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2013 Central Michigan Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 27, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Central Michigan Chippewa Defense


Central Michigan Chippewas

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 Central Michigan Preview | 2013 Central Michigan Offense
- 2013 Central Michigan Defense | 2013 Central Michigan Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Pressure, pressure, pressure. That’s the problem for a Chippewa defense with experience, athleticism and talent. The defense came up with a miniscule 49 tackles for loss and just 18 sacks on the season, and the lack of production in the backfield showed with too many big passing days allowed and too many problems against the better running teams. Whether CMU goes with a 4-2-5 alignment or plays around with the 4-3 again makes a big difference considering the strength is at linebacker. There are question marks at end, and playmakers have to emerge in the veteran secondary, but Shamari Benton and Justin Cherocci are two good linebackers to work everything around.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Justin Cherocci, 132
Sacks: Leterrius Walton, 2.5
Interceptions: Jason Wilson, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Shamari Benton
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Blake Serpa
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Jabari Dean
Best pro prospect: Senior S Avery Cunningham
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Benton, 2) Cunningham, 3) LB Justin Cherocci
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Pass Defense

Defensive Line

The pass rush has to be night-and-day better and the run defense has to be stronger. It starts with 6-5, 300-pound junior Leterrius Walton, who emerged as last season rolled on getting the starting nod over the second half of the year. Big, strong and quick, he could be a playmaker into the backfield from time to time on the nose, but his job will be to hold up against the run after making 32 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He’ll work in a rotation with veteran Matt Losiniecki, a 6-3, 280-pound junior who made 22 tackles with two tackles for loss. After a great offseason, he’ll move around in the interior when needed.

Starting again is 6-2, 288-pound sophomore Jabari Dean after making 28 tackles with a sack. Banged up a bit, he sat out this spring, but he grew as a true freshman with a world of upside. Fast off the ball and with a great motor, he could be scratching the surface. 6-2, 283-pound sophomore Louis Palmer will see more and more playing time in the rotation inside or out after getting his feet wet making 11 tackles with a sack.

Can the young ends start to get to the quarterback? 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Blake Serpa emerged this offseason as an interesting option with good quickness and like a missile when getting to the ball carrier. He made eight tackles with a sack with a little bit of work, and now he’ll rotate with several young options. Meanwhile, on the other side, 6-2, 250-pound senior Kenny McClendon is a career reserve who made eight tackles, and now he needs to grow into a pass rusher. He has enough time logged in as a practice star, but it has to translate to the field.

Watch Out For … Michael Steinhauer, a top tackle prospect who’s coming to school with 6-3, 275-pound size and the frame to get a bit bigger. Great off the ball and into the backfield, he could be the interior pass rusher the program has been looking for.
Strength: Tackles. It didn’t work out last season, but Walton started to look good over the second half of last year and Dean is young and promising. Throw Palmer into the mix and the Chippewas have decent bulk and experience to start holding up better.
Weakness: Pass rush. There isn’t any. The Chippewas came up with five sacks against Miami University and just 13 in the other 12 games. Getting to the quarterback was a big, big problem.
Outlook: The line has athletes and it has promise, but the production has to follow. The ends have to start doing something right on a regular basis, and the tackles and run defense have to be far more consistent against the better attacks.
Unit Rating: 5

Linebackers

Are the Chippewas using a 4-3 or a 4-2-5? They have the linebackers to handle either style of scheme. Back in the middle is 6-0, 231-pound junior Justin Cherocci, the team’s leading tackler with 132 stops with 2.5 tackles for loss. While he’s a former walk-on with limited range and skills, he’s never out of position and he’s a tackling machine making 14 stops against Navy and 15 against both Akron and SE Missouri State. While he’s not a pass rusher and doesn’t have the burst into the backfield, he made double-digit stops seven times. He’ll likely be backed up by 6-1, 217-pound junior Cody Lopez, an undersized hitter with a nasty streak and a big pop to his game making 35 tackles with two tackles for loss and two broken up passes. Fast, intense and versatile, he’ll find a spot somewhere.

6-0, 223-pound senior Shamari Benton is tremendously quick with outstanding cutting ability and hitting skills, finishing second on the team with 126 tackles while leading the way with 54 solo stops. Great against the run, he doesn’t do much behind the line, but he came up with 14 tackles against Navy and 13 against UMass. He’s a hitter. Working behind him will likely be sophomore Tim Hamilton, a great-looking 6-1, 233-pound prospect who can work inside or out. He got his feet wet making six tackles, while 6-1, 243-pound redshirt freshman Joe Bacci is a very big, very promising big guy for the inside. He moves well enough to play on the outside, but he might be destined for the middle.

Watch Out For … Joe Ostman, who at 6-3, 235 pounds is built to become a big option against the run. Athletic, he was a high school tight end as well as a linebacker. A tough guy, he won two Michigan state wrestling championships.
Strength: Benton and Cherocci. These two form one of the MAC’s best tandems. Considering it a shock if they don’t combine for more than 250 tackles, however, they need to improve at …
Weakness: Getting into the backfield. CMU needs a stronger, better pass rush, and the help has to come from the linebackers. They might not get the opportunity in the 4-2-5, but they could stand to be more disruptive.
Outlook: No matter what the scheme or what the alignment, the Chippewas have a good-looking linebacking corps to work around. Benton and Cherocci are two good ones, and there are enough promising options to play around with the defense.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Even though the lack of a pass rush is a problem, the secondary has to be better with the 4-2-5 style. 6-0, 203-pound senior Avery Cunningham is the best of the lot finishing fourth on the team with 88 tackles with two sacks and two picks. Big, strong and experienced, he has great range and is a good leader who can make the secondary his at free safety. Now he has to start delivering more of a pop. He’ll hit his man, but he won’t blow him up.

While Cunningham is the best player in the secondary, the Chippewas have two good corner options in juniors Jason Wilson and Jarret Chapman to work around. The 6-0, 194-pound Chapman got dinged up, but he still finished with 51 tackles and six broken up passes as a safety. While he could still end up at one of the three safety spots, he’ll see time on the outside long with the 6-0, 174-pound Wilson, a seven-game starter who came up with 50 stops with two interceptions including a pick six. A great open-field tackler who doesn’t miss, he needs to start making more plays when the ball is in the air.

If Chapman ends up back at safety, then 5-11, 170-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Fields and veteran Dennis Nalor will fight for the starting corner job. The 6-0, 178-pound Nalor, a junior, has been a part of the mix, but he only made seven tackles. Fields is a speedster who’ll be a steady starter sooner than later.

Sophomore Kavon Frazier will start to see more time as either a nickel back or a safety with 6-0, 213-pound size and terrific range making 36 stops with a pick in his first year. If he’s not a starter, he’ll work behind Cunningham as the first safety off the bench. Eventually he’ll be one of the team’s leading tacklers, but he needs to make more plays when the ball is in the air. Also in the hunt for time is 6-1, 203-pound sophomore Brandon Greer, another big, athletic safety who showed off a little bit of his potential making 12 tackles with a recovered fumble.

Watch Out For … Josh Cox, a 5-11, 195-pound corner who covers like a blanked and has good hitting skills. He’ll be tried out in a variety of spots, but he’ll eventually lock down a starting corner job.
Strength: Veterans. With two returning starting corners along with Cunningham, the Chippewas have a nice base to build around. This is an experienced secondary that should take another step forward in the development if there’s improvement from the …
Weakness: Pass rush. The Chippewa secondary never caught a break with a pass rush that didn’t do much to help the cause. Granted, the best day in the backfield – five sacks against Miami – didn’t help with 360 passing yards allowed, but for the most part, the lack of pressure was a big problem.
Outlook: The talent might be better than the production. Coming up with more interceptions is a must and getting off the field against the better passers would be good, but there’s talent, experience and athleticism to play around with in either a 4-3 or 4-2-5 alignment.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

The placekicking was decent with David Harman hitting 15-of-20 kicks with a 51-yard bomb against Boise State. Senior Connor Gagnon has a good leg and has worked on kickoffs. While he’ll be able to blast away from deep, there’s a big question about whether or not he can be consistent from midrange.

The punting game has struggled overall, but senior Richie Hogan averaged 41.8 yards per pop putting 15 inside the 20. He’s a good veteran who knows what he’s doing, but he’s going to be pushed hard to keep the job.

It’ll be an open casting call to find someone who can bail out the disastrous punt return game with Titus Davis likely to get the first look. Running back Saylor Lavallii was terrific on kickoff returns averaging 23.1 yards per try. Receiver Courtney Williams came up with 21 yards per try.

Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Matt Cotiguala, a terrific punting prospect who’s going to be pushing Hogan hard for the gig. He averaged 42.7 yards per try for College of DuPage, and with his consistency and experience, the sophomore could make it an interesting race.
Strength: Kickoff returns and coverage. The Chippewas weren’t elite here, but allowing 19.6 yards per try was impressive and averaging 22.5 yards per pop wasn’t bad.
Weakness: Punt returns. Cody Wilson was a disaster averaging just 2.8 yards per try. The new options can’t do worse, and won’t.
Outlook: The special teams have to be better. The kicking game needs to work itself out without Harman, and the punting has to be stronger and more consistent. The punt return game has to be far better, and the punt coverage needs to be tighter after allowing 12.4 yards per try.
Unit Rating: 5

- 2013 Central Michigan Preview | 2013 Central Michigan Offense
- 2013 Central Michigan Defense | 2013 Central Michigan Depth Chart