If it wasn't the linebackers, it was the tight ends. We had holes in our Atlanta Falcons roster, and people liked to point them out.
So how about this: We'll add proven vets Mike Peterson and Tony Gonzalez and unleash Curtis Lofton upon the NFL world as our defensive leader. I'd say linebacker and tight end are two designations we don't have to worry about a whole lot anymore.
You happy now?
Well, of course not. It's now in vogue to treat the secondary as a pariah, and I guess there's some reason for it. The Dirty Birds have yet to outgain an opponent through the air—they've given up 263 yards to the Lions, 204 yards to the Rams, and 320 yards to the Chargers.
Note who those first two opponents are and the exact number allowed in our most recent contest. Ugh.
I can try to explain it away. First, there's the youth of the bunch—Erik Coleman's the "greybeard" at 27, but honestly, it's not like any of these guys hasn't been playing organized ball or more than half his life.
Then there's inconsistency. Chris Owens looked tremendous in Preseason Week One, then proceeded to give up a couple big plays with poor field awareness in Week Two. Chevis Jackson hasn't looked himself at all. Brent Grimes has, at times, used his athleticism in the wrong way—his great speed gets him farther from the ball rather than closer—but really, considering the number of bodies, we should not be allowing several big passing plays consecutively as we did last night.
I'm a firm believer that what it comes down to with this group is confidence and chemistry. Obviously, both of these things come with experience, which really only Coleman, Von Hutchins, and Chris Houston have. I just wish we were utilizing the preseason a bit more to build up the two "big C's."
And here I was, lambasting the preseason as boring in yesterday's column. In hindsight, I actually wouldn't argue with us having a fifth exhibition game—or maybe more like a do-over of one in Detroit—to experiment with a few more looks in the defensive backfield.
Let's get it straight: I by no means "dislike" Owens, Grimes, Eric Brock, Jamaal Fudge, or any of the other young guys who have contributed to the secondary so far. Fudge, in particular, has had two games in which he stood out, but the problem is that each one of them has had an unacceptable breakdown at one point.
I realize we aren't going to be starting all of those guys in the regular season, but I'm a little bit concerned that the unit is going to look nearly as dull as it did last night come Sept. 13.
Here are my suggestions for next week.
- Seeing as how he's no longer needed as a stopgap linebacker (who are you and what have you done with the "merely solid" Curtis Lofton?!) let's see Coy Wire play much more in the secondary. It's where he played before last season, and he is unlike pretty much anyone else currently serving at cornerback or safety in that he's super physical. At the very least, Wire is another veteran presence to put next to the freshies.
- I know most of us came into camp believing he was definitely our nickelback, but I think it's time we saw Von Hutchins in as one of two corners every once in a while. Once again, this is about experience over raw skill, but it's also about giving a guy who just straight-up has not gotten enough burn more time on the field.
- Just play more aggressive at the line. Bump and do a better job marking your man, rather than being concerned about what else is going on on the field.
It's weird that old Brent is both the best and worst when it comes to that last point. He excels at keeping up with his guy, but on one play in each of the past two games, he's gotten caught with his pants down and looking in another direction as his receiver was targeted.
In all honesty, Coleman has been doing a bang-up job as a new leader for this group, but he's limited by the younger fellas' occasional absent-mindedness. It doesn't help that William Moore hasn't been available, of course, but like I said before, there are enough able bodies to stock this secondary.
It's not the apocalypse; our particular struggles don't have me mashing the panic button quite yet. We did manage to beat San Diego (which was named by the Germans...sorry, couldn't resist) last night, and things obviously started looking up after the half.
"Work out the kinks, guys!"