What you need to know ... The
defense has been phenomenal over the last few years going from
allowing 17 points per game in 2004 to giving up a mere 15.92
last year while finishing fifth in the nation in run defense and
16th in scoring defense. There are holes to fill, but the end
product should be fine led by a linebacking corps with several good options to replace Ricky Brown and Ray Henderson,
and a veteran secondary that was great last season. The concern is on the line after
losing star end Mathias Kiwanuka, but there's plenty of size
inside to continue to be great against the run.
Tackles DeJuan Tribble, 57
Interceptions: Ryan Glasper, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Brian Toal
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DE Jim Ramella
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Ron Brace
Best pro prospect: Toal
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Toal, 2)
FS Jamie Silva, 3) CB DeJuan Tribble
Strength of the defense: Secondary
Weakness of the defense:
The D line, which led the way to
the nation's fifth best run defense, needs some retooling after
losing star end Mathias Kiwanuka and tough tackle Al Washington.
Size isn't a problem in the middle with the return of 337-pound
B.J. Raji along with new starter 343-pound Ron Brace and
316-pound Justin Bell. Getting into the backfield will be the
main focus with Nick Larkin having to prove he's not just a
number two man on the other side of Kiwanuka. Jim Ramella needs to rise as a steady pass rusher.
The key to the unit: Keep the production
going. Finishing 13th in the nation in sacks and fifth in run
defense will be too much to ask for, but the line can't slide
Defensive Line Rating: 7.5
- DE Jim Ramella,
Soph. - 15 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
Ramella turned into a surprising performer as a true freshman
showing good promise on the outside in a reserve role. He's a
tall, quick pass rusher who'll have to stake a claim to a spot
after missing time this spring recovering from surgery.
- DT Ron Brace, Soph. - 11 tackles, 1 TFL
brings some big-time size to the middle. At 6-3 and 343 pounds,
he's a big tackle who should be even quicker after dropping
20 pounds over the last year. His job will be as a run stopper;
any sacks will purely come from being at the right place at the
- DT B.J. Raii, Jr. - 27 tackles, 1.5
sack, 6.5 TFL
Raji had a great year on the inside growing
into a reliable rock against the run. With his experience, he
has to be a star in the middle until Ron Brace can prove to be
He's more than quick enough to make several big plays in the
backfield and grow into an All-ACC caliber performer.
Nick Larkin, Jr. - 38 tackles, 6 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 3 broken
Was Larkin just the beneficiary of all the
attention paid to Mathis Kiwanuka on the other side, or was he
really that good a pass rusher? A little of both. The 6-4,
252-pound junior has to handle all the focus as the team's most
experienced end and has to try to replace the leadership left by
- DT Keith Willis, Soph. - 20
tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
266-pounds, Willis is a much smaller right tackle option than
the 337-pound B.J. Rali. He had a decent first season on the
inside showing the ability to hold up well against the run while
also turning into a decent interior pass rusher. He has the
quickness to play end if needed.
- DE Austin Giles, RFr.
Able to play
inside or out, the 6-3, 283-pound Giles is forty pounds bigger than
Jim Ramella on the left side. He's still very raw and still
needs time, but he's an athletic big man.
- DT Jerry
Willette, Soph. - 2 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The high school all star has tight end athleticism in the body
of a big end. He's 6-5 and 261 pounds with the potential to be a
top all-around tackle behind Ron Brace at left tackle.
It's never good to lose the leadership and production of Ray
Henderson and Ricky Brown, but the linebacking corps should be
more than fine with the return of several producers with speed
waiting to be unleashed in more prominent roles. Brian Toal is
the star of the show as the only returning starter, but Tyronne
Pruitt on the outside and Jolonn Dunbarr in the middle should
quickly play like the veterans they are. Sophomores Kevin Akins
and Robert Francois are fast options on the outside who'll be
The key to the unit: Hope
for all the steady backups of last year can turn into stars now
that they have more responsibility.
Pruitt, Jr. - 37 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 broken up passes
be up to Pruitt to show that he's ready to shine on the
strongside after learning the job as a backup over the last two
seasons. He's not all that big at 5-11 and 218 pounds, but he's
quick and is a steady tackler. Don't be shocked if he turns out
to be just as productive as long-time star Ricky Brown.
- Jolonn Dunbar, Jr. - 50 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 broken up
Dunbar takes over for second-leading tackler Ray
Henderson in the middle after serving as a great backup last
year. The former running back has 87 career tackles bringing
more speed and athleticism to the position. He was one of the
stars of the bowl win over Boise State with a team leading ten
tackles along with a forced fumble.
- Brian Toal,
Jr. - 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFL
The superstar recruit of a
few years ago saw his production dip a little bit after a
77-tackle freshman season thanks to a shoulder injury, but he
still finished fourth on the team in stops and served as an
unstoppable goal line fullback. He's 6-1 and 238 pounds with
great range and speed on the weakside.
Kevin Akins, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack,
The 6-2, 205-pound sophomore is a lanky defender who
was a star high school defensive back, running back and sprinter.
He'll bring that speed and quickness to the outside behind Tyronne
Pruitt as an experienced backup who can step in and start if
- Mike McLaughlin, RFr.
At 245 pounds,
McLaughlin is a much bigger option in the middle than Jolonn
Dunbar, but he's not nearly as quick, He's a pure tackler who
should grow into a physical run defender.
Francois, Soph. - 28 tackles, 2 TFL
A lightning fast
235-pounder, Francois is a great backup behind Brian Toal on the
outside and has the talent to play on the other side if needed.
He was a star high school sprinter who grew into a steady
reserve showing great range and the potential to be a top pass
The pass defense might be the strength of the team with
experience and depth after finishing 29th in the nation in pass
efficiency defense. The only replacement is at one of the
corners where Larry Anam will move from safety to replace
Jazzmen Williams. DeJuan Tribble is solid on the other side, and
safeties Jamie Silva and Ryan Glasper should be among the best
in the ACC. There's plenty of veteran depth ready to create a
The key to the unit: Pick off more
passes. The Eagles only came up with 11 interceptions last
Secondary Rating: 8
DeJuan Tribble, Jr. - 57 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6
broken up passes, 3 TFL
The emergence of Tribble last year
allowed Will Blackmon to move to wide receiver full-time. He's a
strong tackler and the team's best coverman with good quickness
when the ball is in the air. Even at only 5-9 and 189 pounds, he
hits like a safety with 48 of his 57 tackles unassisted.
Jamie Silva, Jr. - 87 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL, 1
interception, 2 broken up passes
Silva went from being a key
reserve at both safety spots to the team's leading tackler at
free safety. He has 130 career stops and turned out to be a
tone-setting hitter. The star high school running back can play
strong safety if needed, but his range makes him better at free
- SS Ryan Glasper, Sr. - 43 tackles, 1
sack, 2.5 TFL, 2 interception, 3 broken up passes
hitter with 152 career tackles, Glasper has started since a true
freshman and has grown into a rock-solid all-around defender. He
has gotten better against the pass while continuing to tackle
like an extra linebacker. He's outstanding against the run.
- CB Larry Anam, Sr. - 37 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 broken up
In one of the big moves, Anam will move from safety
to corner to replace Jazzmen Williams. He has the speed to grow
into the role and, at 6-0 and 192 pounds, has more size than
Williams, but he'll have to prove he can be as consistent with
teams looking to pick on him to stay away from DeJuan Tribble on
the other side.
- CB Taji Morris,
Jr. - 19 tackles
Morris did a decent job as a reserve and
spot starter, but he needs to make more plays when the ball is
in the air. He'll start out behind Larry Anam, but he could play
either corner position.
- SS Paul Anderson, Soph. - 7
tackles, 1 interception, 1 blocked kick
Anderson saw time as a true freshman and made an impact with a
blocked punt that led to a game-sealing touchdown against
Virginia. He's an athletic strong safety who can play as a nickel
back as well as a key special teamer.
The overall kicking game should be decent, but not
spectacular unless placekicker Ryan Ohliger can increase his range and
punter Johnny Ayers can help up the net average. Replacing steady kick
and punt returner Will Blackmon will be a big priority with DeJuan
Tribble looking to take over both jobs. The Eagles only allowed 17 yards
per kickoff return, but gave up 10.1 yards per punt return.
The key to the unit: Keep getting better in all
phases and hope for DeJuan Tribble to be a consistent kick returner.
There are plenty of veterans, but they have to improve.
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Ryan Ohliger, Jr. - 9-14 FGs, 19-20 extra points
It took a little while, but Ohliger turned into a reliable kicker by the
end of last year. His problem is range; he doesn't have any. He missed
five of nine kicks from 30 yards and beyond with his biggest kick coming
from 39 yards.
- P Johnny Ayers, Jr. - 62 punts, 2,561 yds, 41.3 yards per kick,
19 kicks inside the 20
Ayers got a lot of boom on his kicks and did a great job of pinning
teams deep, but he has to work better with his coverage team after the
Eagles finished 102nd in the nation in net punting and 11th in the ACC.