Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five Questions, Defense

In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2012 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense and special teams.

Ten returning starters on offense gives the 2012 Hoyas a lot of options entering the season. While the defense sustained some significant graduation losses, there is still a lot of returning talent to look forward to.

With that in mind, five questions to consider with the season approaching:

1. Is Jordan Richardson Georgetown's Next Defensive Star? Ononibaku, Buzbee, Etukeren, Schaetzke. The front lines of the Hoyas have featured some outstanding skill position players in recent years. With the graduation of Andrew Schaetzke, the emergence of DT Jordan Richardson is worth watching.

Richardson started nine games at tackle last season. He is big (6-2, 300) and quick for his size. The Georgetown media notes called him a "disruptive force" as a freshman, and his 24 tackles were a promising start considering he was just a freshman. With John Porter and Peter Daibes fighting for a role on the DE position vacated by Schaetzke's graduation, an effective presence in the middle is essential. Much as Micharel Ononibaku turned the corner as a sophomore, a big year by Richardson could be invaluable to a defensive line that will be tested in the second half of the season.

2. Rushing Defense. For those looking for a secret to the Hoyas' eight game turnaround from from 2009 through 2011, look no further than rushing defense. A defensive unit  that stops the rush limits third down conversions, limits time of possession, and limits teams from taking over games. In 2009, Georgetown was not very good at any of these, allowing 208.2 yards per game on the ground. In 2010, that number fell to 144.6. In 2011, the numbers were outstanding, holding opponents to 98.6 yards a game on the ground, among the top ten nationally. Dustin Wharton and Robert McCabe can provide tackling support off the line, but it's up to the men up front to limit that opening burst and force those second down and nine plays rather than second and three.

The progression of the schedule is ideally suited to building that number, opening with Davidson and Wagner, then on to Yale and Princeton, picking up the pace with Brown and Fordham, than diving into the PL schedule, where the top three PL teams will all be looking to the run to get things done.

3. Turnovers. Another statistic that has showed marked improvements over the past three seasons, the defense will again be counted upon to force turnovers. This was the case in three key games last season where the defense set the tone for the win: a three INT game that turned the tide against Colgate, forcing five turnovers to stall Holy Cross' efforts to come back in that game, and four turnover versus Fordham. Those three games, all against strong PL offenses, was the difference between 8-3 and perhaps a 5-6 finish. Driving the defense to get the ball will be a key performance indicator for 2012.

4. The New Secondary. Georgetown's biggest defensive challenge in 2012 is replacing three starters on the  back line of the secondary. Together, Wayne Heimuli, David Quintero, and Jayah Kaisamba accounted for 142 tackles last season and six of Georgetown's 17 interceptions. The pass defense bent, but did not break last season, and the depth chart has the level of talent where the new starters can work their way into the job. Stephen Atwater and Malcolm Caldwell-Meeks figure to be keys to rebuilding the lines, with sophomore Javan Robinson not far behind. Junior transfer Rohan Williamson is worth a closer look as well.

5. Wanted: Kicker. By now, you've read that the lack of depth in placekicker has led Georgetown to host an open tryout to find a backup for junior PK Devon Papendrew. It's not an insignificant need--graduated kicker Brett Weiss accounted for 79 points last season and the Hoyas need a consistent option on PAT's and mid-range field goals. If that's Papendrew and the newcomer gets plenty of halftime practice kicks, great, but if Papendrew gets hurt or is ineffective, a game or two could come down to effective kicking, both on scoring plays as well as kickoffs.

With Papendrew's lack of any in-game experience, even the pre-season media notes were hedging. It noted that Papendrew was the "likely" option at PK--not a ringing endorsement when you're the only kicker entering camp.  

Yes, there are some open questions for the defense, but there is experience waiting to make the difference. And notice there's no talk in this article about the immediate need for freshmen to fill the gaps. That's a pleasant (and welcome) byproduct of depth that will serve the Georgetown defense well as it grows and matures this season.