2012 Memphis Preview – Defense
Memphis P Tom Hornsey
Memphis P Tom Hornsey
Posted Jun 7, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Memphis Tiger Defense

Memphis Tigers

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Memphis Preview | 2012 Memphis Offense
- 2012 Memphis Defense | 2012 Memphis Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: After taking a step in the right direction in 2011, Memphis will look to keep the momentum going on defense this fall. Hey, the D is still going to be among the worst in the conference, if not the country, but the Tigers will still try to point to their reduction in big plays allowed and spike in takeaways. The biggest challenge will be to retool a defensive line that’s lost top pass rusher Frank Trotter and high NFL draft choice Dontari Poe. The staff is counting on the emergence of NT Terry Redden and DE Zach Gholson to help offset the losses. It would also help immensely if DT Johnnie Farms can make a return following a suspension. The Akeem Davis-led linebackers will be unit’s strength, roaming the field like a bunch of safeties. Opponents will revel at the opportunity to throw on a youthful Memphis secondary that’s been a sieve for years.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Akeem Davis, 78
Sacks: Zach Gholson, 1.5
Interceptions: Akeem Davis, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Akeem Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Bobby McCain
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Terry Redden
Best pro prospect: Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior LB Kenyatta Johnson, 3) Senior DE Zach Gholson
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, safety, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, pass defense, stuffing the run, third down defense, red zone D

Defensive Linemen

A graduation, an early entry and a suspension have the Memphis D-line in a state of transition. The unenviable chore of replacing Dontari Poe at the nose belongs to 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Terry Redden. While he doesn’t have much of a past, playing in just a couple of games last year, the new staff really likes his future. While he won’t match Poe’s size or footprint, he’s plenty strong, quick off the snap and one of the smartest players along the front.

Poe leaves a gaping void, but so does DE Frank Trotter, who led the team in tackles for loss and sacks. The likely successors on the outside will be 6-4, 250-pound senior Zach Gholson and 6-3, 260-pound junior Corey Jones. Gholson has wowed the new staff with his quick moves and toughness, even moving inside to make plays on occasion. The former Boise State walk-on had 24 tackles, three forced fumbles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, numbers he appears capable of passing by the midway point of his final season.

A lot will be asked of Jones, who played some outside linebacker and defensive end last season. He’s added muscle since arriving on campus, but seems to have lost some of his burst and get-off. He chipped in just five tackles in 2011 only one year after collecting 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks as a rookie.

The Tigers will be introducing a new position this fall, DAWG, a hybrid between an end and an outside linebacker. The job description requires that the defender, in this case 6-0, 225-pound senior Khiry Battle, possess the closing speed to rush the passer and the range to drop back into coverage if necessary. Battle is a former Arkansas Razorback who has a lot of the traits that Memphis is seeking.

Watch Out For … the result of the suspension that currently has 6-2, 310-pound Johnnie Farms on hiatus. The junior tackle actually outplayed Poe at times in 2011, making 42 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and a team-high seven quarterback pressures. However, there are no guarantees when—or if—he’ll be back this fall.
Strength: Motors. As much as anything else, the new coaching staff was impressed by the drive and intensity of the linemen it inherited. The Tigers are a scrappy, play-to-the-whistle type bunch that’s going to claw and hustle its way to the backfield if necessary.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Unless Farms can make his way back to the team and the two-deep, Memphis will be noticeably light on experienced rushers. Gholson and Redden impressed in the spring, but that was against the Tigers offensive linemen. What happens when there’s another team on the other side of the line?
Outlook: Memphis is going to fight and scrap and overachieve … and still wind up getting shoved around the field on most Saturdays. There’s just not much all-star-caliber talent up front in Memphis, especially now that Trotter and Poe are gone. This will be a blue-collar unit that really needs a player like Farms to be back in the fold.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Two-thirds of last year’s starting linebacker unit is back, with the team’s leading tackler needing to be replaced for a second straight year. Senior Akeem Davis made his transition from safety a successful one in 2011, ranking second with 78 tackles, while adding eight stops for loss, three picks, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. He’s just 6-1 and 200 pounds, yet flies all over the field with reckless, looking for someone to hit. The starter at strongside plays with a ton of heart, which can become contagious to his teammates.

The heir apparent to Davis at strongside could be redshirt freshman Reggis Ball who is coming off a terrific spring camp. He’s only 5-11 and 200 pounds, but he plays the game with a level of speed, intensity and passion that will project into a slew of big plays before he’s done with his eligibility.

The favorite to be at weakside will be 6-1, 230-pound senior Kenyatta Johnson who’ll be looking to build on his debut with the program. In his first season out of Hinds (Miss.) Community College, he quickly snared a starting spot, and finished third on the team with 72 tackles.

The newcomer to the lineup is 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Charles Harris, a young Tiger who played well in his first year out of high school. He’s still too light for the position, but compensates with the agility and closing speed of some safeties. After making 33 tackles as a reserve, he’s capable of doubling that total in 2012.

The veteran among the backups is 6-1, 235-pound senior Ricky Holloway who has three letters on his college resume. At his size, he’s one of the biggest Memphis linebackers, a defender who can come off the bench to provide support against the run.

Watch Out For … Ball to get considerable snaps in the fall. The rookie was just too disruptive in the spring to be relegated solely to special teams once the season begins. He has a lot of range to go along with the closing speed that the new staff covets from its linebackers and defensive backs.
Strength: Lateral quickness. Above all else, these Tigers linebackers are going to prowl from sideline-to-sideline and cover plenty of ground this fall. With Davis setting the tone for the rest of the group, they’re undersized, very quick and tenacious in pursuit of the ball.
Weakness: Stout run-stuffers. Sure, the Tigers can get from Point A to Point B in a hurry, but when they reach their destination, they’re prone to getting run over. The Memphis linebackers are too often caught dragging down ballcarriers instead of standing them up, which makes yards after contact a perennial concern.
Outlook: The Memphis linebackers are glorified safeties, capable in pass defense, but vulnerable against the run. At this program, which allows a lot of opposing players to drift into the second line of defense, the linebackers are on the front line on a regular basis. The hope is that Davis and Johnson, in particular, can create enough turnovers and stops for loss to offset their problems versus the run.
Unit Rating: 5


The defensive backfield continues to be an eyesore, with no makeover in sight. The Tigers ranked 109th in pass efficiency defense a year ago, which was actually an improvement over their 2010 performance. If there’s a strength in the secondary, it’ll be at safety, where Memphis has options, such as senior FS Cannon Smith, who began 2010 as the starting quarterback. It’s a good thing the 6-0, 205-pounder likes hitting people, because he’s made a nice transition to the defensive side of the ball. Playing like a coach on the field, he chipped in with 51 tackles, while breaking up a team-high six passes.

A battle is being staged at strong safety. Senior Mitch Huelsing is attempting to secure a job he held for five games in 2011. The 6-0, 200-pound senior has played plenty of football in Memphis, earning three letters, while making 64 tackles and four fumble recoveries last season. Junior Lonnie Ballentine, though, has physical skills that Huelsing will have a difficult time matching. The 6-4, 215-pounder was pursued by SEC schools coming out of high school, and has played some cornerback in the past. He’ll be looking to rebound from an injury-marred sophomore year that limited him to only 35 tackles.

Sophomore Bobby McCain has emerged as the vocal and physical leader of a young group of cornerbacks. The 5-11, 180-pounder got a crash course in Conference USA football last season, being forced into the lineup for nine games. He suffered through the typical rookie hiccups, making 29 tackles, and gradually adapting to the speed of the game.

Sophomore Bakari Hollier followed a similar trajectory as McCain in 2011. He, too, was thrown into the deep end of the water as a true freshman, posting 21 tackles as a four-game starter. While he has good hips and closing speed, his 5-9, 190-pound frame is bound to become an issue versus taller receivers.

Watch Out For … this secondary to prevent the staff from blitzing much. The Tigers are raw and inconsistent in coverage, which is going to change the way the team approaches its defensive scheme. An aggressive style, while preferred, will cost this D dearly if the quarterback is able to get his pass off.
Strength: Safeties. Relatively speaking, Memphis has fewer concerns at safety than it does at corner. Smith, Huelsing and Ballentine are all seasoned upperclassmen, with the mindset and tackling ability to be assets in run defense.
Weakness: Pass coverage. While it must be noted that Memphis improved in 2011 despite having two rookies at cornerback, the team still had all kinds of problems when the ball was in the air. The Tigers are far too soft in coverage, don’t get their hands on the ball quite enough and have too many letdowns in the red zone.
Outlook: On a defense saddled with problems, the secondary could wind up being the Tigers’ weakest link. There’s a decent future for the young corners, but don’t expect the future to be now. Memphis will continue to be susceptible through the air in a league littered with decent passing games.
Unit Rating: 4

Special Teams

Memphis can take solace in the return of both of last year’s primary specialists, particularly junior Tom Hornsey. The honorable mention All-Conference USA Aussie, who can punt with both legs, averaged 42.0 yards while continuing to excel with his directional kicks. However, the Tigers would like their punter to be idle a bit more in the future after he set a school record for attempts in a season.

The team is hoping for similar consistency out of its kicker, senior Paulo Henriques who suffered through a regression in 2011. A year after nailing all but four field goal attempts, he was just 8-of-15, tanking over the last half of the season. While he has good leg drive, his accuracy outside of 40 yards is sketchy.

Watch Out For … starting RB Jerrell Rhodes to get his chance to ignite the kick return team. The Tigers really struggled on kickoffs a year ago, averaging 18 yards to rank 118th nationally. Rhodes is being asked to pull double-duty in order to help his team’s field position.
Strength: The punting game. Considering his limited experience playing American football, Hornsey has been a bona fide revelation for Memphis over the last two years. Still just a junior, the 6-4, 200-pounder will continue to hone his craft, and bail his defense out of trouble.
Weakness: The return game … again. For the third consecutive year, Memphis was patently feeble on returns, providing no help to the offense. The Tigers have now ranked near the bottom of the FBS on punts and kickoffs each fall since 2009.
Outlook: There’s Hornsey … and a whole lot of question marks. Memphis simply doesn’t have the bodies or the athletes to stand out on special teams, an area that’ll require plenty of attention through the summer. Even worse, Henriques, once considered an up-and-comer, is now yet another area of uncertainty.
Unit Rating: 4

- 2012 Memphis Preview | 2012 Memphis Offense
- 2012 Memphis Defense | 2012 Memphis Depth Chart