2013 Memphis Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Memphis Tiger Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Coordinator Barry Odom was a sound hire by the coaching staff. And the numbers are there to back it up. In 2011, the year before the new staff took over, Memphis yielded 491 yards and 35 points per game. Last year? The numbers dipped to 383 yards and 30 points a week. It's not Alabama, but it certainly is progress. The improvement was fueled by an underrated front seven that returns virtually intact. The front three is Big East-ready, with DE Martin Ifedi pacing a group that's both deep and talented. The linebackers are blue-collar types who've played a lot of football, both in Conference USA and at the junior-college level. The Tigers are built right for a league that leans heavily on ground games. But that doesn't mean the secondary gets a free pass. The unit needs to create more big plays after giving up 25 touchdown passes, while picking off just eight.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Martin Ifedi
Tackles: Charles Harris, 29
Sacks: Martin Ifedi, 7.5
Interceptions: Lonnie Ballentine, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Bakari
Hollier or Andrew Gaines
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Bobby McCain
Best pro prospect: Ifedi
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ifedi, 2) Senior NT Johnnie Farms, 3) Junior NT Terry Redden
Strength of the defense: The D-line, linebackers, stopping the run
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, third-down stops
Hope on defense stems from a line flush with both talent and experience. All of last year's key contributors, headed by junior DE Martin Ifedi, are back for another season in Memphis. Ifedi was the program's breakout star on defense in 2012, turning 46 tackles, 11 stops for loss and a team-best 7.5 sacks into Second Team All-Conference USA honors. The 6-3, 260-pound Houston native isn't the biggest or the fastest pass rusher, but he has the long arms and the dogged determination to get to the quarterback even after first being denied pocket access.
With Ifedi likely to draw plenty of attention on one side, senior Corey Jones ought to get some clean looks at the backfield from his defensive end spot. The 6-3, 260-pounder started nine games a year ago to earn his third letter, but needs to bring the heat on a more consistent basis. In the best statistical season of his career, he collected 35 tackles, six stops for loss and 2.5 sacks.
The Tigers have no shortage of experience or potential at the nose. Senior Johnnie Farms shared time in the starting lineup in 2012, yet still managed to land on the All-Conference USA Second Team after making 38 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. Though 6-2 and 300 pounds, and ideally built to clog running lanes in the middle of the line, Farms plays with the quickness and ferocity to bust the gaps and make regular appearances in opposing backfields.
Farms will again share reps on the interior with 6-2, 285-pound junior Terry Redden, who started half of last year's games. While not as disruptive as his tag-team partner, he still made 28 stops, 6.5 tackles behind the line and two sacks. Redden is strong, smart and poised to build on his first season of extensive action. He's vastly underrated, and impossible to accurately size up on numbers alone.
The staff is happy with its depth at defensive end. Sophomore Ricky Hunter stands 6-3 and 290 pounds, bringing a strongside presence to the edge. However, he also showed outstanding get-off in his debut by making 25 stops, 6.5 tackles behind the line and three sacks as a five-game starter and key reserve off the bench. Junior Melvin Jones is the smaller, faster of the backup ends, a 6-1, 225-pounder who moves like a linebacker. In just five games of action, he chipped in with 15 tackles in 2012.
Watch Out For … the weekly battles between Ifedi and Big East offensive tackles. The junior emerged as a budding star in 2012, but how well will his skills translate against better competition? If he can maintain a similar level of play as a year ago, his number of press clippings and accolades will jump accordingly.
Strength: Veteran depth. All six members of the two-deep have earned a letter with the Tigers, and all but one has starting experience. Ifedi and Farms earned Second team All-Conference USA in 2012, giving the D-line an inside-outside presence that will keep opposing blockers from keying on a single player.
Weakness: Girth. As talented and as disruptive as the D-linemen can be, they're also a little undersized and prone to being moved off the ball. Yes, the Tigers did a very good job against the run last season, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, but it would be a surprise if that number doesn't somewhat inflate in 2013.
Outlook: The Tigers made nice progress on defense a year ago, with this group clearly setting the tone. The fact that everyone is back means that the D-line will again be the strongest unit on defense, and likely the entire team. With Ifedi and Farms spearheading the push, the front three is going to help make the eight players behind it more effective.
Unit Rating: 6
The Tigers will employ three traditional linebackers as well as a hybrid on the boundary, or Dawg, which is a cross between a defensive end and an outside linebacker. The position will be manned by 6-4, 210-pound junior Kendrick Golden. The two-time letterwinner is a terrific all-around athlete, but lacks experience. He started one game a year ago, making just 16 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack.
At weakside, senior Anthony Brown played in the spring as if he plans to be once again be among this year's most active defenders from the second level. In his first year out of Northeast Mississippi Community College, the 6-4, 240-pounder was second on the team with 71 tackles, three of which were behind the line. Not only does Brown bring much-needed good size to the D, but he also has the range needed to make plays from sideline to sideline. Originally pegged as an end, the staff felt his instincts translated nicely to linebacker.
In the middle, junior Charles Harris returns after posting a team-high 79 tackles. He arrived out of high school undersized, but has since bulked up to 6-2 and 235 pounds, affording him the added weight and strength needed to hold up versus the run. His athleticism and speed entice the coaching staff to occasionally drop him back into pass coverage.
The newcomer to the starting lineup—and the program—will be 6-3, 220-pound junior Ryan Coleman. The recent signee from Riverside (Calif.) Community College will be used at strongside, where he'll mimic a strong safety and freelance to different spots on the field. He runs well, and has impressed enough to remain a step ahead of sophomore holdover Wynton McManis, who started eight games and registered 27 stops.
The most intriguing backup is 5-11, 225-pound junior Tank Jakes, Brown's caddy at weakside. Despite coming off the bench in his debut out of junior-college, he still managed to be named the team's Defensive Player of the Year. The sparkplug defender made 48 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, two sacks and a pick-six.
Watch Out For … more money plays out of the linebackers in 2013. The Tigers produced a dearth of stops for minus yards and picks last fall, which was counter to their overall athletic ability. However, with an additional season of experience, defenders, such as Brown and Harris, should do more than just clean up messes from the second level.
Strength: Speed and quickness. Above all else, this ensemble of Memphis linebackers is going to prowl from sideline-to-sideline, covering sizable chunks of real estate this fall. With Harris and Brown setting the bar, the Tigers' linebackers are agile, very quick and tenacious in pursuit of the ball.
Weakness: Stout run-stuffers. Yes, the Tigers can get from Point A to Point B in a hurry, but when they reach their destination, they're prone to getting dragged for a few more yards. Memphis is too often caught dragging down ballcarriers instead of standing them up, which makes yards after contact an annual concern.
Outlook: The linebackers should be slightly improved versus last year, especially since the top two tacklers from 2012 were linebackers with eligibility remaining. Brown and Harris will be fine, and Jakes coming off the bench will be a luxury. The key will be Golden, who needs to use his length and closing speed to become impactful in the opposing backfield.
Unit Rating: 5
Competition will be fierce in a defensive backfield that allowed 25 touchdown passes in 2012, while picking off only eight. Junior CB Bobby McCain will attempt to lead a turnaround this fall. The 5-11, 180-pounder is coming off the kind of offseason that has the staff believing he could challenge for postseason honors. He's the best all-around athlete of the group, though he still needs to close some holes in coverage. McCain started every game last year, making 36 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and three pass breakups.
The battle at the other cornerback spot pits 5-10, 195-pound junior Bakari Hollier versus 5-11, 185-pound junior Andrew Gaines, both of whom lettered in 2012. Hollier had 20 tackles and three pass breakups, but was relegated to the second team after starting the first two games. Gaines was exclusively a reserve, making 10 tackles.
Free safety will be manned by senior Lonnie Ballentine, an imposing 6-3, 215-pound seeking his best season as a Tiger. He's a multi-dimensional veteran, setting personal-highs with 66 tackles, three interceptions and five passes defended a year ago. His ceiling and his measurables are such that he's capable of garnering attention from all-star voters and NFL scouts by season's end.
In an attempt to bolster the strong safety position, the staff has moved 5-11, 200-pound Reggis Ball back a level from linebacker. Out of place for his size, the sophomore struggled just to make 25 tackles in last year's opening act. The thinking is that he has the speed and the intensity to bring a much-needed attitude to the last line of defense.
The Tigers will look to a pair of Houston natives, 6-1, 205-pound senior Tavon Bolden and 6-1, 180-pound junior Anthony Watson. Watson lettered in his first year out of Blinn (Tex.) Community College, making nine tackles. Bolden has the talent to do more than just backup Ballentine, but needs to remained focused after being dismissed from Mizzou last spring for academic and disciplinary reasons.
Watch Out For … the battle between Hollier and Gaines to have a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. McCain looks as if he's ready to excel on one side, but that could leave the other starter susceptible to getting picked on relentlessly. Neither Hollier nor Gaines is a budding stopper, but one of the two needs to exceed expectations.
Strength: Hitters. When you play in the defensive backfield at a school such as Memphis, you get plenty of opportunities to lay the lumber on backs, receivers and tight ends. The Tigers are physical on the last line of defense, pressing up to support the run defense, and popping pass-catchers to prevent receptions.
Weakness: Ball skills. Where are the takeaways? The Tigers were thrown on 435 times last season, but only eight resulted in interceptions. Heck, Memphis rarely even got its hands on the ball, so it goes to figure that picks were rare. Ballentine's team-best seven passes defended ranked 27th … in Conference USA.
Outlook: The good news is that Memphis' new league, the Big East, isn't littered with prolific quarterbacks or even pass-happy teams. In fact, Conference USA might present bigger challenges to a defensive secondary. It's a silver lining for a Tigers team still searching for a lockdown defender. McCain has that potential, but even if he blooms, it might not be enough to reverse last season's numbers.
Unit Rating: 4.5
For one final year, the best friend of the Memphis D will be its punter, senior Tom Hornsey. The two-time honorable mention All-Conference USA Aussie, who can punt with both legs, raised his average to 43.4 yards, while continuing to excel with his directional kicks. In fact, an astounding 24 of his 60 punts were downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line in 2012, and eight inside the five-yard line.
The graduation of Paulo Henriques has created an opening at placekicker for junior Andrew Diamond. The 6-4, 210-pounder has a strong leg, but with no experience up to this point, his mettle and his poise under pressure are going to be tested.
Watch Out For … the return game to play an integral role in field position this fall. The Tigers feature a pair of quality athletes, juniors Bobby McCain and Keiwone Malone on kickoffs and punts, respectively. The latter led Conference USA at almost 12 yards per attempt.
Strength: The punting game. Considering his limited experience playing American football, Hornsey has been a bona fide revelation for Memphis over the last three years. Entering his final season on campus, the 6-3, 195-pounder will continue to hone his craft, bail his defense out of trouble and build a following among NFL scouts .
Weakness: Placekicker. Henriques certainly was no gem in 2012, hitting just 4-of-9 field goals, but the potential of Diamond is a complete unknown at this point. Memphis is hoping it's in enough tight games this fall for the junior's accuracy to actually be consequential.
Outlook: All things considered, the special teams unit could be one of the Tigers' most consistent areas in 2013. They've got a Ray Guy Award candidate in Hornsey, a couple of dangerous return guys and coverage teams that made nice strides last year. The key, naturally, will be Diamond, who can really help the overall cause if he's a pleasant surprise.
Unit Rating: 6
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2013 Memphis Defense |
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