April 7, 2008

Defensive depth chart breakdown

Last week we looked at the offensive depth chart and noted a few surprises. The defense is in much better shape overall when it comes to depth and experience although the secondary is a question mark depending on how guys like Roderick Rollins react and step up. EA's Eric Hoffses breaks down the defensive depth chart as well as special teams.

Defensive Line - Even with B.J. Raji out for the spring, the DT position looks to be in solid shape. Ron Brace has had a great spring, and has emerged as a leading candidate for a defensive captain. Sophomore Damik Scafe has taken Raji's role for the time being, and continues to develop at a good pace. Scafe should be a very solid backup option once the season gets going.

At LE, there's a good battle going on between Alex Albright and Jim Ramella. Both players are sharing reps at the moment, and this should continue going into the season.

At RE, it's anyone's guess who will start the season at that spot, much less who will emerge as the leader out of the spring. Brady Smith is the starter for now, but will he stay there? Smith and Brendan Deska are both able to play at the end or tackle position. On top of that, even though Austin Giles is now listed as a backup at DT, he's also able to move outside and play RE. On top of all that, converted FB Brad Newman is in the mix as well. Just thinking about all of the different possibilities hasn't made me this confused since the screen went black on Tony and his family a year ago.

As a side note, it's possible that backup Max Holloway could be moved to LB down the road, he's very athletic.

Linebackers - Defensive Coordinator Frank Spaziani has a "problem" that any coach in America would love to have; BC has more quality LB's than starting sports for. The depth chart proves that too, as at the two outside spots there are four starters listed for 2 positions.

At strong side LB, Kevin Akins is in competition with Mark Herzlich. So far, Herzlich is getting the most snaps at that spot in practice, so it would seem like he has the edge at the moment, in spite of the depth chart not showing that. Akins will be used possibly as a nickel back in certain situations, as a weakside backer when needed and clearly on passing downs as the best pass rusher on the team.

Over at the weak side, Brian Toal and Robert Francois look like they are pushing each other for the starting job according to the depth chart but that's not the real deal. It looks like the thought pattern of the coaches here is that they aren't going to simply hand Toal the starting job based on his seniority, he has to earn it but he will.

Don't forget that Francois is able to play both the weak side and in the middle, so unless Toal doesn't bounce back from injury look for Francois to see playing time at both spots. However, word has it that Francois will be the backup middle linebacker and will move to the weak side to give Toal a rest here and there. Toal is at 229 pounds and taking football more seriously than ever.

The only spot that appears to be locked up according to the depth chart is in the middle where Woburn native Mike McGaughlin will start. But McLaughlin hasn't practiced yet this spring with an achilles injury so backup Darius Bagan (and Francois) are getting a lot of reps. Bagan (41st ranked outside LB coming out of high school with an offer from Miami) has had some academic issues in the past, but those are seemingly all taken care of now and the coaching staff hopes to get him some playing time this season.

Secondary - Right now there are two positions that are locks in the secondary, and that's DeLeon Gause at CB and Paul Anderson at strong safety. The defensive coaches, have been impressed with Gause's steady development that can be traced back to the time that he was thrown into the starting role at the end of last season. And Anderson is the man with no depth behind him, so look for a true freshman to push for early time or for Dan Mulrooney to move back to safety. Chris Fox is listed as the backup but he's more of a corner.

At cornerback, Donnie Fletcher has raised more eyebrows in the secondary as a true freshman. The 6'1" CB has all but locked up the backup role to Gause, and is now in the mix for the nickel back spot.

Fletcher's competition at nickel back will come from either Roderick Rollins or Razzie Smith (or perhaps Akins), whichever player doesn't win the starting CB job opposite Gause. Right now, the job is Rollins' to lose, as the coaching staff is really high on him and Smith lacks every-down concentration.

The competition is even tighter at safety, where there are three players to fit into two open spots. Right now, Marcellus Bowman is slated for FS and, as mentioned, Anderson at SS. What about Wes Davis? Well, if Davis can make enough of a good impression, Spaziani has the option to move Bowman to SS, and start Davis at FS, because Bowman is interchangeable at either position. The bottom line is stay tuned for this battle.

Special Teams - One of the biggest mysteries on the depth chart was the punter spot being left blank. Some had speculated that we might see Billy Flutie punting, as he's had experience doing it in his past. However, we are hearing differently, as freshman Ryan Quigley has a great chance to win this job. On top of that, it's also expected that Quigley is going to battle Billy Bennett for kickoff duties as well.

Speaking of Bennett, he's doing better than when you last saw him as erratic on kickoffs. Word is that Bennett is coming around, and the coaches are hoping that he will win the job of kickoff specialist, which might give him fore confidence with place kicking duties. At this point, Steve Aponavicius is the leader to handle FG's and XP's.

Right now there's no listed KR or PR on the depth chart, and don't look for that to change anytime soon. Both duties are most likely to get solved in the summer. A likely candidate for both is Brandon Robinson, but obviously his shoulder injury is keeping him from practicing those duties at the moment.

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