I think the theme of the defense this spring was dominance.
Of course, you have to consider that the offense was young and missing key players for much or all of the 15-practice schedule.
With that in mind, the young touted recruits certainly showed why Zipsnation (the concept, not the Web site ... actually, both) got so excited about them.
Defensive line: C-. Anyone who knows me will tell you how worried I was about this position. Last year's line made few plays (although that may be attributed to the 3-3-5 scheme), and two of those guys are gone. The spring showed me that the starters can be serviceable. In other words, they won't be the best in the conference, nor the worst. A more fit Nate Robinson will be a solid run stuffer. Eric Lively and Jared Cecchetti look like average MAC defenders. The backups are another story. Shawn Lemon is going to be good pass rusher. After that, it's anyone's guess. Viktor Rajek has the athleticism for the position, but not the knowledge for the position yet. Hopefully, a couple of the 2007 recruits are ready to play. Speaking of recruits, Rivals.com is showing Hassan Hazime from Ontario as a late signee. J.D. Brookhart mentioned him -- although not by name -- as a player who possibly could suit up as a true freshman. Florida, Florida State and Boston College had shown interest before he settled on his only offer, Akron. The coach also said Joe Rash might be ready. Overall, the coaches should be pleased if the defensive line is just average next season.
Linebackers: A. Doug Williams is a freak. His play will really surprise Zips fans next season. He proved to be an impact player this spring. Kevin Grant had a nagging injury, and coaches decided to keep him out for much of the spring because he's already proven. Brion Stokes is a terrific blitzer, and hopefully the coaches fire him into the pocket on every third down next season. The real question is, will the coaches find enough playing time for Al-Teric Balaam? The sophomore is an All-MAC linebacker in the making. It would be nice to have a little more depth, but all in all, the linebackers are equipped to put hits on running backs, cover tight ends with their athleticism and rush the passer.
Defensive backs: A+. Yeah A+. Although they weren't tested by David Harvey, Jabari Arthur or a veteran quarterback this spring, they were downright impregnable. John Mackey and Davanzo Tate have to be preseason favorites for All-MAC safeties. They also have four cornerbacks who could start for almost every other team in the conference. What impresses me most is the leadership this mostly upperclassman group exudes. They have a certain swagger that will not let the rest of the defense play lackadasically. As long as the defensive line gets adequate penetration, no current MAC quarterback-receiver combination should scare this corps.
Punter: Incomplete. John Stec did a decent job in his freshman season. I grade him as incomplete for the spring because I didn't watch him punt much, and to be honest, I don't know how to analyze a punter during practice.
Kicker: B-. Matt Domonkos showed a considerable boost in leg strength. The fact that Brookhart would send him to the field with a 56-yarder in front of him on Saturday is proof of that. But Domonkos has always been a good practice kicker, so there's no use in getting excited about that. Igor Iveljic missed half of spring with a sore back. He was a bit rusty upon his anticipated return, biffing a few kicks here and there. He still performed well enough to earn the first-string duties, in my opinion, going into the fall. That's of course assuming he doesn't beat the crap out of another fellow student. (As an aside, wouldn't it be lethal if Iveljic knew karate? That would make for a forceful front kick.)
Special teams: B. It's hard to judge the kickoff coverage when I didn't see one kickoff. However, Brookhart used the final 15 minutes of each practice to teach blocking techniques. That is enough to give me confidence that this squad will adapt well to the new NCAA rule of kickoffs coming from the 30-yard line, rather than the 35.
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