physically. Courtney Avery is the nickel corner, where he did a great job last season and doesn’t seem to getting challenged this spring.
Safety: The starters here are pretty clear with Thomas Gordon at free safety and Jordan Kovacs at strong. Freshman Jarrod Wilson has picked things up quickly, and he might be the #2 free safety. Marvin Robinson has returned to the practice field this spring after disappearing last year with some legal issues. Despite his absence, Robinson appears to have taken another step forward and should be the heir apparent to Kovacs. A couple backup safeties have been absent from practices so far this spring: Tamani Carter and Josh Furman. I would have to assume that they will be buried a little bit if/when they return. These coaches do not like guys who miss practice.