2011 Toledo Preview - Defense
Toledo DE T.J. Fatinikun
Toledo DE T.J. Fatinikun
Posted Jun 15, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Toledo Rocket Defense

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense that was so abysmal two seasons ago played around with a few changes and counted on a few new starters to make a difference, and it all worked well as the Rockets went from miserable to respectable. The pass rush was strong and the secondary was good, but the biggest key was the ability to take the ball away with 20 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. The line should be terrific at getting into the backfield from all four spots, and the linebacking corps, while smallish, can hit thanks to Dan Molls and Isaiah Ballard, two of the MAC's most active defenders. The secondary is loaded with options and should be terrific at coming up with picks as long as T.J. Fatinikun and the front four are hitting the quarterback again on a regular basis.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Dan Molls, 143
Sacks: Malcolm Riley, 5.5
Interceptions: Desmond Marrow, Dan Molls, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Dan Molls
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Terrell Anderson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Christian Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Desmond Marrow
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Molls, 2) DE T.J. Fatinkun, 3) CB Desmond Marrow
Strength of the defense: Experience, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker Size, Tough Running Teams

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The hope going into last year was for the defensive front to be one of the team's most improved areas, and it was doing far more against the run while being stronger at getting into the backfield. With three starters returning and decent size at all four spots, there's no reason for the production to continue.

It's not like T.J. Fatinikun came from out of nowhere, making 20 tackles and two sacks in 2009, but the 6-2, 250-pound junior was special last year earning All-MAC honors with 51 tackles, five sacks, 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. He's built like an outside linebacker, and he moves like it with tremendous quickness off the line and with pure pass rushing skills. He's always being disruptive and he's always in the backfield.

With all the attention paid to Fatinikun on one side, sophomore Christian Smith needs to dominate on the other side with little attention paid to him. The 6-2, 260-pounder doesn't have a lock on the end job, with former tight end Hank Keighley in the mix, but he has the upside to build on his nine tackle, 2.5 tackle-for-loss season with good quickness and great size. The 6-4, 2590-pound Keighley is a natural defensive end with 4.66 speed who moved over to the offensive side, and now he'll move back.

Anchoring the line from the nose will be 6-3, 280-pound senior Johnie Roberts , who started most of last season making 34 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. While he's not built like a typical nose guard, he was a great JUCO recruit out of Pearl River Community College and was a big get for the program. He made a huge difference in the defensive turnaround, while 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Elijah Jones can step in at any time and hold down the job. One of the team's strongest players, Jones will be a big part of the rotation after making six stops.

6-3, 281-pound junior Malcolm Riley is versatile enough to move outside and be a strong defense end, but he's better on the inside where he made 44 tackles with 5.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss. A nice recruit out of Indiana, he's a quick interior pass rusher who played up to his potential last year, but again, he could move outside if 6-4, 285-pound Johnathan Lamb sees time at tackle. The senior started against Northern Illinois and finished the season with just nine tackles, but he has the quickness to be a factor in the backfield at some point.

Watch Out For … A good rotation at tackle. The coaching staff has several options to work with. Jones and Lamb could start without a problem, while Roberts and Riley are good enough and talented enough to move around wherever needed.
Strength: Pass rush. From Fatinikun on the outside and with the quickness from Riley on the inside, the Rockets can get into the backfield from all four spots.
Weakness: Great running teams. The overall stats might be nice, but the Rocket defensive front was flattened by Northern Illinois for 422 rushing yards and seven scores, and Purdue and Boise State ran without a problem. The one good ground game Toledo stopped was Ohio's, holding it to 46 yards.
Outlook: The line was a big improvement last year with several players stepping up and producing in key moments. Fatinikun is a pass rushing terror who'll be turned loose even more, while getting into the backfield on a regular basis won't be a problem. The key will be consistency, especially with the pass rush.
Unit Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: The linebacking corps has to replace 146 tackles with Archie Donald gone from the inside, but there are good players to work around and promising backups who are ready to step up and become bigger factors in the starting rotation.

With Donald gone, the spotlight belongs to junior Dan Molls , a 6-1, 222-pounder who finished second on the team and third in the MAC (Donald was first) with 143 tackles. Not just a run stopper, Molls can also get into the backfield finishing with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He's not all that big in the middle, but he's tough as nails, has excellent range, and he's not afraid to hit anyone. He's a baller.

Trying to step in for Donald will be senior Terrell Anderson , a 6-1, 215-pound senior who made 18 tackles and now should be a major stat-sheet filler. He was supposed to be a top playmaker a few years ago after coming aboard as a top recruit, but he hasn't lived up to his potential. While he'll get a long look, 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Ray Bush is an interesting prospect with good size and the burst to potentially by a terror into the backfield.

Back at the Star is veteran Archie Ballard , a 5-11, 210-pound big hitter who came up with the type of season the coaching staff had been hoping for with 83 tackles and six tackles for loss. Part safety and part linebacker, he gets all over the field and he gets in on seemingly every play. While he's not huge, he can move, while Oklahoma State transfer Jordan Barnes , a 6-1, 240-pound sophomore, has the potential and the talent to take over right away if he doesn't end up working on the weakside.

Watch Out For … The weakside job. While Anderson will get the first shot, the Rockets have several interesting prospects and players who can step in and potentially be better fits. The linebacking corps will likely rotate several players in the spot.
Strength: Molls and Ballard. Molls is a quiet leader who gets on the field, makes a dozen tackles, and then moves on. Ballard showed plenty of promise early in his career, and he turned into a star last year. The two should each earn All-MAC honors.
Weakness: Size. The hope is for Barnes to potentially bring the lumber at 240 pounds, but overall this is a smallish group that might be tough, but gets shoved around by the bigger boys. Overall, the Toledo linebackers are like bigger safeties.
Outlook: The situation is night-and-day better than it was a few years ago. Now the Rockets have two excellent starters, plenty of options for the third spot, and exciting young depth to develop. With a good line up front taking care of things, the linebackers should be free to make plenty of plays.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary gave up too many yards, but it only allowed 16 touchdown passes and just 13 after the opening day loss to Arizona. There are enough good players returning to expect even more production, and after finishing 44th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, the expectations are high.

In one of the team's biggest breaks, senior Desmond Marrow got a sixth year of eligibility after missing time with an injured knee three years ago. With a tremendous work ethic and great tackling skills, Marrow finished fourth on the team with 72 tackles to go along with three picks. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he's a very big defender who's great at beating receivers up.

Working on the Field side will be junior Byron Best , who made 33 tackles with three broken up passes, but he didn't pick off any throws. The 5-9, 200-pound junior has great quickness and was a workout warrior this offseason, but he has to start coming up with plays when the ball is in the air. He'll be backed up by true freshman Keith Suggs , a tremendously fast 5-10, 175-pounder who can work anywhere in the secondary.

With 13-game starter Jermaine Robinson , one of the team's best all-around athletes, suffering an Achilles tendon injury in the bowl game after making 46 tackles at strong safety, 6-0, 199-pound senior Diauntae Morrow , a transfer from Iowa, will get the first look until the starter is ready – if he's ready. Morrow is a veteran who made 40 tackles with two picks, and he's more than fine to step in and take over.

Back at free safety is senior Mark Singer , a 6-1, 194-pound veteran who came up with 73 tackles last season with two picks. Able to hold off several challengers, he was a steady tackler and a big hitter, but he was just okay against the pass. Sophomore Ross Madison will be a backup again after making nine tackles. After a strong offseason, he appears ready to be a major playmaker with 4.46 speed and tremendous all-around athleticism.

Watch Out For … Morrow at strong safety. In a perfect world, Robinson comes back and is fine, but he's more than likely going to be limited early on, if he plays at all. Morrow will be one of the team's top five tacklers.
Strength: Veterans. The Rockets have four strong starters, especially if Robinson is back, and impressive backups who can step in and shine when needed. There's plenty of room to play around.
Weakness: Dinks and dunks. The Rockets didn't give up too many big plays, and they came up with 20 picks, but they also go nickled-and-dimed to death at times allowing 413 yards to Arizona and 403 to Western Michigan in the first three games, while giving up 200 yards or more seven times.
Outlook: The secondary underwent a major talent infusion among the backups last year and improved at all four spots. While there were down moments, the improvement was impressive. The pass rush will help the cause and the experience will be there to be one of the MAC's better defensive backfields.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The placekicking was a disaster, the punting game was awful, and the punt returns were abysmal. There were some bright spots and the coaching staff is working on the issues, but the special teams have a long way to go to be merely decent.

The Rocket kickers combined to connect on 5-of-13 field goals so it's not like there's going to be a drop-off when true freshman J.D. Detmer comes in to battle with Bill Claus for the job. Claus hit 3-of-6 shots and hasn't shown much range. Detmer and Claus are the two top options with Ryan Casano , who hit 2-of-7 chances, hurt going into the fall.

Claus was pushed out at punter and averaged just 38 yards per try on his ten chances, but it's not like sophomore Vince Penza was able to improve the punting game as the Rockets netted a MAC low 31.72 yards per punt.

The bright spot is star receiver Eric Page who was the nation's third-leading kickoff returner averaging 31.11 yards per try, but he struggled on punt returns averaging just 3.79 yards per attempt.

Watch Out For … The kicking game. Casano and Claus aren't the answer, so if Detmer isn't great right away, it could be an ongoing battle to find some semblance of consistency.
Strength: Page. He has to be avoided at all costs on kickoff returns. The kickoff coverage team is solid after allowing just 19.2 yards per try.
Weakness: Placekicking, punt coverage, punting average, and punt returns. There's a ton of work to be done. A TON. More than anything else, the overall kicking game has got to improve.
Outlook: The Rocket special teams were great in 2007 and 2008, okay in 2009, and a complete and utter disaster last season. Page will be given more room to move on punt and kickoff returns, and there are options at placekicker and punter. There's work to be done, and this might end up being the team's main area of concern all offseason.
Unit Rating: 4

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