Defensive thoughts: 2021 edition
Curious about my 2020 thoughts? Same as how I felt for my Offensive Thoughts post recently, just trash it.
After watching the defense during the final scrimmage, I’m feeling a bit bullish on the potential here. Reynolds had to deal with consistent pressure and the wide receivers/tight ends were not creating much separation from the defensive backs.
Tyler Murray, who was named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch list, will be the anchor on defense again. #5 was everywhere last year and no reason not to expect the same from him again. Beyond Murray, the linebacker room is loaded with guys that can play: Luke Martin, Prince Bemah (who looked great as a True Freshman before suffering a knee injury, he did not play last season), Troy grad transfer Justin Whisenhunt, BJ Turner and former Gamecock Derek Boykins (who was not at the scrimmage I attended). No shortage of experience or talent here, and we’ll see Murray in the hybrid safety/linebacker spot often.
It’s after the linebacker room where you start to look for guys that are going to help take Co-Defensive Coordinators Marcus West and Brandon Cooper‘s defense to the next level. In year 1 the defense did a great job creating turnovers and getting to the quarterback. Was that the Alex Highsmith effect? Markees Watts was a great Robin to Batman (Highsmith) on the otherside, but can he be the guy? For Watts it’s hard to get a great read on him due to the injury that hampered him last season, so this is an opportunity for him to make a statement and show that he can be a high-level pass rusher on his own.
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He’s got to have a big year. We expect him to have a big year. We expect him to be a threat every time we lineup.
Opposite of Watts will likely be Notre Dame transfer Kofi Wardlow. Wardlow was a highly recruited 3-star prospect out of high school but didn’t see much action at ND. I expect to see Michael Kelly in the rotation, and then after him you are looking at FR to step up and provide depth. The interior has been bolstered with the addition of Josh Baily, an Iowa State transfer, and potentially Jalar Holley. Holley is a transfer from the University of Miami and would provide another key piece to the DT rotation with Bailey, Bryan Wallace, Dez Morgan, Isaac Hampton, Mikel Horton and Josiah Sao.
Let’s talk about the secondary, Charlotte lost Nafee Lyons and Ben DeLuca. Lyons is playing in the CFL with the Edmonton Elks and DeLuca is with the Las Angeles Chargers. With those departures, the staff added quiet a few transfers to build upon the returning talent. Geovante Howard (Purdue transfer) is the biggest addition in the secondary, they staff considers Geo a next-level prospect. Charlotte priortized Howard during his JUCO recruitment, but Purdue was able to come in late and lure him away. With the COVID season not counting against him, Charlotte will still manage to get 2 seasons of Howard’s production at the cornerback position. Charlotte also added Kansas State transfer Jon Alexander and ECU transfer Davondre Robinson. I expect all three of these transfer either start or be heavy rotation pieces this season. Charlotte also added JUCO DB JJ Jones, who has been started out his collegiate career at Southern Miss (current CB coach Eddie Hicks was at So Miss then), and Jones also spent a semester at Louisian Tech before winding back up at JUCO. With the 4-2-5 scheme, you need a plethora of DB options, and Charlotte has them, however a large share of the depth is young. The portal was leveraged heavy here, and looks to pay immediate dividends.
I’m not sure what to expect for the Duke game, but Healy has stated on several radio shows that he’s starting first game prep earlier this year than he ever has before after talking with his peers. With being Charlotte’s first ever Power 5 opponent at home, I expect there to be no page left unturned in the playbook for this one.