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2011 Vanderbilt Preview – Defense
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 21, 2011


CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense


Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2011 - Defense


- 2011 Vanderbilt Preview | 2011 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2011 Vanderbilt Defense | 2011 Vanderbilt Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has a ton of experience to work with, and now he has to try to improve a defense that finished dead last in the SEC and was 11th in scoring defense and last in run defense. Getting into the backfield won’t be a problem with athleticism and high-motor playmakers on the line, while Chris Marve leads a promising linebacking corps that should come up with a ton of tackles. The strength should be in the secondary where pick-off artist Casey Hayward and tackling-machine Sean Richardson will be all-stars. This is an active, aggressive defense, but it has to learn how to hold up against the better offenses and it has to come up with more stops on third downs.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sean Richardson, 98
Sacks: Rob Lohr, 4
Interceptions: Kenny Ladler, 6

Star of the defense: Senior LB Chris Marve
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Tristan Strong
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Walker May
Best pro prospect: Marve
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Marve, 2) S Sean Richardson, 3) CB Casey Hayward
Strength of the defense: Experience, Tackles For Loss
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front might not have hit the quarterback enough, but it was fantastic at getting into the backfield as the Vandy D finished first in the SEC and eighth in the nation in tackles for loss. Three starters return and the depth isn’t all that bad, but now the line has to hold up better against the run.

Senior Tim Fugger was a great recruit for the program, but he hasn’t been able to stay fully healthy for a season. He made 22 tackles with three sacks, four forced fumbles and five tackles for loss, and when he’s on, he has the speed and quickness to be a regular behind the line. A 6-4 and 250 pounds he has a great frame to go along with the tools to be one of the SEC’s most disruptive forces. Working in the rotation is junior Johnell Thomas , a short, squatty 6-0, 250-pound end with good size and tremendous quickness. He started against Florida and was a key reserve making 22 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. The motor is there to be a dangerous situational pass rusher.

The lone new starter is 6-4, 235-pound sophomore Walker May , a dangerous pass rushing prospect who ripped up practices as a scout team superstar before stepping in last year to finish with 29 tackles with 1.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. He missed half the season hurt with a leg injury, but when he’s right, he’s expected to be the team’s best pass rusher with all-star upside. The motor is going full tilt all the time with the speed to match. 6-3, 245-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Woestmann isn’t all that big, but he’s a fast, athletic pass rusher who’ll combine with May for time on the outside. For his size, he’s expected to be strong against the run.

Trying to stuff things up on the inside is 6-4, 280-pound junior Rob Lohr , a decent veteran who isn’t a rock against the run, but is active enough to make a team-leading four sacks with 35 tackles and eight tackles for loss. While he’s not small, he’s not a big, bulky tackle and uses his quickness to make plays. The former high school tight end has to get into the backfield to be effective, while 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Jared Morse provides more bulk. After coming up with seven tackles as a true freshman, he’ll see his role increase in the rotation to get his size on the field.

While he might not be the interior pass rusher that Lohr is, T.J. Greenstone is a strong anchor of a defensive tackle who wasn’t right last year with leg problems. The leader of the front four, he’s strong, tough, and productive making 28 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss in nine games. Arguably the defense’s most important player, he needs to stay healthy and has to be a rock against the run. If Greenstone is hurting, 6-1, 280-pound junior Colt Nichter can step in and start again like he did for four games in the middle of last year. He wasn’t necessarily a rock, but he finished with 32 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Very quick, he’s more of a playmaker in the backfield than a run stuffer.

Watch Out For … May. He generated a ton of buzz last year and was expected to be a devastating killer into the backfield, but he wasn’t healthy and was held to a good season, but not a great one. With his size and his skills, and with the rest of the line strong enough to take the heat off, watch out.
Strength: Experience and quickness. Three starters are back and May is like a returning starter. The Vandy line knows what it’s doing, and there will be production in the backfield from all four spots.
Weakness: Run defense. Considering the defense came up with 89 tackles for loss, giving up 2,316 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns isn’t good. The D got ripped up by anyone who wanted to pound the ball.
Outlook: The defensive front isn’t going to be a rock and it’ll get shoved around by anyone who wants to provide a push, but everyone will get in the backfield with the potential there for Fugger and May to be terrific on the outside and Lohr will be a regular hitting the quarterback.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

State of the Unit: The big concern going into last year revolved around trying to replace playmakers in Patrick Benoist and Brent Trice, but there was enough returning talent to hope for things to be fine. Last year’s linebackers made a ton of plays and were active, but there weren’t enough big stops against the run. That might change this year with a nice-looking threesome to rely on.

6-0, 238-pound senior Chris Marve is a good pro prospect and a special college talent who wasn’t quite right after suffering a leg injury early on, but he still finished second on the team with 80 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. A tough leader in the middle, but with the speed to play on the outside, he’s a tackling machine who’s all over the field and gets in on every stop. While he’s not huge, he bulked up enough over the last few years to be tougher and stronger against the power teams, but his worth is as an active speed defender with the versatility to play any of the three spots.

Junior Tristan Strong was supposed to be a major factor last with good speed and 6-1, 228-pound size, but he was never right as he still recovered from a knee injury suffered halfway through 2009. The knee got better as the season went on, and he was a decent special teamer and saw a little time as a reserve linebacker, he made three tackles. Now he’ll get a long look at one of the outside spots and should be a disruptive playmaker, but 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Chase Garnham will get his chances after seeing time as a true freshman making eight tackles as a special teamer and a backup. A safety by nature, he brings good athleticism to the outside.

Gone is John Stokes and his 78 tackles, but 6-4, 228-pound junior Archibald Barnes is a promising option after making 11 tackles. Part defensive end and part outside linebacker, he has the quickness to go along with the size to be a pass rusher if given the chance, while 6-1, 235-pound junior DeAndre Jones has the ability and the potential to be a statistical star if he can get healthy. A great option for the inside or the strongside, if he can avoid getting banged up, unlike last year, he should be a key part of the rotation after making 13 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss.

Watch Out For … Strong. If his knee is right, he should be a perfect running mate for Marve with the athleticism to make plays all over the field. It’ll be a shock if he’s not one of the top four tacklers.
Strength: Marve. A mortal lock for 100 tackles if he stays healthy, he’s one of the SEC’s best all-around defenders and the type of star and leader to work the rest of the defense around. He’ll clean up everything the line doesn’t get to.
Weakness: Experience around Marve. Barnes and Strong are good and have nice potential, but they still have to prove they can hold up and get the job done for a full season. More pass rushing from all three spots would be nice.
Outlook: Marve is a special player who should be in the mix for All-American honors, and if injuries don’t strike the corps, there should be plenty of stats. There’s decent athleticism and good potential for this to be a very, very nice corps with a little bit of time.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The pass rush didn’t help the cause, but the secondary didn’t do enough when it got its chances. Out of the nine interceptions six came from one player and there weren’t nearly enough key third down stops. Even though there were some good moments, teams like Arkansas ripped the secondary to shreds. All four starters return with plenty of potential for a far better season.

The sheriff of the Commodore secondary will once again be senior Sean Richardson , a 6-2, 218-pound veteran who started 18 straight games and led the team with 98 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss. After taking over a safety job a few years ago, he made 84 tackles before coming up with a whale of a 2010, and now the big hitting, speedy veteran should be in the mix for all-star honors if he can start picking off some passes. He’s decent in pass coverage, but he doesn’t make enough big plays.

One of the team’s biggest playmakers who emerged last season was Casey Hayward , a 5-11, 188-pound senior who stepped up his play as the No. 1 corner finishing fourth on the team with 70 tackles with six interceptions and 11 broken up passes. A starter in 24 straight games, he knows what he’s doing, makes a ton of plays when the ball is in the air, and is a great tackler with 128 stops in the last two seasons. Versatile enough to be used as a safety, he has a future at the next level as a swing defender who’ll see time in a variety of spots.

With teams staying away from Hayward, junior Trey Wilson has to get ready to be picked on. The 5-11, 190-pounder saw time as a special teamer and a reserve corner making 11 tackles, but he didn’t break up any passes. A good tackler, he could move to safety if needed, while 5-10, 170-pound junior Eddie Foster is back after starting most of the season making 53 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes and six tackles for loss. Able to see time as a nickel back, he’ll be on the field in some way.

A rising star at safety, sophomore Kenny Ladler has 6-1, 205-pound size with smarts and pop to his tackles. He didn’t become the full-time starter until the second month of his true freshman season, but he came through with a strong year making 57 tackles with a pick and 5.5 tackles for loss. Great in the open field, he doesn’t miss stops and has a great nose for the ball.

In the mix for one of the safety jobs will once again be junior Eric Samuels , 6-0, 200-pound veteran who has done it all seeing time at running back as well as a safety. He made 27 tackles and came up with a few big pops in the secondary with two forced fumbles.

On the way is Derek King one of the team’s top recruit after starring as a running back and a corner. The 5-11, 195-pounder is lightning fast and defensive lineman strong, and he’ll find a spot somewhere in the equation as soon as possible, as will Jacquese Kirk , a receiver and a defensive back who could end up on offense, but has the makeup to be a whale of a corner. He’s a good hitter who at 6-0 and a thin 160 pounds is more of a playmaker against the pass than big hitter.

Watch Out For … Wilson. Whether used as a fifth defensive back or a key corner on the other side of Hayward, he’s a good option who could turn into one of the team’s better players when the ball is in the air.
Strength: Experience. Not only are four starters returning, but depending on the formation, five starters are back. This was a veteran group last year, and now everyone knows what they’re doing.
Weakness: Interceptions. Hayward had six and the rest of the defensive backs came up with two. Of course, offenses know this and won’t force anything Hayward’s way. Someone else has to produce.
Outlook: The secondary has the talent, it has the experience, and it has the potential to be far better, but it needs to be more consistent after getting ripped up for 200 yards or more by everyone in the SEC but LSU, who ran for 280 yards in the layup win, and Ole Miss, who threw for 190. This won’t be an air-tight unit, but it’ll be solid with Hayward and Richardson as good as any defensive backs in the conference.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Back at placekicker is junior Ryan Fowler , who followed up a strong first season, hitting 16-of-21 field goals, by hitting 8-of-13 shots. He missed everything from deep and didn’t hit a longer kick than 31 yards out. He has a good enough leg to kick it from 50, but he’s not accurate from midrange or deep.

The punting game wasn’t all that bad, and now junior Richard Kent is back as one of the SEC’s most underappreciated kickers. He averaged 41.8 yards per try and forced 21 fair catches while putting a whopping 27 kicks inside the 20. The walk-on has 50 punts put inside the 20 in his first two years with the leg to get the struggling offense out of jams.

Injuries were a problem for the kickoff team. Eric Samuels stepped in and averaged 20.3 yards per try, but RB Warren Norman is the star of the show averaging 25.4 yards per pop after averaging 26.2 yards per try with three touchdowns as a freshman. Junior Zac Stacy is the top punt return option, but he only averaged 2.4 yards per try, while WR John Cole averaged 7.9 yards on 18 attempts.

Watch Out For … Kent to finally start to get his due. The SEC is loaded with phenomenal punters, and Kent is among the best. He came up with a great first two seasons and now he needs to be considered a legitimate All-America candidate.
Strength: Norman and Kent. As long as Norman is healthy, he’s one of the nation’s best kickoff returners. Kent puts the ball inside the 20 as well as anyone in America.
Weakness: Fowler from deep. For an offense that struggles to come up with points, it would be nice to have a whale of a placekicker who was automatic from inside the 50.
Outlook: If Fowler was a little bit better, the Vandy special teams would be a major strength. The coverage teams could stand to improve, and more pop to the punt return game would be nice, but punting and kickoff return games are among the elite.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2011 Vanderbilt Preview | 2011 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2011 Vanderbilt Defense | 2011 Vanderbilt Depth Chart