Thursday, August 26, 2010

Five Questions: Defense

One of the key drivers of the 2010 season will be a move to revive Georgetown's anemic offense, but the defense has questions as well. In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2010 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense.

1. How will the Hoyas fare in the 4-3? After various iterations of a "multiple" defense, the 3-4, and even the 5-2, the implementation of a traditional 4-3 is a recognition that if Georgetown doesn't stop the run, it can't hope to win many games, even in a much softer schedule as seen in 2010. That Georgetown was, on average, trailing by two touchdowns at halftimes of its games,  the need to close the ground game remains a top priority to give the Hoyas at least the theoretical chance to compete in the fourth quarter. New defensive line coach Doug Goodwin's impact in this area this cannot be dismissed--the Hoyas play a fairly solid defense as a whole under defensive coordinator Rob Sgarlata, but the D-line has suffered for years in keeping teams from pounding the ball downfield, especially on first down. Last season's opponents averaged 4.7 yards a carry on the run, and in the season finale versus Fordham, first down rushes averaged over five yards a carry, Georetown rushes were, in comparison, less than a yard. Second and five is a world removed from second and nine in college football, and if the defense can set a goal of, say, three yards per carry, it opens up options that the Hoyas simply haven't had at their discretion in recent years.

2. How good can Nick Parrish be? OK, some disclosure, Nick Parrish went to my high school (Dallas Jesuit) and that school has turned out a number of solid college prospects through the years, but I've always remained impressed by Parrish's ability to disrupt plays and get to the ball. As Georgetown LB's go, his senior season could be the stuff of an all-conference season, notwithstanding the fact that GU's reputation in the Patriot League may prevent further national consideration. With Parrish's ability to pick up assisted tackles and play across the field and not just up and down, the move to the 4-3 could elevate his game even further. it's been a long time since opponents feared a Georgetown LB. A big season by Parrish could make believers out of the rest of the league, and maybe even earn him a free agent call after next spring's NFL draft.

3. Does Wayne Heimuli return to form? Before injuries wiped out his sophomore season, Heimuli was beginning to build some stature as a defender who was not afraid to make the big hit in the secondary.  Heimuli also came from a great high school program in Euless (TX) Trinity that prided itself on really tight defense, and Heiumli's return could provided some much needed depth back in the secondary.

4. Are There Freshmen of Influence? If we didn't hear a thing defensively about the freshmen this year, I'd almost call that a success. It usually takes a year for freshmen to get acclimated defensively, and if you see 5 or 6 freshmen in the starting defensive lineup in November, that's a bad sign.  While Georgetown still lacks the defensive depth of its competition in recruiting, the seeds for growth are there among the freshmen defenders to really grow and develop at Georgetown--assuming, of course, they're committed to doing so. Players like Shannon Adams, Charlie Dann, and James Ford arrive with size and that's a step forward in the inevitable transition to college ball, but experience still takes time. I wouldn't be surprised to a see a sophomore or two really step up, and the freshmen to follow accordingly.

5. Can Time of Possession Be Controlled? For whatever success teams had rushing the ball against Georgetown (and most did), the rest of the GU defense tended to fare better than many might expect. However, there is one statistic that cannot be ignored: time of possession. Georgetown's defense was on the field over 35 minutes a game last season, and you cannot win consistently when the defense gets worn out like that over the course of a season. Obviously, the offense could do a lot more on its part, but for its own sake the defense needs to work on improving third down conversion rates, particularly early in the season when the legs are still fresh and injuries and attrition have not yet taken its toll.  During one of the games last season, I figured out that in games where the defensive time of possession was under 32 minutes, the Hoyas were close to a .500 team; of course, when you're 5-38 over the past four years, such possession times were the exception and not the rule.

Georgetown's defense took its share of grief last year, and the rush defense was a big, big part of it. If it improves, so will the Hoyas.