2012 Southern Miss Preview – Defense

Posted May 20, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Defense

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Southern Miss Preview | 2012 Southern Miss Offense
- 2012 Southern Miss Defense | 2012 Southern Miss Depth Chart

What you need to know: Despite the arrival of a new coaching staff, Southern Miss plans to maintain the same 4-2-5 alignment that was so successful a year ago. The new overseer of the D will be coordinator Tommy West, a longtime veteran of the coaching ranks, specifically in Conference USA. He returns just five starters, but they should form the nucleus of one of the league's more capable defenses. Setting the tone will be Bandit Jamie Collins, who has the explosive qualities to vie for conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. His teammates along the defensive line, such as tackles Khyri Thornton and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, are prepared to step out of their predecessors' shadows. And they'll need to, considering the state of the linebacker corps. There are two potential stars from the five-man secondary, hard-hitting safety Jacorius Cotton and CB Deron Wilson, who could spend the next two seasons auditioning for a shot at the NFL.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jacorius Cotton, 98
Sacks: Jamie Collins, 6.5
Interceptions: Deron Wilson, 4

Star of the defense: Senior Bandit Jamie Collins
Player who has to step up and become a star:Junior LB Alan Howze
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Deron Wilson
Best pro prospect: Collins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Collins, 2) Wilson, 3) Junior S Jacorius Cotton
Strength of the defense: Edge pressure, the secondary, takeaways, limiting big plays, red zone D

Defensive Line

While Southern Miss isn't bankrupt on the D-line, it will have some work to do between now and the opener. All-star DE Cordarro Law and a slew of tackles have run out of eligibility. The good news, though, is that the team's Bandit, senior Jamie Collins is still on campus. The converted linebacker wound up being a perfect fit for the hybrid position, notching 98 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, a 97-yard pick-six and eight pass breakups. At 6-4 and 239 pounds, he has long arms and uncommon speed for a player his size. Collins also has a great work ethic and feel for the game, which has not been lost on the new coaching staff.

Playing a more traditional defensive end role will be 6-3, 238-pound sophomore Dasman McCullum who has gained an upper hand for a starting role. He had 22 tackles and thee stops for loss a year ago, but the staff is counting on his athleticism to produce more big plays this fall. McCullum is in an intense battle for snaps with 6-3, 239-pound junior Octavius Thomas , whose clock is ticking. An explosive all-around athlete, he has played sparingly the last two seasons because of a lack of maturity and dedication. With the fresh start that comes with a new staff, he's hoping to finally begin approaching his considerable ceiling.

The mainstay on the inside will be 6-3, 283-pound DT junior Khyri Thornton , the one-time South Florida commit. He's coming off his best season in Hattiesburg, making 24 tackles, nine stops for loss and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. Quick off the snap and light on his feet, he's a handful for plodding interior blockers. Once he sharpens his technique, he'll have a chance to be an al-star in this league.

One of the pleasant surprises this offseason has been Rakeem Nunez-Roches who has seized control of the opening at nose tackle. Despite just picking up a few cameos as a rookie, he really turned the corner in the offseason, emerging as an up-and-coming run stuffer with the girth and lower body strength to anchor the run defense for the Golden Eagles.

Watch Out For .... Collins to be used all over the field. The new staff loves the flexibility and versatility of No. 8 who's going to keep defenses guessing where to find him. At the next level, he'll be an outside linebacker, but for Southern Miss, he'll also put his hand in the dirt, and drop back into coverage when needed.
Strength: Edge pressure. With Collins at Bandit and the fleet-footed tandem of McCullum and Thomas on the outside, the Golden Eagles possess the sheer athleticism and closing speed to force opposing passers to rush their throws.
Weakness: Inside depth. New year, same problem. In fact, it might be a bigger concern in 2012 since three of last year's tackles have graduated. Thornton and Nunez-Roches are going to surprise a lot of people with their play, but behind them are a slew of journeymen and unproven apprentices.
Outlook: For good reason, the coaches are excited about the upside of this group. There are, however, a couple of caveats. First, either McCullum or Thomas needs to step up and take some heat off the headliner, Collins. Second, the program must build more reliable depth on the inside. With even a little more support from last year's backups, Southern Miss could boast a rather unruly D-line.
Rating: 6


The Golden Eagles are in transition at linebacker, a position that'll use two starters in the 4-2-5 alignment. Looking to become the tone-setter from the all-important middle spot will be 6-2, 219-pound junior Alan Howze , a career backup looking for his first chance to be a regular. The converted running back filled in for injured star Korey Williams a year ago, making 22 stops. He's a quality athlete, with an improving feel for the position, but needs to add more weight and simply get more snaps at a still-unfamiliar position.

The favorite at weakside is junior Dylan Reda , a transfer from Santa Ana (Calif.) College. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, he has the best size among the linebackers. He also has the advantage of reps over the past couple of seasons, making 174 tackles and 10 sacks during his stint with the Dons.

Keeping Reda from becoming content will be redshirt freshman Terrick Wright . While inexperienced and just 6-2 and 208 pounds, he plays the game extremely fast, and will be a candidate to be turned loose on blitzes when he gets on the field.

Watch Out For .... Reda to hit the ground running. He has the ready-made size for this level, and has the most college reps of any current Golden Eagles linebacker. The transfer was imported to Hattiesburg to contribute immediately, which is exactly what he plans on doing.
Strength: Range. The players may be different, but the strength of this group remains the same—it will cover lots of ground in a short period of time. These Eagles are still athletes first and defenders second, a dynamic that will gradually shift over time.
Weakness: Proven players. Reda is the most seasoned linebacker on the roster. Howze is still adjusting to the position. The backups are redshirt freshmen. Yup, you can expect some missed assignments and a steep learning curve when it comes to this group in 2012.
Outlook: The rebuilding plan at linebacker, a position of excellence over the years in Hattiesburg, could continue into 2013. The Golden Eagles are raw, inexperienced and lacking that one obvious cover boy who can contend for all-league honors. They'll rely on their athleticism and speed to compensate for a dearth of know-how.
Rating: 5


The defensive backfield will once again feature five players, including a hybrid known as a Spur, roaming the field this fall. A couple of rising juniors are poised to become the leaders of the secondary. At cornerback, 5-10, 175-pound Deron Wilson is after a lot more, including becoming one of Conference USA's top cover guys. He has already logged two years as a starter, making 75 tackles and team-highs with four picks and 13 pass breakups in 2011. While he can be outmuscled by more physical receivers, he back-pedals nicely in coverage, and is not bashful about defending the run.

The other all-star-contending junior of the secondary is safety 5-9, 190-pound Jacorius Cotton . Yeah, he lacks ideal size for the position, but not an ideal heart. He plays a lot bigger than his measurables, tying for the team lead with 98 tackles in his debut in the lineup. A ferocious and fearless hitter, who has added good weight during the offseason, he'll make opposing wide receivers think twice about crossing the middle of the field.

Joining Cotton at safety will either be 5-11, 193-pound junior Alex Smith or 6-0, 201-pound senior Martez Thompson . Both players lettered a year ago, with Thompson making 36 tackles and Smith 17. Thompson also has the better build and background, but has yet to completely shake the challenge of Smith.

The ongoing battle at the other cornerback spot has 5-10, 166-pound junior Alexander Walters holding an edge on 6-0, 174-pound senior Marcal Robinson coming out of spring. Neither player has much experience in the starting lineup, but both have been around the program long enough to not become unnerved by this possible promotion.

Back for a second season at Spur will be 6-1, 195-pound junior Jerrion Johnson , who started eight games at the position a year ago. While not as productive as the former staff would have liked, making just 31 tackles, the full season of experience ought to propel him to a much faster start in 2012.

Watch Out For .... the winner of the Walters-Robinson battle to get picked on early and often this fall. The starter better be prepared for a lot of attention in 2012, because opposing passers know better than to go after Wilson. The coaches will wait until August to declare a winner, knowing that this could be one of the most important defensive personnel decisions they make.
Strength: Coverage skills. Despite playing in the pass-happy Conference USA, the Golden Eagles still finished No. 7 nationally in pass efficiency defense in 2011, yielding less than six yards a pass attempt. Now, it'll be difficult to duplicate those heady numbers, but Wilson and Cotton are around to make sure any decline is imperceptible.
Weakness: Size. Southern Miss' biggest concern will be facing taller and more physical wide receivers. The defensive backs are a smallish group, particularly in terms of their weight and thickness. Someone, like Marshall's Aaron Dobson or Tulsa's Bryan Burnham, will have a distinct size advantage on the Eagles defenders.
Outlook: After turning the corner heroically in 2011, the defensive backfield is hoping to remain on top this fall. The foundation is solid, with Wilson, Cotton and even Johnson. However, the ceiling for this group will be determined by the play of the free safety and the other cornerback, two positions that'll stage heated battles in the summer.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

The big change on special teams is that all-star PK Danny Hrapmann has graduated, creating an opening for touted sophomore Corey Acosta to take over. Highly-regarded coming out of high school, he combines accuracy with just enough pop to reach from 50 yards. When given an opportunity, he connected on both of last year's field goal attempts.

Back for his fourth season as the punter is senior Peter Boehme , who averaged a career-high 43 yards a punt in 2011. More of a directional kicker than a true thumper, he relies on placement and angling his boots for the corner.

In senior Tracey Lampley , Southern Miss harbors one of the league's most dangerous return men. Capable of going the distance with even a sliver of daylight, he was the First Team All-Conference USA punt returner in 2011, averaging 11.5 yards a touch.

Watch Out For .... how well Acosta handles the pressure. It's one thing to split the uprights in practice. It's another thing entirely to deliver when the outcome of a game hangs in the balance. Hrapmann was clutch in Hattiesburg, which is what Acosta will aspire to be now that he's the undisputed kicker.
Strength: The return game. Lampley is one of the nation's most underrated all-around playmakers, contributing in a variety of ways on offense as well. He'll consistently provide field position support for an attack that's being overhauled from a year ago.
Weakness: Kick coverage. It's a bit of nitpicking since the coverage team came so far in 2011. However, it is the weaker of the two units at Southern Miss, and it was just two years ago that the program allowed three kickoffs to be taken back for touchdowns.
Outlook: While not an ideal situation, special teams might be the most stable of the three units in Hattiesburg in the early stages of the season. Boehme is consistent, Acosta has upside potential and Lampley is a difference-maker in the return game. Add in a suffocating punt coverage team, and the Eagles are in fine shape here.
Rating: 7
- 2012 Southern Miss Preview | 2012 Southern Miss Offense
- 2012 Southern Miss Defense | 2012 Southern Miss Depth Chart