2012 UAB Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: How in the world does UAB plan to stop opposing quarterbacks this season? The Blazers will be easy fodder through the air in the fall, the byproduct of a mealy pass rush and a rebuilt secondary. A year after finishing last in the country in sacks and 117th in pass efficiency defense, improvement will come in very small steps. The front line is a sea of young unknowns, like DE Diaheem Watkins, who showed hints of potential in his first year on campus. In an attempt to bring a little more speed and quickness to the D-line, former DE Connor Boyett was shifted inside to tackle. Experience in the secondary will come at a premium. Former S Caleb Lester has been moved to corner in order help plug a hole, while JUCO transfer Cortez Webb has already shown enough to lock up the spot at free safety. The majority of UAB’s defensive talent will be housed at linebacker in the form of seniors Greg Irvin and Marvin Burdette. Burdette has been a particular rock in the middle over the last two seasons, and should be good for at least 100 tackles on a defense that allows a lot of plays to extend beyond the first level.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Marvin Burdette
Tackles: Marvin Burdette, 92
Sacks: Diaheem Watkins, 1.5
Interceptions: Marvin Burdette, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star:Sophomore DE Chris Walton or Trey Grissett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Diaheem Watkins
Best pro prospect: Burdette
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burdette, 2) Watkins, 3) Senior LB Greg Irvin
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, run defense, pass defense, third-down stops, red-zone stops
The D-line mirrors the O-line entering 2012—not enough proven talent, and far too many question marks. The staff is pinning a lot of its hopes on sophomore DE Diaheem Watkins, who showed hints of potential in his first season of action. As a regular member of the rotation, he got in on 31 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. Well-sized and plenty tough for the position at 6-4 and 258 pounds, he’s coming off the kind of spring that portends a much bigger spotlight in the fall.
Battling it out at the other end will be a couple of sophomores, 6-3, 260-pound Chris Walton and 6-5, 260-pound Trey Grissett. For his size, Walton has good quickness, making 12 tackles and a couple of stops for loss in 2011. Grissett lettered in his first season on campus, chipping in with nine tackles. He has the long frame and arms needed to successfully get around the edge.
The new staff will use the summer to determine its starters on the interior. At defensive tackle, juniors Connor Boyett and Jewell Christian were unable to build any separation in the spring. The 6-5, 267-pound Boyett is the quickest of the pair, and has started 19 games over the last two seasons. In 2011, he made 31 tackles, three of which were for minus yards. Christian goes 6-2 and 295 pounds, and is the more traditional run stuffer. Slated to contribute in his first year out of Southwest Mississippi Community College, he was limited by injuries to one game.
At nose tackle, the nod will either go to 6-3, 285-pound junior Deric Scott, a two-time letterwinner who started the first two games of 2011, or 6-1, 320-pound Mickey Jackson. Light on his feet, Scott made a career-best 17 tackles a season ago. Jackson is a classic space-eater on the inside, cutting his teeth as a rookie by making 17 stops and a sack in his debut.
Watch Out For … Watkins to take another step forward in his evolution as UAB’s best pass rusher. He took part in some interesting battles this spring with the program’s best pass protector, Chris Hubbard … and won his fair share of them. On a team pining for a better pass rush, No. 91 is poised to do his part to help the cause.
Strength: Competition. UAB hopes to benefit from the climate of competition that has existed along the D-line since offseason workouts began. Watkins aside, all of the positions remain open as fall camp approaches, ensuring that the ends and tackles will be working overtime to impress their new coaches.
Weakness: Pressuring the pocket. The only way is up for UAB, because, well, it ranked last nationally with just eight sacks, including two in the final six games. Watkins lends hope for the future, but he’s the exception of a group lacking much in the way of sure-fire pass rushers. The Blazers will again struggle at the point of attack, a key reason why they also gave up 5.2 yards a carry last fall.
Outlook: There’s simply no way around it—UAB lacks sufficient talent in the trenches to compete effectively at this level. Watkins might eventually bloom into an all-league performer, but he won’t get shielded by his teammates along the defensive line. If the Blazers are going to rattle opposing quarterbacks this year, the linebackers and safeties might have to support the cause.
Unit Rating: 4
Back for one final year in Birmingham will be 5-11, 230-pound senior Marvin Burdette, arguably the program’s best defensive player. The third-year starter in the middle has been a fringe All-Conference defender since first breaking into the lineup, racking up 92 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss a season ago. Yeah, he lacked the size to attract the interest of SEC programs, but has compensated with the necessary toughness, instincts and fundamentals to become a terrific run stopper. Pencil Burdette in for at least 100 tackles this fall, even if he still has a hard time getting recognition away from his own campus.
UAB’s second of two returning starters at linebacker will line up at strongside, 5-11, 218-pound senior Greg Irvin. In his first full season as a regular, he was fourth on the team with 66 tackles, adding three stops for loss and five fumble recoveries. A heady and tenacious Blazer, he’s gotten progressively better with each passing year, and is poised to become one of the team leaders on this side of the ball.
The newest member of the starting lineup will be junior Patrick Bastien, the heavy favorite at weakside. Arguably the best combination of size, speed and range on the second level, he’s grown to 6-3 and 227 pounds without losing his explosiveness. A part-time starter in 2009, he redshirted in 2010 before making 24 tackles as a reserve last fall. Challenging Bastien for playing time will be 5-11, 220-pound senior Santonio Jones, the former transfer from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College who did not see the field in last year’s debut.
Watch Out For … a breakout year from Bastien. He’s big, he’s fast and he’s a little wiser having spent last year earning his second year. In other words, No. 47 is on the brink of his best season in Birmingham, the kind of athlete who’ll be employed in a number of different ways UAB coaching staff.
Strength: Range. Burdette, Irvin and Bastien all move well from sideline to sideline, covering large chunks of turf in a short period of time. At a base level, these Blazers are all good athletes, using their speed and modest size to fly all over the field to make something positive happen.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. Athletic? Yes. Assertive? Not quite. Burdette being the one possible exception, the Blazers linebackers are undersized and prone to getting enveloped by bigger opponents. While not the only part of the problem, this group must share some of the blame for last season’s No. 103 ranking versus the run and 5.2 yards per carry yielded.
Outlook: The linebackers will continue to be an overachieving bunch that takes its lead from Burdette, the most valuable member of the entire D. While they’ll have problems versus physical, north-south ground games, they’ll also make a slew of plays throughout the season, and leave a positive imprint on the pass defense. When the other team has the ball, Burdette, Irvin and Bastien won’t be far from it.
Unit Rating: 5.5
It’s back to the drawing board—again—for the UAB defensive backfield, which loses five seniors from a unit that got carved up throughout the 2011 season. Among the team’s cornerbacks, 6-1, 179-pound
Cornelius Richards is looking to become the physical and emotional leader at the position. The senior has largely been a reserve during his career, starting a total of five games over the last three seasons. From the bench in 2011, he was in on 38 tackles, and broke up four passes. Now, he needs to prove that he can handle the rigors of being an every-down player.
Leading the pack to join Richards in the lineup is 5-10, 190-pound junior Caleb Lester.
Mostly a safety in 2011, which included a pair of starts, he’s making a position shift in the hopes that his toughness can intimidate opposing receivers. He had just nine tackles last fall, a level of production he’s capable of surpassing by Week 2.
Free safety will belong to junior Cortez Webb, a coveted 2012 recruit out of Butler County (Kans.) Community College. At 6-2 and 189 pounds, he has ideal size for the position to go along with the ball-hawking skills that this unit desperately needs. Early indications are that Webb will be an impact player early in his career.
Duking it out for the strong safety job are 6-2, 205-pound senior Lamar Johnson and 5-10, 187-pound junior Calvin Jones. Johnson is in his second season out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, looking to build on a quiet debut as a special teamer in 2011. Jones is another transfer who came by way of Copiah-Lincoln Junior College. Far more active and successful than his competition, he contributed 36 tackles in 10 games.
Watch Out For … rookie Kelton Brackett to get a chance to play right away. UAB will not put a stop sign for anyone this fall, especially if he can stick to receivers. The 5-11, 185-pound is the brightest of six defensive back recruits, a gifted athlete who also had offers to play for Louisville and Minnesota.
Strength: Hitting. If you’re a UAB DB, there’s a very good chance that you’re no stranger to contact. The Blazers get plenty of experienced filling running lanes, and cleaning up the countless messes that get beyond the first and second levels of the D. They’ll whack opposing ballcarriers, and wrap up well in space.
Weakness: Defending the pass. UAB was an easy target for quarterbacks in 2011, ranking 114th nationally in pass defense, and yielded nearly three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions made. The fact that the 2011 group has been dismantled by graduations is sure to test the school’s depth on the last line of defense.
Outlook: Might things get worse before they get better for one of the country’s worst pass defenses? The Blazers are awash in uncertainty in the defensive backfield, a collection of subpar talent that struggles mightily when the ball is in the air. Unless the pass rush does a complete about-face, an unlikely turn events, UAB will get ambushed over the top for a second straight year.
Unit Rating: 4
One of the Blazers’ most reliable offensive weapons just happens to reside on special teams. Sophomore Ty Long was an instant hit as the team’s placekicker in 2011, hitting 16-of-19 field goal attempts to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA. The member of the 2012 Groza Award watch list was surprisingly accurate for a first-time, hitting a long of 49 yards.
Taking over for Trey Ragland at punter will be sophomore Hunter Mullins. Long and lean, with a decent leg whip, he got on the field for two punts, which produced a total of 83 yards.
Junior Jackie Williams will be one of the figureheads of the return game. He handled punts in 2011, averaging 11 yards on 12 attempts. He’ll be joined on punts by sophomore Jamarcus Nelson, who will also be the primary kick returner. Nelson needs to produce more electricity after fizzing out at 17.6 yards a return last fall.
Watch Out For … Mullins’ comfort level as a full-timer. The punter is a pivotal position on a UAB squad that doesn’t play much defense, and needs all of the field position breaks it can get. If he flubs his first chance in the hot seat, it’s going to have a direct—and negative—impact on the rest of the team.
Strength: Long. As a true freshman, he was revelatory for the UAB special teams, missing just three times, and hitting 24-of-25 extra points. With a full season of action already in the vault, Long figures to be even more comfortable and reliable in the clutch in his second year of action.
Weakness: Kickoffs. If there was a kickoff in a game, there was a good chance that something was breaking bad for the Blazers. UAB was 95th nationally on kickoff returns, 110th in kickoff return defense and 97th on average kickoff distance.
Outlook: Long has already become the face of the UAB special teams unit. However, lurking behind him is a whole heap of problems for the rest of his teammates. The Blazers don’t cover kicks well, struggle to break free on returns and will be breaking the seal on a young and unproven punter. All in all, it shapes up as a shaky season for the group.
Unit Rating: 5
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