2012 UNLV Preview - Defense
UNLV CB Sidney Hodge
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UNLV Rebel Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Rebels just can't find any defensive production allowing 40 points or more 15 times over the last two seasons. The pass rush hasn't shown up in years and the secondary hasn't been able to come up with big plays on a consistent basis. The hope is that a deep D will be fresher and stronger led by a front four that should have a nice rotation on the ends. The tackles as big and can move, but now that have to stop someone's ground attack. The linebackers might be the team's biggest strength led by rising star John Lotulelei and with a strong group of second-teamers. And then there's the secondary – it's a big issue. The defensive backs can move, but they're extremely green and need time. Unless the pass rush starts to come from the front four, it's going to be a long year against teams that can throw efficiently.
Star of the defense: Senior LB John Lotulelei
Tackles: John Lotulelei, 60
Sacks: Tyler Gaston, Princeton Jackson, 2
Interceptions: Tani Maka, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Jordan Sparkman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Tajh Hasson
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Nate Holloway
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lotulelei, 2) LB Tani Maka, 3) Hasson
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Secondary, Pass Rush
The pass rush was abysmal and the run defense wasn't strong, but now the Rebels have several different defensive ends to throw into the mix to try to generate a little bit of pressure. 6-6, 250-pound sophomore Jordan Sparkman is a tall, quick athlete who's just learning the finer points of being a top defensive end after starting in high school as a tight end as well as a D lineman. He got in a little work last season making five tackles, and now he'll rotate in one spot with 6-3 235-pound redshirt freshman, a promising pass rusher from American Samoa with a nose for the ball. The most intriguing prospect of the three rotating at one end spot is 6-5, 255-pound junior James Boyd, a transfer from USC who came to UNLV as a quarterback and moved to defensive lineman where he rocked throughout spring ball and looked like a possible playmaker.
Rotating on the other side will be 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Desmond Tautofi and 6-4, 240-pound junior Parker Holloway, two big bodies who should be able to hold up against the run. Tuatofi isn't necessarily a pass rusher after bulking up close to 40 pounds, and while he might seem like a tackle he'll work on the outside. Originally recruited by Cal and Washington before having academic issues, he was all set to go to Wyoming before changing his mind. He's very athletic for his size and he's expected to do far more after making 11 tackles last year. Holloway is a JUCO transfer from Trinity Valley with pure pass rushing skills. Tautofi will be more for the pure running downs while Holloway might be a third down specialist.
6-2, 270-pound junior Nate Klorman is a smallish, quick veteran who started nine games last season on the inside making 21 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. A former reserve who got his feet wet as a freshman, he knows what he's doing now even if he doesn't bring the bulk to the interior. He'll be backed up by 6-6, 290-pound senior Trent Allmang-Wilder, a giant of a 4-3 end who'll play on the inside after starting seven games last season making 19 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss.
6-3, 360-pound junior Nate Holloway is a too-big tackle who started three games last season and finished with 13 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He moves well for a player of his size, and now he has to be more of an anchor and he has to do far more to gum up the works against the run. He's strong enough to be the one everyone works around, while 6-3, 290-pound junior Tyler Gaston is a bulked up former end who can play inside or out. One of the team's better pass rushers last season, he took over a starting job on the inside making 21 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Watch Out For … Boyd. When he came to UNLV he was supposed to be a big bomber who could push the ball down the field and open things up. Now he's going to be a pass rushing end with a great first step and the drive to become a factor right away.
Strength: Options. The Rebels have backups at each spot with experience and potential production. Coming up with a rotation to keep everyone fresh at all four spots won't be an issue.
Weakness: Production. The only Rebel who got to the quarterback, end James Dunlap, is gone after making 6.5 sacks with 14.5 tackles for loss. As a team UNLV generated just 14 sacks and didn't do nearly enough against the run.
Outlook: The line needs to find more production out of all four positions. There's size and experience, but can the front four hold up? The talent level isn't great, but there are plenty of big bodies to rotate in to get more physical and aggressive. The Rebels gave up 200 rushing yards or more in five of the last eight games and got destroyed by TCU for six rushing scores. That has to change.
Unit Rating: 5
The linebackers are going to be one of the team's biggest strengths helped by the return of senior John Lotulelei, a former JUCO transfer who took over a starting job late in the year and finished third on the team with 60 tackles with three tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 235 pounds he's built like a linebacker with great range and excellent quickness, and now he's going to be expected to do even more as the star on the weakside. He'll be backed up by junior Eric Tuiloma-Va'a, an undersized 5-11, 190-pounder who can move. A safety playing weakside linebacker, he made ten tackles with a tackle for loss in a reserve role last season.
Manning the middle in place of leading tackler Nate Carter will be 6-1, 240-pound junior Tani Maka, who started on the outside last year but now will move inside. A great tackler with good experience, he made 54 tackles with two picks and three tackles for loss, consider it a shock if he's not one of the team's top stat-sheet fillers. Adding more size to the spot will be 6-4, 240-pound sophomore Taylor Barnhill who came to UNLV as a quarterback. He's a good athlete who should be fine in the new role with a little bit of time.
6-2, 205-pound junior Tim Hasson and 6-0, 210-pound senior Princeton Jackson will combine forces on the strongside. Hasson beefed up a bit but he's still built like a safety, and he has the experience to do even more making 46 tackles as a key starter over the second half of the season. Jackson was the team's top recruit last year from the JUCO ranks with a guided missile-like ability to get around the ball. He didn't take over a starting job until the season's final game, but he still finished with 39 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Watch Out For … Barnhill. It's an interesting move going from quarterback to linebacker, but Barnhill appeared able to do it. He might not be fully polished, but with his size and smarts he'll be an intriguing part to the puzzle.
Strength: Experience and options. This might be the best linebacking corps the Rebels have had in a while with decent depth and lots and lots of veteran talent to rely on. The loss of Carter won't be felt if Maka plays as expected.
Weakness: Big plays. The linebackers need to start doing more to get into the backfield and have to start being a bigger plus against the run. The line was the bigger issue, but the linebackers weren't nearly productive enough.
Outlook: The corps wasn't phenomenal last season, but it was better than it was in 2010. Now it should take a step forward with several good veterans and a potential superstar in Lotulelei to build around.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The Rebel secondary is going to be a work in progress after giving up 249 yards per game and finishing 114th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The only returning starter is 5-8, 175-pound junior Sidney Hodge, who started half the 2010 season and ended up being a key corner making 53 tackles with eight broken up passes and four recovered fumbles. He's not all that big, but he can move. 6-0, 175-pound redshirt freshman Fred Wilson will add more size with good enough experience to eventually become a key starter on the outside.
Teams aren't going to necessarily stay away from Hodge, but 5-11, 170-pound sophomore Kenneth Penny will be challenged. He saw a little bit fo time last year making nine tackles with a broken up pass, and while he's untested, he might be the team's fastest defensive back. He has No. 1 corner ability, while 5-10, 185-pound junior Ken Spigner was one of the team's top recruits out of the JUCO ranks, and the Miami native saw a little bit of time in his first year making 13 tackles with a recovered fumble and tackle for loss.
6-1, 190-pound sophomore Tajh Hasson will take over the
starting strong safety job after getting a little
bit of work in the secondary. A great hitter, he made
17 tackles with a broken up pass. With his speed and popping ability, for star high school sprinter should be a statistical star. 6-0, 185-pound senior Dre Crawford came in as a JUCO transfer from Arizona Western and now will get work at one of the safety spots. He might not be experienced, but he can move.
Also fast is 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman Peni Vea, a free safety who could work at corner if needed. With great range and upside, he should hold down a job somewhere in the secondary for the next four years, while 6-0, 185-pound senior Dre Crawford comes over from the JUCO world after starting out his career at Minnesota.
Watch Out For … the Miami players. It takes a crazy route to go from south Florida to get to UNLV, but the transfers will play like they have something to prove. Crawford has just one year to show what he can do, while Spigner could be a decent nickel and dime defender.
Strength: Speed. This is a good group of athletes that should be able to fly around the ball. The safeties can run and the corners can really move. The athletes are there.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Rebels came up with a mere seven last year partly because there wasn't any pass rush to help out the cause – again. If the quarterbacks get time again, the green secondary is going to struggle.
Outlook: This could be a problem area and it's easily one of the team's shakiest units. Hasson has experience and Hodge is a good veteran. That's about it for the experience to rely on. There's potential and there's a good mix of athletes, but it's going to take a while for the group to come together.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Junior Nathan Kohorst came out of high school with a huge leg and a big reputation, and he came up with a nice first year hitting 8-of-11 field goals. While he wasn't bad last year, he hit 9-of-14 field goals and was a little shaky. Senior Chase Lansford came in from the JUCO ranks last year to fight for the job, and now he's being given more of an honest shot.
The punting wasn't awful last season with Lansford averaging 41.2 yards per kick. He only had two touchbacks and put 16 inside the 20. He has a nice leg and isn't bad and airing it out when he needs to.
Watch Out For … Lansford. He has the leg to potentially blast away as a deep kicker if Kohorst struggles, but at the very least he should do even more for the punting game.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Deante Purvis and his 24.4-yard average are gone, but Bradley Randle will get every shot to be the main man after averaging 20.3 yards per try. RB Tim Cornett only got six returns, but he averaged 33.7 yards per try helped by a 95-yard score.
Weakness: Coverage teams. They were AWFUL. The kick coverage team allowed 23.7 yards per try with a score, and the punt coverage team was miserable allowing 10.9 yards per return including a 74-yard touchdown.
Outlook: UNLV isn't good enough to have lousy special teams. They used to be great under the former coaching staff, and they started to come back last season. The return game will be great and the kicking game will be solid, but the coverage teams need to be far better.
Unit Rating: 6
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