2011 UAB Preview - Defense
UAB DT Elliott Henigan
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: As many as ten starters are back on defense, yet the biggest splash is being made by coordinator Tommy West, who's making his return to Conference USA. Out of the game in 2010, the former head coach at Memphis and Clemson has been tasked with the job of making the Blazer D tougher to navigate. He inherits a veteran team bringing back last year's top five tacklers. The coach's biggest concern will be up front on a defensive line that was hardest hit by graduation. DT Elliott Henigan has leading man qualities, but his supporting cast is weak. And if UAB is unable to generate pressure the traditional way, it'll put more pressure on already vulnerable secondary. LB Marvin Burdette and S Jamie Bender are a pair of last year's first-time starters on the verge of becoming Conference USA all-stars.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Elliott Henigan
Tackles: Hiram Atwater, 89
Sacks: Bryant Turner, 6
Interceptions: Chase Daniel, Marquis Coleman, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Connor Boyett
Unsung star on the rise: Senior S Jamie Bender
Best pro prospect: Henigan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Henigan, 2) Junior LB Marvin Burdette, 3) Bender
Strength of the defense: Returning starters, the linebackers, the safeties,
Weakness of the defense: Defensive end, pass defense, sacks, red zone defense
State of the Unit: A seasoned group last fall, the defensive line is paying the price for that luxury this season. The Blazers are going to be young and unproven, both on the interior and at defensive end. The staff will spend the offseason trying to build up this group, brick by brick, in an attempt to avoid it being a glaring weakness when play begins.
The undisputed star of the front four is 6-4, 280-pound senior DT Elliott Henigan, an All-Conference USA second-teamer in 2010. Back for a third year as a starter on the inside, he was dominant at times last fall, making 55 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks, and five pass breakups. A playmaker, he operates at a frenetic pace, beating his man off the snap and tripping up the man with the ball behind the line of scrimmage.
The Blazers need to find a partner for Henigan at tackle. For now, the options appear to be 6-6, 270-pound junior Cody Payne and 6-3, 265-pound sophomore Deric Scott . Payne had four tackles in his first season out of Butler (Kans.) Community College, and is making the move from end. Scott needs to prove he can compete on an every down basis.
At defensive end, 6-5, 250-pound sophomore Connor Boyett returns after becoming a surprise starter in seven games as a rookie. He finished with modest numbers—21 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, and a sack—needing to add more muscle and increase his production this year. Challenging to join him will be 6-4, 240-pound sophomore Andrew Mahan and 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Chris Walton . Mahan may have the leg up in experience, but Walton's speed off the edge can't be overlooked.
Watch Out For … the outcomes. Henigan and Boyett can be penciled in, but who joins them? The races to fill the other two spots will be heated, closely-watched, and play a pivotal role in the eventual ability of this line to generate a push at the point of attack.
Strength: Henigan. He makes everyone around him better. Period. He's the kind of disruptive tackle, who will command extra blocks and frustrate opposing running games. When he's clicking, it'll open things up for the other Blazer tackles and ends.
Weakness: The rest of the line. The decline from No. 51 is dramatic. Too dramatic. Boyett has a nice future ahead, but is he ready to be counted on to spearhead a pass rush at this stage of his tenure. And after him, there's nothing but question marks, which has to have the coaching staff worried as the season approaches.
Outlook: The Blazers peaked up front in 2010. Now they'll do some rebuilding. Henigan is a terrific lineman and a sure-fire all-star, but the program needs a few more players like him. If he's contained or doubled, UAB will be prone to getting abused by teams that could have all day to throw and big holes to navigate on the ground.
Unit Rating: 4.5
State of the Unit: If you knew the Blazer linebackers from last year, no introductions will be necessary this fall. Everyone is back, affording the defense an ample supply of experience and depth. The holdovers will be especially valuable playing behind a defensive line that allows too many opposing backs to get past it.
As expected, 5-11, 235-pound junior Marvin Burdette enjoyed a breakout year in 2010, making a team-high 114 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and three sacks. While his size may have kept SEC programs from making offers, UAB is thrilled to have him at middle linebacker. He has the requisite speed and toughness to make plays in run defense, but it's his sharp instincts which will put him among the league's top tacklers once again.
For a time last year, the staff contemplated moving 6-2, 220-pound junior Daniel White from linebacker to defensive end. It's a good thing he stayed put, making nine starts at weakside. He finished tied for third with 55 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks, showing great closing speed on the blitz. Strongside is expected to be between 6-2, 225-pound senior Lamanski Ware and 6-3, 210-pound Drew Luker, who combined for seven starts last fall and 27 in their career. Ware had just 15 stops a year ago, but racked up 71 in the previous season. Luker came to Birmingham as a safety, and is the better pass defender of the two. Junior Greg Irvin is yet another experienced outside linebacker, a 5-11, 215-pound freelancer who made 16 tackles in nine games in 2010.
Watch Out For … the return of 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Patrick Bastien . He started two games as a rookie in 2009, but the staff opted to redshirt him last year. A nice blend of size and fleet feet, he'll give the defense another playmaking option off the edge.
Strength: Experience. The Blazer linebackers have come a long way in the span of a year. Green and unproven at this time last season, they're now one of the deepest veteran units on the team. In fact, it's possible that every member of the two-deep will have starting experience, which is unheard of.
Weakness: Size. While plenty tough, a lack of size is a lack of size. The corps resembles a collection of safeties, which becomes a particular problem when the other team commits to the run and can get its linemen to the second level in a hurry.
Outlook: They may be plucky, but the linebackers are effective and one of the strengths of the defense. With Burdette leading the charge, they'll get to the ball quickly and make things happen behind the line of scrimmage. Just don't ask them to go toe-to-toe with opposing linemen that drift outside the box.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: Virtually everyone is back from last season. That's either good news or cause for concern, depending upon your vantage point. UAB continues to have problems in pass defense, ranking 105th nationally and yielding 24 touchdown passes. The lack of turnover means improvement will have to be an inside job.
Senior S Jamie Bender was an instant success in his first year out of Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, ranking second on the team with 94 tackles and tops with nine pass breakups. While just 5-11 and 195 pounds, the former running back is plenty physical as an open field tackler and has the quickness and instincts to keep improving in coverage. He's looking for bigger accolades after earning honorable mention All-Conference USA.
Forming tandem at safety with Bender is 6-3, 200-pound senior Chase Daniel . He's better than his recent numbers, 38 tackles in 2010, but has had a difficult time staying healthy. Like his teammates, he has to improve his coverage skills, but compensates by stepping up in support of the run defense and packing a punch. Senior Ugonna Amarikwa is an ideal backup, a 6-0, 180-pounder with three career letters and prior experience at corner.
The favorites at cornerback are a couple of returning starters, 6-0, 200-pound senior T.J. Ballou and 6-1, 185-pound senior Marquis Coleman . Ballou played well in his debut from East Mississippi Community College, making 26 tackles, a team-best three interceptions, and eight pass breakups. A former walk-on at Alabama, he brings some attitude to the defensive backfield. Coleman has good size and a ton of experience, lettering in each of the last three years. A starter in seven games, he had 21 tackles and broke up seven passes, needing to do a better job of keeping the ball in front of him. Veteran depth won't be an issue at corner. While Terrell Springs and Andre Hicks lack size, the seniors have combined for six letters and are no strangers to the field.
Watch Out For … the health of Daniel. When he's 100%, he's a difference-maker, a ferocious hitter who'll make receivers think twice about crossing the middle. UAB needs his presence in the secondary, and for more than just a handful of games.
Strength: Depth and experience. For better or worse, this is a senior-laden group littered with veterans throughout the two-deep. No one will be unnerved by tough situations, injuries can be overcome, and leadership will flow freely out of the secondary.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Despite some improvement, UAB still struggled to break up passes and keep the other team's receivers out of the end zone. The Blazers picked off a measly nine passes and were burned for more than 300 yards in three of the final five games.
Outlook: It's the second year for Ballou and Bender, and there are returning players everywhere. The Blazer secondary will be better, but how much better? Fine in run defense, the key will be when the ball is in the air. UAB should hold up against average passers, but those polished passing attacks will continue to be a handful.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Special teams has not been a strength for UAB, a program that needs to do the little things well in order to be successful. The cup is half-full at the two most visible positions of the unit. The placekicker has departed, but the punter is back. Senior Trey Ragland returns for his third season as the regular after ranking fifth in Conference USA with an average of 42 yards per punt. For an undersized kid who didn't play the position in high school, he's been a solid contributor.
The uncertainty exists at placekicker. While the departure of unreliable Josh Zahn will be a case of addition through subtraction, the Blazers will still be very green at the position. The program went to Georgia and signed a pair of potential replacements in February, Ty Long and Colin Anderson . Both will arrive with high expectations, but that arrival won't happen until August.
Senior Pat Shed is once again expected to play a pivotal role in the return game after leading the team in both punts and kickoffs. While he didn't make many mistakes, he didn't make many big plays either.
Watch Out For … the competition between Long and Anderson to be one of the sneaky good storylines of the summer. Had Zahn not gone 7-of-17 on field goals last year, the Blazers might have had a very different record. The two rookies will be jockeying for position and a chance to play a pivotal role in 2011. Don't discount Ragland pulling double-duty, as he surged into the lead after spring.
Strength: Ragland. He's come a long way over the past few seasons, giving the program a steady punter, with enough leg strength to boot the offense out of its own territory. The team's net punting improved, an indication that Ragland's hang time and directional kicks did as well.
Weakness: The return game. As uncertain as the kicking game is these days, the return game is just as unstable. The Blazers continue to languish near the bottom of the league, averaging only 4.1 yards a punt return and 20.9 yards a kick return, respectively.
Outlook: UAB continues to have all kinds of problems on special teams, which has become a perennial weak spot in Birmingham. After Ragland, a series of question marks ensue. One thing that's certain is that co-coordinators John Wozniak and Tyson Summers will be working overtime to locate a little stability here in the fall.
Unit Rating: 4
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