Thursday, August 20, 2009

Five Questions: Defense & Special Teams

If Georgetown's offense is blessed with some much-needed depth, so to is the defense. Nine starters return to a group that, despite its best efforts, often gets battered up and down the field, sometimes through no fault of their own.

The 2008 season finale with Fordham was a good example. The defense held the Rams to just 17 points all afternoon, but it wasn't close to being enough--the offense held the ball for just 6:18 in the first half and the defense was out on the field a record 42 minutes in the game. Despite giving up 252 yards in the first half, the score was still as close as 3-0 nearing the end of the half before the Rams pulled away.

For the defense to do its part, the offense has to control time of possession. Outside that, what are some of the big questions facing the defense into 2009? Here are five.

1. Can Georgetown control the line? The Hoyas were sixth in the league in rush defense and fifth in sacks in 2008. Replacing NFL free agent Ataefiok Etukeren and three year starter Anthony DiTommaso won't be easy, but it's probably the biggest area of adjustment for the team. If the 4-3 defense is successful, it needs the best four it can get out there, and two of these may come from the junior class.

2. How good can Nick Parrish become? Entering his junior season, Parrish may be the best pure linebacker the Hoyas have had since All-MAAC standout Tom Wonica (1992-95) and finished fourth in the Patriot League in tackles as a sophomore. Georgetown's 4-2 defensive stands put a lot of pressure on the LB's to cover the middle and Parrish could be capable of a big year, especially if the line can do their role and give him time to get into better position. He's a big key for the Hoyas to hold its own defensively.

3. Protect the secondary. Teams may find it tempting to go deep on the Hoyas this fall, and we could see that in evidence as early as the season opener with Holy Cross. Georgetown returns all five defensive backs from 2008 and they'll be tested as pass-oriented offenses work the 20-30 yard ranges. Three seniors and two talented sophomores give Georgetown a strong base from which to build upon, but injuries have taken their toll on the secondary in years past. Another stat to watch: interceptions. Georgetown allowed almost 60 percent completion rates as a defense but earned only seven interceptions. A stronger secondary may help rebuild those numbers.

4. Punt coverage. Georegetown lost two of its best returners in the graduation of Kenny Mitchell and the departure of Mychal Harrison. Georgetown may use a number of options early in the season, but with the impact of field position for an offense such as Georgetown's, return yardage is an underrated statistic. Any improvement on GU's 5.0 yards per return could be key in series where the Hoyas need to establish mid-field position to make a realistic attempt to score. For a team that averaged less than 10 points a game in 2008, field position is essential.

5. Can the defense get a rest? Opponents held, on average, a 10:08 advantage in time of possession against the Hoyas last year, an astounding number. In Kevin Kelly's first two seasons, the gap was around four minutes. A team cannot win games if its defense is worn out by halftime. Georgetown is competitive when its defense gets time off the field, and that will be a constant refrain all season.

Nine returning lettermen offers some experience and some confidence to a defensive set that takes its share of bumps and bruises for a last place PL team. This season, the Hoyas could be a surprise in some games, and look for the defense to take the lead.