Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Lakatos Way is a Question of When

From the stands against Arkansas I watched one of our starting cornerbacks hunker down at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. At that moment I applauded his aggressiveness. I practically licked my lips in anticipation.

Then it happened. The ball was snapped. It was a running play from the start. Our guy went right after their receiver and ended up getting dumped on his ass right in front of our bench. He then had the long walk of shame back to the huddle with a Hog right in his earhole.

Four games in we uncomfortably realize our d-backs aren't fully ready for Grantham's scheme and Lakatos' method. If you're as yet unsure, you can catch up with the rest of us by reading this piece on second year new England Patriot defensive back Darius Butler. The former UConn Husky spent Sunday getting torched by the Jets. The Boston Globe article goes generously into Butler's history and transition into a future second round pick out of UConn.

Butler didn't play d-back in high school. He was a quarterback, but he was athletic. Coach Lakatos prepared him from the moment he stepped foot on campus. I found this assessment of Butler very interesting:

After a year of learning and preparing for the position, Butler became a four-year starter. He was a captain for two seasons and had 10 career interceptions and 180 career tackles. When NFL scouts were assessing Butler’s ability, the buzzwords were athleticism, footwork, and ball handling, Lakatos said.
Butler may have played the position for four years, but he constantly had things to work on. Getting the timing of his jumps to compete with talented receivers was at the top of the list.
“That’s the hardest thing about the position in general is timing,’’ Lakatos said. “Just being able to get your hands on the ball at the right time and having the strength to dig it out. He’s increased his strength from the time he left [UConn], and that’s something he continues to work at. When you’re a corner, and you’re not strong enough, you get bounced around a bit.’’
There was enough the Patriots liked about the 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound Butler to take him with their second-round pick in 2009 (41st overall). He found his way into 14 games his rookie season, collecting 33 tackles and returning an interception against the Texans 91 yards for a touchdown.
That's an interesting analysis of a guy that's sub 6 feet, sub 200 pounds and arrived on campus as a D-1 player who had never played defensive back. Certainly, every player is different. But the learning curve is just as steep for our current personnel. In fact, an argument can be made that it is more so. After all, Grantham wants to run a defense that is about the antithesis of what our guys were playing under in previous seasons.

Footwork. Timing. Ball handling.

I'm not one who's completely dissatisfied with the play of our defense. Nearly the opposite. Strictly statistically speaking, they've met my expectations to this point in the season. The question though has to do with going forward.

Our defensive staff faces some tough decisions. Carolina and Arkansas have large, physical wide receivers. I thought we'd see some better matchups Saturday, but the reality is MSU didn't need to pass much. The coaches seem to be going more and more zone coverage to hide the problems with our lack of pass rush. Perhaps as well to save our guys from losing face in front of their teammates.

Otherwise, we could be staring at the headline of that Butler article square in the face on the front page of the ABH - ______ burned, but not beaten....??


Ollllddude said...

Defense has been about what many of us thought it would be: struggling at times in a new system, but much more aggressive and capable. As expected, missed assignments/confusion has burned them a couple of times, but if the offense could score a TD instead of fumbling at the goal line or settling for a FG, we would be no worse than 3-1 right now and maybe 4-0. This year it is the offense that I find, well, offensive.

AthensHomerDawg said...

Nice post...focus on the positive.
This uplifting story might take you mind off UGa for a minute.