I am going to start this thread with an "I told you so" and it will be directed at those members of another board who called me crazy two years ago for suggesting that TECH was very talented in the back 7 on defense. Some of you, in this audience, participate over there and may possibly remember. During the 2012 season, when things were in disarray on defense, I made the statement during one of my weekly film reviews that we had 5 future NFL players in the LB and DB ranks and that our problems were not due to a lack of ability in the back end. Well, of course, considering the recent results, people went crazy and told me it was all about a lack of talent and poor recruiting and that I had no idea what I was talking about. According to them, we had stolen all our recruits from East TN ST or Western Kentucky and they can't cover or tackle nearly good enough to compete in big boy football etc etc etc. It was all about lack of talent.
By now, I think we can all see that, most likely we did indeed have those 5 NFL bound guys on the field. Sweeting is already playing, Attaochu and Thomas are pretty much sure things in terms of making a roster. On top of that, Watts, who was one of my 5, looks poised to make an NFL roster, most likely as a special teams specialist and back up LB. He is not enough of a punishing tackler to be considered a front runner for an NFL LB draft pick, but his kind of athleticism and open field ability, combined with size, makes him very attractive. Those pro day speed and agility numbers were pretty eye popping for a 230 pound guy. If you are an NFL team, who do you want, in terms of a prototype, covering your punts and kicks? Now you see what I am talking about. So far, that is 4 players. The 5th, in my mind, was Hunt-Days. He still has a lot to prove, but he has time to do it. We will see.
So, why were we so bad if the talent was there? Well, it is because the DL was in total disarray. You could have put the pro bowl DBs back there for us and they wouldn't have been able to cover as long as we needed them to. Plus, if your DLs can't control or stabilize a gap, how are LBs to do proper run fits? Our LBs were always leaving their gaps, either because the gaps were so fluid they didn't really exist, or they knew DLs weren't going to make the plays and needed help. They felt the pressure to do too much. In order to try and get pressure, we would send a bunch and ask the DBs to back off in loose zone, making them look like they couldn't cover.
You may ask, why am I taking the time to write this? Well, I do so, not to pound my own chest and say "I told you so" (well maybe a little), but because I fear we are going to find ourselves in a similar position this year. If you want something to worry about in the off season, make it the development of a DL. Once again, I find myself feeling good about the back 7, but wondering about us up front. We have a slew of pretty capable guys roaming the second level. What are they going to be asked to do and how much? I feel sure that CTR will eliminate confusion (like CAG couldn't) as a part of the problem and that he will have the kids in a scheme that plays to their strengths (rather than his - once again CAG). BUT, without some major growth along the DL, he will only be able to scheme so much to mitigate the foundational problem.
This is what I am most eager to find out as spring and summer camps unfold. In my mind, it is the biggest question about our team BY FAR. More so than QB, BB, OL or any other. Hopefully, we will have a very positive development in the near term.