This group actually had a pretty good game on the whole, even with the offense playing well for much of the game. Adam Gotsis was as solid as expected, constantly getting in the way of things and causing havoc on the inside. Jimmie Kitchen also stood out as having a pretty fantastic game at defensive tackle. Look for him to see a lot of time this fall even if he's not starting. If he doesn't end up starting, it'll be because he gets beaten out by Pat Gamble, who also had a nice game with a fumble recovery and a couple of tackles. He's emerging as a good defensive tackle for the Jackets' defense. They were flanked by Tyler Stargel, fresh off of a move from WDE to SDE, who also did a nice job, making his presence known a handful of times. Fellow SDE Roderick Rook-Chungong is also having a good offseason and pushing for playing time. He had a couple of big plays in the game as well.
The recent convert from MLB to WDE, Jabari Hunt-Days, was basically a non-factor in the game. Whether that's a reflection of his inexperience at the position, the weather conditions, just not being too good at it, or the lack of run/pass balance by the offense is yet to be seen, but my guess is it had something to do with a combo of inexperience and a lack of passing. Coach Johnson actually made post-game comments saying that JHD's switch to WDE is likely permanent, which indicates to me that he's seeing progress there if nothing else.
Another bright spot on the line was true freshman and early enrollee KeShun Freeman, who regularly got involved in the action from the WDE spot. His reviews from Johnson have sounded very similar to those P.J. Davis got last year in fall camp, and Davis ended up a contributor as a true freshman. Freeman will still be competing with Hunt-Days, Kenderius Whitehead, and Antonio Simmons for playing time at that spot, but it sure sounds like he's gotten off to a good start.
The only other real disappointment from this squad was Francis Kallon, who was kept on the sidelines and wasn't wearing any pads. He's a guy whose potential is still yet to really show, and it sounds like it's not peaking out much more now than it has in the past two seasons.
Verdict: This will likely end up a pretty solid, deep group. They'll miss Jeremiah Attaochu and won't be able to find a perfect replacement for a top-50 NFL Draft pick, but on the whole there are some good players in the two-deep here. WDE in particular is going to get very interesting when three newcomers are added to the mix.
This group is more abbreviated than before, a casualty of a switch from a 4-3 defense to a 4-2-5 this offseason. (Fun fact -- our defense has lost a linebacker in each of the last two offseasons, going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to a 4-2-5 over about 18 months.) Quayshawn Nealy was excellent as usual, and looks to be a major leader on defense. He was flanked by Tyler Marcordes as Anthony Harrell continues to rehab a knee injury. The last I remember of Marcordes was him being targeted repeatedly by the Middle Tennessee State offense in 2012 because he kept missing tackles. Unsurprisingly, that left a pretty sour taste in my mouth, but the story is that he's looking a lot better out there and could be a formidable linebacker beside Nealy. A lot of that will depend on the rehab of Anthony Harrell and the emergence of other players.
It was nice seeing Tremayne McNair have a good game out there. The senior linebacker hasn't seen much of the field in his time, but had a nice spring game with a few tackles and a forced fumble. Whether he plays this fall is yet to be seen, but he would appear to be making his case. True freshman Tre Jackson also got involved in the action at times. With the number of linebackers ahead of him in age, I'm guessing he redshirts this fall -- but time will tell.
Paul Davis continues to impress as a backup to the star senior Nealy. He's going to provide fans with a lot of confidence moving forward after Nealy graduates. Beau Hankins also got involved in the game quite a bit. He's been buried in the depth chart over the last couple of years, but seems to be breaking out a bit himself. We may see him get playing time this fall as well, though the defense have a 2 linebacker base doesn't really bode well for the 10 linebackers on scholarship.
Verdict: If this group struggles this fall, it won't be for a lack of bodies. The move from the 3-4 all the way to a 4-2-5 means that the scholarships are extremely unbalanced when it comes to the linebacker position group, with 5 times as many scholarships being spent as players on the field (and that's after the Hunt-Days move). All that being said, I'm still a little worried about this group if Harrell isn't able to play every game this fall. I think the weak side position is covered between Nealy and Davis, but I'm still not sold on Marcordes or anyone else backing up at the SLB slot. If all goes to plan, I think Harrell and Nealy are a pretty nasty duo there. But, with any adversity, this group could degrade quickly.
This group almost demands its own article. The first and biggest thing you need to know here is that while they lost Jemea Thomas and Louis Young to graduation, they'll be getting big-time playmakers Jamal Golden and Isaiah Johnson back from injury. (Golden actually was granted a medical redshirt -- complete with an extra year of eligibility -- a little over a month ago, meaning he's got two seasons left on the Flats.) The other first and biggest thing you need to know here is that, while the linebackers lost a spot on the field, the secondary will be gaining a spot in the form of a "nickel corner". The nickel corner's job is somewhat hybrid between Safety, Cornerback, and Linebacker. They frequently will act as a third corner -- simply covering receivers in man or zone coverage -- but also play either in or near the box like a strong safety or linebacker, for the sake of helping in run support. (For reference, the speedy LB Brandon Watts played this role when Charles Kelly ran the system at the end of the 2012 season.) The current thought here is that Golden will play this role, with D.J. White and Lynn Griffin at Cornerback and Johnson and Demond Smith at Safety.
All that being said, the spring game wasn't a great indication of this group's status. There were very few (<20) passes thrown, and a lot were incomplete for reasons not impacted much by the secondary. But, what you should know about this group is that it's going to be very deep with experience. The entire starting five (as I see it now -- we'll talk depth chart later this week) is players on at least their third year of eligibility. That, plus having your field general (Johnson) back on the field, means that this group should show a minimal amount of mental mistakes.
Looking at the second string, there's 5 more guys that are younger, but very promising. John Marvin in particular stuck out to me as having a pretty great game Friday night. Chris Milton has been a solid safety for a couple of years now, Domonique Noble is a solid vet in the secondary, and there's also Corey Griffin and Step Durham who are young but have positive reviews thus far. (Side note: between Ty, Corey, Chris, and Lynn, all likely to see time, we're going to have some fun playing "name that Griffin" this fall.)
Verdict: This group is another very deep one, and a very veteran one as well. The coaches have done a nice job of recruiting talent for the secondary the last few years. (Speaking of which, keep in mind that the Austin twins and Jalen Johnson could find a way to factor in when they arrive this summer.) I think that part of the switch from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5, while mainly driven by personnel groupings in opposing offenses, had at least a little bit to do with the amount of talent available in the secondary. This will again be a solid group this fall, and hopefully better with the re-addition of Johnson and Golden.
Because it can't go unsaid, kicker Harrison Butker impressed the millions (and millions!) when he hit a 54-yard field goal in awful conditions in this game. Also, punter Ryan Rodwell went from the size of a linebacker to the size of a wide receiver (not as easy as Travin Henry makes it look) and looked great punting the ball in this game. He was punting to the returning Jamal Golden, while DeAndre Smelter caught punts for the second team. This is another area where Golden's return will be highly welcomed.
Verdict: A lot of fans didn't like spending a scholarship on a punter and another on a kicker, and Coach Johnson made a decision with mixed reactions when he hired a special teams coordinator in Dave Walkosky. Well, combine the news above with the fact that even the mighty Alabama can't seem to put together a decent kicker, and I think you should re-evaluate those feelings.
Were you excited with what you saw from this group? Think it's as deep as I do? Will the newly-dubbed front 6 be able to accomplish what we need them to? Like what you've seen from Jabari Hunt-Days at WDE so far?