Now that we're approaching the bulk of ACC play this season, it's helpful to look at how we're doing on both sides of the ball. What can we expect from the different position groups from this point on? Who has surprised thus far? Who has disappointed?
This post will look at the defense after the jump. I'll present the Unsung Hero, the Sung Turd (or whatever you would call the opposite of the Unsung Hero), and give a season outlook grade for each position. We'll catch up with the offense later in the week.
This position group, while it has the most experience, is sorely lacking in talent. We all heard during the offseason about how much this group has improved, but it looks like that was all...well...a lie. It all starts with the nose guard in the 3-4, and this team is sorely missing the guy that can just sit there in the middle and take on the double team without moving. Logan Walls, unfortunately, has not been that guy. He gets pushed around way too much, which results in huge holes up the middle for the opposing teams' runners. At the ends, those guys are playing poorly per se, but they aren't really doing much to make a difference. Izaan Cross has shown potential, but like Jason Peters opposite him, has been inconsistent. One indicator that the coaches aren't pleased with defensive line talent on this team is the number of recruits along the defensive line. There are four thus far according to Rivals.com, which may decrease if those listed as DE are moved to OLB (which is very possible).
Unsung Hero: Emmanuel Dieke (he's showed potential in his limited snaps)
Sung Turd: Logan Walls (he's just not getting it done)
Season Outlook: C- (while these guys can be effective, this is definitely a weakness on the team)
This position group has an excellent mixture of young talent and experience, and they're much better running forward (pass rush and run stopping) than running backward (pass coverage). Julian Burnett has produced as expected, being a tackling machine and making plays sideline to sideline. The other inside spot is occupied by Daniel Drummond, who has been inconsistent thus far, especially in pass coverage. His backup, Quayshawn Nealy has played well since spring practice. He will be the next guy up, as Drummond was injured during the NC State game and it is unclear whether or not he will be ready for Maryland. The depth at this position is excellent.
Jeremiah Attaochu has played well at times too at the outside linebacker spot, but his leg injury is disconcerting because this defense really relies on him to make plays in the backfield. After a slow start to the season, his three sack performance against UNC showed what he can really do. His backup would normally be Brandon Watts, who's played well in his snaps, but he too is injured. Therefore, the onus falls on Malcolm Munroe to produce a pass rush. This is bad news until we can get those two players back. On the other side, Steven Sylvester has played much better than I thought he would before the season started. In fact, I noticed him multiple times against Kansas and UNC.
Unsung Hero: Steven Sylvester (played much better than I thought he would, holding off Brandon Watts)
Sung Turd: Daniel Drummond (he's been inconsistent and often finds himself out of place. Let's hope this is the result of inexperience and he can improve this over time)
Season Outlook: B (the injuries bring a lot of uncertainty, but the talent is there, as well as quality depth)
While this position has been inconsistent at times, the group is playing much better than I originally anticipated. The players are very physical in both the run and pass game, and the natural talent of the two corners, Rod Sweeting and Louis Young, is very evident. Also, Isaiah Johnson has improved his pass coverage skills while keeping his physicality that got him on the field last season. Unfortunately, depth is the only issue with this group. The loss of Fred Holton to injury really forced the coaches' collective hand to keep Rashad Reid at safety. The corner position is really thin. If you've noticed, Young and Sweeting have played late in games, even when the rest of the defense has been subbed out. Special teams star and regular contributor Jemea Thomas has played in the nickel and performed well. While this group is still young, they haven't made as many mistakes as I was originally expecting. Hopefully, they're familiar enough with the defense after five games that we won't see any breakdowns through the tough part of the schedule. Another key to this position group is to avoid injuries. They aren't very deep, and the players that are there are having a lot put on them. If a star player goes down, that pressure will have to be placed elsewhere on the defense, and I'm not sure it can handle that pressure.
Unsung Hero: Rod Sweeting (all of these guys were expected to be good, but Sweeting's physicality probably wasn't expected and has been a difference maker in a couple of the games)
Sung Turd: Michael Peterson (the coaches praised his improvement during the offseason, but he hasn't done much in the real games)
Season Outlook: A- (these guys are still young, but they're talented enough to make plays, like Johnson's pick six that sealed the deal against NC State)