If you've been reading this blog for more than about 10 seconds, you know I'm an optimist. I tend to find explanations (excuses?) for why our teams don't perform up to the level of expectations we set for them, and I tend to think that tomorrow is inevitably going to be better than today. But I must admit, I am harboring some doubts about this year, and D-Line coach Bill Kirelawich is helping push me closer to the edge with his comments to Dave Hickman in today's Gazette.
Sure, I realize Pat White is gone. Everyone knows Pat White is gone. But everyone also knows that Jarrett Brown is a more than capable fill-in, perhaps even more tailored to our revamped offense featuring an expanded passing game. So we've got that covered.
I know all about the four starting offensive linemen we need to replace and the kind of effect that can have on a team. But the new guys aren't exactly infants---they were highly sought-after recruits who earned some invaluable playing time last year. Given another year under Dave Johnson, they'll be ready.
Heck, I've even lost some sleep over our kicking game. The loss of Pat McAfee can't be understated. But it's not like we've ever lost out on a Big East title because someone returned the opening kickoff for a TD. Oh, right, Mardy Gilyard. Well, that's kickoffs, and that was just one year. We don't ever cost ourselves a BCS berth by giving up punt returns for touchdowns. What's that? 2004 Boston College? Oh. Well, at least that wasn't on national TV. Come again? Louisville 2006? Dang. Well, it could be worse. We could have missed a couple chip shot field goals against Pitt to cost ourselves a shot at a national championship . . . . But I digress. Word is that Scott Kozlowski (Kozlowski, Kirelawich . . . where did we get all these Jewish guys??) is doing fine punting the ball, and Stew spent time in the offseason figuring out how to improve kick coverage. So I'm still holding out hope.
But despite all of those questions, I still feel good about this season because of our defense. We return, what, 8 starters from a top-30 defense last year that was outstanding in the red zone and created tons of turnovers. We get Reed Williams, the heart and soul of the 2007 defense, back from injury. The linebackers should be among the league's best. Even though we lost Ellis Lankster, I'm not worried at all about the defensive backfield---Keith Tandy has been looking good, Brandon Hogan is a budding star, and freshmen Broderick Jenkins and Pat Miller should provide depth.
And that brings me to the defensive line. Even with out Bigfoot Finau, you have to like what this unit has to offer. Potential all-league picks Scooter Berry and Chris Nield should anchor what's supposed to be a very strong line that will free the linebackers and safeties up to make plays. You want depth? Julian Miller, Jorge Wright, and Larry Ford should be ready to step in and Josh Taylor is an adequate fill-in for Scooter. Heck, freshmen Will Clarke, Dominick Davenport, and Curtis Feight may develop into players as well. Even the harshest critic would have trouble finding something to nitpick about this group, right? Here's what Coach Kirlav has to say:
"We stink,'' he said.
"The older kids aren't bad,'' he said. "They probably aren't where they should be. And, as far as I'm concerned, we have no depth.
"The whole camp will be one big process to develop someone we can put in the game and count on - and not get our [butts] kicked while they're in there. Hopefully, some of those kids step up.''
Um, okay. How about that Taylor kid? You like him, right?
"Behind Scooter, we have Josh Taylor, who I really like,'' Kirelawich said. "Then I've got nobody. From there on, it's a crapshoot. I don't have a guy at tackle behind Scooter. I don't have one at end.''
Hm. You don't like any of those guys I mentioned?
"Larry Ford, in my mind, has to get a lot better,'' Kirelawich said. "In my mind, he's not near good enough. [Tackle] Jorge Wright is coming along. But that's where he's at: he's coming along. He's not there yet. He's not a ready-for-prime-time player. And the freshmen are freshmen.''
"Somebody's got to step up,'' Kirelawich said. "They signed on here to play and they better get their [behinds] better.''
Alright coach, I'm picking up what you're putting down. If your own coach thinks you're not any good, you're probably not any good. And who am I to argue with the coach? If he says that the unit that is supposed to be the strength of our defense isn't any good, then what hope do we have? All I gotta say is that Tevita Finau better get here soon.
"Don't even ask me about him,'' Kirelawich said.
[photo via www.wvmetronews.com]