2012 Temple Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Temple Owl Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The Owls have been brilliant in recent years at transforming marginal defensive recruits into NFL-caliber stalwarts. Coordinator Chuck Heater and his assistants will have to be somewhere north of outstanding to adapt on the fly in 2012. While only five starters are missing, four earned All-MAC last fall, led by DE Adrian Robinson and LB Tahir Whitehead. Factor in the improved competition in the Big East, and Temple is liable to struggle defensively. Of course, six starters do return from a unit that allowed just less than 14 points a game in 2011. The D-line will be dangerously thin until more troops arrive in the summer. As he enters his fourth year, journeyman Marcus Green is being asked to offset some of Robinson’s pass-rush production off the edge. The leaders of the linebackers will be scrappy Ahkeem Smith and Blaze Caponegro on the outside. The Owls’ best bet for a smooth transition to a new league will come from their secondary, a group that had more picks than touchdown passes allowed last season. Three starters, including both cornerbacks, return to a senior-dominated unit. The best of the bunch will be SS Justin Gildea, a third-year starter who posted 51 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
Star of the defense: Senior SS Justin Gildea
Tackles: Justin Gildea, 51
Sacks: Ahkeem Smith, 3.5
Interceptions: Justin Gildea, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE John Youboty
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Ahkeem Smith
Best pro prospect: Junior NT Levi Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gildea, 2) Brown, 3) Smith
Strength of the defense: The tackles, pass defense, preventing yards after contact, generating pressure, third-down D
Weakness of the defense: The ends, the linebackers, red-zone D
The Owls are looking to retool a D-line that lost a pair of all-stars from a year ago, ends Adrian Robinson and Morkeith Brown. That the program will be thin on the outside is an understatement. The defense is pinning a lot of its hopes on 6-4, 250-pound senior John Youboty , who transferred from Marshall just prior to the 2011 season. Told he might never play again after suffering a vertebra injury two years ago, he started seven games at tackle, and made 18 tackles, two stops for loss and a sack. Now that he’s back where he belongs, on the outside, the staff believes he has the speed and get-off to become one of its best pass rushers.
Flanking Youboty on the other side will be 6-1, 240-pound senior Marcus Green. Although he has earned a letter in each of the last three seasons, he’s also collected only seven tackles in each of those three years. An edge rusher in a linebacker’s body, he’s hoping to parlay his speed and quickness into backfield disruption in the fall.
The Owls will be in quite a bit better shape on the interior. Junior Levi Brown is set to once again anchor the interior at nose tackle after starting a dozen games there in 2011. Stout and physical at the point of attack, his knack for being tough to move was a big reason why the Owls led the MAC in run defense a year ago. Lost in the 6-2, 300-pounder’s 23 tackles and 3.5 stops for loss was how he made those around him better.
Next to Brown at defensive tackle will be 6-4, 295-pound junior Kamal Johnson , who has used a strong offseason to pull into a lead atop the depth chart. He has started just three games over the last two seasons, making 11 tackles, two stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He has breakout potential as the second half of his career begins, blending ideal size with the quickness to chase down quarterbacks in the pocket.
Temple will have no problem filling out a deep rotation on the interior. Junior Shahid Paulhill will serve as an ideal backup to Johnson at tackle, a 10-game starter over the last two seasons. However, after playing so well as a rookie at defensive end in 2010, he struggled at tackle a year ago, making just four stops in nine games. The 6-3, 288-pound former basketball player has the moves and footwork to get right back on track in 2012.
Behind Brown, 6-4, 295-pound senior Kadeem Custis has also played a ton of football in Philly. The three-time letterwinner has six career starts on the resume, and made 13 tackles, three stops for loss and a sack in 2011.
Watch Out For .... Youboty to help fill the void on the outside. The senior was a little tentative last year, his first after suffering a serious injury. However, he has the talent and the opportunity to bloom into Temple’s best pass rusher. Time is quickly running out for a player who was once considered a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school.
Strength: The tackles. The Owls boasted one of the MAC’s best rotations at tackle last season, four interchangeable veterans comprising the two-deep. Temple ought to once again be nasty against the run, clogging up the interior with big and nimble bodies, such as Brown, Johnson and Paulhill.
Weakness: The ends. Even if Youboty begins to fulfill his potential in 2012, the Owls are going to be extremely light on defensive ends. Green is a journeyman better suited for coming off the bench, and the staff won’t even fill out a two-deep at the position until more reinforcements from the latest recruiting class arrive in August.
Outlook: Rugged on the inside, but a little unsure on the outside, the Temple D-line will be a mixed bag heading into 2012. The Owls are Big East-ready at tackle, with excellent size and experience at the position. At defensive end, though, Youboty is facing a huge challenge of igniting a pass rush that’s been one of the cornerstones of the defense for years. If he can supply some pressure from the edge, it’ll make life much easier on the back seven.
The Owls will be looking to overcome two significant losses at linebacker, the graduations of Tahir Whitehead and Stephen Johnson, two of last year’s top three tacklers. Elevating to more of a responsible role will be 6-1, 218-pound junior Blaze Caponegro , an eight-game starter at weakside a year ago. He made 35 tackles, four stops for loss and a sack, showcasing the range, speed and sure-tackling that should help make him one of the stalwarts of the defense once he gets back from shoulder surgery.
Strongside will be manned by senior Ahkeem Smith , one of the most improved players of spring camp. The former running back transitioned to defense in 2011, contributing 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception in a successful debut at a new position. Now, the 6-0, 215-pound athlete looks far more comfortable on this side of the ball, and has rapidly become one of the program’s defensive leaders.
Replacing Johnson in the middle will be 6-2, 228-pound Olaniyi Adewole . After playing sparingly in his first two seasons, making 11 tackles in eight games a year ago, he appears ready to flourish with a significant promotion. Adewole has the size and speed combination to bloom into an effective run defender, who can also drop back smoothly into pass coverage.
Backing up Adewole on the inside will be 6-1, 235-pound junior Gary Onuekwusi , a returning letterwinner. He appeared in a dozen games on defense and special teams last season, notching seven tackles.
Watch Out For .... Smith to vie for Defensive Player of the Year honors in the fall. Despite making his debut on defense in 2011, he played rather well for the Owls. Now that he has that year of experience—and this past spring—in the vault, the senior is playing as if he’s poised to post impressive numbers in his final season of eligibility.
Strength: Closing speed and range. Largely by design, all of the Temple linebackers move very well laterally, and have the quickness to go from sideline to sideline in a flash. Above all else, they are athletes, with the right size and intensity to quickly fill running lanes, or emulate a safety by blanketing tight ends and receivers.
Weakness: Size. The offensive lines in the Big East are a little bigger and a lot more physical than the ones Temple faced in the MAC in recent years. The current group of Owls linebackers is going to realize the aforementioned fact the hard way. They’re small for the position, averaging around 220 pounds, and lack depth now that two starters have graduated, and projected backup Praise Martin-Oguike was arrested in June.
Outlook: The Owls will once again be very athletic and agile from the second level, a recurring theme at the school in recent years. However, losing Whitehead and Johnson won’t easily be overcome. Temple is going to be a little light at the position, both in terms of size and numbers. Smith, however, has the right skill set and mindset to become one of the pleasant surprises at the unit, if not the entire D.
The program loses just one regular from the secondary, and really likes the mix of talent it’s bringing into the 2012 season. The cover boy of the defensive backfield will be senior SS Justin Gildea who is quietly coming off a very solid season for the Owls. While not the prototype at 5-11 and 190 pounds, he plays the game fearlessly and instinctively, flashing a knack for always being around the action. As one of only nine Temple players to start every game in 2011, he collected 51 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, three sacks and three interceptions to provide a huge spark out of the secondary.
The Owls need to replace Kevin Kroboth at free safety, an opening that’s about to be filled by senior Vaughn Carraway who made a career-best 13 tackles in 2011. After doing his apprenticeship on defense and special teams over the last three seasons, he’s poised to get a bump into the lineup in his final year on campus. He’s a long and lean 6-2, 192-pounder, with the right mix of size and speed to handle his promotion to the starting lineup.
Senior Maurice Jones is working to become the team’s best pass defender, the starter at boundary corner. He’s been in the opening lineup for at least three games in each of the last three seasons, but made just seven tackles and no pass breakups in 2011. More will be expected from the 5-10, 195-pounder in his final year on campus.
Taking the lead at field corner is 6-0, 170-pound junior Zamel Johnson . He transferred to Temple after Hofstra dropped its program, and started nine games in 2011. He contributed 28 tackles, two stops for loss and a pick to prove he belongs at the FBS level. Both he and Jones will need to raise the level of their games in order to match the higher level of competition in the Big East.
Behind Johnson, 5-10, 180-pound Anthony Robey looks to have a very promising future with the Owls. Just a sophomore, he’s already his first letter by making 16 tackles and two stops for loss off the bench. While unlikely to beat out the incumbent, he should earn more reps than he did a year ago.
Watch Out For .... Carraway to look as if he belongs. The senior has been close to winning a job in the past, but has been blocked out by the likes of Kroboth, Gildea and Philadelphia Eagle Jaiquawn Jarrett. Now that all but Gildea are gone, Carraway has a chance to spread his wings, and really showcase his physical ability.
Strength: Limiting the big play. Sure, the Owls were a member of the MAC, but you could argue that the 2011 Mid-American Conference had as many dangerous passing games as the Big East will have in 2012. Temple ranked 19th nationally in pass efficiency D, allowing just 13 touchdown passes in 13 games, and a measly 6.3 yards per attempt.
Weakness: A true lockdown corner. Jones, Johnson and Robey are nice players, but none will be confused with a next-level cornerback who’s capable of shutting down the other team’s most dangerous pass-catcher. It’ll be interesting to see if one of the Owls can handle Cincinnati’s Anthony McClung, Pitt’s Devin Street or Syracuse’s Alec Lemon in 2012.
Outlook: While there are no household names in the secondary, it’s hard to argue with the results. Temple has had a knack in recent years of playing very well against the pass in a league that had its fair share of capable quarterbacks and wide receivers. Provided the pass rush lends enough support, there’s no reason why Gildea & Co. cannot remain salty in the face of an average collection of Big East passers.
For one final year, senior Brandon McManus will be the centerpiece of the Temple special teams unit. He’s been a triple-threat specialist for the past three seasons, handling punting, placekicking and kickoff duties in Philadelphia. He was the All-MAC Second Team punter in 2011, averaging a league-high 45.8 yards. He also connected on 16-of-22 field goal attempts, and normed a career-best 66.2 yards on kickoffs. With a little more consistency on long-range three-pointers, he’ll contend for All-Big East honors in more than one area.
The Owls are going to entrust their return game to their two best running backs, senior Matt Brown and sophomore Kenny Harper . The elusive Brown led the program in kick returns and punt returns last fall, averaging 25.1 yards and 10.1 yards, respectively.
Watch Out For… McManus to spend part of the offseason working on hastening his delivery. The senior had the first two punts of his career blocked in 2011, about the only thing that went radically wrong for him last season.
Strength: McManus. The ultimate in special teams efficiency, he’s one Owl doing the job of three men. He’s actually pretty good at all disciplines, sporting the strong leg and forceful whip needed to pop the ball as a punter, placekicker and kickoff specialist.
Weakness: McManus … from beyond 30 yards. While he’s a quality placekicker, he has shown a penchant for being erratic on attempts outside of chip shots. For his career, he’s a perfect 20-of-20 inside the 30-yard line, but is only 26-of-46 beyond it.
Outlook: Temple did a very nice job on special teams last fall, and expects to repeat that performance in 2012. McManus is a multi-dimensional specialist, with All-Big East aspirations. Brown and Harper have already proven to be dangerous in the return game. And the coverage teams, were practically air-tight a year ago. The unit has a chance to be an unheralded cog in the program’s success this fall.
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2012 Temple Defense |
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