By Acid Reign
Editors Note: We'd like to welcome Acid Reign and War Eagle Atlanta to our stable of new writers. War Eagle Atlanta's first piece appeared on Thursday and today Acid Reign looks at A-Day and ahead to next season...
It's been a LONG three+ months since the coups that caused changes in coordinators. Now, finally, we have some film on the new schemes. There was a lot to like, in this controlled scrimmage, and of course, some things to worry about.
If nothing else, I think I'm finally ready to name Kodi Burns as the front-runner for the starting quarterback job. There were some problems exposed, particularly at safety. I liked the schemes. I think we do have a chance to be great against the SEC, this year!
Scheme-wise, on offense, we ran largely a 3-wide receiver shotgun, with a running back and a tight end (often split out 5 yards or so). There was a double-bunch set, and a sort of Ace-shotgun look a little. I'd say less than a half-dozen snaps were run with the QB under center.
On defense early, we had the traditional 4-3 look, with the strong-side backer flared out a bit to deal with the split-out tight end. Corners were up tight in press coverage against the outside receivers, but the safeties were lined up on the hashes 11 yards off the ball. I think it made all of the short coverages very difficult on them.
On the other hand, we only gave up two deep balls, all day. The coverage largely seemed like a blend between traditional cover-two; and man-to-man outside; two-deep linebacker/safety on the slot receivers.
Our run support was pretty darned good early, with a few exceptions. Where we had real defensive problems were the curls and crossing routes to the inside guys. The linebackers had 'em short, and the safeties beyond 7-8 yards.
There was a large seam inside, in the 5 to 10 yard range, and this got exploited on the curl route, repeatedly. We had GOOD cover-two technique on the deep go and corner routes, and I don't think either worked, all day. We should have had a few picks. I LOVE our starting defensive speed, if not our depth in certain areas.
We look deeper on offense. With a few exceptions, we dominated on the offensive line, all the way through the depth chart. A number of previous non-factor-guys in the receiving corps stepped up and made plays.
There were still too many drops, but the receiving performance was LIGHT-YEARS ahead of where we've been the past two seasons! We got only brief looks at the scholarship runners. For the most part, they were stonewalled.
The 4-3, is of course, the ultimate run-defensive alignment. No big surprise, here, with our defensive speed. We have options, at quarterback, too, for the first time since, well, ever. I think the staff in the past, would have put Brandon Cox out there in a wheelchair, rather than risk a single snap with a backup. Next, we'll break the performances down by position.
Defensive Line: SenDerrick Marks was near-unblockable. Tyrone Green was able to stalemate him about half the time, but Byron Issom had real problems. SEC lines will have to double Marks, or they'll be sorry.
Antoine Carter was a terror, too. He got stopped by Lee Ziemba, but none of the other tackles dealt with Carter very well. Mike Goggins had his moments, but lost contain on the draw play twice. Mike Blanc looks solid in the middle, as a complement to Marks, but beyond that, the talent level in the middle dropped off sharply. At end, A. J. Green had a solid first half, as well.
Linebacker: I'd say the best of the linebackers play on the weak side. Evans looks great on run downs, stuffing runners like no one's business. Merrill Johnson excelled in racing out and stuffing screens.
In the middle, Blackmon and Bynes were pretty solid against the run, but Blackmon was conspicuously absent on short completions over the middle to tight ends and slot receivers.
On the strong side, both Stevens and Harden look larger than we're used to. We haven't had linebackers this size since Karlos Dansby. Both strong side guys played the run well, but had problems with receivers. I think that'll be less of a worry, next fall. We'll probably see a 5th defensive back in there a lot, against passing teams.
Secondary: Corner play has definitely improved. The offense largely did not test Jerraud Powers. Was that by design, or was Powers THAT good? Not sure. They ran one screen Powers' direction, and he snuffed it for no gain.
Aaron Savage got tested repeatedly. He was close every time, and made a few plays, but he also got turned around a lot, and really wasn't playing the ball. Savage benefited greatly from safety play on outside deep throws. He'd have been cooked a few times, without it.
Savage had great difficulty with Rod Smith. Smith won just about every battle for the ball in that matchup. I think it's great that Savage got all that experience... He's going to be good with time, I think.
Walt McFadden played lock-down on the reserves, too. Safety play was another story, though. They were exploited, no one more so than Mike McNeil, who looked tentative. Balls were caught in front of him repeatedly, and he lost Chris Slaughter on a deep flag route.
Slaughter would have scored, had the ball not been floated. I liked the work of Mike Slade, against the backups.
Zach Etheridge was more aggressive, but he did not have the speed to stay with guys like Chris Slaughter, Terell Zachary, and Robert Dunn. Dunn roasted Etheridge for a post-pattern TD, and a flag route job in the second quarter.
Special Teams: Punt returns weren't live, and I didn't see much attempt to rush kicks, so there's not much to say, here. Punting was inconsistent, with the exception of Clinton Durst, who reminds me a lot of All-American Terry Daniel.
Shoemaker and Tatum DO have some competition, heading towards two-a-days! Wes Byrum was accurate, but Morgan Hull barely missed a long field goal.
Offensive Line: This group largely had its way with the defensive line. They had trouble dealing with SenDerrick Marks, and Antoine Carter got around Pugh on the speed-rush a few times. The line also had problems keeping Mike Goggans from sliding off blocks and stuffing inside runs.
Once the defensive line stars were out, the o-line dominated. It got so bad in the 4th quarter that o-line guys were having to hold d-line walk-ons up, so that they wouldn't fall down before the play was over. I'm not sure we're really that good. I think the defensive line has become alarmingly thin...
Tight End: Tommy Trott and Brent Slusher look like great weapons. What little blocking the tight ends did was good, too. Trott had NO drops, but Gabe McKensie made up for it, with two or three.
Wide Receiver: Nowhere have we improved more. Rod Smith and Montez Billings continued their excellent play, and Robert Dunn was REALLY impressive. He had big touchdowns on the post, and the flag route, and turned a stuffed inside screen into a big gainer to the outside, with a great reverse-field run.
Chris Slaughter looks really good, too, with deceptive speed and great hands. Quindarious Carr made some nice catches, and even the young folk made some plays.
James Swinton has made huge strides. He made probably the best catches of the day on poorly thrown balls, and Swinton displayed good running skills on a couple of catches, too. We have at least a half-dozen real weapons at wide receiver, this year, it seems.
Backs: We got only limited looks at three scholarship backs. I saw Brad Lester catch a dump-off screen and get stopped quickly. Ben Tate had two touchdown runs, and he showed good outside speed on those.
On the other hand, both Td's were a result of defensive breakdowns... Tristan Davis impressed me most, on his limited time. He has good pad level, and ran tough. He looked very solid, and we know he can fly. There was success by the walk on backs, too, but that's not terribly surprising, considering how dominant out o-line was.
Quarterback: I think Kodi Burns was clearly the winner in this scrimmage. Chris Todd piled up a lot of completions in the second half, against soft coverage, and guys running after the catch.
Against the defensive starters, I thought Todd was tentative. He held the ball. He took sacks. His first few drives went nowhere. Todd under-threw most of his medium-length/long throws. Kodi Burns made plays, both with his feet, and with his arm, against the first unit.
Burns did take a few sacks, but even on those, he was trying to run, and probably wouldn't have gone down against the first man.
Neil Caudle has a decent arm, and better wheels. I was really impressed with his scrambling skills. I was less enthused with Caudle's decision-making.
He totally telegraphed the pick-6, watching the tight end all the way across, dancing his feet into position over about a half-dozen steps, before letting it go.
Josh Bynes was off to the races with that thing. I like Deron Furr's shiftiness. He's tough, too, and laid out a couple of monster blocks after runners reversed field. Furr looked totally lost in the passing game, though.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable A-Day. I'm enjoying the Andy Burcham/Cole Cubelic broadcast team more and more. They've really grown over the past few years! I also have to hand it to the boom-mike operators on the CSS crew.
The stadium got quiet later in the second half, and you could really hear the coaches giving it to the players! And it wasn't "Boom! MF" stuff, it was teaching. I'm excited, going into next fall.
We have a few problems to correct, and some guys need to get well quickly. But if we can stay healthy, this team could well end up in Atlanta next December!