Depth on the Lines, Why It Is An Issue now


It is only three games into the Butch Jones era at UC. By my standards, and I believe by most peoples standards, it is far too soon to be calling for a referendum on the Butch Jones era. He is by no stretch of the imagination on anything resembling a hot seat. The odds are fairly overwhelming  that he is going to start his tenure as the head of Bearcat Football program at 1-3. One area that has been harped on by the fans is the play of the offensive and defensive lines.

One thing that has been overlooked by nearly everyone in regards to UC's issues this season is the general lack of experience and depth, on both sides of the ball. The thing that separates good programs from the great is depth, particularly up front on both lines. The bottom line is that UC doesn't have much in the way of depth on the offensive and defensive lines. To field a good offensive line you need to have at least 7 quality offensive linemen, guys that can step in and play, without destroying the stability of the unit. Right now UC has 3, Sam Griffin, Jason Kelce, and Alex Hoffman, arguably 4 if Butch Jones would play CJ Cobb at Guard instead of tackle where he belongs. On the defensive line It is even more grim, the tackles are fine. With Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, and Jordan Stepp form a pretty nice rotation at the defensive tackle spots, but there has been very little production from the edge players. The lack of depth at key positions isn't really something that Jones can control. A coach has to play with the roster on hand, and the problems of the current roster fall pretty squarely on the shoulders of Brian Kelly.

Kelly recruited better than Dantonio did before him, very few people can really argue the point when talking of classes taken in their totality. But Kelly really sucked at recruiting defense, particularly defensive line players. He had a lot of success early on with the gifts he was given on the defensive line. His first roster was stacked on the defensive line, Angelo Craig, Anthony Hoke, Adam Hoppel, Terrill Byrd and Lemonte Nelms formed the core of that first unit. As those guys began to graduate he needed to find play makers on the D-Line so he flipped Connor Barwin from TE to DE, which worked out pretty well for all parties. But switching players became a case where Brian Kelly became infatuated with his own abilities. He believed that he could find defensive difference makers on his roster, so he for all intents and purposes stopped recruiting defensive linemen. In Kelly's last two classes he recruited a total of 14 DL prospects, just four in his last class,  of which 7 remain on the D-Line and only 1, Jordan Stepp, is a part of the rotation currently. The remainder have either left the team, or moved over to the offensive line where they aren't providing much in the way of depth or help. That is a terrible attrition rate for a position group. Compounding the problem is the fact that most of Kelly's D-Line recruits were long term projects that need a few more years in the weight room before they can help out in a meaningful way. To sum up Kelly thought that the best way forward was to try to continue to make difference making defensive linemen like he did with Barwin instead of going out there are looking for them. As a result he reached on a lot of players who were borderline BCS recruits thinking he could coach and train them up to get them to perform at a high level.  Needless to say that was an ill fated strategy, one that Jones has had to pick up the pieces of, with the predictably terrible results. The end result is a defensive line that has just one senior, Rob Trigg, in the rotation which pairs really nicely with the one senior in the back seven's two deep. On offense Jones is in a situation where he has three proven and viable players who between them can play any of the five offensive line positions, and a slew of either unproven players for the other two spots. Some with high potential, think Sam Hooey, and Andre Crueton and players who have been given the chance and failed, think Evan Davis who isn't ready physically to handle the pace of play or CJ Cobb who is being forced to play out of position at RT. It is a bad spot to be in, but Jones can't just stick with his current rotation, it isn't working and he needs to find a combination that works. If that means playing one of the young guys in the place of a senior who has payed his dues and persevered through countless injuries than so be it.

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