2012 Boston College Preview - Defense
Boston College S Jim Noel
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Boston College Eagle Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Eagles defense did all it could a year ago, but was unable to compensate for the program’s moribund offense. While the 2012 edition has the unenviable task of replacing All-American LB Luke Kuechly, a first round pick of the Carolina Panthers, Boston College is fortunate that it returns a lot of talent on the second level of the D. Steele Divitto, Sean Duggan and Kevin Pierre-Louis may not be household names, but they’re going to make a ton of big plays this season. After ranking 114th nationally in sacks last year, the unit’s biggest concern will be to generate more of a pass rush. Kasim Edebali and Brian Mihalik grabbed the starting end jobs following spring, and DT Kaleb Ramsey is back in the lineup after receiving a medical redshirt, but none of the linemen are sure-fire threats to pressure the pocket. The secondary will need all the help it can get, especially with the graduation of top CB Donnie Fletcher. The sophomore-laden cornerback position has Manuel Asprilla at boundary and Al-Louis-Jean and C.J. Jones still battling it out at field corner. The Eagles yielded just eight touchdown passes last fall, remarkable considering the team had just 11 sacks.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
Tackles: Kevin Pierre-Louis, 74
Sacks: Steele Divitto, Dominic Appiah, 2
Interceptions: Multiple, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Kasim Edebali
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Steele Divitto
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Kaleb Ramsey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pierre-Louis, 2) Ramsey, 3) Divitto
Strength of the defense: The tackles, the linebackers, pass defense, red-zone D
Weakness of the defense: The ends, pass rush, takeaways
The D-line got some encouraging news in the offseason when DT Kaleb Ramsey was
granted an additional year of eligibility. An injury kept the 6-3, 288-pounder from playing beyond the 2011 opener, and forced him to seek a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for the upcoming season. When last seen at 100%, he led the Boston College linemen with 39 tackles in 2010, adding 7.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. Ramsey is strong at the point of attack, quick off the snap and prone to making things happen in the backfield.
Helping build a fortress on the inside for the Eagles is the team’s other starting tackle, senior Dillon Quinn. He’s a force on the interior, a 6-6, 312-pound anchor, with the raw power and upper body strength to create logjams for opposing running games. In an injury-shortened season, he started seven games, and chipped in with 21 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss.
The Eagles are going to have options and depth at defensive tackle, thanks in part to the injuries to Ramsey and Quinn in 2011. Sophomore Dominic Appiah started the final seven games of his rookie season, looking as if he can be a building for the future up front. At 6-6 and 291 pounds, he has tremendous size to go along with unexpected burst and athleticism. Proving that he belongs in the rotation, even as Ramsey’s backup, he debuted with 36 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and two sacks.
Behind Quinn, 6-4, 302-pound sophomore Max Ricci, too, earned significant reps in his first year. He was in the lineup for four late-season games when the starter went down, but was in on just six stops. He’ll use this season to get stronger and smarter, while attempting to hold off up-and-coming redshirt freshman Connor Wujciak.
The Eagles are set on the inside, yet unsettled on the outside. This team needs a pass rusher in the worst possible way. Not only did they have just 11 sacks all year, but their best edge guy, Max Holloway, inexplicably left school early. Junior Kasim Edebali is a returning full-timer, but that’ll mean nothing unless he starts spending more time in opposing backfields. An athletic 6-2, 258-pound, he was too easily tied up in 2011, making just 27 tackles and not a single sack.
At the other end spot, sophomore Brian Mihalik is currently holding off classmate Mehdi Abdesmad. Mihalik played sparingly last fall, notching six tackles and a sack in eight games. He’s an imposing figure, a 6-8, 233-pound, with the wingspan to obstruct the quarterback’s line of sight. At his size, though, he’ll need to improve his technique, making sure that he’s bending properly in order to avoid getting knocked off balance.
Watch Out For … the staff top flirt with the idea of moving one of the quicker tackles outside. Hey, if the current crop of defensive ends can’t improve the morbid pass rush, why not make an attempt to get the four best linemen on the field at the same time? Appiah, while clearly built for the interior, showed enough get-off and hops in 2011 to play the role of a strongside end in 2012.
Strength: The interior of the line. With the return of Ramsey, and the further development of Appiah, Ricci and Wujciak, Boston College believes it’ll have one of the better two-deeps at tackle in the ACC. If everyone can remain healthy for an entire season, this is the kind of rotation that’s capable of wearing opponents down with their strength and motors.
Weakness: Creating pressure. Again. This area of the D is just killing the program in recent years. In 2009, Boston College ranked 103rd nationally in sacks. 2010? 90th. And last season, the Eagles were a miserable 114th, getting to the quarterback 11 times in 12 contests. The current ensemble of ends does not appear capable of reversing the trend, which could force the staff to call for more blitzes than it would normally prefer.
Outlook: In the trenches, it’ll be a tale of two very different stories for Boston College this season. The tackles are set with both talent and depth, a promising rotation that’ll make it difficult to run the ball on the Eagles. The ends, on the other hand, are a pedestrian group that does not appear to house a game-changer off the edge. As has often been the case at this program, the line will be far more effective at stuffing the run than it is at pressuring the pocket.
Unit Rating: 7
When Luke Kuechly predictably left early for the NFL, getting taken No. 9 overall by the Carolina Panthers, Boston College lost one of the best defensive players in program history. Obviously, he leaves an enormous hole in the middle that 6-4, 228-pound Sean Duggan will attempt to fill in his first season as a full-timer. The sophomore did earn three starts at weakside in 2011, finishing with 39 tackles and 3.5 stops for minus yards. Forgetting for a moment whose shoes he must fill, he’s a talented young defender who, ironically, attended the same high school in Cincinnati as Kuechly. Duggan has the instincts and the agility to gradually begin carving out his own identity as an Eagle in 2012.
The most talented member of the BC linebackers will now be junior Kevin Pierre-Louis, the team’s answer at weakside. Despite missing three games to an injury last fall, he still wound up second on the team with 74 stops, adding six tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown. While not ideally sized at 6-1 and 215 pounds, he’ll continue to use his agility, quickness and closing speed to make things happen all over the field. Pierre-Louis is essentially a hard-hitting safety, who is versatile enough to be an asset to both the run and pass defense.
At strongside, 6-3, 226-pound junior Steele Divitto got off to a solid start in his first year as the successor to Mark Herzlich in the lineup. Divitto started every game, making 72 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and a pair of sacks. He’s been playing at a high level since his high school years, a technically-sound defender who brings a lot of drive and passion to the field on Saturdays. He’s a great student-athlete to have in the locker room as well, showing a dedication to the game that’s impossible for his teammates to overlook.
If Pierre-Louis goes down for any length of time this fall, 6-3, 232-pound senior Nick Clancy will be summoned from the sideline. The former safety, who outgrew the defensive backfield, has lettered in each of the last three seasons, making 19 tackles in nine games off the bench a year ago.
Watch Out For … Pierre-Louis to author his first 100-tackle season … with a couple of games still left in the regular season. Kuechly had 191 tackles in 2011, so there will be a slew of plays there for the taking for this year’s linebackers. Pierre-Louis is going to pick up his share of the leftovers as he gradually begins to step outside of Kuechly’s enormous shadow.
Strength: Instincts. Even without Kuechly, the Boston College linebackers are going to do a fantastic job of reading the flow of the play, reacting instantly and wrapping up in the open field. Well-schooled from their high school days at locating the ball, they’re heady, hard-working and eager to prove that there is still plenty of talent left on the second level.
Weakness: Size. Kuechly wasn’t just an elite college run defender; he was also the thickest linebacker in Chestnut Hill. This year’s starters need to spend a little more time in the weight room, averaging just around 225 pounds. The starters may be a promising trio, but they could still be prone to getting bullied by physical opposing offensive lines.
Outlook: Naturally, you don’t get better by losing a player of Kuechly’s caliber. That said, Boston College is going to roll out a vastly underrated group of linebackers on a week-in, week-out basis. Pierre-Louis, Divitto and Duggan are all capable of making plays at this level, while slowing unveiling their own unique brands. While the corps won’t be as sound as the last few seasons, the drop-off will not be nearly as precipitous as most are anticipating.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Boston College rarely used the same combination of starters in back-to-back games last season, yet still played surprisingly well in pass defense. Without any help from the pass rush, the Eagles yielded just eight touchdown passes in a dozen games. Only one starter, CB Donnie Fletcher, is gone from the eclectic group. Working to become the team’s new top corner is sophomore Manuel Asprilla, the lightly-recruited local product who started three games a year ago. Despite being just 5-10 and 167 pounds, and needing more muscle, he got in on 30 tackles, while breaking up three passes. The coaches have been impressed so far with his fluid hips and recovery speed to believe that he could be a building block of the future at boundary.
The team will still need the month of August to decide whether 6-2, 191-pound sophomore Al Louis-Jean or 5-11, 177-pound sophomore C.J. Jones will be at field corner. Louis-Jean is a former Miami de-commit, with an exciting blend of size and athleticism. He started a pair of games as a rookie, making 15 stops and an interception, but still needs to prove that he’s ready to stick with some of the ACC’s more polished wide receivers.
Jones earned one start in 2011, but suffered a season-ending knee injury, and only appeared in a pair of games. The better all-around athlete in the mix, he missed all of spring drills, and will have the added burden of proving in the summer that he’s all the way back from last year’s setback.
Senior Jim Noel is on the verge of securing a starting assignment at strong safety. One of the most versatile Eagles on defense, he started two games at safety and six at cornerback in 2011, finishing with 30 tackles, three stops for loss and a pick. At 6-4 and 185 pounds, he’s a long and lean athlete, with the size to blanket taller receivers, and the ball skills to pick their pockets.
Boston College likes its depth behind Noel. Sophomore Spencer Rositano started six games as a rookie, winding up fifth on the squad with 40 tackles. Fellow sophomore Dominique Williams started four times, three at safety and once at cornerback, chipping in with 18 tackles. The staff is confident about inserting either underclassman into the lineup if needed.
A couple of sophomores, 6-2, 208-pound Josh Keyes and 6-0, 204-pound Sean Sylvia are duking it out at free safety. Keyes got a taste of action as a true freshman, making eight tackles as a nine-game backup. The coaches believe that the former star running back in high school can be used in a number of different, and at multiple positions. Sylvia has two games of starting experience to go along with 38 tackles and his first career interception. He’s an outstanding all-around athlete, with a real nose for the ball.
Watch Out For … the opening day lineup. While Noel and Asprilla appear to be safe in their quest for starting jobs, competition is raging everywhere else on the two-deep. The Eagles defensive backs have been cross-trained extremely well, which affords the coaching staff numerous when it surveys the DB chess board in August.
Strength: Keeping receivers out of the end zone. Few teams have been better with their backs against the wall than Boston College, which has yielded just 22 touchdown passes over the last two seasons. In 2011, the Eagles were thrown on 420 times, yet gave up only eight touchdown passes, third fewest in the country.
Weakness: A true lockdown corner. Who covers Sammy Watkins? Or Rashad Greene? The Eagles have plenty of potential at cornerback, but also a slew of sophomores still feeling their way through the early stages of their careers. Better passing teams should be able to solve a youthful BC pass defense.
Outlook: While Boston College doesn’t have a true signature player in the defensive backfield, you just can’t argue with the results. The Eagles continue to be air-tight in coverage, somehow persevering even when it seems as if the lineup changes weekly. Seven players started a game in 2011, giving the coaching staff more than enough experience to believe that BC will once again be difficult to navigate through the air.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The Eagles were a mess on special teams in 2011, a reality that they’ll attempt to reverse this fall. It won’t come without a lot of pain and effort. Junior Nate Freese is set to reprise his role as the team’s placekicker, but better be careful in order to maintain his hold on the job. He hit just 10-of-16 field goal attempts, though one was from 52 yards out. The hope on the staff is that Freese can handle kickoffs this year as well.
With the graduation of Ryan Quigley, senior Gerald Levano is the frontrunner to handle punting duties this fall. He has certainly waited patiently for this opportunity since arriving in 2008. Breathing down the neck of Levano—and Freese for that matter—is talented redshirt freshman Alex Howell. The 6-5, 202-pounder has a big leg and a bright future at both punter and placekicker.
Sophomore Spiffy Evansgets first crack at lighting a fire under the feeble return game. The speedy wide receiver was the busiest of the kick returners, averaging 21.1 yards on 23 attempts, and will add punt returner to his list of skills.
Watch Out For … Howell to keep the pressure on his elders. Levano is a blank chalkboard, and Freese hardly put the competition on ice last season. Howell is versatile specialist from South Carolina, with a goal of spending as little time as possible on the sidelines in his first season of eligibility.
Strength: The coverage teams. Boston College doesn’t always have the best athletes, but it is disciplined and perennially does a terrific job of getting downfield and breaking through the wedge. In typical fashion in 2011, it ranked 34th nationally in kickoff coverage, while standing a respectable 39th in punt coverage.
Weakness: The return game. Yet another trend on the Heights, the Eagles are an extension of their offense, sorely lacking in big plays on returns. Arguably one of the worst combos in America, again, Boston College was a feeble 101st in punt returns and 93rd on kickoffs.
Outlook: Boston College is going to lose a game, maybe two, this season because of the performance of the special teamers. There is uncertainty and inconsistency everywhere, from the punter and placekicker to a necrotic return game. The coverage teams do a credible job, but that alone can’t elevate a unit that will once again rank among the worst in the ACC, if not the country.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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