In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2011 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense.
1. How good can this defense be? In many years, the defense was considered as good enough to hang in games, but not enough to counter a noticeably weaker offense. In 2011, the Hoyas return seven starters on defense, as experienced a group on the field as any Georgetown team since its days as a MAAC power.
The return of Dan Lenihan to the rotation will certainly help the loss of two starters from 2010, so the Hoyas are almost looking at eight returning starters. But if the defensive line is really going to elevate its role in stopping rush-based offenses (read= Colgate and Lehigh, where the Hoyas are a combined 0-18 since 2001), look to sophomores Charlie Dann (6-2, 285) and John Porter (6-3,250) to be a part of that. Dann is ready for a move into the starting lineup but will have to fight for it, and freshman Mike Roland (6-4,310) can't be overlooked.
Georgetown finished the 2010 season ranked fourth of six PL teams in defense. Yes, there's experience, but yes, there's more to be done.
2. Can the linebackers step up? The pre-season prospectus wrote that "Three of the team's top nine tacklers, all three inside linebackers have graduated, including...Nick Parrish."
If Robert McCabe and Jeremy Grasso are the mainstays on the outside, a new middle LB will be vital for setting the tone for the defense. Senior Nate Zimmel didn't get as much starting time behind the mainstay of Parrish, and freshman Nick Alfieri could have a role before all is said and done. Sophomores Jon Brucia and Sean Campbell are at a point when they can legitimately challenge in the two-deep, but the sooner the Hoyas can settle on an middle LB, the sooner the outside backs can begin to get a rotation and into a rhythm.
3. How good is the secondary? Very good. Nothing against the freshmen, but don't be surprised if you don't see much of the newcomers with five seniors and a junior ahead of them on the depth chart. Some combination of junior Jeremy Moore and seniors Wayne Heimuli and Jayah Kaisamba are all candidates for all-Pl honors.
Georgetown finished last among the six active PL schools in pass defense--while they often bent but did not break (18 INT's),teams began to respect the secondary later in the season. A strong secondary may force teams to rely more on the run, which can help the Hoyas focus more strength up front. Heimuli, who has battled injuries in his college career, was nothing sort of a fearless tackler in high school and it would be great to see him really return to that level as a senior at Georgetown.
4. Any changes at kicker? Don't expect any. Brett Weiss seems set at PK and Matt MacZura had a solid freshman season at punter. For the first time in the Kelly era, the Hoyas did not add a kicker to the recruiting class, and that's a sign that its kicking staff (including sophomores David Conway and Devon Papandrew) can get it done in the years to come.
5. Can Time of Possession Be Controlled? This statistics has bedeviled the Hoyas over the years. As I wrote last year, "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."
This year's defense is strong enough and experienced enough to do its part; inevitably, the offensive game plan will drive much of the inequity on time of possession that saw Georgetown average less than 26 minutes a game in possessions--which begets a tired defense.
With five straight road games from Sep. 17 through Oct. 22, the defense will be tested to be rested and ready. if the Hoyas have what it takes to weather this storm, it will be led on the defensive side of the field.
In Kevin Kelly's five seasons the defense has held opponents to 10 of fewer points just five times. Not encouraging, of course, but realize that three of those five were accomplished last year (Davidson, Holy Cross, Marist). 2011 could be an opportunity to match those numbers and give the offense a chance to compete into the fourth quarter of games that once were not competitive.
The experience is there, now it's time to put experience to the test.