2011 Ball State Preview – Defense
Ball State LB Travis Freeman
Ball State LB Travis Freeman
Posted Jun 12, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ball State Cardinal Defense

Ball State Cardinals

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The D might have finished tenth in the MAC in total defense and scoring defense, but it wasn't all that bad. The pass rush was non-existent and the run defense was soft, and now the hope will be that experience translates into more production. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman spent the last four years at Elon, and he's great at putting together top-shelf run defenses. That could be a problem right away with a line that has experience, but not a lot of talent. The secondary should be one of the team's biggest strengths with safety Sean Baker and corner Jason Pinkston two of the MAC's better pickoff artists. Middle linebacker Travis Freeman leads an experienced, but smallish corps that's built like a bunch of safeties, but can move.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Freeman, 109
Sacks: Several with 1
Interceptions: Sean Baker, 6

Star of the defense: Senior SS Sean Baker
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Ryan Hartke
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Aaron Morris
Best pro prospect: Baker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Baker, 2) LB Travis Freeman, 3) CB Jason Pinkston
Strength of the defense: Experience, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Front Seven Size

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive line couldn't get into the backfield last year, even with Robert Eddins coming up with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss, and was mediocre against the run finishing 11th in the MAC in yards allowed. Four starters return and there's good enough depth to expect more production.

Trying to replace Eddins is senior Ryan Hartke , a 6-4, 228-pound senior who saw a little time last year but didn't do anything making just two tackles in six games. He's not big, but he's very quick and is quick off the ball at the Rush End. He'll combine with 6-0, 214-pound senior Lorren Womack , a safety-sized defender who has been a linebacker, but is now going to be tried out on the end to make him a pass rusher. He's not going to stop anyone in the running game, but he has wheels.

6-3, 249-pound senior Andrew Puthoff started every game last year finishing with 34 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. The former running back has the speed and the skills to be a pass rusher, and he has showed flashes, but he wasn't able to take advantage of all the attention paid to Eddins on the other side. Sophomore Matthew Mosley got a little bit of work in his first year making 13 tackles, and now the 6-2, 231-pounder will use his speed to be more of a pass rusher. He has the skills, and he has to show them off in the rotation.

6-1, 290-pound sophomore Nathan Ollie is one of the team's biggest options on the defensive interior, and he showed late last year that he's ready to hold down the job after making 13 tackles and a sack. Ready to roll as a true freshman, now he knows what he's doing. He'll be backed up by sophomore Joel Cox , a 6-1, 275-pounder who made two tackles in his limited time.

6-0, 279-pound sophomore Adam Morris is a bowling ball of a tackle who came up with a nice year making 23 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He's a better interior pass rusher than his stats might show, and he's a decent clogger on the nose who gets in on tackles. Only four of his 23 stops were unassisted. 6-2, 309-pound junior Donovan Jarrett is the key backup in the middle and the biggest player up front. He's an active option who isn't just a stick in the mud, and he can work at either tackle spot. Now he has to do something after making just four tackles.

Watch Out For … Hartke and Womack to be turned loose. The Cardinals need someone to replace Eddins or else it'll be uh-oh time for the pass rush. Puthoff simply hasn't gotten the job done, so if there isn't production from the Rush End, there won't be any hits on a quarterback.
Strength: Experience. There's decent depth and there's plenty of starting experience coming back, and now all the time logged in has to translate into more production.
Weakness: Pass rush. Eddins was everything to the line and the pass rush last year, and even with all he was able to do, no one else was able to step up and produce. There isn't enough of a push from the interior, and the ends have to use their quickness to be disruptive.
Outlook: The Ball State line has plenty of veterans and some good backups, but there isn't any one guy who's going to make anyone worry. This won't be an utter disaster against the run, but unless there are more plays behind the line, this is hardly going to be a strength.
Unit Rating: 4.5


State of the Unit: Two of the teams top three tacklers are back with the one loss, Davyd Jones, gone from the outside after making 66 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. This is an athletic, active group that flies around the ball, but has to be more disruptive.

Back as the leader of the front seven is the team's top tackler, junior Travis Freeman , who made 109 stops with a sack and six tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 223 pounds, he has been the top starter since the opening game of 2010 and should be in the mix for all-star honors. He was a major recruiting coup coming from Cleveland after playing for Ted Ginn, Sr. The bigger schools were scared off by his lack of size, but he's a hitting machine with great speed.

Sophomore Aaron Morris is a corner-sized 6-0, 195-pounds, and now he'll get a chance to start on the strongside, after making 23 tackles as a reserve. A great tackler who doesn't miss an open field stop, he's tough for his size and he has the speed to get into the backfield. He'll be backed up by senior Zac Jordan, a 5-10, 198-pound scout team star who hasn't seen much of the field. He'll get his chance this year.

Junior Tony Martin stepped up in a full-time job last year making 76 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss on outside. Able to play either outside spot, he'll start out on the weakside to use his pass defending skills and good quickness in space. A great athlete, he moves well and is always around the ball. Now he should be more of a pass rusher.

5-11, 216-pound junior Justin Cruz saw plenty of time as a true freshman on special teams and as a key reserve. Last year he got enough work to make 47 tackles with two tackles for loss, and now he'll play an even bigger role in the rotation with Martin on the weakside and as the backup in the middle. He's not big, but he holds up well and it ultra-feisty.

Watch Out For … Martin to be more of a pass rusher. The line isn't going to get the job done, so Martin will likely find a job as a bit of a specialist on key downs. He has the burst to make big things happen.
Strength: Experience. This was a veteran group going into last year, and now the experience is a major plus. It'll be even more of a factor next year with the four top linebackers coming back. This isn't a big group, but everyone can hit.
Weakness: Size. Being tough is one thing, but this is a safety-sized linebacking corps that'll have a hard time holding up against an offense with any sort of power.
Outlook: This is a functional linebacking corps that'll put up stats because of the positions, but there aren't a slew of playmakers outside of Freeman. The outside linebackers aren't big, so if they aren't making big, disruptive plays, they're not doing their jobs.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary turned into a plus last year even though there wasn't any pass rush to help the cause. Yes, the stats are helped a bit because most offenses chose to run the ball on the woeful Cardinal defensive front, but the secondary did its part, too. With most of the key starters returning, there should be even more production.

The star of the secondary and the defense will once again by senior Sean Baker, a 6-1, 204-pound veteran who finished second on the team with 88 tackles and a team-leading six picks. The Second Team All-MAC star is a terrific-hitting strong safety with 243 career stops and 16 career interceptions. He's all over the field and has to be avoided at all costs. Backing him up will be the combination of redshirt freshman Brian Jones and J.C. Wade , two speedy defenders who can play either safety position. The 5-10, 175-pound Jones is ultra-quick, while the 6-1, 180-pound Wade is a pure tackler.

Senior Kyle Hoke , son of former head coach and current Michigan head man, Brady Hoke, was a special teamer over the first part of his career before getting his chance, and he was terrific over the first five games making 22 tackles before getting knocked out for the year with an ankle injury. He's not big at 5-11 and 193 pounds, but he fights to get to the ball. 6-1, 197-pound senior Joshua Howard stepped in when Hoke got hurt and finished up with 17 tackles with a pick. Able to play any spot in the secondary, he has corner speed and good hitting ability. He's very smart and very athletic.

Back at a starting corner spot is junior Jason Pinkston , a 6-2, 177-pound ball-hawker who was thrown to the wolves right away as a freshman and used his experience to come up with a nice 61-tackle, four-pick season with seven broken up passes. He's not a blazer, but he's always around the ball and he's great at beating up smaller targets. He'll be backed up by junior Armand Dehaney , a plucky 5-8, 165-pounder who made 14 tackles in a reserve role. He could see time in nickel and dime situations, but the former star high school running back has to do more when the ball is in the air. A great athlete, he can jump out of the stadium.

Sophomore Jeffrey Garrett is back at corner after seeing time as a reserve making five tackles. 5-9 and 170 pounds, he's a smallish defender who'll get his chance to do more on the other side of Pinkston, and he'll get picked on. Ultra-quick, he has the tools to be a playmaker who can get his hands on the ball. 5-9, 175-pound true sophomore Quintin Cooper made ten tackles last year and will be a part of the corner mix. He came up with 13 interceptions in high school and has No. 1, shut-down corner potential with a little more work.

Watch Out For … Garrett and Cooper. The Cardinals need production on the other side of Pinkston, and they two are among the team's most talented and skills defensive backs. They'll get plenty of chances to make big plays, and they need to come through.
Strength: Baker and Pinkston. The Cardinals have two All-MAC performers who are proven producers. They can pick off passes, make the big hit, and can change around games. As long as these two are on the field, the rest of the secondary will be solid.
Weakness: The pass rush. The defensive line was bad at getting to the quarterback last year, and that was with Robert Eddins shining at one end. The secondary will likely get even less help this year against the better passing quarterbacks.
Outlook: Helped by Baker and Pinkston, the Cardinals have a strength in the secondary. As long as the second corner situation can quickly emerge as a plus, and if Hoke can stay healthy at free safety, there will be plenty to get fired up about. If there's a pass rush from the front four, the defensive backfield should be lights out.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The loss of PK Ian McGarvey will be big. All he did was hit 14-of-17 field goals last year, and now it'll be a combination of junior Steven Schott and redshirt freshman Scott Secor to give it a shot. McGarvey didn't hit many bombs, but he was consistent. All that matters is that Schott and/or Secor can hit the midrange shots.

Junior Scott Kovanda had to replace punter Chris Miller and his 43.5-yard average a few years ago, and he had a good first season and wasn't bad last year averaging 40 yards per kick with 16 put inside the 20 and with 20 fair catches. He didn't get a whole bunch stats-wise after too many touchbacks, but he can hang it up high. With two years of experience, he knows what he's doing.

Sophomore WR Jamil Smith is only 5-8 and 137 pounds, but he's an ultra-quick punt returner. He only averaged 8.6 yards per try, but he can do far more with a little bit of room to move. RB Eric Williams is a special kickoff returner averaging 25.5 yards per try last year after averaging 23.9 yards per attempt two years ago.

Watch Out For … Kovanda to have a stronger season. Ball State was 100th in the nation in net punting, but Kovanda wasn't too bad. He has a good, accurate leg, but he put seven kicks in the end zone. A little more pop would do wonders for his stats.
Strength: Williams. He broke off a 92-yard return for a score, and he can be a gamebreaker any time he touches the ball. The same goes for Smith, who's overdue to bust out a big punt return.
Weakness: Replacing McGarvey. He was rock-solid from inside the 45-yard line, and he'll be missed. The offense isn't going to be a powerhouse, and the Cardinals have to score whenever they get a chance.
Outlook: The Ball State special teams were great in coverage, allowing just 7.8 yards per punt return and 19.4 yards per kick return, and the return game is solid. The special teams, overall, will be good if Schott and/or Secor are merely adequate, but they could be great with just a little more production across the board.
Unit Rating: 6.5

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