Grading The Secondary


This is not going to be fun, for any of us, but it has to be done. I figured that this is as good a time as any. The Big East Tournament is underway, though UC doesn't play until tomorrow night so we can go ahead and discuss the most depressing aspect of the 2010 season by quite a large margin. For me depressing means underwhelming relative to expectations and it fits. I didn't have high expectations for any particular unit of the defense. The 2009 group was bad and switching back to the 4-3 from the 3-4 was sure to rob the front 7 of what little depth they had coming into the season. At the kickoff of the Fresno State game the unit I was most comfortable with was the secondary. That changed in a big big hurry.

And it was pretty much straight down hill from there. In absolute terms the secondary was bad, the yards allowed (234 pg), TD's allowed (25), Yards Per Attempt (7.6) and Pass Efficiency rating (146.0) are all either the worst or the second worst of the last five years. Of all the defensive units the most depth by far was in the back end. There is plenty of talent. There might not be NFL caliber talent like the 2008 secondary with Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Brandon Underwood. Of the crop that played last year only Dominque Battle even has a small hope of catching on and NFL team, and that would probably only be as a Free Agent. Chris Williams is easily the most athletic member of the secondary, but he has battle injuries and bounced around from Corner to Safety.

The bottom line for me is that there is talent, maybe not elite college level talent, but surely talent enough to fashion a serviceable secondary. Yet this group of players wouldn't even be considered serviceable. They finished 80th in the nation or worse in every statistical measure mentioned above. The 8 INTs on the year is the lowest number in a decade at UC. There were two major problems and one ancillary problems that led to the dismal performance of the secondary this year.

1) Kerry Coombs is not a good secondary coach. Not in the slightest. I have made my feelings on this well known. And I know the response to this from the pro Coombs faction of the fan base. It goes something like this "He can't be that bad. Look at how good the secondary was in 2008!" Yes the secondary in 2008 was excellent, not going to dispute that. Smith and Underwood are both in the NFL right now, with the Browns and the Packers respectively, Mickens never really recovered from his knee injury and is now a GA with the Bearcats. But Coombs didn't personally develop any of those guys. DeLo and Mickens were both recruited in the Dantionio Regime and cut their teeth under the tutelage of Pat Narduzzi and Harlon Barnett, not to mention Mark Dantonio who was a hell of a secondary coach in his day and very involved in the positional coaching here at UC. Brandon Underwood transferred in from Ohio State where he spent his formative years under coaching from Jim Heacock, and Paul Haynes. So yeah while Coombs was here when all three of those guys peaked, he didn't develop any of them. Last season was the first time that Coombs had control of a secondary that was truly all his. These were his guys, he recruited most of them to come here, and they are talented enough, but he couldn't get results with them. I like Coombs personally, I think he is a good guy and a great ambassador for the program in the area. All that being said I have no faith in him what so ever to mold a high level secondary. He is teaching antiquated techniques and it is hurting the development of the players. You can't coach high school methods at the college level, you will just get slaughtered, last year proved that. 

2) Wesley Richardson and Drew Frey are not BCS caliber safeties. Period. I am not in the business of calling out individual players. I try very hard not to stoop to that level but sometimes, it has to be done, and this is one of the cases, just like it had to be said that Brandon Mills is not a BCS caliber defensive end. Drew Frey had a lot of potential when he came to UC, but injuries sapped some of that potential. He isn't the athlete that he was before his knee injury. Frey made mistakes prior to this year, he made a ton of them in 2009. But those errors were easier to swallow when he was a frosh, and the assumption is that he will improve. Last year was his fourth in the program, if only his second on the field. I think the bottom line with #26 is that he regressed from his first year to his second as a starter, and that bodes ill, very ill. He was still making really basic and catastrophic errors each and every game. Frey would have a play or three like this one every single week. Wesley Richardson was not much better. I respect Richardson for walking on and earning his scholarship. But my respect for that accomplishment only goes so far. His errors weren't as large, or as noticeable relative to Frey's but he had his struggles. Individually I think that either one of these guys could be OK. Frey was OK in 2009 when he benefited a lot from the presence of Aaron Webster next to him. Richardson was very good in the Oklahoma game when he started next to Chris Williams, who by the way was the best safety on the roster last year, but he only got two starts (Another personnel fuck up for this staff). But when you put Richardson and Frey side by side it was a complete cluster fuck. I don't foresee either guy retaining his job next year, I think Malcolm Murray and Patrick White will win the two safety jobs next year.

3) The pass rush did the secondary no favors. The lack of depth and difference makers in the front seven, particularly at defensive end had a ripple effect. If a secondary has to cover receivers for more than two seconds it is in deep trouble. It is asking too much for them to keep the receivers in check for that long. But that is what happened a lot. The front couldn't generate pressure with any consistency. It took a match up with the worst offensive line in history (Rutgers) for them to nudge the sack total out of the teens on the year. So opposing QB's had days to throw and they were throwing against the simplest, softest most elemental coverage scheme imaginable. UC played cover 3 zone under something like 70 per cent of the time. So giving QB's all kinds of time to throw because your front can't get pressure and playing basic high school coverages behind is a recipe for a catastrophe and that is exactly what UC got last year.

Whats your take?

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