2011 Western Kentucky Preview – Defense
WKU DE Jared Clendenin
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Western Kentucky Hilltopper Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The youth movement of the last few seasons should start to pay off for a defense that was miserable two years ago, better last year, and promising going into 2010. While WKU allowed 380 yards per game and gave up 33 points per outing, it was far better against the pass and got several players into the rotation. The line is full of veterans, but a pass rush has to come from Jared Clendenin, Bo Adebayo and Quanterus Smith on the outside for a team that's been among the worst in America at quarterback sacks over the last few years. The secondary should be a strength with a pair of great-looking sophomore corners in Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright, along with veteran Derrius
Brooks, but the issue could be at linebacker where
Thomas Majors will be tough to replace.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Quanterus Smith
Tackles: Ryan Beard, 71
Sacks: Quanterus Smith, 4
Interceptions: Derrius Brooks, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Tye Golden
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Tyree Robinson
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Jared Clendenin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Clendenin, 3) S Ryan Beard
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Line Experience
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush
State of the Unit: The defensive line has struggled over the last few seasons, and while there were improvements last year, the line still stunk. WKU finished 118th in the nation against the run in 2009 and was 118th in tackles for loss, and last year it was 86th in the country against the run and 83rd in tackles for loss. Three starters are back and there are some good pieces, but the production has to follow.
Back at one end is 6-3, 270-pound senior Jared Clendenin is a big, strong veteran who got bigger over the last year and now has to do even more. He made 38 tackles with 2.5 sacks with five tackles for loss, and while he's not a speed rusher in any way, he'll once again work on the end where he started every game last year. 6-4, 230-pound junior Cole Tischer will once again work in the rotation after seeing time in 11 games and getting the start against Kentucky. He only made two tackles, but the former linebacker is a quick defender with a good motor.
The other end situation should be more interesting with 6-5, 246-pound junior Quanterus Smith returning after starting 11 games last year and leading the team with four sacks to go along with 47 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. A hybrid of a pass rusher, he's not just a specialist finishing fifth on the team in tackles, but he gets a good enough burst off the ball to be the main man on third downs. He'll combine with 6-4, 267-pound senior Bo Adebayo, who was listed as the starter going into the summer despite making just 11 tackles with a tackle for loss. A disruptive defender in practices, he needs to show early on that he can be a legitimate all-around end.
Back on the nose is junior Jamarcus Allen, a 5-11, 271-pound tough player on the interior who started every game making 26 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. Hurt early on in his career, he managed to return to form to be the anchor. He's not great at getting into the backfield, and he's not huge, but he's a decent veteran. 6-1, 272-pound junior James Hervey got a few starts at tackle and was a key reserve throughout, making 12 tackles with two tackles for loss and half a sack. A better interior pass rusher than Allen, he'll work at both spots at times.
6-2, 290-pound junior Rammel Lewis worked as a key reserve throughout 2009 making 26 tackles and a tackle for loss, but he didn't see much time last year making just five stops. The biggest body on the line, he needs to be more of a run stopper, while 6-0, 283-pound junior Kenny Martin is more of a nose tackle playing one spot over. A 12-game starter, he only made 16 tackles with a sack, and while he'll get starting time again on the inside, he can also work on the end if needed against the stronger running teams.
Watch Out For … the defensive tackle rotation. Martin didn't do enough as the starter throughout last year, and he might end up on the nose with his squatty size and leverage. He needs to play stronger and tougher, while Lewis will see more time because of his bulk.
Strength: Experience. All four starters are back and the reserves are almost as good. There should be one of the best rotations the line has had in years.
Weakness: Pass rush. This has been a problem for the last several years finishing 115th in the nation with a sad 12 stops as a team with only eight coming from the line. Clendenin and Smith are too experienced and too promising to not be better.
Outlook: After finishing dead last in the nation in sacks, the production improved a little bit, but there has to be far, far more production to finally turn things around for the struggling defense. With so many veterans and so much depth back, this group has to find one thing it can do well. There's a chance this could be the strength of the defense, but the line has to be night and day better.
Unit Rating: 4.5
State of the Unit: Gone is Thomas Majors, a heart-and-soul defensive leader who made 206 tackles over his two seasons from his spot in the middle. There will be a rotation at both outside spots with several players getting involved, but the corps will be struggling to find itself early on with so many new faces in the mix.
Who replaced Majors? 6-2, 226-pound junior Tyran Golden was expected to be a major factor from the start of his career, but he struggled early on and was mostly a special teamer last season finishing with just two tackles. He's a tall, quick defender with good range, but he has to prove he can be a steady run stopper like Majors was. He'll be backed up by sophomore Mike Federspiel, a good-sized 6-3, 223-pound option who mostly worked on special teams. A good athlete, he could play any of the three linebacking positions.
The strongside job will feature a steady rotation between 6-0, 225-pound junior Tyler Julian, who has yet to see field in his first few seasons but was able to do enough in practices to get on top of the depth chart going into the fall, and sophomore Xavius Boyd, a 6-2, 210-pound speedster who made 23 tackles with two tackles for loss in his first year. A safety playing linebacker, he's physical enough to handle the work. He started three games on the strongside and four games on the weakside.
6-3, 229-pound senior Ben Duvall didn't get any starts and only made eight tackles, but he's ready for the weakside job. A pure tackler, he should be great in the open field and he should be a stat-sheet filler. Sophomore Bar'ee Boyd is a 6-1, 224-pound speedster who has the most all-around talent of any of the WKU linebackers. He made 11 stops in his true freshman season, but he has the ability and the range to do far more once he gets more of a chance.
Watch Out For … a rotation. Don't get comfortable with whatever the starting three on the depth chart is, because it might change on a weekly basis until the right combination is found.
Strength: Athleticism. There are plenty of quick players and plenty of good athletes to go around. The program did a good job over the last two years of getting guys who can run, and this group should swarm.
Weakness: Experience. With two of the team's top three tacklers gone, and with few proven veterans to count on, it should take a little while to find the best three players for the spots.
Outlook: Losing Majors hurts, and not having Orlando Misaalefua will be a problem, but the hope will be for a strength in numbers situation with six players getting involved early on. Someone has to step up and be the star of the unit right away and be the playmaker to work around.
Unit Rating: 4
State of the Unit: Considering there wasn't any pass rush to help the cause, the secondary did a solid job allowing just 203 yards per game and doing a decent job throughout the year. While there weren't many high-octane passing games to deal with, and there were problems late allowing more than 300 yards in two of the last three games, the pass defense was a relative strength.
The free safety spot should be the best part of the veteran secondary with two good prospects to work either at the position or as a nickel back. 5-11, 182-pound junior Kareem Peterson stepped in as a true freshman and turned into one of the team's top reserves finishing fourth on the team with 57 tackles, and last year he was a spot starter throughout the year 41 tackles and a pick. If he can stay healthy, he'll be the main man, but 6-0, 193-pound senior Ryan Beard is the team's leading returning tackler making 71 stops with two broken up passes. Hurt throughout the 2009 season, he stayed healthy, started six games at free safety and the final three games of the year at strong safety, and now he'll work where needed. Great against the run, he's mediocre when the ball is in the air.
5-11, 221-pound sophomore Kiante Young is like another linebacker playing strong safety. He got six starts on the year and turned into a steady playmaker with 41 tackles with a pick. He's a big hitter who could be the tone-setter for the secondary, while 5-11, 190-pound redshirt freshman Ricardo Singh is an extremely quick prospect who can play any spot in the secondary.
Starting again at one corner spot is 5-10, 192-pound sophomore Arius Wright, who saw time in every game as a true freshman and came up with 36 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. A terrific open field tackler, he's good on an island and should be able to lock down the job for the next three years after starting eight times. 5-10, 185-pound senior Derrius Brooks is one of the team's fastest players and good enough to be used as a kick returner if needed. A former receiver, he made 36 tackles with a team-leading three picks with one of them going for a score against Louisiana. He started four games at corner and will move around the secondary to see time.
5-10, 198-pound sophomore Tyree Robinson took over the starting job early on as a true freshman and started the last nine games finishing with 32 tackles with a team-leading seven broken up passes. An active playmaker with good size, he's a reliable corner who doesn't miss a stop. 5-8, 183-pound junior William Simmons will either work at running back or corner. He hasn't seen the field yet, but he's one of the team's fastest players and is overdue to produce in some way.
Watch Out For … Robinson and Wright. The sophomores are dangerous young corners who proved last year that they could handle the work, and now they should blossom into top Sun Belt playmakers with speed, experience, and playmaking ability.
Strength: Veterans. This was an experienced group going into last season, but several old guys were pushed out by more talented new guys. Call it an upgrade for the secondary as three sophomores will grow more and more into their jobs.
Weakness: Pass rush. There hasn't been one in years at WKU. While there are plenty of good options and veterans coming back to the defensive front, there's little proven production into the backfield.
Outlook: Already decent last year, now the secondary should be terrific with good depth to rotate in with several good starters. This isn't a finished product, and the secondary should be the best in the league next year with one more year of experience, but it won't be bad. If there's any semblance of a pass rush, the production should improve immediately.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Let's give this another shot. Senior Casey Tinius had problems last year hitting just 6-of-15 kicks and showing no range whatsoever. He nailed a 47-yarder against ULM, but he missed eight attempts from beyond 40 yards. He was decent from short range, but he needs to be more consistent.
The punting game was among the worst in America netting just 33.34 yards per try. Sophomore Hendrix Brakefield will give it another shot after averaging 40.5 yards per kick with 17 put inside the 20. At 6-4 and 223 pounds he's a big kicker with a great leg, and he'll air if out from time to time.
As if Bobby Rainey isn't doing enough for the offense, he's going to try to revitalize the return game. The Hilltoppers averaged just 8.1 yards per punt return and 21.1 yards per kickoff return, and now Rainey and Tyree Robinson will combine to handle the work.
Watch Out For … Tinius. In 2009 he was good from deep but couldn't hit on a regular basis from inside the 40. Last year, he was solid from close and lousy from any decent distance. Can he put it all together? His improvement would be a huge difference for the offense.
Strength: Rainey. Any time the ball is in his hands it's a good thing. He could be a gamebreaker of a return man, and Robinson can certainly add some flash, too.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The plackicking was lousy and the punting game was abysmal, but the coverage teams were particularly galling allowing 11.8 yards per punt and 23.5 yards per kickoff return. The last thing the team needs is field position problems.
Outlook: The special teams needs an overhaul, but there are some good pieces in place. Brakefield is a big-legged punter who should be better, and Tinius has been around long enough to potentially be more consistent. Rainey could be a terrific returner from the start.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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