2011 Akron Preview – Defense
Akron LB Brian Wagner
Akron LB Brian Wagner
Posted Jun 11, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Akron Zip Defense

Akron Zips

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove knows what he's doing, working as the leader for the Nebraska and Wisconsin defenses for more than a decade, and now he has the experience to start doing more with a D that finished 99th in the nation in yards allowed and 106th in scoring defense after changing out of the quirky 3-3-5 alignment. The line has to start getting to the quarterback on a regular basis, but top pass rusher Shawn Lemon is gone and there aren't many sure-thing playmakers who can get into the backfield. Brian Wagner is a special linebacker with MAC Defensive Player of the Year potential, and he's flanked by good veterans who'll put up stats. Three starters return to a secondary that started to come up with picks late last year, but has to prove it can stop anyone who can throw a forward pass.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brian Wagner, 130
Sacks: Hasan Hazime, 2.5
Interceptions: Anthony Holmes, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Brian Wagner
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore SS L.T. Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Anthony Holmes
Best pro prospect: Wagner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wagner, 2) DT Oren Wilson, 3) CB Manley Waller
Strength of the defense: Experience, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Pass Defense

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front struggled in the 4-3, when it came to getting into the backfield, but it wasn't too bad at coming up with stops against the run. The linebackers had a big say in the matter, but the line did a decent job. Now it has to replace two starters up front and has work to do at tackle.

The team's best pass rusher, Shawn Lemon, is gone after making seven sacks and being a top disruptive force from his hybrid role. The line will have to pick up the slack with JUCO transfer John Griggs coming in from Nassau CC after starting out his career at Iowa. A pure pass rusher, the 6-5, 260-pounder is a great athlete with excellent size and a burst off the ball, and now Akron should benefit from the great recruit. He'll combine with sophomore Nico Caponi on the outside after the 6-2, 264-pounder made ten tackles with a tackle for loss in his limited role. Still emerging after his good true freshman season, he'll be a huge part of the rotation.

6-4, 270-pound senior Hasan Hazime started eight times and is the team's leading returning pass rusher making 2.5 sacks with 7.5 tackles for loss with 46 tackles. With excellent size, he's a perfect fit for a 3-4 line, but he has shocking 4.5 speed and quickness for a player of his size. The Canada native is still learning the game, but he's experienced after being a big part of the D for the last two seasons. 6-2, 250-pound senior Shane Shead hasn't seen any real time, making one appearance last year, but he'll get the backup job behind Hazime.

6-2, 275-pound senior Dan Marcoux is the team's most experienced returning defensive tackle starting six times an seeing time in every game making 45 tackles with 1.5 sack sand 3.5 tackles for loss. A good inside presence who can operate on the nose, but he's better as a pure one gap tackle with the athleticism to get into the backfield.

It'll be a three-man fight, most likely, for the other tackle job. 6-3, 294-pound senior Oren Wilson started out his career at Michigan State where he worked as a nose tackle, and now he has to find a spot either at offensive tackle or in the middle of the Akron defensive line. Kicked off the Spartans after being sentenced to 21 days in jail for an assault in a residence hall, now he's trying to resurrect his career somewhere on the Akron line – on either side of the ball. 6-4, 290-pound senior James Harvey took over on the nose midway through the 2009 season making 23 tackles, and last year he made 16 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. Senior Phil Tonga is a 6-4, 275-pound former JUCO transfer who hasn't done anything yet for the Zip D line, but will likely start out playing behind Marcoux.

Watch Out For … Griggs. The line needs a dangerous pass rusher and Griggs has the talent and the burst to be a breakout star. With Hazime taking away attention on the other side, Griggs could be a five-sack playmaker.
Strength: Size. There aren't any 300-pounders in the middle, but the line is full of good-sized players all across the front four. Having a 270-pound end in Hazime and a 260-pounder in Griggs will help.
Weakness: Proven pass rush. Without Lemon helping the cause, the line will rely on Griggs and Hazime or bust when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Akron came up with just 17 sacks last season and needs to do even more to help out the porous pass defense.
Outlook: The front four has size, experience, and options, but it needs to find young playmakers in a big hurry. With only two non-seniors on the projected two-deep this is a veteran bunch that needs to set the tone for a defense with way too many problems to overcome.
Unit Rating: 4.5


State of the Unit: The linebacking corps could be among the best in the MAC great experience and a star to work around, but second-leading tackler Mike Thomas, who made 113 tackles, will be missed. Even so, some key reserves are ready to step into bigger roles and should put up big numbers as long as everyone can stay healthy.

Junior Brian Wagner has been a star from the moment he stepped into the starting lineup making 132 tackles as a freshman and following it up with a team-leading 130 tackles with two sacks and two interceptions. The 6-2, 220-pound man in the middle has the speed and athleticism to work on the outside, but he's a rock on the inside registering double-digit stops in three of the last four games and in 15 of his 24 career games. An star with MAC Defensive Player of the Year potential if he becomes more of a pass rusher, he has unlimited range and is seemingly in on every play.

Back at a starting spot on the outside is 6-3, 230-pound senior Matt Little, a good-sized veteran who can play in the middle but was able to come up with 46 tackles with four broken up passes on the outside. Steady more than spectacular, he came up with plenty of good plays against the run but he didn't do anything flashy. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Jamar Williams, a smallish but athletic defender who made 162 tackles as a high school senior. He can also be used as a pass rusher.

6-1, 230-pound junior Troy Gilmer made 24 tackles in his time in the rotation on the outside. A great athlete, it's inexcusable that he hasn't done much of anything to get to the quarterback so far. The quickness and experience are there to be a statistical star. 6-0, 195-pound sophomore ShelDon Miller is a defensive back-like outside linebacker who had a strong first season making 28 tackles, but he has the ability to be sent into the backfield to do much more.

Watch Out For … Little and Gilmer. Wagner is such a rock in the middle that the outside linebackers are going to be turned loose to come up with big plays at will – in theory. They're too experienced and too quick to not do more.
Strength: Wagner. With 232 stops in his first two seasons he's a special MAC tackler, and everything else works around him. He's the type of veteran rock to build a defensive front seven around.
Weakness: Plays in the backfield. The linebackers didn't do nearly enough to make big plays and didn't do nearly enough to make things happen behind the line. Wagner was fine at times and Gilmer and Little can move, but this group simply isn't going to be all that disruptive.
Outlook: The Akron linebackers have a stud in Thomas and experience in Gilmer and Little, to bring size and veteran ability. This group can tackle and the stops will come against the run, but the game-changing plays have to come.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary was strong in 2009 without the benefit of a pass rush. The 2010 defensive backfield didn't get any help from a pass rush, either, and it didn't do much of anything allowing 264 yards per game and fiving up 29 scores. Three starters return and there's hope that experience turns into production.

Senior Manley Waller was the lone returning starter to last year's secondary and he did his part finishing third on the team with 52 tackles with two picks and five broken up passes. At 5-8 and 165 pounds the veteran corner isn't all that big, but he's lightning quick, tough, and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty to come up with the big stop.

Back as a key starter is sophomore Anthony Holmes, a 6-0, 180-pounder who came up with 49 tackles with a team-leading three picks as a true freshman. Normally he's a safety but he can play corner with good size and great range. If he ends up at safety, 5-11, 170-pound sophomore Emmanuel Lartey will step in after making two tackles in his first season. One of the team's top recruits, the Georgia native is a strong athlete.

Junior Josh Richmond finished fourth on the team with 49 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes, and now that he knows what he's doing, the veteran free safety should be even more of playmaker. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he's not all that big, but the former high school running back and cousin of former NBA star Mitch Richmond can move. 6-0, 180-pound senior Doug Richardson went from being a decent reserve to a strong part of the secondary making 37 tackles with a sack.

The new starter in the group is 6-0, 186-pound sophomore L.T. Smith, a promising strong safety who was one of the team's better recruits. He has good hitting skills and good upside, but he'll have to hold off Bre' Ford, a 5-11, 200-pound former star high school running back with corner quickness in the body of a safety.

Watch Out For … Richmond to do even more. The Zips need key playmakers at safety, and Richmond has the range and the skills to be more dangerous against the pass after coming up with just one pick and three broken up passes.
Strength: Experience. With three decent returning starters the secondary will know what it's doing. Waller and Holmes have good upside as a MAC corner tandem that can hold its own against most of the league's top receiving twosomes.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Zips came up with a paltry eight interceptions last year with five of them coming in the final three games. That means that Akron came up with just three picks over the first nine games and went a seven game stretch with just one interception. Making it worse for the secondary is that two of the interceptions came from LB Brian Wagner.
Outlook: The pass defense was supposed to take a dip with several new starters in the mix last year, and it did. While the big plays started to come over the final few games of the season the secondary got torched on a regular basis. There won't be a killer pass rush to help the cause, but there's enough experience returning to make up for the lack of pressure.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Gone is Igor Iveljic, a decent kicker who hit 9-of-14 attempts on the year. The hope is for true freshman A.J. Fox to step in and be ready to shine right away. A deadly consistent short-range kicker, he also has a terrific leg as a possible punter averaging over 47 yards a try as a high school senior.

The Akron punting game finished sixth in the MAC but was 90th in the nation. Senior Zack Campbell only averaged 37.8 yards per kick put 20 inside the 20 and forced 22 fair catches. He has a good leg, but his job is to be accurate. He had lots of practice with 81 kicks.

The return games were among the worst in America so Jeremy LaFrance and Jalil Carter won't be missed. The jobs are going to be wide open going into the season. Safety Josh Richmond will get a long look as the main punt returner, but it'll be an open casting call for the kick return jobs.

Watch Out For … Fox. He should be an upgrade and should lock down the kicker job for the next four years. He won't miss much from inside the 40.
Strength: Coverage teams. They're not bad compared to the rest of the special teams. Allowing just 6.9 yards per punt return and 20.8 yards per kickoff return is okay. Not great, but okay.
Weakness: Return game. There are lots of problems with the special teams, but the MAC's second-worst punt and kickoff return games, with the Zips finishing 113th in the nation in punt returns and 112th in kickoff returns.
Outlook: Miserable for the last two seasons, there's nowhere to go but up. Fox should be an upgrade at placekicker while Campbell knows what he's doing, even if he doesn't blast away. The return game can't and won't be any worse.
Unit Rating: 4.5

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