2011 Southern Miss Preview – Defense

Posted May 13, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Defense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What you need to know: After one too many defensive implosions, head coach Larry Fedora decided to make a dramatic change on defense, hiring coordinator Dan Disch. The coach arrives by way of Illinois, armed with a new 4-2-5 alignment designed to get more playmakers on the field and compete with some of Conference USA's better offenses. The Golden Eagles harbor a nice assortment of talent on the front six, including DE Cordarro Law and LB Korey Williams, which will frustrate opposing lines. A turnaround, however, will depend on the play of the secondary, the weakest defensive link a year ago. Southern Miss allowed 28 touchdown passes, wilting in the red zone. The current edition is a youthful one that's hoping up-and-coming CB Deron Wilson can shake off some offseason issues and return to the team in August.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Korey Williams, 92
Sacks: Cordarro Law, 6
Interceptions: Deron Wilson, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Korey Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star:Junior CB Marcal Robinson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Khyri Thornton
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Senior DE Cordarro Law, 3) Junior Bandit Jamie Collins
Strength of the defense: Edge pressure, the linebackers, creating turnovers, limiting big plays, run defense, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, red zone D

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The Golden Eagles' new 4-2-5 scheme requires their defensive line to be quick, feisty, and always attacking. There'll also be new position in the mix, such as the "Bandit", designed to put better athletes closer to the quarterback. From a personnel standpoint, Southern Miss needs to plug a couple of gaps on the inside after all-star Anthony Gray and veteran John Henderson used up their eligibility.

Reigning second team All-Conference USA DE Cordarro Law is back for one more year to harass opposing quarterbacks. The program's best pass rusher, he had 48 tackles, 11.5 stops for loss, six sacks, and four forced fumbles a year ago. A 6-2, 254-pound senior, he plays with all of the closing speed, acceleration, and backside pressure of an outside linebacker.

If Law is quick, 6-3, 231-pound junior Jamie Collins will be like a bolt of lightning coming off the edge from the new "Bandit" position. A converted weakside linebacker, he's ideally suited to play a hybrid spot that makes the most of a player's ability to rush the passer and drop back to defend the run. Always active, he was second on the team last year with 76 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a pair of picks.

Filling out the inside will be 6-3, 285-pound senior Terrance Pope and 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Khyri Thornton . Pope is a steady plugger and a former defensive end, starting six games and making 22 tackles, a half-dozen stops for loss, and two sacks. The coaching staff, though, is especially excited about the future of Thornton. He got his feet wet a year ago, making 17 tackles, five for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A former commit to South Florida, he possesses the size, strength, and quick feet to evolve into a star in this league.

Behind Pope at tackle is 6-4, 267-pound senior Andrew Burns , who earned his first letter a year ago and is coming off a solid offseason. On the outside, all eyes will be on 6-3, 228-pound sophomore Octavius Thomas, who has a sky-high ceiling. An explosive athlete, with a great motor, he started three games as a rookie and made 18 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss. He simply needs the game to slow down for him so he can start tapping into his natural ability and making more plays.

Watch Out For .... the return of 6-3, 250-pound senior Deddrick Jones . One of the program's three gunshot victims last fall, he's almost all the way back from a serious lung injury. Unable to take contact in the spring, the former starting end is hoping to change that in the summer, giving more depth and an inspirational boost to the defensive line.
Strength: Edge pressure. Now that Collins is joining Law on the outside, the Golden Eagles are going to be hell on opposing offensive tackles. Add in an up-and-comer, like Thomas, and the defense boasts sudden speed off the edge that's going to make quarterbacks very fidgety.
Weakness: Inside depth. While the coaching staff has no issue with Pope or Thornton on the starting unit, the backups are questionable. Burns and Logan Hickman may be seniors, but can either be counted on to stuff the run if a regular gets injured or needs a breather?
Outlook: While Gray and Henderson will be missed from the inside, Thornton is poised to pick up some slack and begin building his own resume in Hattiesburg. At defensive end, the Golden Eagles are quietly excited about the athletes they're lining up to pin their ears back and pressure the pocket.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: With a pair of talented starters back and a shift to a 4-2-5 alignment, job openings will be scarce this fall at linebacker. And depth doesn't figure to be a major headache unless injuries mount. While it's always nice when this group can provide a little unexpected pressure, its primary objective is to fill lanes and stop the other guy's ground game.

Senior Korey Williams considered turning pro early before opting to return for his final year in Hattiesburg. The next in a long line of NFL caliber linebackers from this campus, he's become a fixture on the All-Conference USA squad, perennially leading the Golden Eagles in stops. Last season, he had 92 of them to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Big and physical at 6-2 and 243 pounds, he's more than just a solid all-around athlete, working as hard as anyone on this defense.

At weakside will be 6-3, 229-pound senior Ronnie Thornton, a third-year starter in Hattiesburg. While not nearly as productive as his sophomore year, he still managed to make 61 tackles and six stops for loss. A tremendous athlete, he has the speed and range to fly all over the field and apply pressure wherever it's necessary. Rising fast up the depth chart is 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Alan Howze , who's jumped 6-3, 220-pound senior Jeremy Snowden and is the likely successor to Williams in the middle. Just a special teamer last year, he still needs to add weight, but has shown a good feel for the new defense.

Watch Out For .... the staff to selectively use the linebackers on blitz. It's not going to be a jail break type scenario, but the coaches believe they can unleash Williams or Thornton at opportune times in order to mess with the rhythm of quarterbacks. Two seniors, they have the instincts and timing to pick their spots and make it hurt.
Strength: Range. Few linebackers in the conference are going to cover ground faster than Williams and Thornton. The right combination of athleticism and experience, it's no coincidence that they're never too far from the ball. Both will hunt opponents down, taking good angles and zeroing in their target.
Weakness: Proven depth. It won't be a problem if the starters stay healthy and don't need many blows. However, if the dynamic changes, it could force underclassmen, like Howze and 5-8, 212-pound redshirt freshman Ta'Dren Kennedy into crucial situations before they're ready.
Outlook: In the new alignment, Southern Miss is opting for quality over quantity. Just two traditional linebackers will be in the huddle, but both have all-conference ceilings and big-play potential. Williams, in particular, is a candidate for league Defensive Player of the Year and will be getting paid this time next year.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: The revamped secondary will have five players, including a hybrid known as a "Spur", roaming the field this fall, which is a good thing considering last season's results. The bottom fell out for the Southern Miss pass defense, allowing 23 touchdown passes over the final eight games. Making matters tougher, three regulars, Justin Wilson, C.J. Bailey, and Chico Hunter, have graduated, leaving behind a young and vulnerable group of holdovers.

One of the cornerstones in the secondary will be 6-2, 200-pound senior S Kendrick Presley , an Eagle with all-star aspirations. A second-year starter, he finished third on the team with 63 tackles, adding four stops for loss and a pick. An emotional and physical leader, he has the length to cover taller receivers and the toughness to inch up and defend the running game.

Bucking to join Presley at the other safety position is 5-9, 186-pound sophomore Jacorius Cotton , who lettered as a true freshman, making 11 tackles on special teams. He plays with an attitude and much bigger than his frame. Benefitting from the addition of the "Spur" position, a mix between linebacker and safety, will be 6-1, 197-pound Jerrion Johnson . Well-sized for the role, with the requisite speed and agility, he'll have a chance to make an impact in all areas of the field.

At least for now, the cornerbacks will be 5-10, 159-pound sophomore Alexander Walters at field corner and 6-0, 174-pound junior Marcal Robinson at boundary corner. Neither started a game in 2010, the latter making seven tackles and the former 17. Walters built a nice foundation in his debut out of high school, learning on the fly. Robinson needs to add more muscle, but has the budding cover skills to blossom into consistent pass defender.

Watch Out For .... the status of 5-10, 176-pound sophomore Deron Wilson . One of the rising stars of the defense a year ago, he had some off-field issues a few months back and did not practice in the spring. The Eagles need him back at boundary corner after he debuted with 13 starts, three picks, and a team-best dozen pass breakups.
Strength: Physicality. The Eagles are going to allow receivers to get behind them from time to time, but when they get someone in their crosshairs, they'll light him up. While modestly sized, the defensive backs are intense and physical, wrapping up and driving opponents into the turf. br /> Weakness: Red zone pass defense. In the middle of the field, Southern Miss wasn't too shabby versus the pass. Near the end zone, however, the Golden Eagles leaked like a day-old diaper. The secondary yielded 28 touchdown passes and got progressively worse as the season unfolded.
Outlook: More than any other unit, this is the one that could prevent Southern Miss from reaching its goals this season. The defensive backfield struggled in 2010, and now must rebuild from that point. It won't be easy, especially since the cornerbacks are so young and inexperienced. If Wilson suffers any more off-field setbacks, the situation will worsen even further.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Golden Eagles welcome back one of the nation's best placekickers, last year's punter, and the key parts of a quality return game. What's not to like about the 2011 special teams unit? Not even a certainty to win the job until the summer, senior PK Danny Hrapmann ended up being a revelation for Southern Miss. A former transfer from Southeastern Louisiana, he nailed 26-of-31 field goals, including 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards, to earn All-America honors. He also handled kickoffs and averaged 43 yards on five impromptu punts. The regular punter was junior Peter Boehme , a two-year regular at the position. More of a directional kicker than a true boomer, he averaged a career-high 39.2 yards in 2010.

Both of the Eagles' primary return men are back, junior Tracey Lampley and senior Reggie Hunt . One of the more exciting all-around players in Hattiesburg, Lampley was somewhat bottled up last fall, averaging only 6.3 yards on punts and 19.5 yards on kickoffs. Hunt excelled in his first year out of junior college, leading the team at more than 26 yards a kickoff.

Watch Out For .... for Hunt to take at least one kick back this fall. A 5-8, 174-pound jackrabbit, he came close to scoring his first touchdown on more than one occasion, even returning one kickoff 85 yards. He has the speed and wiggle to be an offensive weapon for the Eagles.
Strength: Hrapmann. While not very big, he sure does have some pop in his leg. His range is outside 50 yards, he kicks with accuracy, and he doesn't fold under pressure. In other words, he's exactly what a special teams coach looks for in his kicker.
Weakness: Kick coverage. Yikes, this was a major weakness in 2010 that needs to be addressed in a hurry. The Golden Eagles allowed three kickoffs to be taken back for touchdowns, and ranked 109th nationally at more than 24 yards a return. The defense deserves better support this year.
Outlook: Hrapmann is once again the cover boy, an ace kicker and an important extension of the offense. From there, however, the Golden Eagles need to do some work, plugging the gaping holes in kickoff coverage and getting a little more distance out of Boehme.
Rating: 7.5

- 2011 Southern Miss Preview | 2011 Southern Miss Offense
- 2011 Southern Miss Defense | 2011 Southern Miss Depth Chart
- Southern Miss Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006