2013 UTSA Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UTSA Roadrunners Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Overmatched. It's the only way to describe the UTSA defense a year ago. Non-stop motors and great work ethics will get a D only so far, especially as it prepares to join a much tougher league than was home in 2012. The Roadrunners are a collection of try-hard types struggling with the reality of being in existence for only three years. The team was especially scrappy against the run last fall, getting plenty of help from LB Steven Kurfehs and FS Triston Wade, an All-WAC selection. Pass defense and depth, though, will continue to be major concerns that have no easy answers. The team's undersized cornerbacks are at an FCS level, a situation worsened by an intermittent and inconsistent pass rush. Former Oklahoma Sooner Bennett Okotcha has joined the mix at corner—and his older brother Evans in San Antonio—hoping to add some speed and attitude to the defensive backfield.
Star of the defense: Junior FS Triston Wade
Tackles: Triston Wade, 74
Sacks: Steven Kurfehs, 4.5
Interceptions: Trsiton Wade, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Bennett Okotcha
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Cody Rogers
Best pro prospect: Wade
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wade, 2) Junior LB Steven Kurfehs, 3) Junior SS Nic Johnston
Strength of the defense: Motors, run defense, safeties, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: Depth, pass defense, third-down defense, big plays
The Roadrunners welcome back four linemen with starting experience, but none that were especially salty last season. The ends are experienced linemen in the frames of linebackers. Senior Will Ritter is a scrappy 6-1, 235-pound transfer from Western Illinois, with 13 career starts in San Antonio. He's coming off his best season with the program, making 26 tackles, four stops for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Ritter will be bookended by 6-0, 245-pound junior Cody Rogers, a similarly built and passionate pass rusher. The former safety and linebacker had 31 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in his first year along the D-line. Right behind Rogers is 6-3, 245-pound senior Jarron Harris, a seven-game starter in 2012 whose career began at Angelo State. The quality all-around athlete debuted with the Roadrunners by making 24 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and three sacks.
Juniors Ashaad Mabry and Richard Burge are expected to anchor the interior for UTSA. The 6-3, 315-pound Mabry is a traditional space-eater, starting a pair of games and making two dozen tackles last year. Burge is a smaller, quicker 6-3, 280-pounder. All of his career starts occurred in 2011, yet he still had 31 tackles, including five for loss, a year ago. Off the bench, the staff will turn to a pair of seasoned veterans, 6-2, 270-pound junior Jason Neill and 5-11, 295-pound junior Ferrington Macon. Macon started 10 games last year, but had 18 tackles, and lacked effectiveness.
Watch Out For .... for sophomore Brian Price to further complicate matters at defensive tackle. The 6-3, 315-pounder wasn't signed out of Allan Hancock (Calif.) College to sit around and wait for his turn. He was offered to push a quartet of holdovers who got shoved around in 2012.
Strength: Motors. UTSA isn't blessed with a ton of talent at the point of attack, but that reality won't deter the ends and tackles from bringing it from snap to whistle on every play. The Roadrunners are a collection of self-made, blue-collar athletes who are playing because of their passion for the game.
Weakness: Generating pressure. It's just a little too easy for opposing blockers to neutralize the Roadrunners pass rushers. The tackles have trouble shooting the gap, and the ends are a step too slow to consistently get around the edge and into the backfield.
Outlook: The D-line is a microcosm for the UTSA program; it's a collection of hard-working and experienced players who won't be outworked. However, they also don't possess scary talent, which means the pass rush will be sketchy against quality teams, and the linebackers and safeties will need to lend a hand in run support.
One of the defensive stalwarts for the Roadrunners will be senior Steven Kurfehs, who switched from safety to linebacker, or 'Hawk', midway through last season. The versatile and instinctive 6-2, 230-pounder responded by making 71 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Eastern New Mexico transfer is tough at the point of contact, with the range to make plays all over the field. Kurfehs also brings a steady presence to the huddle, a veteran leader who makes life a little easier for the coaching staff on Saturdays.
Kurfehs will be backed up by 6-1, 245-pound sophomore Jens Jeters, a transfer from Pierce (Calif.) Junior College who has impressed the coaching staff since arriving.
The starter in the middle will either be 5-11, 230-pound junior Blake Terry or 6-1, 230-pound junior Drew Douglas, whose battle for a job will continue in the summer. Terry has the edge in experience, having started four games and made 64 tackles and three stops for loss in 2012. Douglas appeared in six games, chipping in 20 stops, but has sufficiently narrowed the gap with his play in practice this offseason.
Watch Out For .... Terry to win the job in the middle in the summer. Douglas is a couple inches taller, a plus in pass defense, but he lacks the instincts and game experience of his competitor. Both linebackers will letter in the fall, but Terry will get more opportunities with the first unit.
Strength: Size and toughness. Led by Kurfehs, the UTSA linebackers are well-sized, rugged and assertive against the run. The Roadrunners yielded just 3.3 yards per carry a year ago, a collaboration of the first and second unit of the D.
Weakness: Range. Going north to south, the Roadrunners are just fine. But when forced to string out plays from sideline to sideline, the group's modest foot speed can get exposed by the quicker backs and quarterbacks in the league.
Outlook: Kurfehs will again be one of the physical and emotional leaders of the entire D. And the men in the middle will bring both depth and reliability to the unit. The linebackers are a solid, productive group that will lack flash, while they deliver steady results on a weekly basis.
After yielding twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions made, UTSA needs to evolve in pass defense this fall. Fortunately, it appears to have the full complement of returning starters to get it done. The Roadrunners are especially optimistic about the return of junior FS Triston Wade, who earned First Team All-WAC a season ago. The tougher-than-he-looks 5-11, 165-pounder is a legitimate all-around playmaker out of the secondary, using his closing speed and instincts to impact games. In just his first full year as a starter, he was second on the team with 74 stops, adding four picks, two fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.
The program got a big year in 2012 from junior 'Dawg' or SS Nic Johnston. Despite only starting the final eight games, he still managed to finish third on the squad with 73 tackles, adding five stops for loss and four forced fumbles. The hard-hitting 6-2, 200-pounder may not have the greatest range on the defensive roster, but he'll lay the lumber like a linebacker, especially against the run. With a full season in the lineup, Johnston should approach 100 tackles this fall.
Rounding out the safeties in the five-man secondary will be 5-11, 205-pound Cody Berry, the team's 'Rover' or second strong safety. In his first year out of Pierce (Calif.) Junior College, he sat out to recover from a shoulder injury. He started the final six games of 2012, finishing with 25 stops.
The most experienced corner on the roster is 5-9, 195-pound junior Darrien Starling, a veteran of 20 starts for the program. He knows his way around the secondary, but lacks both size and big plays when the ball is in the air, making just 33 tackles, two pass breakups and no interceptions a season ago.
Holding on to the top spot on the other side is 5-9, 180-pound junior Crosby Adams. The five-game starter in 2012 made a career-best 17 tackles and two interceptions, but like Starling is vulnerable to getting beat over the top by taller receivers.
Watch Out For .... the impact of the newcomers. Transfers Tevin Broussard, Andre Brown and Bennett Okotcha are currently second-teamers, but will that last? Okotcha, who comes by way of Oklahoma, is a 6-0, 195-pound corner, and is uniquely qualified to step up this summer and win a job at a position of need.
Strength: The safeties. Relatively speaking, the Roadrunners boast a couple of good ones in Wade and Johnston. Wade is capable of performing at an All-Conference USA level the moment he hits the new league, while Johnston has the potential to become a tackling machine in Year 2 at ‘Dawg'.
Weakness: Consistency in pass defense. Not only did UTSA allow twice as many touchdown passes as picks against a soft schedule, but it gave up more than 300 yards through the air in the final five games. The crew returns virtually intact, meaning virtually the same results can be expected when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: UTSA struggled mightily against the pass in 2012. Turning things around will not get any easier when faced with a much tougher schedule this year. While Wade is certainly a keeper, and Okotcha raises the overall talent quotient, the Roadrunners simply lack the caliber of cornerbacks to consistently stick to receivers and make stops at this level.
The Roadrunners' special teams unit will undergo very few changes from a season ago. And that's generally a good thing. At placekicker, junior Sean Ianno has maintained his edge on junior Kristian Stern. Ianno connected on 10-of-13 field goal attempts in 2012, including a career-long 51-yarder. Stern was accurate as well, hitting 5-of-6, but lacks Ianno's distance.
The situation at punter must improve after the team averaged just 35.7 yards in 2012. Stern is in the picture here as well, averaging 39.7 yards an attempt last season, or six yards more than junior classmate Josh Ward.
The Roadrunners were explosive on punt returns, snapping off 15.6 yards per attempt last fall. The front man will again be junior Kenny Harrison, who normed a whopping 17.3 yards, and took one back 79 yards. Junior Kam Jones is slated to be the unit's primary kick returner.
Watch Out For… Harrison to lead Conference USA in punt return average. He's small, slippery and capable of making defenders whiff in space. Put differently, he's a perfect fit to be settling under punts for the Roadrunners this season.
Strength: The kickers. UTSA has the luxury of two placekickers, both of whom have live experience at this level. Ianno and Stern both improved their accuracy in 2012, combining to make 15-of-19 attempts.
Weakness: Punting. The Roadrunners ranked next to last nationally in punting average last season, shifting field position in the favor of opponents. While neither Stern nor Ward has a booming leg, one has to improve his angles and directional kicks in order to provide more support to the defense.
Outlook: Special teams will be a mixed bag for the Roadrunners in 2013. They have the electricity of Harrison and the accuracy of the kickers. But they also have those nagging problems at punter and a need to improve in coverage. If Ward or Stern steps up, the picture for this group will look a whole lot brighter than it does today.
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