2013 Louisiana Tech Preview – Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 28, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Louisiana Tech Bulldog Defense


Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Preview 2013 - Defense


- 2013 Louisiana Tech Preview | 2013 Louisiana Tech Offense
- 2013 Louisiana Tech Defense | 2013 Louisiana Tech Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Louisiana Tech was prolific on offense a year ago. In many ways, it had to be. The D was a weekly sieve, allowing 526 yards and 38 points a game. New coordinator Kim Dameron will need to be inventive—and patient—in his debut in Ruston. The talent hasn’t changed dramatically. In fact, the back seven will actually need to be retooled between now and what’s left of the offseason. What will be changing is the level of competition, as the Bulldogs begin play in Conference USA. If this program has any hope of making strides on the defensive side of the ball, it’ll have to be initiated by the D-line. DE IK Enemkpali parlayed six sacks into the All-WAC Team in 2012, and tackles Justin Ellis and Shakeil Lucas are proven seniors. It’ll be incumbent upon the front to generate as much of a push as possible, because Tech is getting an overhaul on the second and third levels. The late addition of Daniel Cobb, a Texas Tech transfer, is expected to beef up the linebackers.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Le’Vander Liggins, 50
Sacks: IK Enemkpali, 6
Interceptions: Le’Vander Liggins, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE IK Enemkpali
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Bryson Abraham
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman FS Lloyd Grogan
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Justin Ellis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Enemkpali, 2) Ellis, 3) Junior CB Le’Vander Liggins
Strength of the defense: The D-line, influx of transfers, stripping the ball
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, linebackers, pass defense, fundamentals, third-down stops, red-zone stops

Defensive Line

If it’s true that defensive success begins up front, Louisiana Tech has a chance to surprise its new league, while overcoming wholesale changes in the back seven. Three-year starting DE IK Enemkpali will once again be the catalyst for the pass rush. He’s coming off his best season as a Bulldog, marked by 32 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and six sacks to culminate in a spot on the All-WAC First Team. The tenacious 6-2, 250-pounder gets off the ball quickly, and plays with a relentless motor and a nasty attitude at the point of contact.

With Enemkpali sure to get maximum attention on one side, 6-1, 245-pound senior Kendrick James is going to get a lot of good looks at the quarterback. The athletic three-time letterwinner earned the team’s Most Inspirational Award, returning late in 2012 after sitting out the first 10 games because of academics.

The new regime likes what it inherited on the interior. Senior DT Shakeil Lucas is a returning starter and two-time letterwinner, who contributed 42 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a pick last season. The honorable mention All-WAC pick is an active 6-2, 285-pounder who has remained agile despite adding 30 pounds since arriving from high school. Lucas will be counted on to plug the holes of a run defense that yielded more than 4.7 yards per carry in 2012.

The upcoming season is a crucial one for NT Justin Ellis, both for his future and the fate of the front four. He began 2012 as a reigning All-WAC selection, but missed a month because of a high ankle sprain, and wasn’t the same player he was as a sophomore. He appeared in nine games, making 21 tackles and forcing two fumbles. However, Ellis will have a chance to parlay a full season of health into an NFL contract if he can continue to improve. No inanimate object at 6-2 and 330 pounds, he has the power and the surprising agility to anchor the middle of a run defense.

The Bulldogs are deep at defensive end with the returns of juniors Kevin Kisseberth and Andre Taylor. The 6-1, 240-pound Kisseberth came off the bench to make 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. Taylor is an imposing 6-5, 250-pounder who contributed a personal-best 20 tackles and two fumble recoveries last year.

At tackle, 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Vernon Butler has performed throughout the offseason as if he’s going to play a prominent role in the rotation. After debuting with 21 tackles as a rookie, he played at a much higher level in the spring, consistently making noise at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Watch Out For .... legs to be fresh right through the regular season. The staff loves the rotation it inherited, and plans to use everyone liberally. While the starters are pretty much established, the coaches won’t hesitate to dispatch one of the B-teamers who has proven himself on the field in the past.
Strength: Proven players. The rotation up front is generally comprised of juniors and seniors who’ve gotten plenty of reps over the years at this level. Enemkpali, Ellis and Lucas are all seniors who’ll begin their final years looking to capture the attention of All-Conference USA voters and possibly pro scouts.
Weakness: Clogging running lanes. The Bulldogs will generate pressure, but can they do a better job of stopping the run? Too often in 2012, Tech was bullied off the line of scrimmage, allowing the opposition to average more than 4.7 yards per carry. Ellis, more than anyone else, needs to play up to his potential this fall.
Outlook: The D-line is the strength of the Louisiana Tech defense, which may or may not mean much. The unit should generate more plays than it did a year ago, with Enemkpali leading the charge from the outside. Ellis will be vital to the Bulldogs’ overall defensive health. He needs to play up to his potential, or else Tech will again be gutted on the ground.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

As the Bulldogs start from scratch at linebacker, there’ll be a heavy reliance on transfers. At weakside, former Blinn (Tex.) Junior College star Mitch Villemez has taken a big step closer to solidifying a starting role with a notable offseason so far. The 6-1, 230-pound junior has so far displayed the range and quickness that the staff is looking for at the position.

In the middle, another JUCO transfer, 6-1, 235-pound junior Nick Thomason, has jumped out to an early lead in the race for the job. Despite missing three games to injury, he earned postseason honors last season as a member of Northeast Mississippi Junior College.

One-time S Mike Schrang has moved from outside to middle to make better use of his overall skill set. The 6-1, 210-pounder, with the good range, came off the bench to make 46 stops in 2012, and will be counted on to be even more impactful this year.

Watch Out For .... the impact of Daniel Cobb and Andre Wiggins, former members of Texas Tech and Wake Forest, respectively. Cobb is hoping to reinvent himself after running into some problems in Lubbock. In 2011, he started seven games and was third among all Red Raiders with 70 tackles. Wiggins never did suit up for the Demon Deacons during his brief career in Winston-Salem.
Strength: Range. New coordinator Kim Dameron wants to be aggressive out of the 4-2-5, and feels as if he has the athletic linebackers to get it done. Unlike in recent seasons, when the Bulldogs were bigger and more physical from the second level, this current group will cover more ground in a shorter period of time.
Weakness: Sure-things. The coaching staff doesn’t know for certain who’ll be its starters this season. What it does know is that it’ll be relying on a handful of newcomers from the JUCO ranks and FBS schools to populate a corps of linebackers searching for physical and emotional leaders in 2013.
Outlook: There’s no telling for sure how effective this unit might be in 2013. While the staff has done a commendable job of infusing new talent into the linebacker corps, most of the new troops have never played a down for the Bulldogs. Cobb is an intriguing addition, provided past problems don’t impact his future performance. He was carving out a productive career as a Red Raider before the situation went south.
Rating: 5

Secondary

Tech is undergoing wholesale changes in a secondary that allowed 35 touchdown passes a year ago. Maybe the turnover isn’t such a bad thing after all. The leader of the rebuilding group will be 5-11, 190-pound junior CB Le’Vander Liggins, a returning starter. He was the Bulldogs’ most active pass defender of 2012, making 50 tackles, two picks and a team-best 11 pass breakups. Liggins needs to raise his game another notch higher if the defensive backfield has any chance of making progress.

Rejoining Liggins at corner will be 5-11, 175-pound sophomore Bryson Abraham. He got accustomed to the speed of the college game, making 37 tackles and six pass breakups as a part-time starter. However, he also flashed the inconsistency of a rookie pass defender, too often being out of position when the ball was in the air. If Abraham fails to evolve, 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Adairius Barnes, one of the gems of the 2012 class, is liable to step up and take advantage of the situation.

In order to bolster the secondary, Tech will use a fifth DB, a nickel back. Junior Jabari Prewitt is going to start at the position a year after making two tackles in three games. He’s just 5-9 and 182 pounds, but has a penchant for playing bigger than his frame.

The Bulldogs are going to be more experienced at strong safety than at free safety, but not by much. Local product Kentrell Brice made 10 stops in 2012, laying the ground floor of what many believe will be a promising career. The 5-11, 180-pound sophomore is looking to hold off the challenge of Kendall Hayes. Hayes is a 5-11, 185-pound junior who has primarily played on special teams.

The free safeties are going to be painfully green in 2013. Lloyd Grogan is ahead of C.J. Cleveland, but neither defensive back has played a down for the Bulldogs. Grogan was a highly-regarded recruit who received offers to play in the SEC, ACC and even the Pac-12. At 6-0 and 201 pounds, he has some of the best size in the secondary. Cleveland is eligible to play after transferring from Arkansas Tech.

Watch Out For .... Grogan to take advantage of his opportunity for substantial reps. He might have been ready for the field in the 2012, but the old staff wisely afforded him the time he needed to concentrate on his body and his playbook. Now, not only is he even better prepared for success, but he also has four years of eligibility remaining.
Strength: Laying the lumber. At Louisiana Tech, which allows so many plays to bleed into the second and third levels, the corners are taught to wrap up like safeties, while the safeties fly around the field like hungry linebackers. Everyone in this secondary better know how to hit, or else he won’t be on the field for long.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Might this be the worst pass defense in America? The Bulldogs were in the discussion in 2012, and five productive seniors are gone from that group. Louisiana Tech is starting over in the secondary as it enters a new league, a toxic recipe that’ll lead to many of the same problems that plagued the nation’s 120th-ranked pass defense a season ago.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are a hodgepodge of transfers and mediocre holdovers grasping in the dark when the ball is in the air. Last year’s edition allowed 35 touchdown passes, picked off 10 balls and yielded more yards per completion than all but a handful of FBS teams. As this group grows younger and less experienced in 2013, it’s hard to imagine markedly different results.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Few teams in America are suffering more severe setbacks on special teams than the Bulldogs, which must replace two-time Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen at punter as well as all-time leading scorer Matt Nelson. For now, the only specialist on campus is redshirt freshman T.J. Kijak , who’ll get a crack at both openings.

Senior D.J. Banks will continue to be a solid option in the return game. A year ago, he averaged six yards on 20 punt returns, while scoring once and averaging 26.8 yards on kickoff returns.

Watch Out For… the readiness of the rookies. The Bulldogs wisely signed a couple of high school players, Jonathan Barnes and Logan McPherson, who’ll be given every opportunity to win jobs right away. Barnes was ranked as the nation’s No. 20 placekicker, while McPherson can both punt and kick.
Strength: Banks. No, he’s not spectacular in the return, but he is reliable, something this unit can use in 2013. He has enough quickness to go the distance if space is provided, which is exactly what he did versus Utah State last Nov. 17.
Weakness: Uncertainty in the kicking game. Losing Allen and Nelson meant the Bulldogs were going to experience a drop-off no matter what. The fact that no one has been groomed as a successor means a freshman will handle both punting and placekicking in 2013.
Outlook: It won’t get the attention as, say, the graduations of QB Colby Cameron and WR Quinton Patton, but losing Allen and Nelson is going to negatively impact the entire program this fall. At best, the Bulldogs can hope that one of the young specialists grabs the kicking jobs, and performs as if he plans on being a four-year regular.
Rating: 5.5

- 2013 Louisiana Tech Preview | 2013 Louisiana Tech Offense
- 2013 Louisiana Tech Defense | 2013 Louisiana Tech Depth Chart