2019 Training Camp XII: Mailbag Day Part Three

Aug 09, 2019

Because I'm providing links to the Twitter questions for these, and because the site freaks out if those quoted Twitter links show up on the front page, I have to write an intro for each of these mailbag posts. And the intro needs to be at least 250 characters. I have now reached that limit.

Linebackers in coverage

-- Bob Zuppke (@BobZuppke) August 9, 2019

This was Bob's lucky day. I watched the linebackers during "individual" (position group breakouts) and the first thing they did was a "drop into a zone and read the quarterback" drill. Next they went over and joined the tailbacks for a "pick up the tailback coming out of the backfield and cover him" drill. Zuppke asks for "linebackers in coverage" and I get a zone drill followed by a "cover the tailback" drill. Plus a lot of 11 on 11 later so I could watch said linebackers in coverage a fair bit.

So, my thoughts. It, uh, wasn't great. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. Perhaps the best way to say this is that we have run stopping linebackers and we have fluid, tight-end-covering linebackers but I'm not sure we have any "both"-s. Ohio State has eleven linebackers who are both, and that's why they're Ohio State.

I like Dele Harding as a run stopper, and I think he's going to be the anchor of our defense this season, but I don't think he'll drop deep enough in a zone to grab some of those mike linebacker interceptions you Bears fans loved back in the Lovie days. He's just not that kind of athlete. And I'm a big Jake Hansen fan, but he couldn't stay with Reggie Corbin coming out of the backfield today.

On the flipside, Delano Ware and Milo Eifler were the clear standouts in both drills. Eifler is quite athletic and Ware is a converted safety who still runs like a safety and covers like a safety so both of them get the gold stars in all coverage drills. The concern: is Ware big enough and has the game slowed down enough for Eifler for them to be complete linebackers? I'm not so sure.

So it's kind of like our receivers. We have fast receivers and we have bigger, more physical receivers but we don't have any big receivers who are fast. Size and speed are everything (at least if we're trying to answer Bob's question here), and Eifler is the only size + speed guy on the roster (Shammond Cooper has speed but he doesn't have size yet). Well, that's not fair to Hansen, who is quicker than many realize, but the point remains. Staying with an Iowa tight end or a Nebraska tailback coming out of the backfield? I'm just not sure we're there yet. It's gonna have to be a really cohesive zone.

Velocity/spin of passes by Peters & Robinson

-- In The Joilet (@detlef4uiad) August 9, 2019

I like this. Short, to-the-point questions. This whole mailbag post will just be the short questions.

I watched both guys to compare velocity/spin even though I already knew the answer. The Brandon Peters ball is significantly better. Quarterbacks are graded on this in high school, and this is the main reason Peters was a four-star recruit and Robinson decommited from Montana and committed to Illinois.

That doesn't mean Robinson can't win the job. This isn't the NFL. It's not "tight spiral on a rope or you're out". There are plenty of quarterbacks all over college football who don't throw the high-spin lasers yet are wildly successful. Robinson can make a lot happen with his feet (and his arm).

But this question is velocity and spin, and here are my ratings (out of 10):

Brandon Peters: 7.8
Matt Robinson: 5.3

Kickoff/Punt returns

-- Alana Church (@ChurchOfErotica) August 9, 2019

Punt return competitors: Trevon Sidney, Jordan Holmes, Kyron Cumby, and Trenard Davis.

Handicapping the race: Sidney is the favorite, followed by Cumby, followed by Holmes, followed by Davis.

It's possible that some of the defensive guys are part of the punt return race -- sometimes, during special teams drills, they're needed for the punt coverage drills and only the offensive guys are returning punts, so maybe add Tony Adams or Nate Hobbs to the list -- but today it was the four guys listed above.

Kickoff returns wasn't a thing they worked on today (Ligs can only Ligs so much in the 20 minutes he gets at practice), but I can handicap that race as well: it better be Dre Brown returning every kickoff or else we riot.

Hmmm... you know, this really didn't specify "returners" - it just said "returns". So maybe I should talk about other aspects of our return teams. And maybe also the coverage teams?

I think this is where the "track and field recruiting" is starting to show up. How many times in the last three years have I said things like "was a track guy in high school" or "started out in track and field and that's where the high school football coach discovered him". Lovie has defaulted to track guys since he started recruiting.

And I think it shows up when you watch the coverage drills? There's some really quick dudes on this team. Shammond Cooper is really fast for a linebacker. Kerby Joseph is really fast for a safety. I'm hoping that the special teams take another step forward with speed added to many of the coverage teams. Because in a season like this where it might come down to the fourth quarter of two games which determines bowl or no bowl, a big return (or a big punt coverage stop) could make a big difference.

As could a 101-yard Dre Brown kickoff return for a touchdown.

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Nashvegas Illini on August 10 @ 06:06 PM CDT

We should call this defense the "Options" defense. I believe Lovie has close to prototype starting secondary guys but the reason I believe they will be better is the options at Linebacker. Two really good run stuffing traditional linebackers and two or three quicker hybrid guys. The hybrid linebacker is the strategy being used by Clemson and TCU to combat the spread. Gary Patterson has a great article on ESPN about how NFL guys are coming to him to learn how to stop Air Raid offenses. The #1 thing he talks about is a player that can guard slots and tight ends and running backs. A player that can play tight to the formation but has the quickness to play I space. If Ware can be that guy than we have a chance to be really good.

My question. What changes have you seen from Lovie since camp one? More hybrid guys? More 1's vs 1's?

Thanks Robert...

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