2011 Nevada Preview – Defense
Nevada DT Brett Roy
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Nevada has been trying, really trying, to improve the defense over the last few seasons, but there hasn't been much success. The run defense has been fine, and WAC Defensive Player of the Year Dontay Moch is back on one end, and the front seven should be decent, but the Pack has had a great pass rush in the past and has been strong up front with nothing to show for it. The pass defense has been among the worst in America over the last few years, and new defensive coordinator Andy Buh has been brought in to change that. The secondary has to find one thing it can do well, and that's likely to be preventing the deep ball … at least that's the hope.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Brett Roy
Tackles: James-Michael Johnson, 88
Sacks: Brett Roy, 8
Interceptions: Several at 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Albert Rosette
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Duke Williams
Best pro prospect: Senior LB James-Michael Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) CB Isaiah Frey, 2) Johnson, 3) Roy
Strength of the defense: Tackle, Back Seven Experience
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rushing End, Pass Defense
State of the Unit: The Wolf Pack have to replace Dontay Moch, a special athlete who blew into the backfield for 8.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss with 64 tackles. Also gone is Ryan Coulson, a 14-game starter on the other side who came up with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Both tackles are back and the Nevada coaches always seem to find ways to get into the backfield, but it's still asking a lot to finish 18th in the nation in run defense and 24th in sacks.
It was stunning that senior DT Brett Roy didn't earn all-star honors last season. All he did from the inside was make 50 tackles with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss as one of the WAC's premier interior pass rushers. At 6-4 and 280 pounds he has decent size after adding 20 pounds of muscle, and now he'll be the star of the front four. Backing him up is sophomore Jack Reynoso, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore who started out his career on the offensive line before moving over to the other side. He only made one tackle in his limited time.
Also back on the inside is senior Zack Madonick, a 14-game starter inside with 6-1, 285-pound size with the ability to get great leverage as a strong run stopper. A pluggler, he followed up a 26-tackle 2009 season with 28 stops with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He might not be an all-star, but he's a steady leader who gets the job done. Adding more side is 6-3, 295-pound senior Willie Faataualofa, a former JUCO transfer from San Joaquin Delta College and worked as a part-time backup on the inside. He only made four tackles, but he has the size and the strength to do far more now that he'll get more work.
Trying to do the impossible and replace Moch as the team's top pass rusher from the outside is 6-2, 245-pound junior Albert Rosette, a linebacker by trade who added 20 pounds and should bring good athleticism and decent upside after making 17 tackles with a pick. He's extremely active and can move, but he has done his most damage on special teams. He'll work in a rotation with 6-2, 271-pound true freshman Rykeem Yates, a defensive tackle who'll work on the outside as a top run stopper. He first signed on with UCLA in 2010, but changed his mind and should soon be a key part of the Wolf Pack line with a great motor and excellent toughness.
Working on the other side will be redshirt freshman Brock Hekking, a speedy 6-4, 245-pound option with a great burst off the edge. He might not be a sure-thing star in the backfield right away, but he has the size and the tools to be an immediate factor. 6-3, 250-pound junior Jacob Peppard, a former JUCO transfer from Cerritos College with good speed and closing ability, should be a dangerous specialist.
Also in the mix somewhere might be senior Kaelin Burnett, a 14-game performer who suffered a broken pelvis this offseason after making 30 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A very fast, very athletic linebacker, he's not expected to be a part of the equation as a pass rushing end this season, at least not early on.
Watch Out For … Rosette and Yates. The Pack has to find pressure from the outside, and that that means Rosette and Yates have to camp out in opposing backfields. Replacing Moch is next to impossible, but the ends have to give it a shot.
Strength: Tackles. Roy is great at making big things happen and he's terrific at getting to the quarterback. Madonick is an unsung rock on the inside who gums up the works.
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rusher. Moch was taken with the 66th overall pick by Cincinnati, and after a freakish NFL Combine workout, he showed just how much Nevada might miss its star. Can the Pack replace the 12 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss that Moch and Coulson provided? It's asking for a lot.
Outlook: The line will take a step back without a star like Moch in the mix, but the tackles should be great, the run defense should be fantastic, and the overall talent and size is in place to do just fine. It's asking a lot for yet another pass rusher to step up after Kevin Basped rocked a few years ago and with Moch taking over the role. Who's next? It might be Roy from the inside, but all four spots have to produce.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The linebacking corps should be terrific. Second-leading tackler Kevin Grimes is gone, but the playmakers are there at all three spots to be among the best groups of linebackers in the WAC against the run. This will be a big, active, and steady group that should be the strength of the defense.
The top returning linebacker is leading tackler James-Michael Johnson, a 6-2, 240-pound 14-game starter in the middle who finished with 88 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. A big hitter, he showed a pop all season long and finished with three forced fumbles after spending the first part of his career on the outside. The senior made 56 stops two years ago, but he was far better in his natural position. 6-2, 225-pound junior Jeremiah Green came to Nevada from College of the Sequoias, and he should show off some of the terrific athleticism that his brother, Virgil, brought to the offense last year as a tight end.
Back on the outside is senior Brandon Marshall, a 6-1, 235-pound thumper out of Las Vegas who started every game at strongside linebacker finishing with 63 tackles with a sack, eight tackles for loss, two picks, and five broken up passes. He got a little bit of all-star recognition two years ago making 61 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss, and he should once again be an active defender who comes up big against the run. He's like a smallish end at outside linebacker, while 6-1, 230-pound sophomore Josh McNeal, a good-sized potential run stopper who can work in the middle if needed.
Taking over for Grimes at the Wolf position is 6-1, 215-pound former JUCO transfer DeAndre Boughton, a good reserve who made 23 tackles with a tackles for loss. Speedy on the weakside, he was supposed to be a statistical star and a top all-around defender, but he ended up being a big-hitting backup. 6-2, 220-pound true freshman Burton DeKoning is a potentially devastating all-around defender who flies all over the field and has the talent and burst to get into the backfield. Shockingly blown off by the bigger schools, he'll be a part of the pass rush from the outside sooner than later.
Watch Out For … Boughton. The Wolf Pack always tries to get big plays from the Wolf position, and while Grimes was fine against the run, the D needs more. Boughton should bring the production.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. If nothing else, the Wolf Pack linebacking corps looks like it's out of central casting. Everyone is big, strong, and can move. This should be a terrific group against the run and it should be great at getting into the backfield, but it needs to do more for the …
Weakness: Pass defense. The Wolf Pack has struggled in pass coverage for years, and this year's group won't be any different. While Johnson, Marshall, and Boughton can all get around, they have to help a pass defense that gives up yards in chunks.
Outlook: Athletes, athletes, athletes. Nevada recruits to a type, and all it cares about is whether or not the linebackers can get all over the field. Once again, the corps should be among the most active and aggressive in the WAC, and Johnson and Marshall should be terrific. Boughton and DeKoning are expected to grow into statistical stars.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Teams bombed away to try to keep up the pace with the tremendous Wolf Pack offense, and the secondary gives up a ton of yards, but it didn't give up a ton of big passes and finished second in the WAC in pass efficiency defense. Three starters return with the only loss Doyle Miller, a 55-tackle corner who was good, but isn't irreplaceable.
The star of the secondary is going to be senior corner Isaiah Frey, a Second Team All-WAC performer who came up with 52 tackles, a pick, and 14 broken up passes. With 6-0 and 190-pound size, he's big and has good quickness, and last year he finally started to put it all together. A two-year starter, he has grown into a No. 1 corner with smarts and a great ability to break up plays. He'll be backed up by Malik "Fig" James, a transfer from Cincinnati who had to spend last year on the sidelines, but he's ready to go now. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he has the size to play safety if needed, but he's a corner.
Taking over a starting spot on the other side is junior Khalid Wooten, a strong career special teamer who made 16 tackles, but also picked off two passes taking one 96 yards for a score against New Mexico State. Athletic and with great range, he's ready to handle the bigger job, while 5-11, 180-pound junior Thaddeus Brown is back and ready to play a key role after making 31 tackles with three broken up passes. Recruited by Washington State and Boise State, he has decent talent and excellent quickness as a nickel and dime defender.
5-11, 190-pound junior Marlon Johnson took over the free safety job and came up with a decent year, making 58 tackles with two picks. His 65-yard pick six changed the game against Cal, and he showed he could handle himself well against the run. Smart and with great range, he'll be a leader of the secondary. 6-2, 203-pound junior Tyler Thompson brings more size and more thump to the secondary. With his tackling ability and range, he could end up moving to strong safety if needed.
Sophomore Duke Williams turned into a key part of the secondary after taking over the strong safety job early on. The 6-1, 190-pounder finished third on the team with 74 tackles with 4.5 sacks and two picks, and now the all-around playmaker should be in the hunt for all-star honors. Recruited by several now-Pac-12 schools and BYU, he has tremendous range and big-time upside. He'll be backed up by junior Dean Faddis, a 6-1, 190-pounder who stepped in when needed starting the opener against Eastern Washington and seeing three games of starting time midseason. While he's not nearly the player that Williams is, he was decent against the run making 28 tackles.
Watch Out For … Wooten. He might be the one new starter to the mix, but he's a good one with the potential to put up huge numbers with people staying away from Frey on the other side. He should make teams pay.
Strength: Experience. With three starters back and with most of the reserves good enough and experienced enough to know what they're doing, the potential is there for this to be one of the best Wolf Pack secondaries in recent years. That's not necessarily saying much stat-wise, but this group should be solid.
Weakness: Pass rush. In past years the secondary could count on a superstar pass rusher to hit the quarterback on a regular basis, and while that didn't necessarily bring a ton of luck for the overall production, at least it helped a little. This season, the front seven doesn't have a sure-thing killer. That doesn't mean that the D won't be beating up passers, but the pass rush might not be as strong as it was in recent years.
Outlook: For years the Wolf Pack pass defense was miserable. Throwing for 300 yards on the secondary was the norm and 400 yards was always in play. Now, the talent and the experience are there to do far more after a breakthrough season. The safety tandem of Johnson and Williams are solid, and Frey is one of the WAC's best corners.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Sophomore Anthony Martinez took over the placekicking job from Ricky Drake, and he was decent from short range hitting 11-of-15 field goals. He got a kicked blocked and he didn't hit a kick longer than 36 yards, but he was good enough to get by. Only 5-6 and 175 pounds, he's not all that big and doesn't have a huge leg.
The punting game was among the best in the nation finishing 21st in net yards, but Brad Langley is gone after averaging 42.6 yards per kick. Senior Jake Hurst will take over after handling the sitting on the sidelines. Coming in from the JUCO ranks, he has experience and he should be fine, but he needs to prove to be as consistent as Langley.
The return game was decent with Rishard Matthews coming up with a big year averaging 9.8 yards per return with a 72-yard score. He'll see a little time as a kickoff returner, but running back Mike Ball has been the main man averaging a whopping 24.5 yards per try. Corner Khalid Wooten might get more work if Ball is the main man at running back.
Watch Out For … Martinez to get a few tries from deep. He wasn't needed much to blast away, and while he missed four close kicks, he'll finally get a few chances to crank away from 40 yards or more.
Strength: Matthews. The punt return game was a weakness going into last year, and now it's a big plus. An elite punt returner, he was consistent and dangerous. However, he's so valuable as a No. 1 target that he might not get as much work this season.
Weakness: Kickoffs. The Wolf Pack kickoff coverage team was miserable, allowing 25.9 yards per try, and now Ricky Drake, the main kickoff man, is gone. Martinez can't bomb away into the end zone on a regular basis.
Outlook: Improved over the last few years, the Nevada special teams have gone from a major problem to a strength … at times. The kicking game is a question mark and Martinez has to find some semblance of range, but the return game should be terrific and the athleticism and focus is there for the coverage teams to do more.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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