2012 Florida Atlantic Preview - Defense
Florida Atlantic CB Keith Reaser
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Florida Atlantic Owl Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Expect immediate changes. Switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the emphasis early on will be on an undersized line that has to do far more to get into the backfield. Defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis will bring the house with more aggressiveness and more of an emphasis on getting into the backfield. While the front seven might be small, athleticism isn’t a problem and there’s plenty of quickness to fly around and make plays all over the field. The linebacking corps is the strength with big-time tacklers David Hinds and Randell Johnson the stars of the show, while the secondary will be fine if the front seven attacks like it’s supposed to.
Star of the defense: Senior LB David Hinds
Tackles: David Hinds, 110
Sacks: Randell Johnson, 5
Interceptions: Treon Howard, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Jimmy Jean
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Jeremy McKnight
Best pro prospect: Hinds
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hinds, 2) LB Randell Johnson, 3) S Demetrius Williamson
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Big Plays
With the 4-3 defense that’ll be more aggressive, the line has to be more disruptive and far stronger at getting to the quarterback. However, the interior has to be tougher against the run and that will start with 6-2, 290-pound senior Jimmy Jean, who spent part of last year working on the nose for three games and on the end the rest of the time. Wanted by Louisville and a slew of other big schools, he has yet to dominate, but he came up with 29 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He’s not going to get to the quarterback, but he’ll be in a natural tackle position backed up by junior Andrew Stryffeler, who’s built like a 3-4 end at 6-5 and 265 pounds and can move around where needed. He saw a little bit of time as a backup making two stops.
With two tackles needed for the interior, the Owls will be undersized with 6-5, 230-pound sophomore Robinson Eugene who’ll be working both as an end and a tackle. Extremely quick, his job will be to find ways to get into the backfield, but he might struggle to hold up against the power running teams meaning there will have to be a regular rotation.
6-3, 238-pound junior Cory Henry is more of a linebacker than a true end, but now in the new defense he’ll move to the line and should be a decent pass rusher in a speed rusher role. A hybrid, he was turned loose into the backfield and came up with 6.5 tackles for loss with 39 tackles, but he only made 1.5 sacks. He’ll have to do less against the run now than he did as a linebacker combining with 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Joe Henry on the left side. Always working and always moving, he should grow into a role after making a tackle in his limited time.
Combining forces at the other end will be 5-11, 250-pound junior David Baptiste and 6-4, 250-pound Martin Wright, two pass rushers who’ll each get plenty of time. Baptiste might be a big smallish, but he produces when he got his chances with 23 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss, while Wright was a spot starter with 33 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss as an athletic linebacker.
On the way is top recruit Shalom Ogbunda, a 6-4, 245-pound athlete from London who’s just starting to scratch the surface. A three-star recruit, the upside is limitless and eventually he could be one of the Sun Belt’s most dangerous playmakers.
Watch Out For … much, much more of a pass rush. The new coaching staff is going to make sure its line gets to the quarterback early and often meaning the ends could sell-out to get there.
Strength: The coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis and line coach Brett Diersen are good prospects under Carl Pelini, and they’ll make sure the smallish and quick defensive linemen can fly into the backfield.
Weakness: Tackle size. Jimmy Jean is a 290-pounder, and that’s about it for bulk in the interior. It’s hard to run a 4-3 without tackles, so the Owls will end up using bulked up ends out of position to hold up.
Outlook: The defensive line has been a huge problem for the program over the last several years, and while it was stronger last season than normal, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. There’s speed and quickness up front and the coaching staff will use a rotation to generate more production, but the line will have issues against and running game with some pop.
Unit Rating: 4.5
The linebacking corps was stretched a bit thin in the old 3-4 scheme, and now it’ll be a better group in the 4-3 highlighted by leading-tackler David Hinds, who came up with 110 stops with two sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The 6-2, 234-pound senior is decent in pass coverage and has good quickness and range, but he’s at his strongest when he gets to make stops against the run. Bulked up, he’s still fast even at his bigger size.
Both a defensive end and a linebacker, 6-4, 250-pound junior Martin Wright who’ll be occasionally used as a pass rushing up front when he’s not working as an outside linebacker. A decent veteran, he made 33 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss, and now he has to be more disruptive. When he’s up front, 6-1, 225-pound sophomore Michael Copeland will step in after making two tackles as a special teamer. Extremely quick, like Wright he can also be used as a pass rusher.
6-4, 230-pound junior Randell Johnson came up with a huge season finishing second on the team with 92 tackles with a team-leading five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. A former safety, he hit the weights hard but still has the same athleticism to work in a variety of ways as a linebacker, With unlimited range and plenty of experience, he should be the perfect fit for the new-look defense and should be in the mix for all-star honors.
Watch Out For … Wright. Where will he play? The line needs as many options as possible and needs depth, and while Wright is better as a linebacker he could grow into a role on the end. He’ll be used in a variety of ways.
Strength: Tacklers. There might be problems in several areas on the team, but there’s no questioning what Hinds and Johnson can do. These two cleaned up a whole bunch of messes combining for 202 tackles. They’ll be the stars of the team.
Weakness: Depth. The bigger linebackers are needed at defensive end, and now the depth is a bit thing counting on Hinds, Johnson, and Wright to hold up and Copeland needs to blossom. A slew of injuries would be disastrous.
Outlook: The FAU linebackers should be the strength of the defense and could be among the best in the Sun Belt if a few backups emerge and if everyone stays healthy. The call has gone out for more aggressiveness and more big plays, and while the starters will be decent at holding up against the run, they have to be disruptive forces.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The secondary needs another good year out of free safety Demetrius Williamson, a 6-0, 195-pound senior who turned into a nice defender against the run making 63 tackles, and while he didn’t come up with a kick he broke up five passes. Extremely smart, he doesn’t make many big mistakes and he has become a bigger leader as he gets more and more experience at free safety after spending last year at strong safety.
With Williamson making the move, JUCO transfer Jeremy McKnight will step in at strong safety. The 5-10, 180-pounder isn’t huge, but he’s a good hitter and a sure tackler making 80 solo stops at the lower level on the way to the JUCO national title. He’s great at getting around the ball and he doesn’t miss once he gets there.
McKnight was brought in to own the job, but 6-1, 187-pound senior Brentley Harstad can step in when needed after making 18 tackles and a pick in six games of work. Not only can he step in at strong safety, but he’ll be the starting nickel back in five defensive back formations. He’s more of a corner than safety, but he’s needed as a possible ball-hawk in passing situations.
With more aggressiveness from the front seven the corners will have to be used to being on an island. Junior Keith Reiser went from being a key reserve to a 12-game starter finishing sixth on the team with 61 tackles with two picks and seven broken up passes, and now he should do even more. A star prospect who was wanted by everyone in the Sun Belt along with a few ACC schools, he needs to grow into a shutdown playmaker who comes up with more picks.
Working on the other side will be junior Treon Howard, who had to hit the weights really, really hard to get up to 5-11 and 175 pounds, but he should hold up better against the run. Really quick, he cuts on a dime and closes on the ball well making 46 tackles with two picks, but he only broke up one other pass. He’s too talented and too experienced not to be a big play performer.
On the way is 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Tony Grimes, a former Ole Miss Rebel who spent last year at Arizona Western CC making 36 tackles with four picks and 11 broken up passes. Very fast and great with the ball in his hands, the corner could quickly push for one of the starting jobs and will instantly provide a key backup needed.
Watch Out For … McKnight. The Owl secondary takes a huge hit losing longtime stalwart Marcus Bartels at safety, but McKnight is good enough to instantly fill the hole in the secondary and be one of the team’s leading tacklers.
Strength: Veterans. The starting four – or five, depending on the formation – should be solid and should know what they’re doing. This is an extremely quick group that can swarm around the ball and make stops. The secondary did a decent job considering there wasn’t much help from the pass rush.
Weakness: Interceptions. The team came up with ten picks last year and got three of them in the opener against Florida and two came against Middle Tennessee. That means the Owls picked off five passes in the other ten games of the season.
Outlook: Speed and athleticism isn’t a problem, and depth isn’t going to be an issue after a few games. The Owls have a good group of safeties to rely on and the corners won’t be bad, but the talent won’t matter if there isn’t more help from the defensive front seven. Pass rush, stopping the run, and more big plays are a must from the line to give the secondary a break. That might all come with the new coaching staff.
Unit Rating: 5
Senior Vinny Zaccario transferred over from Memphis and was solid connecting on 7-of-11 field goals, but he didn’t show too much leg and missed some makeable kicks. The big problem was that he made just one field goal after the fifth game of the year, not getting any attempts over a four-game stretch before missing three of his last four attempts. Worse yet, two of the misses were from 29 and 26 yards out. His problems opened the door for redshirt freshman Marcelo Bonani, who’s not only a good punting prospect but has great range as placekicker.
The punting game was miserable because of the coverage team. Mickey Groody averaged 42 yards per kick and forced 23 fair catches, but didn’t get any help. JUCO transfer Sean Dooley will have the job from Day One with a live, accurate leg and he can hang it up deep.
The punt return game needs more help. WR Blake Bierman was awful averaging just 0.5 yards on his eight tries, while RB Travis Jones was better averaging 7.1 yards on his eight attempts. The kick return game wasn’t much better with Willie Floyd averaging 21 yards per try, but D.J. Frye-Smith was a little better averaging 21 yards per attempt and now he’ll get more chances.
Watch Out For … Dooley. Groody was great and did his job, but he was always under pressure and the coverage team was awful. Dooley should average well over 40 yards per try and he should step in and be solid.
Strength: The kickoff coverage team wasn’t all that bad. The special teams overall struggled, but the kickoff team wasn’t awful allowing 20 yards per try. Zaccario wasn’t bad early on, and Bonani should be fine throughout.
Weakness: Punt coverage. The return games were awful and there was little range on field goals, but the biggest problem was in punt coverage allowing 13.9 yards per try with two touchdowns. Groody bombed away, but bad things happened if he didn’t force a fair catch or put it inside the 20.
Outlook: The special teams can’t be much worse. The consistency needs to be there with the return game and the coverage teams have to be stronger, but it all comes down to the kickers. If Bonani and Dooley do their jobs, there will be a big improvement.
Unit Rating: 5
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