2013 UAB Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: FCS talent facing an FBS schedule. Even by the Conference USA measuring stick, UAB is well behind the competition on defense … again. Last year's lone all-star, LB Marvin Burdette, has used up his remaining eligibility, and none of the holdovers left in Birmingham are obvious preseason all-league candidates. Among coordinators, Reggie Johnson has one of the toughest jobs in America. The coach will rely on his team's speed and athleticism, turning loose his kids in the hopes that they can create more havoc than in recent years. Candidates to become playmakers include DE Chris Rabb, LB Patrick Bastien and safeties Calvin Jones and Jake Ganus, all of whom have the right mix of measurables to contribute over a wide area of the field. The Blazers are hurting at all levels, but an improved pass rush might help the back seven, a cry for help that needs to be answered by veteran ends Connor Boyett and Diaheem Watkins.
Star of the defense: Senior SS Calvin Jones
Tackles: Calvin Jones, 71
Sacks: Chris Rabb, 3.5
Interceptions: Jake Ganus, Derek Slaughter, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Connor Boyett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Kelton Brackett
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) Sophomore DE Chris Rabb, 3) Senior LB Patrick Bastien
Strength of the defense: Competition, range and speed
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, run defense, pass defense, takeaways, third-down stops, red-zone stops
With just about everyone back from 2012, UAB is banking on improvement from its D-line. After last season, the only way is up for this group. No one started more games up front a year ago than 6-3, 285-pound DT Deric Scott. The three-time letterwinner opened nine games, finishing with 27 tackles, four stops for loss and a sack. Just like everyone around him, Scott needs to have a bigger impact against the run.
Favored to partner with Scott on the inside is 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Jontavious Morris. As a first-year player, he managed to start three games, collecting 20 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. A year of hitting the weights this offseason will help Scott prepare for a longer campaign and more reps than he had last season.
A very competitive situation on the outside has senior Connor Boyett closing in on one of the starting end jobs. At 6-5 and 267 pounds, he has the size to serve as a strongside option, a plus for a program that struggles to slow down the run. However, Boyett needs to impact the pass rush as well after only making 17 tackles, four stops for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012.
As fall camp approaches, 5-10, 220-pound sophomore Chris Rabb holds an edge on 6-4, 258-pound senior Diaheem Watkins at the other end position. While Rabb doesn't fit the prototype, his burst, motor and tenacity will cause problems for lumbering tackles. Playing most as a situational backup in 2012, he contributed 14 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and a team-best 3.5 sacks. Despite the fact that Watkins has started 19 games over the past two seasons, he's lagging behind Rabb. Watkins, who missed most of the second-half of last year, produced 32 tackles, four stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He's a valuable cog in the rotation, but UAB is going to go with whichever end is more likely to collapse the pocket.
Watch Out For … junior college transfer Demetrius Campbell to quickly enter the fray at defensive tackle. The three-star signee out of East Los Angeles (Calif.) Junior College is quick and nasty at 6-3 and 290 pounds, which could earn him a job early in his Blazers career.
Strength: Competition. The Blazers are hoping to benefit from the climate of competition that has existed along the defensive line since offseason workouts began. No one is really guaranteed of a job, regardless of what the post-spring pecking order says. All of the positions remain open as fall camp approaches, ensuring that the ends and tackles will be working extra hard to impress the position coaches.
Weakness: Pressuring the pocket. The good news is that the Blazers did improve in 2012, more than doubling their sack total from the previous year. The bad news is that UAB still finished 82nd nationally, leaving a lot of room for improvement. Rabb and Boyett must spark a pass rush that has gone AWOL too often in recent years.
Outlook: With so many letterwinners and starters returning in 2013, UAB ought to continue making strides along the first line of defense. Still, it's doubtful that there'll be enough progress to transform the D as a whole. The Blazers have a lot of bodies, but no transformative ones. While Rabb looks as if he might be a factor on passing downs, will the 220-pounder get enough support when teams run right at him?
Unit Rating: 4.5
The corps of linebackers was crippled by graduation, specifically the losses of leading tacklers Marvin Burdette and Greg Irvin. The lone returning starter, senior Patrick Bastien, will be asked to do more than ever this year, both physically and emotionally. The Blazers' 6-3, 227-pound man in the middle started 10 games in 2012, but was only able to get in on 33 tackles, six stops for loss and two sacks. Much more will be expected of Bastien, especially now that he's enjoyed a very good offseason in the weight room.
At "jack" linebacker on the outside, the staff is ready to promote sophomore Derek Slaughter. He started just a pair of games in 2012, making just 28 tackles, a sack and an interception. However, the team feels as if the diminutive 5-11, 195-pounder has the range and the closing speed to have an impact in myriad different ways.
Finally, at weakside, sophomore Shaq Jones is closing on a job for the first time in his brief career. He was active and effective coming off the sidelines last year, making 30 tackles in his debut. Yeah, Jones needs to add weight to his 6-3, 200-pound frame, but he has the length and the long gait to be effective in coverage and as a pass rusher.
The program is excited about the return to health of 6-2, 234-pound senior Daniel White, the one-time starter who has missed most of the last two seasons to injury. In his last full season, 2010, he had 55 tackles and 6.5 stops for loss. Backing up Slaughter at "jack" will be 6-2, 212-pound sophomore Tevin Crews, a reserve who came off the bench to make 15 stops in 2012.
Watch Out For … a breakthrough season out of Bastien. The senior is big, he's fast and he's a little wiser having spent last year in the starting lineup a year ago. In other words, No. 47 is on the brink of his best season in Birmingham, and is the kind of athlete who's capable of leading the 2013 team in tackles.
Strength: Range. Bastien, Slaughter and Jones all move extremely 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 disruptive happen.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. Athletic? You bet. Rugged? Not quite. And worse, this group is rebuilding now that Burdette and Irvin have departed. The UAB linebackers are undersized and prone to getting enveloped by bigger opponents. While not the only part of the problem, this group shares some of the blame for last season's No. 80 ranking versus the run and 4.6 yards per carry yielded.
Outlook: Bastien aside, the UAB linebackers are a collection of glorified safeties, which is going to present particular problems against the run. Two of the starters are new, and the leadership of Burdette and Irvin will be sorely missed. This crew can cover a lot of ground, but will also get run over by the physical, north-south ground games on the schedule.
Unit Rating: 4
Just one starter is gone from a defensive backfield that was impotent in 2012. The new veteran among the cornerbacks is sophomore Lamarcus Farmer, the former walk-on who started 10 games a year ago. The 5-11, 170-pounder predictably struggled, especially with his size, but did get in on 50 tackles, four stops for loss and a team-high eight pass breakups. There's hope that Farmer will be battle-tested and tighter in coverage this season.
The team's other starting corner will likely be sophomore Kelton Brackett, who has remained ahead of classmate Devon Brown. The 5-11, 186-pound Bracket lettered in 2012, even starting three games, finishing with 30 tackles and a couple of forced fumbles. While not very big, he's feisty and plays the game with a lot of energy and intensity.
Both of last year's starting safeties are back for another year. Sophomore Jake Ganus started 10 games in his debut, ranking fourth on the team with 63 tackles, 3.5 of which were for minus yards. The 6-2, 190-pounder hits like a linebacker, a position he's been considered to play since arriving in Birmingham.
Strong safety Calvin Jones also started last season, his second since transferring from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Junior College. Very active in run defense, while still needing work against the pass, the 5-10, 187-pound playmaker notched 71 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, a pair of fumble recoveries and a blocked kick.
One of the more interesting developments of the offseason has been the switch of 6-1, 194-pound junior Jay Davis from wide receiver to safety, where he's backing up Ganus. Davis' athleticism shone through on offense over the last two seasons, as he made 42 catches for 456 yards and three touchdowns.
Watch Out For … Brackett to perform better than expected in his second year. No ordinary Blazers recruit, he was pursued heavily by Louisville and Minnesota coming out of high school. He does an underrated job of sticking to receivers, and will be a more complete pass defender after seeing substantial action in 2012.
Strength: Laying the lumber. If you're on the last line of defense at UAB, there's a very good chance that you're no stranger to contact. The Blazers get plenty of experience filling running lanes and cleaning up the boundless messes that get beyond the first and second levels of the D. Especially with Ganus and Jones leading the way from safety, they'll whack opposing ballcarriers, wrapping up nicely in space.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Year after year, this is an ongoing problem for the UAB defense. How bad is it? The Blazers haven't ranked higher than 83rd nationally in pass efficiency defense in any of the last six seasons. In 2012, the team stood at 113th in the country, picking off just six balls, while allowing well over eight yards a pass attempt.
Outlook: Three starters may be back, but few people around campus are confident that UAB can turn the corner in pass defense. The combination of a muted pass rush and the lack of lockdown pass defenders will again leave this team vulnerable through the air. Brackett and Farmer, two emerging sophomores, provide hope for the future at corner.
Unit Rating: 4.5
UAB's punter and placekicker earned honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2012. Both specialists are back in Birmingham to continue their amateur careers. Junior Ty Long has been one of UAB's steadiest offensive performers over the last two years, hitting 30-of-36 three-pointers. Inside 40 yards, the 6-2, 188-pounder has yet to miss on 19 tries.
Fellow junior Hunter Mullins is working to improve on his debut as the regular, in which he averaged a robust 44.8 yards. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, he's long and lean, with the leg whip to really drive the ball high into the air.
Seniors Jackie Williams and Greg Franklin will handle punts and kickoffs, respectively. Williams averaged 9.4 yards in 2012, taking one back for six. Franklin normed just under 20 yards on his 11 kick returns.
Watch Out For … Long to begin getting more national recognition, with the help of the Lou Groza Award. The junior gets buried on an overlooked program, such as UAB, but he'll be impossible to ignore if he continues to kick the way he did in his first two years.
Strength: The legs. Special teams assistant Matt Sanders must sleep very well at night, knowing he has Long and Mullins as his two specialists. Even better, both players are still improving, and both still have two years of eligibility remaining.
Weakness: The coverage teams. Of course, sleepless nights might still be had by Sanders, because his coverage units are so leaky. The Blazers ranked last nationally in punt coverage and 116th in kickoff coverage, putting undue pressure on an already stressed defense.
Outlook: For the Blazers, the special teams unit is a tale of two competencies entering the 2013 season. On the one hand, the kicking specialists, Long and Mullins, form arguably the best combination in Conference USA. On the other, the team needs help with its return game and especially its coverage units.
Unit Rating: 6
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