One of my least favorite features of the offseason — Athlon’s roundup of “SEC coaches” speaking anonymously about opposing teams — is now out in the wild, as leli noted in this morning’s Chomping at Bits.
I say least favorite because I’m really not a fan of people being granted anonymity to say things that would not produce any blowback whatsoever if football coaches did not all think that the design of Trips Right X8 Jet Breeze is a state secret worthy of the most painstaking protection, but I do have a fondness for the feature because of how many coaches it reveals as either echoes of conventional wisdom, holders of no insight, or speakers of banality even when granted anonymity.
Let’s go through what was said about the Florida Gators to explain what I mean.
“They’re going to drop off on defense. It’s kind of an obvious thing to say, but they’re losing a lot of players who played a lot of football."
The latter fact is more than kind of obvious, but extending it to the claim of a drop-off is just a restatement of conventional wisdom.
"They’ll have to invent some things to rush the passer this year, and I’m not sure if they can because Randy Shannon likes to keep things simple. It’s a lot of pieces to replace, and the biggest thing they won’t be able to do is just rush four every time. When we played them, I think they blitzed us three times, and they could do that because they could just whip you with the front four and they can’t do that anymore."
This is as close to genuinely insightful and relevant analysis of Florida as we get in the whole piece — a downgrade in Florida’s front four (from one that allowed Florida to not blitz Coach X’s team) would normally force a defense to get exotic to rush the passer, but Randy Shannon doesn’t usually like to do that, and so Coach X is skeptical about that approach — but it’s grounded in assumptions that don’t make a ton of sense to me.
Even if we set aside the idea that “Shannon likes to keep things simple” and “I think they blitzed us three times” don’t really work in concert given that Shannon wasn’t actually calling plays until Florida’s bowl game, the idea that Florida needs to invent things to rush the passer is largely belied by that bowl game. Remember, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard completed just seven of 24 passes while under duress from many of the same players that will be around in 2017. While I’m not going to do a full tape review, go watch the highlights and you can see that pressure from the defensive line — and from players Florida will start and play in 2017, like Taven Bryan and CeCe Jefferson — helped force all three of Beathard’s interceptions.
And, furthermore, the thing I remember best about Shannon’s calls that game was what I described as Shannon being “comfortable bringing a new set of pressures that deviated from Collins’s preferred blitz packages” — an insight gleaned from the huge sample size of one game, sure, but one that makes me look askance at the idea that Shannon will keep things simple, even though I know that conventional wisdom about him well.
"The linebackers don’t scare you at all."
Oh. Okay? Should they scare me? How would they scare me? Can you provide, uh, literally any detail?
"Marcell Harris (now out for the 2017 season) has turned into a good player. He’s long, physical, gets guys on the ground and he’s grown up a lot, but he doesn’t frighten you like Keanu Neal roaming in the back end."
This, too, is genuine insight ... but insight that is now irrelevant because Athlon solicited these comments so long ago that Harris got hurt in the interim.
"Duke Dawson played at nickel last year, and if you weren’t good in the slot, your slot’s not getting open against that guy, but are they going to have to move him outside to account for (Teez) Tabor and (Quincy) Wilson leaving?"
I dunno, rhetorical question asker, are they?
They probably are, in fact, using Dawson on the outside, but begging questions about whether Dawson can hack it as a field or boundary corner by praising him as a slot corner is bad form when you could just ask that question, Coach X.
"They’ve recruited well on defense, but not great."
Cool. Presuming you know the distance between well and great, could you elaborate?
"This is a make-or-break year for them on offense. They need a QB and everybody knows it."
Is this a coach talking, or a columnist?
"Antonio Callaway is a damn good player, and he has had some issues. Their top three receivers are all really good players, and (C’yontai) Lewis and (DeAndre) Goolsby are good tight ends."
Callaway is good, but has had off-the-field issues? Ground-breaking! Tyrie Cleveland and Brandon Powell are also good, and Florida has good tight ends? Just staggering!
"The way they change their offense week to week and the number of formations is an issue. It’s hard to replicate during the week because you know you’ll see something you haven’t seen before.”
This is insight, I guess, if you haven’t heard the coachspeak about teams being “hard to prepare for” by virtue of showing different looks before. But I want to point out that this has been said of Florida before in this same feature...
“Oddly enough, and I don’t think they were the best offense, but Florida was the most difficult (offensive) team to prepare for last year. They have so many different personnel groupings, and they can do so many different things, and their identity changed on a weekly basis."
...and that the above statement in the 2013 piece, and ... yeah.
Of course, the dumb comments from coaches about SEC teams this year are not limited to those about Florida. Below, a smattering of those.
“Until someone beats them, I’d say they’re the team to beat."
So, considering that Clemson beat them, what would you say?
"They get whoever they want in recruiting — like, really, anybody they want."
Not Lamical Perine and Eddy Piñeiro!
"I guess their defense struggling as much as it did last year is why they made a change (at coordinator).”
"Why haven’t they been as good offensively? I wish I had an answer for that. I think it came down to inconsistency at quarterback. I thought Sean White did a better job of doing what they wanted, but he couldn’t stay healthy. John Franklin, they tried to make something out of nothing. Now they’re saying he’s going to play receiver and he’s quick, man, so maybe they’ll get some production out of him. But I think if Gus lets Chip do his thing, it’ll look a little more like Southern Miss a couple years ago, where they were throwing it around a lot.”
It takes a special person to ask a question, lament that “I wish I had an answer for” that question, and then answer that question in the same breath or paragraph. People really do not listen to themselves speak, huh?
“I think they’re the big question mark in our league."
Great, thanks, glad to have your brilliant thoughts in this piece.
"I have a hard time seeing them being much better than they were last year on defense because people will start to figure them out. There’s some coordinator continuity now in the league and people will figure stuff out. We’ve had a couple cracks at them and it’s been a struggle, but we feel like now we know how to do it."
This isn’t egregiously bad insight; none of the observations on Kentucky are, in truth. But I would like to point to that last sentence, note that the only SEC teams that have played and not scored 25+ on Kentucky since 2014 are Missouri and Vanderbilt, note in addition that Missouri’s coaching staff was new in 2016 and has thus had only one crack at Kentucky, and invite you to realize that it’s very probable that Vanderbilt’s coaching staff that thinks of past meetings with Kentucky’s defense as struggle(s).
“I think Ed Orgeron will do a good job of letting his coaches coach."
As opposed to what, precisely? Letting them perfect their Sanskrit?
Even granting that this is probably supposed to be a reference to Les Miles being the hand at the rudder for a variety of offensive coordinators, I don’t think it’s particularly insightful.
"Even though Leonard Fournette got all the attention, I thought Derrius Guice was just as good of a back and was probably harder to scheme against because he wasn’t all downhill all the time."
There was this one time when he was down at the 1, though. That was cool.
"I still question the quarterback deal. Danny Etling doesn’t have much upside. He’s just OK."
Cannot fathom the courage required to anonymously say that Danny Etling is “just OK.”
"On defense they had some freaks last year. I think five of those guys will play in the NFL for a decade."
Neat. Does this have anything to do with LSU in 2017, or are you just assuming we’ll do all the legwork on that thinking for you?
“You talk about good coaches — I know Dan Mullen rubs some people the wrong way, but those guys can flat out get the job done."
Mississippi State lost to South Alabama in 2016.
"They’re tough, they execute well, they don’t beat themselves. They’re blue collar."
Mississippi State lost to South Alabama in 2016 by missing two field goals and allowing a touchdown in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, so I’m kind of skeptical on that “they don’t beat themselves” bit.
I should note, though, that the Mississippi State section has two of the entire piece’s best burns.
"They’re kind of boring schematically when you really watch them and break them down. They don’t do a whole lot that concerns you. Mullen does a good job — it’s just not particularly creative. You’d play (Steve) Spurrier back in the day and he’d see something he’d like in the NFL on Sunday and you’d see it with him the following weekend. With Mullen, he kind of has his things he likes and that’s what he does. There’s no newness there."
"They’re a developmental program and they brought in some juco kids to be stopgap this year, so we’ll see."
Another team with almost entirely useful insight — if you’re sensing a trend in the piece of people speaking with more candor about cellar-dwellers than contenders, congrats: You get why anonymity is just a guise for punching down without consequence in this series! — and one ice burn.
"Their corners are really bad. If you can’t run the ball on them, it didn’t matter because you could just chuck it."
This guy nailed it:
“There’s so much stuff going on there — who knows what happens."
“The quarterback (Jake Bentley) is really good, probably the best in the division coming back and not by just a little bit. Every other team in the East wishes they had him, and you saw when they turned him loose at the end of the year that he’s got a pretty high ceiling."
Florida has Feleipe Franks. Georgia has Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Missouri has Drew Lock. We’re sure about “Every other team in the East,” anonymous coach who might be Jake Bentley’s high school coach?
“That’s an interesting deal. I don’t think anybody outside of the building can speak to what’s going on inside, but there’s obviously some turmoil."
Just stunning insight.
"That’s a talented team that should win more games than it does."
I mean, not wrong?
"I don’t know how they’ll be on defense. As everybody over there got hurt, they got really bad, and you can sit there and say it’s the coaches’ fault, but when you’re playing with second- and third-stringers in our league you’ll get gashed, especially on the back end. Vanderbilt hung (45) on them and it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t know what they’re doing."
If we follow my “Vandy coaches may be frustrated by Kentucky’s defense” theory from above, I think we could also maybe grant the possibility that it is like Tennessee doesn’t know what it’s doing.
"They’re as talented as anybody, but for whatever reason they don’t put it together very often."
Do you want to take a stab at any of the reasons, or just say words? You could have said this, like someone else did, after all:
"There are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions on what’s going on there and why that team isn’t winning championships, but at the end of the day you have to win your one-on-one battles with guys, and as stacked as they are, they just don’t get it done."
Also, in the burn ward:
"Last time we played down there was the first time I’d been in that stadium, and I didn’t feel like it was hard to play there for our guys at all. For all the stuff you heard about it being crazy and wild, it really wasn’t one of the more intimidating atmospheres in the league.”
My own experience in 2012 jibes with this sentiment, though A&M has renovated and closed off what was an open end zone at Kyle Field since.
As you might expect, no one had to be careful not to say something that might piss off Vanderbilt despite speaking anonymously. But someone still said something dumb!
"The problem is yeah, they beat Tennessee, but South Carolina’s going to be better, Georgia’s going to be better. Maybe they can take a swing at Florida, but Kentucky’s not an easy out anymore. Their window in the division isn’t as big, and they’ll have to fight regardless of how much they improve.”
“Their window in the division”? What, to win the division? Vandy has posted one winning record in the SEC since 1982, and two since 1955 — and finished two games back of the SEC champion in 1982, and two games back of the East champion in 2012.
That’s not a window, unless we’re referring to a window that is completely shut.