You’re taking a macro view of this instead of looking at each position group separately.
Do we have talent on this team? Yes, some of the best talent we’ve had in a long time. Unfortunately, it is consolidated into certain position groups leaving others lacking. At OL and CB, we lack talent.
At CB, we started a former walk-on and a guy converted from WR; both were seeing their first action at that position this year. The 3rd guy in the rotation has been an inconsistent (at best) performer for 3 years and couldn’t beat either of those two out. The 4th guy was a true freshman that got hurt early on. My guess is that we gave cushions to avoid getting beat constantly because of the lack of talent. Even with the cushions, the guys out there regularly made incorrect reads and breaks or dropped easy interceptions (Winchester one against Memphis being the most significant). I did breakdowns early in the season; any time we played tight man on the outside, the corners were usually burned (whether the QB made the throw or the WR made the catch is a different question). Going into next year, Myres and Johnson should be in the rotation, but I hope some of the younger guys can step up to help out as we just don’t have the talent out there we are used to (WJax, DJ, the Wilsons).
At OL, we brought back a lot of experience, but that was from a line that was one of the worst in CFB last year. I don’t necessarily think we went zone-read as I think there may have been some slight changes to what we were already running. One thing, I believe Noble played hurt all year (remember the wrist injury he had in training camp) as he just didn’t look the same as he had the last few years. He was constantly dominated by bigger guys and had snapping issues early in the season. Marcus Oliver, thank god he came here, just isn’t an every down lineman. He was often out of place on running plays, missed key blocks, and often looked lost out there when asked to go to the 2nd level (something that’s been the case his entire career). He’s a decent pass protector, but was a weakness in the run game. Braylon Jones on the other side was a very good pass protector, but struggled making the transition to guard in the run game; he was actually one of our stronger run blockers last year at LT. I expect the staff to look at moving him to RT next season and think he’ll be more comfortable there. The tackles were pretty good in both facets and we usually saw more success when they were the lead blockers. On that last point, our TEs weren’t good, which hurt when trying to run off tackle. I thought Brooker did a good job early in the season, but the staff decided Leslie was the better option. I still don’t understand that decision as Leslie wasn’t a good blocker or receiver. Lastly, our WRs were terrible when asked to block this year which killed any option to run outside. If we want to be successful running the ball, we need to improve a lot.