August 7, 2007

What to watch for heading into Fall Camp

1. Who's going to plug the middle?

Sophomore Ra'jon Henley will enter fall camp as the starter at DT, but beyond that, not much is known about the defensive tackle rotation. By the end of fall camp, the Red Raiders need someone to step up at the nose tackle position to start next to Henley, and they desperately need three or four more players to be ready to give the starters a breather. The race for nose tackle looks to be between Richard Jones, who is coming off of shoulder surgery, and walk-on Clint "Turbo" Stoeffels, who wowed coaches, players, and observers alike throughout the spring with his tenacity and ability to disrupt the offense. However, don't be surprised if true freshman Colby Whitlock makes a strong push for the job. He's performed well throughout the summer and will be counted on to give the interior line some much needed depth. My money is on Jones, if he can stay healthy. Another situation to keep your eye on in camp is the progress of the freshmen defensive tackles. David Neill, Bobby Agoucha, and Colby Whitlock have a golden opportunity to play right away, but it remains to be seen if they can adjust to Division One football. One way or another, Tech's coaches only have a few weeks to answer that question as well.

2. Can the defense make a difference?

Tech's offense is never a question mark- regardless of personnel, it basically churns out touchdowns year after year. Sadly, the same can't always be said about the defenses of the Leach ere. However, this season, with talent to burn in the defensive backfield, it will be interesting to see what this defense is capable of. On paper, it should be vulnerable to the run, but with the aforementioned talent level in the secondary, don't be surprised to see Tech sell out a little more against the run. Still, the question remains: can this defense make a difference? Can JUCO signees Daniel Howard and Brandon Sharpe infuse life into Tech's anemic pass rush? Can experience in the linebacking core make up for the youth of the defensive line? Will defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich roll the dice and blitz a little more? After all, it's not like he doesn't know how to do it; his 2000 Cal defense tallied 44 sacks (Tech managed 31 last season). The bottom line is this: the talent level appears to be increasing on the defensive side of the ball, but it remains to be seen whether the defense can finally escape from the offense's shadow.

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