2013 UCF Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UCF Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What you need to know: For many years now, the Knights have signed quality athletes, and methodically transformed them into the cornerstones of one Conference USA's nastiest defenses. They'll attempt to now take that formula for sustained success to the American Athletic Conference. UCF is busy trying to rebuild a D that lost six starters to graduation, including its three best players. The program will again rely on speed, especially in the back seven, swarm tackling and closing quickly on the man with the ball. The new figureheads in Orlando will be LB Terrance Plummer and S Clayton Geathers, both of whom should be good for more than 100 tackles in 2013. The two-deep will have no choice but to be young, meaning the fate of the defense in 2013 will rest heavily on a handful of untested underclassmen.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Terrance Plummer
Tackles: Clayton Geathers, 117
Sacks: Thomas Niles, 5
Interceptions: Brandon Alexander, Terrance Plummer, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Demetris Anderson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Thomas Niles
Best pro prospect: Junior S Clayton Geathers
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Plummer, 2) Geathers, 3) Senior DT E.J. Dunston
Strength of the defense: Team speed, D-line size, limiting big plays, forcing fumbles
Weakness of the defense: Proven linebackers, veteran leaders, inconsistency in run defense
The D-line has been busy this offseason breaking in a couple of new starters along the front four. The holdover on the inside for the Knights will be senior DT E.J. Dunston, a starter in all but one game in 2012. He does a nice job of clogging running lanes, while occasionally busting through to get pressure. In his best season to date as a Knight, the 6-2, 309-pound Dunston logged 39 tackles, five stops for loss, a sack and three forced fumbles.
Dunston's new partner at tackle will be 6-3, 303-pound sophomore Demetris Anderson, a now-eligible transfer from Western Michigan. He brings another big, strong body to the interior of the UCF front wall; a lineman the coaching staff hopes can cause logjams on running plays between the tackles.
After bouncing inside and outside last season, sophomore Thomas Niles is content to play the entire 2013 season at defensive end. At 6-2 and 262 pounds, he's a much better fit on the periphery of the line, where his quickness and intensity should lead to more production. Niles flashed a lot of potential as a pass rusher in his first season, making 30 tackles, seven stops for loss, five sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
Coming out of spring, redshirt freshman Luke Adams had moved to the top of the depth chart at the other end position. Although the 6-3, 265-pounder has yet to play a down for the Knights, he's already impressed the staff in practice with his technique, maturity and ability to beat the blocker into the backfield. Adams is slated to start, and will be no worse than a key part of the line rotation.
When Adams does leave the field, he'll be replaced by UCF's best situational pass rusher, sophomore Deion Green. Built like an outside linebacker at 6-3 and 244 pounds, he moves like one as well, getting off the snap and around the edge in a hurry. As a rookie, he made 18 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and four sacks, providing the pass rush with an instant jolt of electricity from off the bench.
Watch Out For .... rookie DE Seyvon Lowry to waste no time cracking the rotation on this group. The Knights are actively seeking contributors, and the three-star recruit from Jacksonville, Fla. figures to hit the ground running in August. He has the closing speed that UCF is seeking in an edge rusher.
Strength: Mass. Yeah, the Knights got exposed at times last year on the ground, but it wasn't because of a lack of girth. The 2013 edition has adequate thickness, especially in the lower body, to anchor the run defense as well. Each of the tackles is north of 300 pounds, and the new ends go 260-plus. It ought to be difficult to move this group off the ball in the fall.
Weakness: Lack of a star. Every defensive front needs that one player who needs to be ID'd at all times, and is never left unchecked. UCF doesn't have that guy as the season approaches, which is going to make it much easier for opposing blockers to keep these Knights from causing disruption.
Outlook: UCF will find it hard to replace Troy Davis and Victor Gray, two of last season's most consistent pass rushers. The addition of Anderson and the maturation of Niles and Green will help, but it's difficult to see this unit, as it's currently constructed, taking games over. The Knights will fight and battle and grapple to the whistle; they'll also labor to penetrate some of the better O-lines on the schedule.
Junior Terrance Plummer has evolved into the prototype at linebacker for UCF; he's not very big at 6-1 and 229 pounds, but he's the type of speedy defender who'll make plays all over the field. Named Outstanding Linebacker by the program at the conclusion of last season, he finished third on the team with 108 tackles, seven of which were for minus yards. As the man in the middle for the Knights, Plummer still needs to improve in coverage, but continues to grow in his role as one of the emotional, physical and intellectual leaders of the D.
The rest of the UCF linebackers are young and relatively inexperienced. Locking down one outside job is junior Troy Gray, a two-time letterwinner. He started one game in 2012, finishing the year with 33 tackles and a couple of stops for loss. While only 6-1 and 209 pounds, he plays with enough open field speed to create havoc on blitzes or in pass defense.
Junior Willie Mitchell has taken the first steps toward winning the other outside job. He hasn't played much up to this point of his UCF career, making only three stops in 11 games last season. However, the 6-1, 231-pounder has had a good offseason, and will bring some much-needed pop to the second level.
It might be hard to keep sophomore Michael Easton off the field this season. The current backup on the outside is just 6-0 and 199 pounds, and had three tackles in eight games last year, but he is an uber-athletic defender. Easton moves like a defensive back, allowing the staff to employ him in a multitude of different places on the field.
Watch Out For .... Plummer to sneak up and earn a little national attention. The junior is coming off a terrific year and an even better offseason. As easily the most accomplished member of a rebuilding front seven, he'll be in a position once again to make a ton of plays in the fall.
Strength: Range and lateral speed. With a combination of speed, instincts and proper pursuit angles, the UCF linebackers milk every ounce out of their abundant athleticism. Not only is this group quick enough to string out plays from sideline to sideline, but it also has the footwork and backpedal to support the secondary in pass defense as well.
Weakness: Size. The Knights move very quickly and fluidly, but there's a price to pay for that range. With the notable exception of Mitchell, the linebackers are an undersized unit that more closely resembles a collection of safeties. When faced against the bigger and more physical opponents on the schedule, UCF will be vulnerable to getting bullied back on their heels.
Outlook: It's going to be a case of feast or famine for the UCF linebackers in the fall. This unit is explosive, which is going to be parlayed into turnovers and stops for loss on blitzes. However, it's also very small and inexperienced, with Plummer standing out as an exception. The Knights had some issues stopping the run in 2012, and this group of glorified—and youthful—safeties will struggle to change that trend.
While it's less than ideal when defensive backs are among the team leaders in tackles, junior Clayton Geathers simply makes the most of the situation that surrounds him. He was in on 117 tackles, four behind the line of scrimmage, and also caused a pair of fumbles. The 6-3, 202-pounder is an elite all-around athlete, with the size to neutralize tight ends running routes down the middle of the field. Geathers could move from strong safety to free safety in order to supplant the departed Kemal Ishmael, but is staying put for now, while taking on more of a leadership role on D.
The frontrunner to take over at free safety is redshirt freshman Drico Johnson, the wide receiver-turned-DB. The 6-2, 200-pounder has the size and the physical ability to eventually excel in a different position, but it's going to take a little bit of time before he really gets the nuances of being a defensive back down to a science.
Geathers is hoping to offset the loss of Ishmael at safety. Junior Brandon Alexander plans to do the same at cornerback now that all-star A.J. Bouye has exhausted his eligibility. The former walk-on has been starting since the midway point of his rookie year, turning the corner in his growth last season. A year after making 62 tackles, a team-best nine pass breakups and three fumble recoveries, he's on the brink of vying for all-league contention. The 6-1, 183-pound Alexander has the speed and the wingspan to continue evolving into a feisty pass defender.
At the all-important other cornerback spot, 6-0, 170-pound redshirt freshman Jeremy Davis took most of the snaps with the first team in the spring. In order to remain atop the depth chart, though, the three-star recruit will need to elevate the level of his play in the summer. Like Johnson, Davis has the raw tools, but just needs to work out the wrinkles as quickly as possible.
The Knights' top safety off the bench will be 6-1, 199-pound sophomore Nicco Whigham, who earned a letter and made 10 stops in his first year out of high school. The staff likes his length and his versatility, feeling as if he has the cover skills to be used at safety or at cornerback if needed. Rookie CB D.J. Killings, who held offers from West Virginia, Vanderbilt and Minnesota, has already taken part in his first spring, which ought to help his maturation process once the season starts.
Watch Out For .... the health of redshirt freshman CB Jacoby Glenn. The 6-1, 174-pounder three-star recruit from the 2012 class fell a little behind in his anticipated battle with Davis, but expects to be back from injury in late July. When Glenn is at 100%, the staff feels he has a very high ceiling in Orlando.
Strength: Buckling down. Even without two starters, UCF will be a difficult team to defeat through the air. That's always the case in Orlando. A season ago, the Knights ranked second in Conference USA pass efficiency D, and yielded a league-low 16 touchdown passes.
Weakness: Picks. For the second straight year, the Knights had a difficult time transforming tipped passes into turnovers. In 2011, the defense ranked 86th nationally with only nine interceptions. A season ago, it inched up to 65th with 11. UCF is too athletic to manage such a dearth of takeaways through the air.
Outlook: UCF seems to suffer losses in the secondary every year, yet has shown a penchant for landing on their feet. This season ought to be no different, though there will be challenges that need to be addressed. Geathers and Alexander are the anchors at safety and corner, respectively. The emphasis in the summer will be to get the likes of Johnson, Davis and Glenn up to speed as quickly as possible.
Junior Shawn Moffitt handled placekicking for the Knights in 2012, but that experience has not guaranteed him a job for 2013. He lacked consistency a year ago, hitting 10-of-14 field goals, having two blocked and missing five extra points. Battling Moffitt toe-to-toe the rest of the offseason will be junior Rodrigo Quirarte. The native of Mexico has no game experience, but the separation between the two wasn't nominal in the spring.
With the graduation of Jamie Boyle, redshirt freshman Caleb Houston is set to take over at punter. The 6-2, 213-pound rookie from Cleveland, Tenn. has the booming leg to hold off junior Sean Galvin of Cork, Ireland.
The return game will be entrusted to junior punt returner J.J. Worton, junior kick returners Ranell Hall and Storm Johnson.
Watch Out For… how Houston handles live action this fall. The redshirt freshman showed nice pop in the spring, routinely booting the ball more than 50 yards, but his projections often came without the complications and pressure of an opposing rush.
Strength: The return specialists. Hall and Worton have showed the speed and the acceleration to bust through the seam into daylight in the past. No, neither may be as explosive as the departed Quincy McDuffie, who returned three kicks for touchdowns. But the wedge that blocked McDuffie in 2012 still exists in Orlando.
Weakness: Uncertainty in the kicking game. No decision has been made on the kickers, and the punter has no experience at this level. The specialists looked like works-in-progress in April, because, well, that's exactly where they stand at this time.
Outlook: The UCF special teamers need work, meaning August will be an important time to work out the kinks. While the return game and the coverage units ought to be fine, the Knights could fall short in a close game or two this season if the punters and placekickers can't elevate from their spring performances.
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