2013 Houston Preview – Defense

Posted May 5, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Houston Cougar Defense

Houston Cougars

Preview 2013 - Defense

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- 2013 Houston Defense | 2013 Houston Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: After a stint with the Houston Texans, David Gibbs is heading back to college in an effort to fix the Cougars defense. Houston has athletes. Plenty of them. What it lacks is the toughness and the size to contain quality offenses. A year ago, the program ranked 115th nationally in total D and 107th in points allowed, creating a need for a veteran like Gibbs. The coordinator plans to simplify the schemes, putting the defenders in a position to think less and react more. The 2013 edition will be breaking in a bunch of new starters, needing to replace three defensive linemen and all-star LB Phillip Steward and CB D.J. Hayden. While the Cougars rely on their playmakers, such as LB Derrick Mathews, CB Zach McMillian and FS Trevon Stewart, they’ll remain vulnerable to physical American Athletic Conference teams running right at them. There are high hopes this fall for LB Trevon Randle, who began his career at LSU as a four-star recruit.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Trevon Stewart, 126
Sacks: Derrick Mathews, 6
Interceptions: Zack McMillian, 5

Star of the defense: Junior LB Derrick Mathews
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Joey Mbu
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Trevon Randle
Best pro prospect: Mathews
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mathews, 2) Sophomore FS Trevon Stewart, 3) Senior CB Zach McMillian
Strength of the defense: Speed and athleticism, linebackers, safeties, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: The D-line, pass defense, stopping the run, third-down D

Defensive Line

The Houston D-line was flat out gutted by graduation, which means a whole new wave of Cougars gets a chance to make a mark in 2013. The most experienced of the green linemen is 6-2, 310-pound Joey Mbu , an eight-game starter last season. The junior is still improving, especially with his hands, but plays with terrific leverage and footwork. He made 27 tackles a year ago, adding a sack and a pick.

Next to Mbu at tackle will be 6-3, 265-pound Tomme Mark, the smaller, quicker version of the team’s interior linemen. He saw action in 10 games last year, starting versus UAB, and made 14 tackles and a fumble recovery. The sophomore is capable of penetrating, but needs to get stronger in order to hold up at the point of attack.

The ends are going to be young and unproven. On one side, redshirt freshman Cameron Malveaux has jumped ahead in the race for a starting spot. He has obvious measurables, a 6-5, 221-pounder, with a long gait and a sudden first step. While his ceiling in Houston is high, he needs to pack on some weight and improve his technique to become more effective in his first year.

Leading the way on the opposite end is 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Eric Eiland . He’s practically safety sized, a major concern for the run D, but his quickness and closing speed have caught the attention of the coaching staff. Coming off the bench, the former minor league baseball player earned a letter in 2012, making 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.

The young ends will be trying to hold off veteran end Eric Braswell . The 6-5, 268-pound junior will serve as more of a strongside option on running downs, bringing far more strength and muscle to the position. The veteran of 13 career starts had 18 tackles and a sack in 2012.

Watch Out For .... the ascent of rookie Tyus Bowser up the depth chart. The three-star gem from Tyler (Tex.) could have played in the Big 12 or the SEC, opting instead to become a Cougar. He’s explosively athletic, the kind of quick-twitch defenders who creates headaches for lumbering offensive tackles.
Strength: Athletes. The Cougars linemen are typically small, quick and explosive off the snap. They’re athletes first and prototypical linemen second, which should create a bunch of good looks at the quarterback. Malveaux and Eiland are thoroughbreds on the outside, and they’ll be fun to watch in action.
Weakness: Proven players. While the situation might change once the season begins, Houston does not house a lineman that screams out all-star candidate at this time. Mbu is the only Cougar with full-time starting experience, and he’s only a sophomore. The undersized D-line will be especially vulnerable on running downs, a year after ranking 92nd nationally in run defense.
Outlook: It’ll be more famine than feast for the Houston defensive front in 2013. At times, this unit will be disruptive, using its raw natural athletic ability to convene in the backfield. More often than not, though, it’ll have a hard time holding up at the point of contact, which is going to lead to severe deficiencies against the run.
Rating: 5


A confluence of events ensures that junior middle linebacker Derrick Mathews is going to be one very busy Cougar this season. Not only is he a terrific all-around athlete from the defensive side of the ball, but he’ll have to clean up a lot of messes on this revamped Houston defense. Just 6-0 and 207 pounds, he flies around the field with all of the speed and the range of a safety, allowing him to be used on myriad different assignments. This past season, Mathews made his presence felt on a constant basis, tying for No. 2 on the team with 126 tackles to go along 17 stops for loss, six sacks, five passes defended and a couple of forced fumbles.

The Cougars are excited to finally have the services of 6-2, 222-pound LSU transfer Trevon Randle at weakside. The four-star athlete was heavily recruited in 2010, including by current Houston head coach Tony Levine. Just a sophomore, the speedy and fluid defender has three years of eligibility to resuscitate a career that not long ago was flush with potential.

Taking a lead at strongside is 6-0, 212-pound redshirt freshman Steve Taylor . While there’s no doubting that he’s undersized, he does play bigger than his size by aggressively attacking the line of scrimmage and popping the man with the ball.

Trying to keep Taylor out of the lineup is 6-0, 222-pound senior Austin Wilson . The career journeyman and special teamer has played in 31 career games, but has only made 10 tackles, and is better suited for special teams. Behind Randle at weakside is three-time letterwinner George Bamfo . Bamfo is a 5-11, 211-pound blazer, who had nine stops last year, and is a candidate to be used on blitzes.

Watch Out For .... Randle’s assimilation into the starting lineup. Yeah, he’s an SEC talent who landed a scholarship with LSU, but he hasn’t played a down of live action in almost three years. Since leaving high school in Texas, he has redshirted and sat out a year per NCAA rules. Everyone is excited about his upside, but the first few weeks could be spent shaking off some rust.
Strength: Range. The Cougars linebackers are small, quick and very agile, allowing them to impact both the run and the pass defense. Testament to their versatility and multi-dimensional skill set, they are as comfortable rushing the passer as they are defending one of his passes. Mathews is ubiquitous, and Randle is determined to make an instant splash.
Weakness: Size. With quickness and agility, at times, comes a sacrifice. The Houston linebackers are not designed to flourish against teams that grind out yards between the tackles. Over the last two years, the Cougars have ranked 80th and 92nd. Now, not all of the team’s troubles begin on the second level, but it’s hard to be stout when your linebackers average only 215 pounds.
Outlook: The linebackers are designed to be playmakers, with Mathews ready to lead the charge once again. They’ll fly all over the field, especially now that Randle is eligible to join the troupe. Expect plenty of tackles for loss, batted balls and takeaways out of the linebackers. However, the group will also struggle again versus the run, coming up small when matched against larger opponents.
Rating: 6


Buried in the heap of despair that was the 2012 Houston D were a few gems, such as rookie FS Trevon Stewart . Little was expected, but much was gained from the 5-9, 183-pound newcomer from Louisiana. He quickly grew comfortable in his new setting, starting 11 games and making 126 tackles and eight pass breakups. While undersized, especially for the position, Stewart showed a willingness to take on bigger players and a tendency for delivering at the right time. He’s going to be a little vulnerable over the top, but he’s also going to improve with more live reps.

The likely starter at strong safety is 5-10, 176-pound sophomore Adrian McDonald . He played the final nine games of 2012, starting three times and finishing with 35 tackles and a couple of picks. The former three-star recruit has the hips and the agility of a cornerback, but the staff needs to determine if his and toughness translate well to safety.

The Cougars’ best option at cornerback will be senior Zach McMillian , who’ll be seeking his fourth career letter this season. He improved in pass defense in 2012, especially after all-star teammate D.J. Hayden was lost for the season. The 5-10, 172-pounder must still guard against being bullied by more physical receivers, using his speed and agility to break up passes. McMillian was an active pass defender last year, picking off five passes, breaking up six more and making 51 tackles.

Faced with the unenviable task of replacing first-round Oakland Raiders draft pick D.J. Hayden is senior CB Thomas Bates . The 5-10, 177-pounder took over when Hayden was seriously injured in November, finishing with 35 tackles and a team-best 10 pass breakups. He possesses the requisite speed for the position, now needing to just raise the level of his coverage skills.

Neither of the team’s veteran safeties, 5-11, 214-pound senior FS Kent Brooks and 5-11, 190-pound senior SS Colton Valencia , were listed on the post-spring depth chart. But both are expected to be major contributors again this year. Valencia is a former Texas A&M Aggie who has started 10 games in his Houston career, making 33 tackles a year ago. Brooks has started 14 games over the last three years, peaking with 75 stops in 2011. Last season, though, he was limited to 10 games and 51 tackles.

Watch Out For.... the air of competition to hang over summer training camp until the opener. Stewart and McMillan are pretty much set, but the coaching staff will want to take as much time as it possibly can get in order to put the four best defensive backs on the field.
Strength: Ball skills. Sure, losing Hayden is a body blow for this group, but it still figures to be very aggressive and opportunistic when the ball is in the air. The athletic Cougars have done a very nice job of breaking quickly on throws and taking a bunch back the other way. Houston has picked off 40 balls over the last two years, among the highest total of any FBS team.
Weakness: Coverage softness. Even with Hayden in the lineup for the first nine games, the Cougars still finished 115th nationally against the pass. They also gave up 25 touchdown passes, and too often allowed receivers to get behind them.
Outlook: The Houston pass defense is either going to boom or bust this fall; it’ll all depend on the opponent. The Cougars have the athletes to cause headaches for opposing quarterbacks, especially those lacking zip on their throws. However, the defensive backfield also has deficiencies, the kinds that’ll prove costly against the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

One of the program’s best defensive weapons will be senior Richie Leone, one of the nation’s most accomplished punters. He is second to Florida’s Kyle Christy among returning punters with a healthy 45.5-yard average in 2012. The First Team All-Conference USA selection will also showcase his leg strength as the kickoff specialist, nailing 25 touchbacks a year ago.

Leone is also a candidate to replace Matt Hogan at placekicker. In fact, during spring, he was the most logical candidate, though that could change shortly. The 6-3, 201-pounder has proven that he has ample pop, but does not have the body of work to prove that he’d be accurate or clutch on field goal attempts.

The staff is auditioning sophomores Ryan Jackson and Larry McDuffey as the kick returner and punt returner, respectively. Jackson averaged 21.7 yards as a rookie, with a long of 59 yards. McDuffey, on the other hand, had no punt return chances in 2012.

Watch Out For… hotshot first-year PK Ty Cummings to lay the groundwork to become a four-year starter in Houston. Well-coached and fundamentally sound, he chose the Cougars with the intent of contributing immediately.
Strength: Punter. Leone’s reach extends well beyond the special teams unit. Thanks to his experience, leg strength and hang time, the Houston defense will also benefit from No. 15 being back for one final year.
Weakness: The coverage teams. The Cougs just haven’t been able to get this area ironed out over the past few seasons. Both units were soft in coverage once again in 2012, the kickoff team ranking 63rd in the country, while the punt crew stood at an even drearier 83rd.
Outlook: Houston is in good shape with Leone punting as an amateur for one more year. The tipping point for this unit, though, will be Cummings. If he’s college-ready right out of the gate, the Cougars will house one of the American Athletic Conference’s best kicking tandems.
Rating: 7

- 2013 Houston Preview | 2013 Houston Offense
- 2013 Houston Defense | 2013 Houston Depth Chart