2011 Boston College Preview – Defense
Boston College CB Donnie Fletcher
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Boston College Eagle Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: As has often been the case, the Boston College D proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, LB Luke Kuechly has started to emerge as a household name, but he's the exception. The Eagles are perennially stout under Frank Spaziani because their disciplined, know their assignments, and don't miss many tackles. It's not the most athletic defense in the ACC, but it is one of the best coached. This fall's priorities will be to generate more pressure, which has been missing lately, and develop replacements at strongside linebacker and cornerback. DE Max Holloway and CB Donnie Fletcher provide a solid base up front and out back, respectively, but both need a little more support. The team had just 20 sacks last fall, and only leans on the blitz as a last resort.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Luke Kuechly
Tackles: Luke Kuechly, 183
Sacks: Max Holloway, 4
Interceptions: Donnie Fletcher, 5
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB C.J. Jones or redshirt freshman Dominique Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Max Holloway
Best pro prospect: Kuechly
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kuechly, 2) Senior CB Donnie Fletcher, 3) Holloway
Strength of the defense: Stopping the run, linebacker, preventing the big play, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the pocket, cornerback depth
State of the Unit: As has often been the case in these parts, the Eagles were stout at the point of contact, leading the country in run defense, but were slow to the backfield, ranking 90th in sacks. While three starters exit that group, a slew of lettermen return, lending hope that the program can solve its inconsistency up front with a mix of newcomers and holdovers.
Although there's no obvious star power returning, Boston College does welcome back one of last year's more productive players, 6-2, 250-pound junior DE Max Holloway . Difficult to block because of his speed and ability to cut the corner, he had a career-high 36 tackles, 14 stops for loss, and four sacks. A backup until Alex Albright got hurt, he needs to prove he can bring it on every down and for an entire season.
On the opposite side of Holloway, 6-2, 248-pound senior Kasim Edebali and 6-3, 248-pound senior Dan Williams will compete for playing time. Williams has the edge in experience, but not nearly the same upside. Edebali lettered in 2010, making 13 tackles and four starts, but needs to work on his fundamentals and raise his overall play.
On the interior, the staff is eager to get back 6-3, 295-pound senior Kaleb Ramsey, who sat out the spring to recover from shoulder surgery. A nine-game starter, he showed nice explosion from the tackle spot, making 39 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Assuming Ramsey gets back into the lineup, the battle for the other tackle job will be between 6-3, 286-pound junior Conor O'Neal and 6-6, 299-pound sophomore Dillon Quinn . The quicker of the pair, O'Neal started three games and made seven tackles. Quinn is a beast and a former blue-chip recruit, who might be ready to bloom after making 11 tackles as a reserve in 2010.
Watch Out For … Quinn and O'Neal to take part in a steady rotation. Assuming Ramsey nabs the other spot on the inside, O'Neal and Quinn are capable of forming an ideal complement of penetrating quickness and raw power against the run, respectively.
Strength: Stuffing the run. Of course, the linebackers deserve their share of the credit, but the Eagles couldn't have allowed just 82 yards a game and 2.6 yards a carry without ample help up front. Ramsey, O'Neal, and Quinn will continue to hold the line, create a push, and permit the back seven to make a ton of plays.
Weakness: Creating pressure. Again. In a word, BC was ineffective at getting to the backfield for the second straight season. A year after finishing last in the ACC in sacks, the Eagles were only tenth in 2010. Holloway provides a glimmer of hope, but who steps up if he's getting doubled?
Outlook: While not exactly a liability, the line is the weakest area of the Eagle D going into the season … but that might quickly change. A pedestrian group that takes its lunch pail to work every day, it needs to do a better job of creating chaos. The last two lines of defense are good, but they'd be even better with more help from the front four in passing situations.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: Even with the losses of a couple of inspirational leaders, Mark Herzlich and Mike Morrissey, Boston College figures to be just fine at linebacker this year. Five of last year's lettermen return, including one of the best at the position in America.
In just two seasons removed from St. Xavier (OH) High School, Luke Kuechly has evolved into one of the nation's premier defenders. With machine-like consistency, he's posted at least 10 tackles in 22 consecutive games. A year ago, he raised the bar off an improbable debut, leading the country with 183 stops and adding 10.5 tackles for loss, three picks, and three fumble recoveries. A 6-3, 235-pound guided missile in the middle, he has uncanny instincts and field awareness, and impeccable wrap-up skills in the open field.
At weakside, 6-1, 221-pound sophomore Kevin Pierre-Louis exploded out of the gate in his debut, finishing second to Kuechly with 93 tackles. Still a little light, he's added more muscle while maintaining his speed and range. He can also cover backs running routes, a big plus for the pass defense. The biggest question mark is at strongside, Herzlich's old stomping grounds. Second-year sophomore Steele Divitto is liable to storm the gates and win the job early in his career. He rose to second team as a rookie, playing in 11 games and making 20 stops. Although he still needs to fill out, the coaching staff feels he's a bright future in Chestnut Hill. Firmly in the mix and ready to provide depth are 6-1, 235-pound senior Will Thompson and 6-3, 235-pound junior Nick Clancy. Thompson has lettered the last two years, making 16 tackles in 2010. Clancy is a converted safety who grew out of the defensive backfield. He had just six stops last fall, but is poised for a significantly larger role.
Watch Out For … Divitto. Frank Spaziani won't anoint a replacement for Herzlich until the summer, but it's hard not to like where Divitto. Even as a reserve and a member of the special teams, he looked as if he belonged. And that was before he got a full spring in and a chance to dedicate himself in the weight room.
Strength: Diagnosing running plays. With Kuechly as the cover boy, all of the Eagle linebackers do a nice job of reading, reacting, and sniffing out running plays. Well-schooled at locating the ball, they're smart, hard-working, and a key reason why BC had the top-ranked run D in 2010.
Weakness: Uncertainty at strongside. A drop-off from Herzlich is inevitable, but it might be a little more precipitous than the Eagles would prefer. Divitto has potential and Clancy is experienced, but both are facing a steep learning curve as their roles and responsibility increase markedly.
Outlook: As long as Kuechly is on the field, Boston College will be above average at linebacker. Just how far above will depend on how much support he gets from the outside guys. Pierre-Louis has already put down the ground floor of a terrific, meaning strongside holds the key to the group's ultimate grade.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: For the second straight season, the Eagles will be down a few starters, forced to build around a couple of regulars. A similar situation didn't seem to rattle the program a year ago. True to its form, Boston College was stingy against the pass, ranking among the nation's leaders in touchdown percentage.
With one more season of eligibility remaining, 6-1, 200-pound senior CB Donnie Fletcher hopes to use it to entice NFL scouts and raise his profile. A product of Ted Ginn Sr.'s powerhouse Glenville Academy in Cleveland, he's peaking on the field. A well-sized bump-and-run corner, he's coming off his best season, ranking fourth on the team with 56 tackles and chipping in a team-high five picks. He has good field instincts and a knack for keeping the play in front of him. After failing to receive any All-ACC attention the last two seasons as a starter, he's set to reverse that trend in 2011.
The battle at the other cornerback spot is being led by 5-11, 173-pound sophomore C.J. Jones . He had 16 tackles as a reserve, and is a step ahead of the competition as a cover guy. Behind him is 6-4, 186-pound junior Jim Noel, who spent time in the starting lineup last fall. He's a long and lean athlete, with the ball skills and change of direction of a corner. He got in on 36 tackles and had four picks, finishing second to Fletcher.
The Eagles have few concerns at safety, where three players who started games a year ago are back. At free safety, 6-1, 205-pound junior Okechukwu Okoroha is looking to build on a surprisingly active year. He took over after Wes Davis suffered a career-ending injury, starting the final six games, gradually getting more comfortable, and making 27 tackles. Boston College is particularly loaded at strong safety. Both 6-3, 215-pound senior Dominick LeGrande and 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Dominique Williams are capable of winning the job. LeGrande is more of an enforcer, a hard-hitting former linebacker who had 27 tackles as a part of the rotation. Williams is raw, but has the size and toughness to be more effective at stopping the run.
Watch Out For … the battle at the other corner spot. Opposing quarterbacks will learn to avoid Fletcher's side of the field, which means Jones and Noel are going to get picked on. How well they hold up will go a long way to determining the ultimate success of this unit.
Strength: Keeping receivers out of the end zone. Opposing quarterbacks threw on the Eagles 510 times last year, yet produced only 14 touchdowns, including two in the final six games. Even with the tinkering in the lineup, it's going to be tough navigating the BC secondary, especially in the red zone.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. There was a bend-don't-break quality to the Eagle secondary that still needs to be corrected. While it came up big when it mattered most, Boston College did allow other teams to complete 63% of their passes, worst among ACC teams.
Outlook: The staff has done a terrific job with this group for years. This season figures to be no different. Yeah, there are some question marks, but not enough to overshadow the Eagles' depth and talent. Fletcher will bloom into an all-star and the safeties will roam the entire field with an attitude.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Eagles return last year's placekicker, punter, and long snapper, the ingredients of a sound special teams unit. The return game needs a facelift, but at its core, this is a group that's going to be more of an asset than a liability.
Sophomore Nate Freese won the kicking job in the summer, and left no doubts that he was the proper choice. Good on 22-of-25 field goal attempts, he was almost automatic inside the 40-yard line. If his leg strength doesn't improve, kickoffs could be handled by senior Ryan Quigley, who routinely made kick returners start from their goal line. Also the team's punter, he averaged 41.5 yards and set the ACC standard for punts inside the 20-yard line.
Watch Out For … Freese to have a little more pop in his kicks. He's used his offseason wisely so far, adding strength in his leg and getting more drive through the ball. After connecting on just 1-of-3 field goals beyond 40 yards, he's looking for more consistency from long distance.
Strength: The coverage teams. Boston College doesn't always have the best athletes, but it's disciplined and perennially does a terrific job of getting downfield and breaking through the wedge. In typical fashion in 2010, it ranked 20th nationally in kickoff coverage and allowed just 5.7 yards on punt returns.
Weakness: The return game. Yet another trend on the Heights, the Eagles are an extension of their offense, lacking big plays on returns. Arguably the worst combo in American, Boston College was a feeble 104th in punt returns and 118th on kickoffs.
Outlook: While not a perfect situation, the Eagles will take it. The key parts for success are in place, namely Freese and Quigley at placekicker and punter, respectively. With a little more support from the return guys, Boston College will elevate from solid to outstanding on special teams.
Unit Rating: 7
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