2014 MT Preview: What You Need To Know
Middle Tennessee LB T.T. Barber
Middle Tennessee LB T.T. Barber
Posted Jul 31, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Middle Tennessee (Getty Images)

2014 Middle Tenn. Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Middle Tennessee Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: If potential is to meet production in 2014, the new quarterback will have to perform like an old veteran. Underrated mainstay Logan Kilgore will be missed, as will last season’s top two pass-catchers, Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson. Since sophomore Austin Grammer was last season’s No. 2 behind Kilgore, he rates a slight edge, yet the post-spring depth chart indicates a dead heat with rookies A.J. Erdely and Brent Stockstill. The dearth of proven receivers is another reality that could force the Blue Raiders to shift their focus toward the rushing attack. Middle Tennessee averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2013 behind a corps of runners that returns intact. Last season’s top five ground-gainers are back, led by All-Conference USA candidate Jordan Parker. And if Grammer gets the nod, he brings an element of athleticism that Kilgore did not possess. When the Blue Raiders keep it on the ground, they’re likely to have more success running behind the tackles than the unproven interior of the line.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Blue Raiders tightened the screws as the 2013 season unfolded, a trend co-coordinators Tyrone Nix and Steve Ellis plan to further this fall. Middle Tennessee returns eight starters from last year’s unit, with experience and know-how well-represented at each level. No, the team isn’t salty in any one particular area, but it flies to the ball and has a penchant for delivering momentum-changing plays. LB T.T. Barber and SS Kevin Byard are representative of MTSU’s philosophy of playing hard and fast on every down. Where the Blue Raiders need to evolve is at the point of attack. They gave up almost 200 yards a game on the ground in 2013, and top run-stuffer Jimmy Staten was drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks. The D doesn’t want to rely exclusively on the back seven, which puts the onus on ends Shubert Bastien and Alexandro Antoine and tackles Patrick McNeil and Shaquille Huff to win the line of scrimmage on occasion.

Players You Need To Know

1. LB T.T. Barber, Jr.
Barber exploded on to the scene in his second season out of Miller County (Ga.) High School, unexpectedly becoming the Blue Raiders’ premier defensive player. After getting his feet wet with six starts as a true freshman, he played his way on to the All-Conference USA First Team. The 6-1, 221-pound budding star led Middle Tennessee in 2013 with a team-high 119 stops, 11.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three picks, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

2. SS Kevin Byard, Jr.
Byard is off to an outstanding start to his Blue Raider career. The coaching staff feels he can be so much better with just a little more dedication. The two-year starter is the enforcer of the secondary, a 5-11, 221-pound thumper who hits like a linebacker. Byard has now earned all-conference in two different leagues, introducing himself to Conference USA with 106 tackles, five interceptions and five passes defended. If he remains focused, he has the diverse skill set to attract the attention of pro scouts.

3. RB Jordan Parker, Jr.
Just two years into his Blue Raider career, Parker already ranks ninth in school history with eight 100-yard games. He was well on his way to his first 1,000-yard season, when an injury essentially shut him down for November and the bowl game with Navy. Still, he led the team in rushing for a second straight year, going for 731 yards and six scores on 146 carries. Parker is a rugged between the tackles runner, who makes good use of his 6-1, 220-pound size.

4. LT Darius Johnson, Jr.
The Blue Raiders are excited by the trajectory of Johnson, who has started all 25 games of his career. He earned honorable mention All-Conference USA as a sophomore, the first step in a career destined to be filled with accolades. Johnson is extremely strong, hardworking and continuously improving as the quarterback’s blindside protector. The 6-3, 287-pounder will continue at left tackle, though he’ll need to move inside to keep playing on Sundays.

5. LB Christian Henry, Sr.
Henry is a tough and physical middle linebacker, often playing much bigger than his modest 6-0, 221-pound frame. He operates with reckless abandon, sifting through traffic before lowering the boom. While the staff loves the senior’s tenacity, it wants him to play with more discipline, especially on passing downs. In Henry’s first season as a full-timer, he ranked third on the team with 79 tackles, while forcing a couple of fumbles.

6. RB Reggie Whatley, Sr.
Whatley is talented enough to start for a lot of Conference USA teams. In Murfreesboro, he’s the perfect complement to Jordan Parker. While Whatley is only 5-7 and 171 pounds, he runs hard and practices even harder, one of the reasons the staff considers its senior irreplaceable. Whatley brings zip and big-play potential to the offense and special teams, bolting for a career-high 657 yards and three touchdowns on only 101 carries last season.

7. WR Marcus Henry, Sr.
Henry is the veteran of a receiving corps about to replace former standouts Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson. Henry finished third on the team behind Griswould and Jefferson, making a career-high 38 receptions for 549 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-0, 190-pound senior is a clutch and reliable performer, who has earned the trust of his quarterbacks. Of Henry’s 38 grabs a year ago, 24 resulted in Blue Raider first downs.

8. DT Patrick McNeil, Sr.
Middle Tennessee’s goal of improving against the run begins with McNeil, the team’s top returning run-stuffer. He started every game in 2013, pacing all linemen with a personal-best 35 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and two sacks. At 6-1 and 310 pounds, McNeil will anchor the line by making it difficult for opponents to move him off his base. The senior won’t make a ton of plays, but he will eat up blocks to create opportunities for his teammates.

9. RT Isaiah Anderson, Sr.
With the graduation of OG Josh Walker, Anderson becomes the new senior leader of an underrated O-line. The Blue Raiders have yielded an average of 12 sacks a year since 2011 to rank among the top pass protectors in the country. At 6-4 and 275 pounds, Anderson is sized like a tight end. While he won’t overpower his man, he has the light feet, quick hands and smarts to keep the pocket clean on passing downs.

10. DE Alexandro Antoine, Jr.
The Blue Raiders are counting on Antoine being their most effective pass rusher off the edge this fall. As a sophomore starter, he made 30 stops, a pair of sacks and a team-high four quarterback hurries. Even before the season begins, Antoine has had a good year, bulking up to 6-1 and 252 pounds in the weight room. The hope around Murfreesboro is that the junior has improved his strength without sacrificing any speed or quickness.

- 2014 Middle Tennessee Preview