2012 Tulane Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Tulane has had a long history of getting trampled on defense, a track record that won't be easy to reverse. The job of instituting changes now belongs to co-defensive coordinators Jon Sumrall and Lionel Washington. The coaches inherit a D that allowed more than 400 yards a game, and ranked 115th nationally in scoring. Suffice it to say that there's plenty of work to be done here. The Green Wave is good in spots, such as linebacker, but simply lacks the depth, size and overall talent to compete with some of Conference USA's more potent offensive attacks. While the coaches plan to employ a 4-3 alignment, they won't rule out occasional 3-4 looks as well. They want Tulane to be unpredictable and very fast, upping the tempo in an attempt to outhustle the other guys.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Trent Mackey
Tackles: Trent Mackey, 145
Sacks: Julius Warmsley, 5.5
Interceptions: Ryan Travis, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Julius Warmsley
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DL Michael Pierce
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Ryan Travis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mackey, 2) Travis, 3) Senior S Shakiel Smith
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, interior pressure
Weakness of the defense: Defending the pass, stuffing the run, red zone D, third down D
The coaches are cautiously optimistic about the potential of 6-2, 281-pound DT Julius Warmsley . Although he's played sparingly off the bench over the last two seasons, the junior still found a way to make 27 tackles and 5.5 sacks last fall. A good overall athlete, he arrived as a defensive end, and has spent time with the Tulane track & field team as a thrower. While he could struggle against the run versus more physical lines, he'll give the D a disruptive presence who can shoot the gap to makes plays behind the line.
The underclassmen with the greatest upside is sophomore Michael Pierce , a versatile young lineman who lettered and made 15 tackles as a true freshman. The coaches haven't quite pinned down whether he'll play end or tackle—or both—testament to his varied skill set. The 6-1, 282-pounder is a breakout star for the Green Wave who'll line up at more than one position. Pierce is tough to block, using excellent get-off and the slippery quickness of a former linebacker to knife through the line.
The graybeard of the D-line will be senior end Austen Jacks, a veteran of three letters with the program. While he's no stranger to the opening lineup, starting games since his freshman year, he's hardly a regular in opposing backfields. Last season's 3.5 sacks were a career high for the 6-3, 247-pounder, and a number he'll need to improve upon during his finale.
The final starting spot will hinge on where Pierce eventually lines up, and who can impress the staff over the next four months. None of the holdovers has much experience with the program. At defensive end, junior Wendell Beckwith, redshirt freshmanAaron Bryant, senior Brock Sanders, a converted tight end, and junior Devin Williams all lettered in 2011.
The tackles competing for a spot on the two-deep are sophomore Kenny Welcome and blocky redshirt freshman Corey Redwine. The 6-2, 295-pound Welcome, a sophomore, topped the depth chart at the nose exiting spring.
Watch Out For .... Pierce to emerge as a serious playmaker. Okay, so it's come against the Green Wave offensive line, but the marginal competition can't take away from the fact that No. 51 has been one of the offseason stars. He plays with the right leverage and intensity to become a standout in just his second season.
Strength: Interior pressure. Not only is Pierce set for a breakout year, but Warmsley might be as well. Both players operate low to the ground and with the requisite quickness to make a bunch of plays behind the line this fall.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. The Green Wave needs to do a better job than a year ago, when 4.6 yards a carry were permitted. While the interior guys will be disruptive, at just around 280 pounds, neither is built to hold the line versus physical 310-pound blockers.
Outlook: After delivering a decent year up front in 2011, Tulane will need to do a little regrouping in the trenches now that three starters, including speedy DE Dezman Moses, have departed. The bright note is that last season's staff used a deep rotation up front, allowing a number of young kids to gain relevant experience. Out of the eight returning lettermen, the Green Wave feels as if it can cobble together a fully functional two-deep, especially if the tackles bloom.
The leading man on the second level will be senior Trent Mackey, an All-Conference USA performer in each of the last two years. He's been outstanding in his two seasons since transferring from Duke, making 145 tackles, 14 stops for loss and four sacks in 2011. While he lacks ideal size at 5-11 and 227 pounds, he more than compensates with a great motor, sound fundamentals and the instincts coaches desire in a middle linebacker. Mackey has taken on more of a leadership role, especially now that the entire defensive staff has been replaced, and should once again be penciled in for at least 100 stops this fall.
Reuniting with Mackey for one more year will be Darryl Farley , a third-year starter at strongside. The stout, 6-0, 235-pound senior finished second on the team with 69 tackles, eight of which were for minus yards. He has a strong base, and defends the run with the kind of leverage that allows him to sift through the traffic. Although Farley will have a tough time escaping Mackey's shadow, he remains one of the two or three best defenders in this program.
The situation at weakside spot is going to be interesting since Dominique Robertson and Matthew Bailey both started games as underclassmen in 2011. Plus, the two are similar players, safety-sized defenders who can cover a lot of ground. The 6-1, 200-pound Robertson started six games, making 37 tackles and forcing three fumbles. He plays much bigger than his size, and is not afraid to throw his body into a pileup if it'll produce a turnover.
Bailey only goes 5-11 and 204 pounds, yet started four times as a rookie, chipping in 33 tackles and a couple of blocked kicks. He's the versatile of the Tulane linebackers, showcasing the advanced pass coverage skills that could earn him reps at nickel back. When Bailey and Robertson are on the field at the same time, the Green Wave is going to be at its athletic best on D.
Tulane's most valuable backup—aside from the loser of the Bailey-Robertson battle—will be 6-0, 220-pound junior Zach Davis . While no threat to be a regular, he did start a game in each of the last two seasons, and has been a productive performer on special teams.
Watch Out For .... Robertson and Bailey to be used liberally on the blitz. Both outside linebackers possess excellent straight-line speed, which will entice the coaching staff to turn them loose when the element of surprise is at its most opportunistic.
Strength: Veteran leadership. Mackey and Farley give Tulane a pair of proven veterans, with the personalities to mentor and bring along some of the younger linebackers on the squad. The proverbial coaches on the field, they'll be having an impact even on days that aren't Saturday.
Weakness: Holding up versus the run. Yes, the former staff liked its linebackers to be small and active, but it often paid the price against downhill running opponents. Only Farley weighs at least 230 pounds, leaving the Green Wave very vulnerable against certain opponents that can swallow them up on north-south running plays.
Outlook: The linebackers were the strength of the Tulane D a year ago. And since all three starters return to the program, it goes to figure that the unit will be the cornerstone once again in 2012. By Green Wave standards, it's a plucky unit, with a bona fide leading man in Mackey.
Senior Shakiel Smith leads the way at strong safety, a versatile fourth-year starter who brings vocal leadership to the defensive backfield. He can be whatever the staff requires, a hard-hitting strong safety or a fluid free safety who can imitate a cornerback. Two years ago, he posted 90 tackles, three picks and five breakups. And when asked to play further from the line in 2011, he responded with 68 tackles and six more passes defended, providing support for the Green Wave cornerbacks. At 6-0 and 207 pounds, he has the size and agility to attract the interest of NFL scouts this fall.
While pro personnel are looking over the tape of Smith, they might want to take a gander at No. 10, Ryan Travis , as well. The program's stalwart at cornerback started all 13 games in 2011, turning 59 tackles, four interceptions and six breakups into honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition. While physical receivers can outmuscle the 6-0, 172-pound senior, he's less likely to be beaten by the other guy's speed or quickness. Travis is a frenetic playmaker, the one member of this secondary most likely to be breaking quickly on routes or attempting to strip the ball loose.
Jordan Sullen was supposed to be the other starting corner, but he was booted from the team in March. That has opened the door for 5-9, 170-pound true freshman Jordan Batiste to ascend to the top of the depth chart. The rookie, while undersized, looked anything but wide-eyed as he took part in his first spring drills. He'll be pushed again in the summer by senior Alex Lauricella , a cagey, 5-11, 187-pound veteran of three letters.
The staff believes it's found a partner for Smith at safety, converted wide receiver Brandon LeBeau. The 6-0, 201-pound sophomore was shifted in January, and has made the move look good ever since. He has some of the best range and speed among the defensive backs, and is plenty tough enough to handle free safety. For now, though, he's still looking up at junior Kyle Davis , a 5-11, 210-pounder who made 32 tackles and started a pair of games in 2011.
Smith's caddy at strong safety will be 6-1, 180-pound sophomore Sam Scofield. He was pressed into action as a rookie, starting two games and making 23 tackles.
Watch Out For .... the development of LeBeau on defense. While he may be raw at the position, there's a ton to like about his potential. If he can flatten the learning curve during practice, the Green Wave will be three-fourths of the way to a very respectable pass defense.
Strength: Hitting. Playing in the Tulane secondary makes wrapping up in the open field an absolute job requirement. The defensive backs sure do get a lot of practice playing behind a leaky front seven. The Green Wave is feisty on the last line of defense, and not bashful about stepping up to defend the run.
Weakness: Red zone coverage. Tulane actually did a decent job between the twenties in 2011, but struggled near the end zone, allowing 20 touchdown passes. A little short on elite pass defenders and takeaways, it continues to be vulnerable through the air.
Outlook: For opposing quarterbacks, the Tulane secondary has been the Big Easy for far too long. Altering its reputation for being soft in coverage is going to require some heavy lifting between now and the opener. In 2011, the Green Wave showed some promise versus marginal opponents, but buckled against better passing teams. The defensive backfield will lean heavily on a pair of returning starters, Travis and Smith, who'll have to be leaders as well as pass defenders.
The Green Wave welcomes back both of last year's specialists, junior PK Cairo Santos and junior P Jonathan Ginsburgh . Santos regressed in his second year, though he was saddled with nagging injuries. He was just 11-of-18 on field goal attempts, missing more than he made from beyond 40 yards.
Ginsburgh had a more successful sophomore year on special teams, averaging 41.7 yards a punt, an improvement on his first season on the job.
Watch Out For… the health of Santos. At full strength, the placekicker gave a better glimpse of his full potential two years ago, connecting on all but three of his 16 field goal attempts.
Strength: Chip shots. Over the past two seasons, Santos has been pretty much automatic inside the 40, making 19-of-21 tries. Sure, he won't be splitting the uprights from 50 yards out, but he's a reliable weapon when drives stall in the red zone.
Weakness: The coverage and return units. Tulane was feeble in both areas a year ago, ranking among the worst programs in the country. The Green Wave was 117th nationally defending and 108th versus punts, while standing in the bottom half of Conference USA in both return units.
Outlook: The special teams unit is an underlying reason why the Green Wave has had problems winning games in recent years. The team needs a consistent Santos to help finish drives, and far better execution from the return and coverage units. New assistant Barry Lamb will have his hands full with this group.
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