2011 Temple Preview – Defense
Temple CB James Nixon
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Temple Owl Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater was a key part of the coaching puzzle after being a major factor in the success at Florida. He loses several major talents in DT Muhammad Wilkerson, FS Jaiquawn Jarrett, and both Elijah and Elisha Joseph off the front seven, but there are just enough good players returning to hope for another strong year. The Owls finished 16th in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense, but it'll be tough to repeat with so much turnover. The run defense should be fine with tremendous bulk up front to allow pass rushing star Adrian Robinson to shine on the outside, while Tahir Whitehead leads a lunchpail linebacking corps that will put up stats, but not too many big plays. The secondary was a nice surprise last year, and it could be again if Deonte Parker, Kevin Kroboth, and Justin Gildea do more at safety.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Adrian Robinson
Tackles: Justin Gildea, Tahir Whitehead, 58
Sacks: Adrian Robinson, 3.5
Interceptions: Several at 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Stephen Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Shahid Paulhill
Best pro prospect: Robinson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robinson, 2) Paulhill, 3) CB Kee-ayre Griffin
Strength of the defense: Bulk, Defensive Line
Weakness of the defense: Talent Loss, Pass Rush Other Than Robinson
State of the Unit: The defensive line loses a killer. It's not every day that Temple has a tackle like Muhammad Wilkerson, but just about everyone else of note returns. The line wasn't as good as it should've been at getting into the backfield, but it did a nice job against the run allowing an average of 3.6 yards per carry with just 16 touchdowns.
Senior Adrian Robinson earned First Team All-MAC honors and was the 2009 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and now he has to do even more. At 6-2 and 250 pounds he's built to be a hybrid pass rusher on the outside, but even though he had a great line to help take the heat off, he only made 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss with 38 tackles. Extremely quick off the edge, it's over if he gets a step on a tackle, and he's great at forcing fumbles with eight over the last two seasons, but he needs to get back to the 13-sack production of two years ago.
Johnson will be backed up by Kamal Johnson, who'll also get a long look at the job on the right side. He started two games in his first year and worked as a special teamer. The 6-4, 285-pound sophomore is an ideal 3-4 defensive end, and while he's not much of a pass rusher, he's good against the run making nine tackles in his limited role. Also in the hunt for time at both end jobs is 6-6, 260-pound senior Morkeith Brown, a former tight end who joined the army out of high school, went the JUCO route, and ended up coming to Temple and working mostly as a receiver. Now he's a defensive end where he can use his terrific athleticism for a 6-6, 260-pound 26-year-old.
6-4, 296-pound junior Kadeem Custis has great size and four games of starting experience making 20 tackles and a sack in his time in the rotation. He has the quickness and athleticism to be a strong interior pass rusher, but he has to become a major all-around playmaker with the loss of Wilkerson. Adding more size at right tackle is 6-2, 330-pound redshirt freshman Dante Weaver, a huge block on the inside with the active ability to do a little of everything in the rotation.
Sophomore Shahid Paulhill stepped in as a freshman and started six times as a big end on the left side, and now he'll likely work on the inside after making 23 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 300 pounds he's a big tackle with good enough quickness to get by. The local product might not be Wilkerson, but he has a lot of the same raw skills. 6-2, 305-pound sophomore Levi Brown was supposed to be a big part of the rotation, but he ended up mostly working on special teams. With excellent size and the potential to get into the backfield on a regular basis, it's all there to become a good one.
Watch Out For … Paulhill on the inside. He showed nice promise and potential on the end last year of the very, VERY big line, and now he's in the right position and in a more natural spot. If he can get into the backfield once in a while, he'll be an All-MAC performer.
Strength: Size. The Owl line is huge, even with a 250 pounder on the outside in Robinson. The Owls will load up with 285-to-300 pounders at the other three jobs on a regular basis.
Weakness: Muhammad Wilkerson. The 6-4, 315-pound first round draft pick of the New York Jets dominated last year with 70 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss. It's asking a lot to replace a player of his caliber.
Outlook: The line should've been better. Wilkerson and Robinson alone should've been enough to dominate, and it didn't happen. This year's line gets Robinson back and is full of very big, very good prospects looking to do more for run defense that should be a brick wall at times. The new coaching staff inherited stocked shelves.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Two starters are gone off of last year's solid linebacking corps. Amara Kamara finished with 67 stops, and Peanut Joseph was a strong middle presence who stuffed things up. This is a good-sized group returning with decent athleticism, but some key prospects have to grow into steady playmakers.
Senior Tahir Whitehead is the team's only returning starting linebacker, getting the call eight times on the outside making 56 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At 6-2, and 228 pounds he isn't huge, but he moves well and is active. A safety and wide receiver in high school, he has no problems getting all over the field. He'll combine on the strongside with junior Marcus Green, a 6-1, 240-pound veteran backup who was supposed to be a part of the rotation in the middle, but ended up mostly working on special teams. Smart, thick, and built for the job, he made seven tackles in his six games of work. He'll be a key backup in the middle, too.
Taking over the full time job in the middle is 6-1, 230-pound senior Stephen Johnson, who started the first three games of the season before moving to a backup role when Joseph returned. Very smart and experienced enough to handle the duties and responsibility, he came up with 31 tackles and a pick, but needs to do more to get into the backfield.
6-3, 218-pound senior Quinten White is built like a safety and can work as a special teamer, but he's a tough outside linebacker who started against Central Michigan and Connecticut and finished the year with 24 tackles with tackles for loss and two broken up passes. A speedster, he has the wheels to get into the backfield more often and he's a perfect fit for the weakside. 6-1, 225-pound sophomore Blaze Caponegro is a bigger option, but the redshirt freshman has only seen a little time on special teams. He can move and can get potentially get all over the field.
Watch Out For … Johnson in the middle. A veteran, he has been around long enough to know what he's doing, and he saw enough time in the middle to be ready to take on a bigger role. He's a smart, tough player who should grow into a leadership role.
Strength: Size. The 218-pound White isn't tall and thin, but Johnson, Green, and Whitehead are built like linebackers and have the toughness to hold up against the run. This group can run, too.
Weakness: Starting experience. Losing Kamara hurts, and Joseph was a tough guy in the middle. Whitehead is a strong veteran and Johnson and White should be fine, but somehow the linebacking corps has to be far better against the run despite losing some key parts.
Outlook: The hope was for a big year from the linebacking corps, helped by a great line up front, but it was just a mediocre season. There weren't enough plays behind the line and the run defense was merely average. This won't be a flashy group, but it should be stout and solid against most running teams. More big plays, though, would be nice.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The Owl secondary came up with a terrific season, leading the MAC in both pass defense and pass efficiency defense. It helps that no one on the schedule other than Bowling Green could throw a forward pass – and the Falcons threw for 287 yards - but that's nitpicking. Two starters return and the loss of leading tackler Jaiquawn Jarrett is a problem, but if the pass rush can improve a bit, the secondary will be fine.
The hope is for senior Kee-ayre Griffin to turn into an even stronger cover-corner after starting most of last year on one side and making 51 tackles with a pick, three broken up passes, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The former running back made the move after the 2009 season after running for 335 yards and three scores as a key part of the offense. At 5-11 and 188 pounds he has good size, strong tackling skills, and improved instincts when the ball is in the air. He'll be backed up by veteran James Nixon, a former wide receiver who made most of his noise as a top kickoff returner. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he has great size and tremendous straight-line speed, and now he's ready to be a bigger part of the secondary after making 12 tackles with two broken up passes.
Working on the other side will be junior Maurice Jones, a spot starter who made 29 tackles with two sacks and a pick, while also working well on special teams. One of the team's fastest players, the 5-10, 195-pounder has the wheels and the experience to become a strong, steady defender. Backing him up will be 6-0, 180-pound sophomore Zamel Johnson, who transferred over after Hofstra stopped playing football, and he served as a key special teamer and part-time defender making four tackles.
Trying to take over at free safety for Jarrett is 5-11, 190-pound senior Deonte Parker, who transferred over from Feather River College a few year ago and has seen a little bit of time over the last two seasons. A big JUCO transfer when he came in, he didn't have an impact so far with just one tackle in four games, but he needs to be a statistical star in the new spot. Also pushing for the gig is 6-2, 192-pound junior Vaughn Carraway, a former wide receiver who has mostly been a special teamer so far. A top recruit out of high school, he has yet to do much of anything, making just seven tackles last season, but the tools are there to be a player.
Junior Justin Gildea ended up starting most of last year at strong safety after mostly serving as a special teamer early in his career. A good nickel and dime defender if needed, he'll get a long look at his starting spot again after making 58 tackles with three tackles for loss. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he has decent size and okay range, but he's mostly a run stopper. Pushing for the spot is 6-0, 198-pound senior Kevin Kroboth, who started six times last year at strong safety making 31 tackles with four tackles for loss with a pick. A great hitter and a strong special teamer throughout his career, he came up 45 tackles two years ago and should be a bigger part of the secondary this year.
Watch Out For … the strong safety job. Both Kroboth and Gildea saw starting time last year, and they can each handle the work. Which one is better? It's Kroboth, but Gildea will see more than his share of time.
Strength: Corner. Griffin is coming into his own as a true corner, and not a running back playing corner, while Jones and Nixon are excellent-looking prospects who should be great with more responsibility.
Weakness: The loss of Jarrett. The secondary needs more playmakers to emerge with Jarrett, a rock at free safety for all 12 games, and full-season starter Marquise Liverpool gone. The Owls only came up with nine picks last year, and now they'll have to try to do more with a less talented secondary.
Outlook: If the pass rush goes back to 2009 level, the pass defense should once again be excellent. The secondary wasn't supposed to do much last year and it turned into a nice surprise, and it would be a major plus if Griffin, Parker, and Jones led the way in another slightly-shocking good year.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Junior PK Brandon McManus has to be better. He hit 17-of-24 field goals two years ago, but connected on just 13-of-20 attempts last year. He bombed away for a 53-yarder in the opener against Villanova, but he missed three field goals inside the 40. On the plus side, he only missed one field goal closer than 42 yards int eh final ten games.
The punting game was among the worst in the nation, an McManus will give it a try after averaging 42.2 yards per kick on his four attempts. Jeff Wathne averaged a mere 39 yards per kick, but he put 15 inside the 20. Redshirt freshman Andrew Cerett will also get a chance to take over the job.
Corner James Nixon came up with a terrific season – again – averaging 23.4 yards per kickoff return after averaging 29.2 yards per try two years ago. Ryan Alderman got a little bit of work as a punt returner, averaging 4.1 yards per pop, but Nixon and receiver Joe Jones will likely get most of the work.
Watch Out For … the punting situation. A disaster over the last two seasons, McManus could add more leg strength, but he has to show that the consistency is there.
Strength: Coverage teams. The punt coverage was okay, but not great, while the kickoff coverage was terrific allowing a miniscule 17.4 yards per try. Only Washington State, who allowed 17 yards per try, was better.
Weakness: Steady placekicking. The punting game needs the most help, but McManus needs to be steadier. There were plenty of misses from beyond 40 yards, but he also missed a few makeable ones over the last two seasons.
Outlook: The Owls need more out of the punting game and could use a bit more punch on punt returns, but overall the special teams shouldn't be too bad. The coverage teams are strong and McManus has been around long enough to know what he's doing.
Unit Rating: 6
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