Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Five Questions, Defense

In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2013 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense and special teams.

1.How Will the 4-3 Defense Fare? Coaches are sometimes slow to adjust their defenses to meet the talent and situations at hand. Give credit to Rob Sgarlata and the Georgetown coaching staff, therefore, for making the move to a 4-3 alignment for 2013.

Georgetown enters the season as deep as it’s been on the defensive line since the MAAC days. The line has experience, it has options, and best of all, it can address the two areas where the Hoyas haven’t been as strong as its defensive numbers could be.

Overall, Georgetown ranked second in scoring defense in the Patriot League and second or third in most major defensive categories. However, Georgetown game up a league high 63 percent of opponents passing and was sixth of seven in pass efficiency defense. Putting more pressure on the quarterbacks should help in both categories, without exposing the linebackers to additional pressure to control the line of scrimmage. Sean Campbell is being moved from LB to DE, so the ability to move to a 3-4 on a situational basis is still there. If, however, Georgetown can do a better job controlling the line of scrimmage, it is more likely to exert the defensive pressure needed in games, especially on pass oriented offense like Lehigh and Fordham where Georgetown has traditionally struggled against.

2 Is this a breakout year for Jordan Richardson? Richardson has the physical tools to be a star in the Patriot League, and, in two years, to get a closer look from pro scouts. Richardson is big (300 lbs), and big tackles face challenges from endurance and avoiding the dings that often befall those in the trenches.  He’ll have to improve upon his tackle numbers and get more involved in sacks, but some of that is a function of defensive sets and schemes. Still, it would be promising to think of Richardson as a PL version of Jim Jeffcoat, the former Arizona State All-American  and Dallas Cowboys lineman who was never the showiest player on the field, but one of the most efficient.

3. Is this the year for Dustin Wharton? If he stays healthy, why not?  Wharton has the combination of physical tools, a good eye for reading offenses, and a work ethic that plays well for the kind of linebacker Georgetown is known for. Much as Robert McCabe made the jump from junior to senior season by letting his experience drive the action, every indication has Wharton making a similar move. In a three man LB corps, all the better.

4. Is the Secondary At Risk? Not as much as some would think. Jeremy Moore left some big shoes to fill, but he was only one man, and the Hoyas successfully transitioned in 2012 through the losses of three starters (Wayne Heimuli, David Quintero, and Jayah Kaisamba) with general success. Stephen Atwater figures to lead the charge in 2013, and the Hoyas probably have six strong candidates for the four positions. One thing to watch—the secondary remains small in stature, with no one over 6-1.

5. Is There Depth In the Kicking Game? A year ago, there was a real concern about the Georgetown place kicking game, but punter Matt MacZura stepped up in a big way in 2012 and gave the Hoyas consistent play on both punts and placekicks.  Joined by fellow senior Devon Papendrew on kickoffs, the Hoyas appear set, but the development of three freshmen will prove vital for 2014 and beyond.

Ideally,  freshmen Ben Priddy, Henry Darmstadter, and Harry McCollum won’t be called upon for a game-changing kick and can use their first year at Georgetown to grow into the roles each hopes to challenge for next season. Each must be prepared, however, to see time as circumstances warrant, and if any of the three go above and beyond in practice, they might get a look during the season.

MacZura is a punter first and was up and down in kicks (4-9 in PL play, 10-17 overall) but was 1-4 from kicks of 35 yards of more, and had only one attempt outside 40 yards. If one of the three freshmen challenges at all this season, it will be from long range.

Georgetown has had its issues in past season, but generally defense has not been the problem. The experience Rob Sgarlata brings to the table as a defensive coordinator cannot be underemphasized, and his defensive coaches should continue to elevate the careers of a number of underclassmen as eight defensive seniors face their final season on the gridiron.

In that sense, there may be five questions on the defense,  but they are all questions with promising answers.