2011 Tulsa Preview - Defense
Tulsa LB Curnelius Arnick
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Like the foreman of a manufacturing plant, new coordinator Brent Guy is staring at a bunch of shiny new parts. His job description? Put them in the right place and transform them into a finished product. Guy inherits a lot of talent and athleticism, including eight starters and a slew of possible all-stars. However, the unit is still somewhat raw and prone to getting burned, especially through the air. Guy's first move was to shift from the old 3-3-5 alignment to a more traditional 4-3, putting pressure on the team to develop more run-stopping tackles. The Hurricane will continue to fly around the field, creating turnovers and making plays behind the line. There are playmakers at every level, from DE Tyrunn Walker and linebackers Curnelius Arnick and Shawn Jackson on the front seven to safeties Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil out in centerfield.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Curnelius Arnick
Tackles: Curnelius Arnick, 115
Sacks: Shawn Jackson, 8.5
Interceptions: Dexter McCoil, 6
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Lowell Rose
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Shawn Jackson
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Tyrunn Walker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Arnick, 2) Jackson, 3) Sophomore S Marco Nelson
Strength of the defense: Takeaways, linebacker, safety, defensive end, overall athleticism, creating pressure
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, allowing the big play, the interior of the line
State of the Unit: The hiring of new defensive coordinator Brent Guy has facilitated a number of changes on this side of the ball. The most obvious one is a switch from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 alignment. While the Hurricane feels confident about its collection of defensive ends, an already tenuous situation at tackle will be an even bigger sore spot with the need for two additional players on the two-deep.
The recruitment of 6-3, 256-pound senior DE Tyrunn Walker from junior college paid immediate dividends for Tulsa in 2010. The team's best pass rusher from jump street, he earned honorable mention all-league by making 43 tackles, 12 stops for loss, 5.5 sacks, and a couple of fumble recoveries. Explosive and physical, he has a healthy appetite for making plays behind the line.
Providing a solid bookend to Walker is 6-4, 275-pound junior Cory Dorris , a starter in each of the last two seasons. He's added weight, improving his ability to defend the run, yet will still get penetration. Last year's totals included 46 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, and five hurries. Senior Durrell Finch , in his second year out of Chabot (Calif.) Junior College, is making a pitch for more playing time with a terrific offseason. Although he played sparingly a year ago, he has the 6-5, 232-pound frame to get around the edge in a hurry.
The favorites to man the interior are 6-2, 300-pound senior Darrell Zellars and 6-2, 282-pound junior Derrick Jackson. Zellars started one game in his debut out of Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College, making nine stops and getting a better feel for a higher level of competition. Jackson is a smaller, quicker interior lineman, starting two times and making 18 tackles a year ago. In order to bolster the inside, Guy has moved 6-3, 272-pound junior Daeshon Bufford over from end. A former key recruit, he has the agility and quickness to frustrate plodding offensive linemen.
Watch Out For .... Walker to grow into one of Conference USA's premier pass rushers. He was mostly operating on instincts and raw physical ability a year ago, yet still managed to post some impressive numbers. With a full season at this level behind him, he could be one of the league's more prolific sackers.
Strength: The ends. Walker and Dorris give Tulsa a pair of solid, veteran pass rushers on the outside. Both possess adequate size in order to support against the run, yet are quick enough to collapse the pocket from the periphery. It's one of the better combos in a conference that feasts on teams lacking a rush.
Weakness: The interior. The Hurricane was going to be thin at defensive tackle before the alignment changed in the offseason. Now that two tackles are needed—four on the two-deep—match ups could be a problem for this undersized defense.
Outlook: The line is in better shape than last year, but not without issues. The ends are in fine shape, thanks to the emergence of Walker, but the tackles are liable to get bullied by tougher offensive lines. After playing the run so well in 2010, maintaining that trend will be a challenge for this group.
State of the Unit: New coach. New approach. New positions for some of this year's linebackers. Tulsa is making a handful of changes at the second level, but the directive is the same as it was over the last few seasons: get as many good athletes on the field and turn them loose on opposing offenses.
After playing at strongside last season, 6-1, 230-pound senior Curnelius Arnick is being moved to the middle. It matters little because he'll make plays no matter where he's lined up. He has a great motor, a nice feel for the gaps, and covers ground quickly. Deserving better than just honorable mention All-Conference USA a year ago, he had a team-high 115 tackles, nine stops for loss, five sacks, and four interceptions.
Arnick is displacing 6-0, 230-pound sophomore Shawn Jackson, last season's middle man who's moving out to weakside. A former dual-threat quarterback in high school, who was pursued by Big 12 programs, he has keen instincts and a natural feel for the game. In what might have been the beginning of a four-year starting career at Tulsa, he was second on the team with 88 tackles, adding 15.5 stops for loss, 8.5 sacks, and two picks.
The newcomer of the starting unit is a familiar face around these parts. Junior DeAundre Brown is back in the fold after missing 2010 due to academics. The program's leading tackler in 2009, he's been earmarked for "Cane" linebacker, a safety-linebacker hybrid. More physical than his 5-11, 210-pound frame might indicate, he's a big hitter with excellent range.
In terms of backups, a handful got on the field and earned letters last season. Senior Alan Dock and sophomores Cody Wilson , Donnell Hawkins, Mitchell Osborne , and DeWitt Jennings all have experience now, which will provide much-needed cover for the starters.
Watch Out For .... the return of Brown to the team. He was missed last season, but the defense lived to tell about it. Now that he's back in the fold and being encouraged to freelance, he might again be one of the Hurricane's most active defenders and a weekly nuisance for opponents.
Strength: Creating pressure. At their core, the Hurricane linebackers are quality athletes, pinning their ears back and working off of a search-and-destroy mentality. Brown wasn't in the mix in 2010, but the numbers for Arnick and Jackson paint a clear picture that included 24.5 combined tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.
Weakness: Pass defense. If there's a vulnerability—and it's a minor one—it's that the linebackers can be somewhat vulnerable over the top. Undersized from a vertical perspective, the starters average around 6-0, which causes match up headaches, especially versus rangy tight ends.
Outlook: The linebacker position is one that Tulsa has nurtured rather well over the past few years. This group will do nothing to hurt that reputation. The starters, Arnick, Jackson, and Brown, have all-star ceilings, a luxury for the new staff. When they're on the field at the same time, they're going to cause mayhem for the other team's backs and quarterbacks.
State of the Unit: After a shaky season against the pass, Tulsa expects to take a quantum leap in the area. With so many starters returning, anything less will go down as a major disappointment for the Hurricane. A feast or famine unit in 2010, the defensive backfield was able to soften the blow of countless breakdowns and blown coverages by picking off an FBS-high 24 passes.
A ton of major programs passed on 6-0, 192-pound sophomore S Marco Nelson , a running back with no defensive experience in high school. They'd all like to have him on campus now. One of the most explosive all-around athletes on the team, he made a fine transition to the secondary, earning Freshman All-American honors and a spot on the All-Conference USA first team. Still raw, yet blazing fast and athletic, he had 86 tackles and tied for a team-high with six interceptions.
The Hurricane player Nelson tied with six picks? That'd be fellow S Dexter McCoil , who added 56 tackles. The 6-4, 190-pound junior returns for his third season as a starter, looking to tighten up in coverage. Another fluid athlete roaming the last line of defense, he's not afraid to step up in run defense, and has the length to match up with taller receivers. Filling out the two-deep at safety will be 5-11, 198-pound junior Trent Wilkins who lettered as a backup last year.
Lining up at first team cornerback will be 5-10, 175-pound senior John Flanders and 6-0, 186-pound junior Lowell Rose . Flanders is the steady veteran, a three-time letterwinner, who had 45 tackles and two picks last year. A quality athlete, he's prone to getting bullied by physical receivers. Rose had 22 tackles and started six games last year, his first since transferring from UCLA. He's come a long way in a short period of time, portending a solid second half of his Hurricane career. Pushing for a promotion at cornerback 6-0, 180-pound senior Milton Howell, a former quarterback at Navarro (Tex.) Junior College and 5-9, 180-pound junior Justin Skillens .
Watch Out For .... Nelson and McCoil to make as many big plays as any safety tandem in the country. Yeah, they're going to get burned from time to time, a product of exuberance, but they've also got the instincts and athletic make-up to rob the opposition blind.
Strength: Takeaways. When you load up your defense with frenetic risk-takers, exciting things are bound to happen. The secondary is comprised largely of playmakers, a huge reason why the Hurricane led the country in interceptions and was third to Hawaii and Oregon in total takeaways.
Weakness: Preventing the long ball. Call it the dark side to all of those turnovers and chances taken by the defensive backs. Sure, Tulsa led the country in picks, but it was also last nationally in pass defense and yielded a whopping 33 touchdown passes.
Outlook: The ultimate enigma, the Hurricane defensive backs can blow you away on one down and then simply blow up on the next one. They're exciting, yet unpredictable in pass defense, a particular problem in pass-happy Conference USA. While enough athleticism and experience is on hand for the group to improve, it'll remain vulnerable through the air.
State of the Unit: The glass is half-full for the Tulsa special teams unit. The kicker returns, but the all-conference punter is no longer on campus. The Hurricane retains senior PK Kevin Fitzpatrick, who typically sees most of his action on extra points and kickoffs. He struggled in 2010, hitting 16-of-24 field goal attempts, but got four blocked and was only 3-of-9 beyond 40 yards. Michael Such was perennially one of the league's top punters, and will be very difficult to replace. The only punter on the spring roster was freshman Cole Way , a 6-8, 205-pounder, with quite a leg whip.
Senior Damaris Johnson gives Tulsa one of the most dangerous return men in the country. An All-American and the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year in 2010, he's a long-ball threat every time he's on the field, scoring at least one special teams touchdown in each of the last three years.
Watch Out For … the development of Way as the team's punter. Quietly, Such is one of the biggest losses from last year's team. Assuming Way takes control of the opportunity, he looks the part and has a strong leg, but how will he handle the pressure and do the little things, like dropping punts deep in enemy territory?
Strength: The return game. So lethal is Johnson that he forces opposing coaches to alter the way they kickoff and punt the ball. An extension of the offense, he's a weapon who provides the Hurricane with better field position and can put up points on his own with just a sliver of daylight.
Weakness: Inconsistency in the kicking game. Not only will there be an inevitable decline at punter, but you never know what you're going to get from Fitzpatrick. His kickoffs are not all that impressive, and beyond 40 yards is an adventure.
Outlook: Tulsa will have to take the good with the bad this season. The return game, both from an offensive and a coverage standpoint, is among the best in America. However, the combination of an erratic placekicker and a new punter is cause for concern entering the season.
Unit Rating: 7
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2011 Tulsa Defense |
Tulsa Depth Chart
- Tulsa Previews 2010 |