2012 UCF Preview – Defense
UCF LB Jonathan Davis
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UCF Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What you need to know: UCF recruits good athletes, transforms them into feisty defenders and, voila, the D often ranks among the best in Conference USA. The upcoming season figures to be no different. Yeah, next level CB Josh Robinson is among the three starters no longer around, but there is a healthy number of holdovers returning to pick up the slack. Back from a squad that allowed just 303 yards a game, fewest by the school since 1990, are all-star contending players at each level. Troy Davis and Victor Gray bolter the front four. The Jonathan Davis-led linebackers are fast and ferocious. And the secondary is missing just Robinson, leaving safeties Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers to assume bigger roles. The staff is surrounded by playmakers once again, a blend of vets and underclassmen that get to the ball quickly, and will swarm tackle until the whistle blows.
Star of the defense: Senior FS Kemal Ishmael
Tackles: Kemal Ishmael, 81
Sacks: Troy Davis, 5
Interceptions: A.J. Bouye, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Terrance Plummer
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Brandon Alexander
Best pro prospect: Ishmael
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ishmael, 2) Senior LB Jonathan Davis, 3) Senior DE Troy Davis
Strength of the defense: Team speed, run defense, secondary, limiting the big play, third-down D, red-zone D
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, overall depth
Three starters are back for a unit that believes it can be the backbone of the 2012 defense. The catalyst will once again be 6-2, 249-pound DE Troy Davis, the team's best pass rusher. Now a senior, he's looking to take on more of a leading role in his final season of eligibility. Essentially an outside linebacker, with the terrific speed, explosiveness and upper body strength to get around the edge, he's a nightmare for most offensive tackles to handle. In 2011, he delivered 29 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and a team-high five sacks, a level of production he's determined to pass this fall.
Hoping to join Davis on the outside will be 6-4, 267-pound Victor Gray , a talented two-year starter. Despite earning honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2011 as a defensive tackle, he often lacked the size to avoid getting engulfed in the trenches. The staff would like to try him on the outside as a strongside end, so that he can support the run defense, while avoiding some congestion. He has 29 tackles, five stops for loss, seven pass breakups and a team-best 10 pressures last fall.
Charging hard up the depth chart is 6-5, 245-pound senior Cam Hendersonwho is coming off a breakout offseason. The former JUCO transfer had 15 tackles in a dozen games last season, but possesses the long arms and the get-off to blossom into more of an impact player in second year in Orlando.
The Knights could be noticeably younger on the inside this season. Junior Josh Woffordis pushing for a full-time gig after starting four games in 2011. The squat 6-1, 298-pounder was in on only seven tackles all year, with three coming in the opener versus Charleston Southern.
If Gray remains on the outside, redshirt freshman Thomas Nileswill get a long look for a starting assignment . Though undersized at 6-2 and 266 pounds, he'll employ quick hands and even quicker feet to beat his man off the snap.
The veteran of the interior is 6-2, 298-pound junior E.J. Dunstonwho'll do no worse than be a busy member of the tackle rotation. More of a prototypical run-stuffer than Niles, he has started three games in each of the last two seasons, recording 13 tackles in 2011.
Watch Out For .... Henderson. He really turned heads with his performance in March and April, looking as if he might form an ideal complement on the edge with Davis. If Henderson can improve his technique and add a few more pounds of muscle, he's the kind of athlete who can provide an instant jolt to the pass rush.
Strength: Stuffing the run. For the past few years, UCF has been notoriously difficult to run on, a trend that's likely to continue in 2012. Last fall, the team yielded just 109 yards a game to lead Conference USA. With the likes of Gray, Wofford and Dunston eating up blocks, the Knights will once again ranks among the league's stingiest defenses.
Weakness: The pass rush. The Knights were surprisingly feeble on the rush last fall, ranking 100th in the country. It was a role reversal for a squad that's terrorized quarterbacks with the likes of DE Bruce Miller in recent years. UCF needs someone other than one of the Davis', Troy and LB Jonathan, to collapse the pocket this fall.
Outlook: Davis will be fantastic exploding off the perimeter, and the interior linemen are an underrated bunch that always seems to jam opposing running lanes. However, it is incumbent upon someone else, such as Henderson or Gray, to create more chaos and big plays this fall. The Knights always seem to be steady along the D-line, but they'd like to approach spectacular on a more regular basis in 2012.
For one final year, the corps of linebackers will benefit from the frenetic style of play senior outside linebacker Jonathan Davis . The 5-9, 202-pound former running back showed flashed in his first year on defense, making 44 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss and three sacks. While vulnerable in pass defense, he's terrific when moving forward to defend the run or blitz the pocket. He's a big hitter with enough toughness, drive and intensity to remain the top playmaker from the second level.
While Davis will be weakside, 6-5, 242-pound senior Ray Shipmanwill once again line up at strongside. A former transfer from Florida, he was on the Gator basketball squad, and before 2011 hadn't played football since his freshman year of high school. The two-game starter last fall made 35 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss, and has the immense athletic ability to evolve into much more of a playmaker this season.
Sophomore Terrance Plummer is staring at the tall task of supplanting Josh Linam in the middle of the D. As a rookie, he started the Memphis game, and finished with 17 tackles and a pair of stops for loss. At 6-1 and 228 pounds, he lacks ideal size for an inside linebacker, but will compensate with sharp instincts and outstanding range.
The Knights boast quality depth on the outside with 6-1, 207-pound sophomore Troy Grayand 6-2, 225-pound senior Ray Cottman . A linebacker with safety speed, Gray impressively made 30 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss in his debut to earn a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. Cottman will be looking to build on his first year with the Knights after transferring from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College.
Watch Out For .... Shipman to quietly become a force on the defense. He plays with a similar demeanor as Davis, yet is a little faster and substantially bigger. Now that he has that first season on grass behind him, the senior is poised to become a real defensive menace who is going to cover ground very quickly.
Strength: Range. With a combination of speed, instincts and proper pursuit angles, the UCF linebackers make the most of their abundant athleticism. Not only is this group quick enough to string out plays from sideline to sideline, but it also has the footwork and backpedal to support the secondary in pass defense as well.
Weakness: Size. The Knights move very well, but there's a price to pay for that range. With the notable exception of Shipman, the linebackers are an undersized unit that more closely resembles a collection of safeties. Against the bigger and more physical opponents, UCF will be vulnerable to getting blown off the ball.
Outlook: The linebackers are somewhat raw, but very athletic. In other words, some weeks these guys will be dominant, and in others they might look a little lost. When Davis, Shipman and Plummer are on the field at the same time, UCF will be explosive from the second level, and a constant threat to turn loose on the blitz.
The UCF secondary was so close to being one of the most underrated pass defenses of 2012 .. and then star current Minnesota Vikings CB Josh Robinson went ahead and left early for the pros. The Knights should still be pretty feisty in the defensive backfield. With Robinson gone, the new leader of the back four is senior FS Kemal Ishmael, an honorable mention All-Conference USA pick in 2011. The 5-11, 206-pounder led the team with 81 tackles, adding 2.5 stops for loss and three pass breakups. He's the physical enforcer of the secondary, a defensive back with a linebacker's mentality.
Providing insurance for Geathers at free safety will be 5-10, 202-pound senior Lyle Dankenbring , a veteran of three letters in Orlando. While he only has one career start, he brings value off the bench, making a career-best 28 tackles last season.
Lining up at strong safety for a second straight season will be 6-3, 206-pound Clayton Geathers , a starter in all 12 games of 2011. The sophomore is a fine all-around athlete, blending ideal size with the ability to quickly jump routes to bat away passes. He put down a nice foundation last fall by chipping in 67 tackles, three stops behind the line and six pass breakups. Geathers will be even more effective in 2012 now that he has a season of experience on the resume.
Experience at cornerback will come from 6-0, 186-pound senior A.J. Bouye , who started last year's first five games before suffering a season-ending injury. At the time, he'd made 21 tackles and a couple of picks. He has safety experience to go along with the athleticism and cover skills to blanket the other team's best receiver.
The upshot of Bouye's injury last fall is that it allowed 6-1, 183-pound sophomore Brandon Alexanderto start the final five games of his rookie year. While there were some predictable stumbles, he held up surprisingly well for a true freshman in a passing league, making 43 tackles and breaking up five passes. He has the size and ball skills to become one of the anchors of this group in 2013.
Watch Out For .... Alexander to make quarterbacks pay for looking to exploit his side of the field. The natural instincts will be to pick on the kid who's just a year removed from high school, but Alexander is no typical sophomore cornerback. He's very mature and gifted, a combination that could lead to four or five picks.
Strength: Buckling down. Even without the services of Robinson, the Knights are going to be a difficult team to navigate through the air. A year ago, they led the league in completion %, touchdowns allowed and yards per game. While the actual numbers may not be the same as 2011, this team will still rank among Conference USA's best in pass defense.
Weakness: Picks. Although the Knights got their hands on a bunch of passes in 2011, only nine wound up being interceptions. That figure ranked 86th in the country, far too low for a team with so much talent in the defensive backfield.
Outlook: UCF won't be nearly as impenetrable through the air as it was last season, but it will still be plenty tough to throw on. The two safeties, Ishmael and Geathers, are intimidating figures lurking in the back end of the secondary. And Bouye and Alexander will form an underrated tandem at the cornerback position. It should shock no one if the Knights end up atop Conference USA in pass defense for a second straight year.
It'll be a busy summer for the special teamers, who need to replace last year's kicker and punter. The opening at placekicker is going to be a free-for-all involving three sophomores, Shawn Moffitt , Mexico City's Rodrigo Quirarteand Ireland native Sean Galvin . Galvin handled kickoffs in four games, and Moffitt got a taste of action, but hit just 5-of-9 field goal tries.
In senior Jamie Boyle , UCF hopes to have found an answer at punter. He was a little tenuous at the beginning of spring, but eventually found a groove, and consistently delivered kicks of at least 45 yards.
Watch Out For… more fireworks on kickoffs from sophomore Rannell Hall . The speedster was dynamic as a rookie for the Knights, averaging 31 yards a return for the second best performance in school history. He has the jets and vision to be an All-Conference USA performer in 2012.
Strength: Hall. He's the one potential difference-maker that UCF houses on special teams, a real burner when he hits the seam. If he's able to build on an auspicious debut, it'll bode very well for the Knights offense this fall.
Weakness: Uncertainty at kicker. UCF missed 9-of-25 field goal attempts in 2011, an underlying cause of so many tight defeats. With the cast that's currently competing for the starting job, it's not likely that the results are going to be markedly different than they were a year ago.
Outlook: Kick returns aside, UCF has a number of issues on special teams entering the 2012 season. The specialist are unproven, the coverage teams allow big plays and the punt returners were nothing special a year ago. More than anything else, the Knights really need someone to emerge at placekicker, bringing stability to the position.
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