2012 UTSA Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UTSA Roadrunners Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The 4-2-5 defense is loaded with experience, but it needs to find playmakers in the secondary in a big hurry and could use more pass rushers up front. The linebackers could be terrific, only needing two, with Steven Kurfehs and Brandon Reeves one of the best 1-2 punches in the WAC. Marlon Smith is a tremendous pass rushing end, but the young line needs an interior pass rusher and could stand to find a consistent playmaker on the other side. Nic Johnston is a huge-hitting safety, but the more production from the rest of the defensive backs, the better.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Steven Kurfehs
Tackles: Brandon Reeves, 69
Sacks: Marlon Smith, 8
Interceptions: Several at 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE William Ritter
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Richard Burge
Best pro prospect: Sophomore S Nic Johnston
Top three all-star candidates: 1) DE Marlon Smith, 2) Kurfehs, 3) Johnston
Strength of the defense: Experience, Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Defensive Back, Interior Pass Rushing
The line gets back several key parts from last year's line, including the combination of ends Marlon Smith and Jason Neill on one side. The 6-6, 225-pound Smith, a junior, started most of the year finishing with 40 tackles with a team-leading eight sacks and ten tackles for loss. The team's best pass rusher by far, he was able to crank out the big numbers despite missing a little bit of time. The 6-3, 250-pound Neill, a sophomore, stepped in late in the year to start two games on the end and got the call against South Alabama at tackle, finishing with 14 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss to go along with an interception.
While Neill will see time on the other side, 6-2, 225-pound junior William Ritter will hold down a key role in the rotation after making 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks despite suffering a high ankle sprain. He missed time, but he was promising when he was healthy.
Trying to gum things up on the inside will be 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Richard Burge, a high-motor energy defender who made 31 tackles and showed good activity against the run. He's not great at getting into the backfield, but he's always working. He'll work in a rotation with 6-4, 285-pound senior Franky Anaya, a former JUCO transfer who made 14 tackles with a sack. He's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.
6-3, 290-pound true sophomore Ashaad Mabry had a nice first season making 20 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. One of the team's best interior pass rushers, he's good at getting into the backfield, while 6-0, 290-pound sophomore Ferrington Macon started five games and worked a little in several spots making 15 tackles with 2.5 sacks.
Watch Out For … Smith. There are plenty of questions with the move into the WAC and the FBS – can the Roadrunners play with the bigger boys? Smith can. He'll be one of the league's best pass rushers.
Strength: Versatility. While the tackles are tackle-sized and the ends are end-sized, the UTSA line has a slew of players who can move around where needed. The line can go big, with some of the tackles kicking outside, and there are several options to play around with.
Weakness: A second pass rusher. There's Smith, and there's … um, uh, a lot of hope. The interior pass rushers are okay, but it would be nice if someone else could produce on the other side.
Outlook: It all happened at the lower level, but the Roadrunner line was solid against the run and had a playmaker in Smith who ripped up offenses at times. There's depth, versatility, and lots and lots of options to play around with. The coaching staff can work with the combination, and will, to find the right fits.
Unit Rating: 4.5
The Roadrunners only use two linebackers, and they have some good ones to work in a rotation. The 6-3, 225-pound junior Steven Kurfehs was the starter in the middle for most of last year, missing time with a knee injury before ending the season suspended, finishing third on the team with 51 tackles with a sack, two picks, and nine tackles for loss. Extremely active, he's all around the ball and he's a tackling machine in the middle.
5-10, 220-pound senior Brandon Reeves came in from the JUCO ranks and rocked right away with a team-leading 69 tackles with six tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. He's not all that big, and he's not all that fast, but he's always working on the outside and he's always making things happen. He's a terrific all-around playmaker.
Sophomore Cody Rogers is built for the middle at 6-1 and 240 pounds, but he'll also work at the Hawk position. He came up with a huge 16-tackle game against McNeese State with Kurfehs out, and now he'll push harder for time. He made 37 tackles on the year, and he can do far more as a pass rusher if turned loose.
Sophomore Blake Terry still needs time and seasoning, but the 6-1, 230-pounder has nice skills, but he's a backup at the moment making nine tackles last season. The extremely athletic John Walker is a 6-1, 220-pound former tight end who can move. There's still a learning curve with him at the position, but he appears to be a keeper after making 11 tackles in his limited action.
Watch Out For … Kurfehs. As long as he can stay healthy, and as long as everything is fine, he should be among the WAC's leading tacklers. He's a great all-around playmaker who should lead the team in tackles if all goes according to plan.
Strength: Experience. The Roadrunners only use two linebackers, so getting everyone back makes for a nice, deep rotation. Everyone can hit and there's good pass rushing ability from both spots.
Weakness: The depth. There might be several players who know what they're doing, but the defense has to be in a 4-2-5 because there aren't quite enough options to go with a reliable 4-3 for long periods of time.
Outlook: This could be a strength of the defense. Kurfehs and Reeves are the team's two best defensive players, while Rogers and Terry are promising enough to step in when needed. With a big, veteran line in front of them, the linebackers should put up huge numbers.
Unit Rating: 5
The corners have to be better right away. That means junior Erik Brown needs to keep building on his decent first half of last year. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he has decent size and can tackle making 26 tackles. However, he didn't come up with a pick and made just two broken up passes.
Back on the other side is sophomore Darrien Starling, a 5-9, 180-pounder who took his share of lumps in his first season, but finished with 35 tackles with two picks. He has good upside, and unlike Brown, he improved as the year went on. He has No. 1 cover-corner potential, but it might take a little while longer.
6-2, 190-pound sophomore Nic Johnson is the team's top safety and one of the biggest hitters, coming up with 59 tackles with two picks, three fumble recoveries, and four tackles for loss. Playing at the team's Dawg position – a strong safety – he should be one of the key playmakers against the run.
True sophomores Mauricio Sanchez and Triston Wade combined at free safety but could also play at the rover spot. The 6-0, 180-pound Sanchez made 44 tackles, but he didn't do anything against the pass, while the 6-0, 160-pound Wade made 39 stops with two picks. Wade will likely takeover the rover job from Mark Waters, who was second on the team with 68 stops, while Sanchez will likely be the free safety.
Bringing more size to the equation will be two key JUCO transfers. The 6-1, 215-pound Cody Berry is in from Pierce JC in California and should provide some thump at safety, while 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Brian King is a Florida native who spent last year at Hutchinson CC.
The backup corner situation is an issue. Sophomore Jeremy Hall is 5-9 and 195 pounds with the ability to play safety or either corner spot. He only made one tackle, but he broke up a pass and recovered a fumble. The 5-9, 155-pound Alondre Thorn isn't big, but he can fly. The sophomore made five tackles with a broken up pass and a tackle for loss.
Watch Out For … Johnson. He's one of the team's best players and should be among the WAC's best all-around safeties. He needs to be a rock with so many question marks across the rest of the secondary.
Strength: The starting five. There's enough experience to expect the five starting defensive backs to be decent. Like everywhere else on the team, this was a young group thrown into the fire and took its lumps. There should be a payoff.
Weakness: Depth, especially at safety. This is a huge question mark with the safeties really, really thin past the first team. Considering the defense uses five defensive backs, there will be an issue if injuries strike.
Outlook: This could be a big, big problem. The corners struggled a bit too much last year and the safeties struggled with their consistency. Now the Roadrunners have to get production from all five spots in the 4-2-5 and desperately need the depth to emerge in a big hurry.
Unit Rating: 4
Sophomore Sean Ianno wasn't bad in his first year connecting on 11-of-18 field goals, but he was a bit inconsistent missing a 26-yarder against South Alabama. However, his last three misses were from beyond 48 yards out. He has a decent deep leg and connected on 4-of-8 field goals from beyond 40 including a 48-yarder against South Alabama.
Kristian Stern got the punting job as a true freshman, taking over and finishing averaging 40.9 yards per boot with five put inside the 20. He might not have a huge leg, but he was accurate and was good at getting good hang time. He'll be the main man for the next few years.
Receiver Kenny Harrison was a bolt of lightning as a kick returner, averaging 26.8 yards per kick, while corner Erik Brown was the top punt returning option averaging 6.8 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Ianno. He has a good midrange-to-deep leg, but he just needs to be more consistent. He might not always be automatic from inside the 40, but he'll hit a few more bombs.
Strength: Kickoff coverage. It was phenomenal last year and it should be even better with the new rules. The Roadrunners allowed a paltry 16.2 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Punt coverage. The punting game was fine, but the coverage teams struggled allowing 11.2 yards per return with a score.
Outlook: If Ianno can nail everything from close range, and if there could be more pop on punt returns, UTSA should be solid. The kicking game will be good, Harrison should make the kick return game rock, and the coverage teams could be a plus with a little more work.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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