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2011 Eastern Michigan Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 22, 2011


CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagle Defense


Eastern Michigan Eagles

Preview 2011 - Defense


- 2011 Eastern Michigan Preview | 2011 Eastern Michigan Offense
- 2011 Eastern Michigan Defense | 2011 Eastern Michigan Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Once again, the Eastern Michigan defense was among the worst in America, allowing 454 yards and 44 points per game. The pass defense was bad, the run defense was worse, and there wasn’t any pass rush whatsoever. How poor was the D? The team came up with a total of two picks. Seven starters return and there’s a glimmer of hope for a better season helped by some newcomers. JUCO transfer Justin Cudworth is a decent-looking outside linebacker, and Marlon Pollard comes in from UCLA to take over a starting corner job, but the veterans like tackle Jabar Westerman and safety Willie Williams have to come through and start to produce.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Marcell Rose, 56
Sacks: Javon Reese, 3.5
Interceptions: Marcell Rose, Colin Weingrad, 1

Star of the defense: Sophomore CB Marlon Pollard
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Jabar Westerman
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Sean Kurtz
Best pro prospect: Pollard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pollard, 2) CB Marcell Rose, 3) DE Devin Henderson
Strength of the defense: Experience, Cornerback
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Defense

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The concern going into last season was the lack of a sure-thing pass rusher, and sure enough, the Eagle defensive front was a nightmare finishing 118th in the nation, and last in the MAC, with just ten sacks to go along with a mere 51 tackles for loss. Enough talent returns, especially on the inside, to hope for more production against the run, but this is a woefully undersized group that will struggle to make up for the lack of bulk and talent.

The best of the bunch up front should once again be senior tackle Brandon Slater, a 6-2, 280-pound veteran who made 27 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, but he can do far more to plug things up. He bulked up big-time after starting out his career at 244 pounds, and while the hope was that he’d become a strong interior pass rusher, it hasn’t happened so far. Working next to Slater will be a rotation that will start with sophomore Kalonji Kashama, a lanky 6-4, 255-pound versatile defender who can work inside or out. One of the team’s better pass rushers, he made two sacks and 14 tackles in his limited role.

Certain to see plenty of time in the rotation will once again be senior Jabar Westerman, a 6-2, 285-pounder whose one of the team’s bigger options. He started late in the year and finished with 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and now he’ll work a bit at each inside job. Also in the mix will be 6-2, 290-pound senior Jasper Grimes, who at 6-2 and 290 pounds is the biggest body on the inside.

Looking to generate more of a pass rush is Javon Reese, a 6-1, 250-pound senior who’s more of a strongside linebacker than a defensive end. He led the team with 3.5 sacks along with 25 tackles, but he didn’t use his great burst nearly enough and he wasn’t the disruptive force the front seven needed to be. He’ll work in a rotation with junior Devon Davis, an undersized 6-2, 225-pound end who made 14 tackles and a tackle for loss as a backup. He has the motor and the quickness, but he doesn’t do much if he’s not able to make plays behind the line.

Working on the other side will be junior Andy Mulumba, a 6-4, 256-pound veteran who made 17 tackles and two tackles for loss. He has mostly been a linebacker early in his career, getting a few starts on the strongside, but the Canadian has to become a pass rusher. He’ll combine with one of the team’s most versatile defensive linemen, senior Brad Ohrman, a hybrid lineman at 6-4 and 265 pounds who made 13 tackles in a limited role last year and has 74 career stops and six sacks. One of the team’s top recruits a few years ago, he hasn’t been able to be the star the line has needed.

Watch Out For … Even more of a rotation. The line doesn’t have much size and it didn’t come up with any semblance of production last year, so the idea will be to rotate the versatile options around a bit more to find something that works.
Strength: Veterans. The Eagles have two options for each of the four spots and several of the players, like Ohrman and Kashama, can move around. Enough miles have been logged in to expect more.
Weakness: Playing football. The line was among the worst in the nation last year as nothing worked. There wasn’t any pass rush and the run defense didn’t hold up against anyone. An offensive front that wants to provide a push shouldn’t have a problem against this group.
Outlook: The experience is in place to expect far, far more after a disastrous 2010, but it all has to start from the outside where Reese and Mulumba have to start hitting quarterbacks. There should be a decent tackle rotation, but being fresh only matters with a few stops now and then.
Unit Rating: 4

Linebackers

State of the Unit: The linebackers had several options thrown into the equation last year, but in the end it was all about Neal Howey and Tim Fort trying to make plays before most ball-carriers trying to get into the secondary. Howey, the team’s leading tackler, is gone, and while there are some decent veterans returning, the team needs a few killers. The problem is that none of the linebackers are difference makers, and while the stats will be there, most of the tackles will be made down the field.

JUCO transfer Sean Kurtz could become a major factor against the run after making 63 tackles in just nine games for Santa Ana Community College. At 5-11 and 228 pounds, he has decent size and he’s active enough to be one of the team’s leading tacklers. Now he’ll battle for the starting job in the middle, but could be moved to the strongside if needed.

Senior Marcus English is one of the team’s leading returning tacklers, starting all 12 games but making just 37 tackles as he tried to fight through injuries. Only 6-1 and 228 pounds, he’s not all that big and he tries to play tough for his size, but he’s not built to hold up in the middle for a full season. More like a big safety than a linebacker, he’s a big hitter who needs to be more of an all-around playmaker. With English not likely to last if he has to be the main man for a full season, 6-0, 225-pound true sophomore Colin Weingrad has to play even more of a role after making ten tackles.

At 6-0 and 230 pounds, senior Nate Paopao is a good-sized option for the weakside. He bulked up over the last year and has the speed to be used a pass rusher from time to time, but he only played in the first two games and made five tackles. 5-11, 217-pound junior Justin Cudworth is a JUCO transfer who made 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year for College of the Canyons, and will be used on the outside where needed.

Junior Matt Boyd has seen a little bit of time over the last few years and was a factor throughout last season as a key backup on the weakside. The 6-0, 230-pounder made 31 tackles but didn’t do much of anything to get into the backfield. He’s big enough to move to the middle if needed, while 6-3, 232-pound JUCO transfer Blake Poole could be a major contributor right away on the strongside. He skipped all of last year to work on his studies at Santa Ana College, and now he’s ready to go as a solid open field tackler and a versatile all-around defender.

Watch Out For … The JUCO transfers. EMU needs a few killers who can eat up everything that comes their way, and Poole and Cudworth need to upgrade the production for a group that struggled throughout last year.
Strength: Versatility. Paopao and Boyd are built to play in the middle if needed, while English can work inside or out if needed. All the top linebackers can be played around with to find the right fit with the top three players on the field no matter what the position.
Weakness: Stopping the run. Coming up with big plays has been a problem with no stops in the backfield and few difference-making moments against the pass. The hope was for a slew of players to make up for the loss of run-stopping, tackling machine Daniel Holtzclaw, and it didn’t happen.
Outlook: Can all the decent options be turned into a linebacking corps that can stop someone? Last year was ugly with nothing happening against the run and nothing happening to change games around, but once again, it might take the entire year to find a decent combination, and even then it might not work.
Unit Rating: 4

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: EMU was No. 1 in the nation in pass defense in 2009, mostly because the run defense was giving up yards in chunks and games became so ugly that no one had to throw the ball. That was part of the reason last year’s secondary only gave up 224 yards per game, but the secondary got picked clean whenever anyone wanted to throw the ball finishing 119th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Junior Marcell Rose is the best of the lot finishing fourth on the team with 56 tackles while coming up with a pick and a team-leading six picks. At 5-9 and 188 pounds, he’s a decent-sized corner who’s not afraid to hit and has the athleticism and the ability to do even more. He got some nibbles from Notre Dame, South Carolina, and other BCS schools as a wide receiver, and now he’s growing into more of a factor.

6-0, 170-pound sophomore Marlon Pollard started out at UCLA after being ranked as one of the top prep corner prospects in America, but after looking great as a scout teamer, he chose to transfer after being stuck behind a slew of good corners. With his size, tackling ability and tremendous athleticism, the potential is there to be the team’s No. 1 corner from the start. The expectations are sky high.

Working in the corner rotation will once again be Ja’Ron Gillispie, a 5-11, 174-pound junior who made six tackles in a limited role. He started four games as a fifth defensive back two years ago, and was one of the team’s biggest corners, he can see the field as a nickel or dime defender. 5-11, 185-pound senior Nate Wilson was just a special teamer making one tackle, but he’ll be expected to see some time in the secondary.

Gone at free safety is Ryan Downard, who made 60 tackles, and now it’ll be up to senior Latarrius Thomas to become a player. He only saw time in two games before being suspended for violating team rules. Now he’s back and he needs to be a top free safety after finally getting eligible. The 6-2, 210-pounder was a starter for Louisville before suffering a knee injury, and now he’s ready to potentially be the teams’ top defensive playmaker. If not, senior Willie Williams will be ready to step in after making 35 tackles with five broken up passes last year.

5-11, 200-pound senior Martavius Cardwell was a nice playmaker last year making 46 tackles after getting back on the field halfway through the season. Arguably the team’s best defensive back over the last few years, finishing second on the team in tackles in 2009, he’s a tough free safety when needed but it just fine at strong safety. JUCO transfer Bryan Pali comes in from Orange Coach CC to see time at safety, but the former high school quarterback from Hawaii is still learning on the fly. At 6-0 and 198 pounds, he has the size to move around where needed.

Watch Out For … Thomas. A talented prospect when he went to UCLA, now he should be a big fish in a small pond as he owns the Eastern Michigan secondary. There’s a chance he becomes an All-MAC performer out of the box.
Strength: The transfers. Thomas is the most talented player the Eagles have in the secondary, and Cardwell isn’t far behind. If these two can stay healthy and on the field, EMU has the makings of a fantastic secondary.
Weakness: Actually stopping someone from throwing the ball. The talent and athleticism are in place, but will it translate? The defensive backs won’t get any help whatsoever from the pass rush and they have to prove they can stop a competent quarterback from producing.
Outlook: Two. That’s how man interceptions Eastern Michigan came up with last year, one only one came from a defensive back. The Eagles have GOT to get more big plays out of the corners, and the safeties can’t be a liability again. The potential is there for this to be the most talented EMU secondary in a long, long time, but they have to be a positive.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Eagles need points wherever they can get them, and that means junior Sean Graham has to be even strong er when he gets his chances. He hit 5-of-8 field goals, but four of his kicks came from inside the 30 and he missed two layups from 33 yards out and 30 yards away. While he was able to connect on a 42-yarder against Vanderbilt, he didn’t show any real range whatsoever.

The punting game struggled. It was fourth in the MAC, but 73rd in the nation averaging just 35.87 yards per kick. Junior Jay Karutz didn’t do much blasting away, with just four kicks of over 50 yards, but he put 16 inside the 20 and forced 14 fair catches while only putting it into the end zone three times.

Corey Welch wasn’t awful on kickoff returns, averaging 20.8 yards per try, but the team only averaged 19.5 yards per attempt. The bigger problem was on punt returns, with EMU averaging a pathetic three yards on its mere nine returns, but Marlon Pollard has the speed and quickness to do far more.

Watch Out For … Karutz to start bombing away a bit. He didn’t open it up too much as he tried to work with his coverage team to keep punt returns to a minimum, but now he’ll try to come up with some bigger kicks. He’ll average over 40 yards per try.
Strength: Coverage teams. The EMU punt coverage team only allowed six yards per punt return, and while the kick coverage team gave up two touchdowns, the 21.8 yards per try weren’t that bad when factoring in the home runs.
Weakness: Punt returns. Field position is a must for the Eagles, and they need some semblance of pop after averaging just three yards per try. Pollard has to make a difference.
Outlook: The special teams were a major problem two yards ago, and they didn’t improve too much last year. However, they did improve, especially on the coverage teams. The rest of the team isn’t good enough to be merely mediocre on special teams.
Unit Rating: 5

- 2011 Eastern Michigan Preview | 2011 Eastern Michigan Offense
- 2011 Eastern Michigan Defense | 2011 Eastern Michigan Depth Chart