2013 Tulsa Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Well-traveled coordinator Brent Guy is coming off one of his best seasons as a defensive assistant. His Golden Hurricane D was the stingiest unit in Conference USA in 2012, ranking no lower than second in the league in run defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring D and sacks. Employing largely blue-collar athletes that were overlooked by bigger schools coming out of high school, Tulsa was aggressive to the ball and opportunistic. This program is adept at coaching up raw talent, which is a good thing since only three starters return. The Hurricane is getting a facelift after losing its entire D-line and three-fourths of the secondary to graduation. LB Shawn Jackson and FS Demarco Nelson will be physical leaders of the new-look defense, while DE Brentom Todd, DT Derrick Luetjen, LB Trent Martin and Bandit Michael Mudoh are asked to operate with a next-man-in mindset.
Tackles: Shawn Jackson, 88
Sacks: Shawn Jackson, 5
Interceptions: Demarco Nelson, 2
Star of the defense: Senior LB Shawn Jackson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Brentom Todd
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore Bandit Michael Mudoh
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Demarco Nelson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) Nelson, 3) Sophomore LB Trent Martin
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, safeties, getting pressure, range, red-zone D
Weakness of the defense: Rebuilt D-line, the cornerbacks, depth
Break out the name tags. Tulsa has parted ways with all four of last year's starting defensive linemen, including all-league ends Cory Dorris and Jared St. John. The staff is holding out hope that 6-3, 239-pound junior Brentom Todd can deliver a breakout season at one of the end spots. As a backup, he's shown a tendency for getting off the snap in a hurry, using his speed and athleticism to make plays in the backfield. Todd came off the bench to make 19 tackles, eight stops for loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries in 2012.
Junior Chris Hummingbird has performed this offseason as if he plans on starting at the opposite end position. After making just two stops last season, the 6-2, 258-pounder moved ahead of the more experienced Derrick Alexander during the spring. Hummingbird consistently made plays in March, showcasing the toughness to support in run defense. Alexander, though, will not be forgotten. The 6-2, 270-pound sophomore and former Oklahoma Player of the Year laid a nice foundation in his first year with 19 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and three sacks. With a strong summer, he still could wrest this job away from Hummingbird.
Senior DT Jack Jewell is getting his first opportunity to play a starring role. At 6-5 and 287 pounds, he's big and tough, with the long arms to swim past blockers. He was limited to just four games and a sack last season. But the coaches believe that a healthy Jewell can be a disruptive Jewell in his final year of eligibility.
Joining Jewell on the inside will be 6-3, 279-pound sophomore Derrick Luetjen,who lettered in his first season of action. He came off the bench in 13 games, making 14 stops, four stops for loss and two sacks. He's the quicker of the two tackles, showcasing the burst and the get-off to shoot the gap to make a bunch of plays for minus yards.
Filling out the D-line depth chart is a handful of eager redshirt freshman, such as ends Damian Gibson and Cory Rahmings, and tackles Jerry Uwaezuoke and Hayden Carman.
Watch Out For .... Hummingbird and Alexander to push one another throughout the summer. The former really turned the coaches' heads, but the latter possesses more upside potential. Hummingbird has not only made a name for himself this offseason, but he also may have stoked the fire of a teammate.
Strength: Getting pressure. Yeah, it's the dawn of a new era up front, but Tulsa perennially seems to produce scrappers capable of getting after the quarterback. At this time last year, no one was talking about St. John, yet he wound up being the ringleader of a group that ranked No. 3 nationally in sacks.
Weakness: Sure-things. Someone is going to emerge for the Golden Hurricane, but will it be enough for a unit inserting four new starters into the lineup? Plus, overall depth promises to be an ongoing problem now that the bench is comprised almost exclusively of second-year freshmen.
Outlook: The drop-off from a year ago is inevitable now that four senior starters have graduated. However, much like the O-line, the D-line has had a habit of regrouping on the fly. The Hurricane will be a little easier to run on and not quite as ferocious, but the openings will create an opportunities for Todd, Jewell, Luetjen and either Hummingbird or Alexander to start carving out their own identities in Conference USA.
A D losing a ton of key players to graduation will look to senior Shawn Jackson for physical and emotional leadership in 2013. The veteran of 34 career starts has been a three-year rock from weakside, the kind of playmaker who always has his nose in the middle of the action. After missing the first three games due to suspension, the stout 6-0, 251-pounder went on to make 88 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, five sacks, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Jackson doesn't always look the part, but he has tremendous instincts, a great motor and a voracious appetite for contact.
After playing the role on a part-time basis in 2012, junior Mitchell Osborne is the new full-time CANE linebacker for the D. He's played in every game of his career so far, bouncing back after missing all of 2011 to start five games last fall. The 6-2, 210-pounder has good range and athleticism, so more is expected from him than last year's 40 tackles, three stops for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Now that the middle linebackers are healthy, Tulsa is banking on increased production out of the position. Coming out of spring 6-2, 242-pound sophomore Trent Martin held a lead for the starting job. The program likes his size and instincts, which were honed as a six-game starter a season ago. He made 37 stops and blocked a pair of kicks, laying the ground floor of a promising career. Behind him is 6-1, 221-pound senior Donnell Hawkins,a veteran of two letters. He started the 2012 opener, but had his season limited to three games by injury.
The school's utility man off the bench will again be 5-10, 211-pound senior DeWitt Jennings.The versatile defender has appeared in 39 career games, with nine starts. He'll contribute wherever he's needed, including on special teams, posting 28 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and a pair of sacks last season.
Watch Out For .... Martin to take a giant leap forward in his development. Last season was a learning experience, complicated by an injury that cost him four games. Entering 2013, though, he's healthy and a little bigger and wiser than he was as a rookie. Martin is capable of holding Hawkins, while ranking among the team leaders in tackles.
Strength: Jackson. He's so much more than just a compiler of gaudy numbers. He's a legitimate tone-setter. Jackson is physical and emotional, the type of personality that makes teammates want to play at a higher level just in order to impress the senior leader.
Weakness: Pass defenders. The Hurricane is a somewhat squat, lumbering collection of linebackers that's going to be vulnerable over the top. The 251-pound Jackson is not a natural pass defender, and Martin is liable to get exposed by smaller, quicker tight ends. Tulsa will have trouble with intermediate routes, or when an opposing back gets matched with a linebacker.
Outlook: The Hurricane has the luxury of one more year with Jackson, who'll intimidate from September to December. No. 55 is a sure-thing to finish his career with all-league honors, but the ultimate grade assigned to this unit really rests with the ensemble, including Osborne and Martin, who'll have to be more impactful than they were a season ago.
Tulsa led Conference USA in pass efficiency defense in 2012, but staying on top will require a lot more support for 6-0, 192-pound senior FS Demarco Nelson who'll be surrounded by a spate of fresh faces in the secondary. The one-time running back, and three-year starter, has been a revelation on the defensive side of the ball, using his speed and athleticism to contribute against the run and the pass. One of two Golden Hurricane players to be named Second Team All-Conference USA, he finished fourth on the team with 80 tackles, adding four stops for loss and two picks. With fewer seasoned players surrounding him, Nelson is liable to post the best numbers of his career this year.
The program is excited about the potential of the team's new BANDIT, sophomore Michael Mudoh.Though only 5-10 and 198 pounds, he plays much bigger, and with the aggressiveness that the staff loves. He came off the bench to make 25 tackles a year ago, but will be given an opportunity to be far more effective this season.
A couple of young cornerbacks are being broken in, a scary reality for the secondary. The more experienced regular will be 5-10, 184-pound sophomore Darrell Williams,yet he had just four tackles in 2012. He's physical and works very hard, qualities the team hopes will translate into a smooth transition into the starting lineup.
It looks as if his partner will be 5-11, 165-pound redshirt freshman Darnell Walker,who has edged ahead of the competition this offseason. While the three-star prospect from Missouri needs to pack on some weight and experience, he has the hips and the footwork to gradually emerge as a quality pass defender.
The first man off the bench will be 5-9, 173-pound junior CB Dwight Dobbins,who started a pair of games in 2012, and boasts 27 games of experience. He made 27 tackles last year, providing the D with much-needed veteran snaps. Among the safeties, senior Marcus Pate is the only Hurricane with a letter. However, the 5-11, 176-pounder has played minimally for Tulsa, making just six tackles in 13 games last season.
Watch Out For .... Mudoh to be the next best thing to Nelson in the secondary this fall. He's hyperactive, fearless and athletic. In other words, he's exactly what the Golden Hurricane staff seeks at the Bandit position. The sophomore's impact is going to be felt both as a pass defender and as a support to the run D.
Strength: The safeties. Nelson is a returning all-star, with NFL aspirations. Mudoh is an up-and-comer. When paired together, they'll give the Hurricane a couple of versatile ball-hawks capable of imposing their will on the other team. Unlike a lot of safeties in this league, Tulsa's are legitimate playmakers.
Weakness: The corners. No, Lowell Rose and John Flanders weren't air-tight, but they were steady veterans in pass defense. Now that they're gone, Tulsa is being forced to turn the position over to a pair of underclassmen with limited snaps. Williams and Walker might wind up being the answer, but don't expect that to be the case until at least 2014.
Outlook: Growing pains are pretty much guaranteed for a Tulsa secondary breaking in three new starters. Nelson is terrific, and Mudoh's ceiling is high. However, those young corners and the backups are sure to be tested often by Conference USA quarterbacks. Making matters worse, the pass rush is getting a facelift as well, so help from up front is not guaranteed.
The Golden Hurricane will employ both of last year's specialists. In his first year as the successor to PK Kevin Fitzpatrick—and first year on campus—sophomore Daniel Schwarz was predictably erratic. He missed six of his 18 field goal tries as well as seven extra points. The program is expecting more consistency from its kicker in 2013.
Back for his third season as the punter is junior Cole Way,a 6-8, 205-pound lefty. He'll once again pull double-duty as the Hurricane's punter and kickoff specialist. Known more for his finesse than his leg strength, he averaged only 39 yards per attempt in 2012.
Watch Out For … Schwarz to contend for all-league honors. He has the requisite talent for success, and after getting the yips out as a rookie should be in a better position to kick with more consistency. He'll still spend more time attempting one-pointers than three-pointers, but his accuracy is about to head north.
Strength: The return game. With senior Trey Watts once again leading the charge on special teams, Tulsa has another pivotal weapon to help jumpstart the offense. The Second Team All-Conference USA pick scored on a punt return and a kickoff return in 2012, giving him three special teams touchdowns for his career.
Weakness: The punting game. The Golden Hurricane ranked 115th nationally in punting average at a measly 37.6 yards, and was 91st in punt return D. Put the two together, and you've got a special teams unit that too often puts the defense in difficult field position situations.
Outlook: The special teams unit is a mixed bag entering 2013. On the one hand, Watts is a terrific playmaker, and Schwarz figures to be more effective in his second season on the job. On the other, though, the punting game has been minimally supportive of the defense. Above all else, Tulsa needs Way to turn the corner now that he's entering his junior season as the punter.
Unit Rating: 6
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