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Miami Preview 2006 - Defense
Miami Hurricanes
Posted Jul 31, 2006

Miami Hurricanes Preview 2006 - Hurricane Defense

What you need to know ... The defense will once again be among the best in the nation with size, speed, and backups that would start for about 100 other teams. The safeties are among the best in Miami history with Brandon Meriweather and Kelly Phillips each deserving of All-America consideration and Anthony Reddick and Lovon Ponder more than good enough to step in without missing a beat. Cornerback is the X factor needing Glenn Sharpe to be ready to roll after suffering a knee injury last year and Randy Phillips needing to step up and be a consistent playmaker. There are too many great defensive ends and linebackers for the starting spots, and the tackles have the potential to be a strength after a little bit of starting experience.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brandon Meriweather, 114
Sacks: Kareem Brown, 4.5
Interceptions: Brandon Meriweather, Lovon Ponder, 3

Star of the defense: Senior FS Brandon Meriweather
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Randy Phillips
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Calais Campbell
Best pro prospect: Sophomore SS Kenny Phillips
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Meriweather, 2) Phillips, 3) DE Baraka Atkins
Strength of the defense: Safety, defensive end
Weakness of the defense:
Proven cornerbacks

Defensive Line
The line could be something special if the tackles come through with big seasons. 300 pounders Kareem Brown and Antonio Dixon and the quick Teraz McCray should be strong against the run, but the starting experience isn't there. The ends are deep and fantastic as Baraka Atkins, Bryan Pata, Eric Moncur and Calais Campbell are all pass rushing terrors who'll form a great rotation to steadily get to the quarterback. 
The key to the unit: The tackles need to be rocks and do just enough to allow the tremendous ends to make big play after big play.

Defensive Line Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- DE Baraka Atkins, Sr. - 50 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 4 broken up passes, 6 quarterback hurries
Able to be used as a small, quick tackle or a big, run stopping end, the 6-4, 264-pound senior is a versatile player with 35 games of starting experience. Tough as nails. he fought through a knee injury to have a great season. While not a pure pass rusher, he's effective at getting into the backfield on a regular basis with 13 career sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss and 41 quarterback hurries.

- DT Kareem Brown, Sr. - 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 6 quarterback hurries
A backup so far, Brown saw plenty of time in the rotation behind Orien Harris while growing into a top interior pass rusher. He has 36 games of experience and 97 career tackles, so the 307-pound senior won't have any problems as the starter.

- DT Teraz McCray, Jr. - 10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
He's one of the team's smaller tackles at 6-1 and 278 pounds, but he's experienced and he's tough to move against the run using his great leverage to hold well at the point of attack. He quickly came back after a torn ACL to be a good backup over the second half of last year.

- DE Bryan Pata, Sr. - 25 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFL, 14 quarterback hurries
Pata is the team's best pass rusher and should thrive as a full-time starter. He's a quick 272 pounds with too much strength for most offensive tackles. Consistency is his issue but he'll be an all-star with double-digit sacks if he can use all his skills and experience to put it all together for a full season.

Top Backups
- DE Calais Campbell. Soph. - 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 8 quarterback hurries, 8 broken up passes
Campbell has to find a spot somewhere on the field. He had a fantastic resdhirt freshman season as an athletic reserve with next-level pass rushing skills and an imposing frame to pass over. He's 6-8 and 253 pounds with long arms that make him impossible to throw over. he'll start out on the right side behind Bryan Pata.
- DE Eric Moncur, Soph. - 22 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 9 quarterback hurries
He'll be in the starting mix soon. The 253-pound sophomore had a great redshirt freshman season showing good skills as a pass rusher. He has the size to be a good run defender, but he'll make his splash this year by getting to the quarterback when he gives Baraka Atkins a break on the left side.
- DT Antonio Dixon, Soph. - 7 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries
BIG. The 6-3, 338-pound sophomore provides pure bulk on the inside playing behind Kareem Brown. He's not a statue by any means with great feet and quickness.

There aren't any national stars, at least not yet, but the return of Tavares Gooden from a shoulder injury, Darryl Sharpton from an ankle and knee problem, and Willie Williams getting a full season healthy will make this a very good, very deep corps. It's not all that big, but everyone can run and there will be big-time competition all season long for playing time. Glenn Cook will have a fight on his hands with Sharpton for the job in the middle, while veteran Jon Beason will have to use his experience to hold off Williams.
The key to the unit: Keep everyone healthy and find a way to use all the talent in a good rotation to keep everyone fresh.
Linebacker Rating: 9.5

Projected Starters
- Tavares Gooden, Jr. - 3 tackles
Speed. Gooden is a very fast, very talented strongside linebacker, but he has to get healthy after missing most of last year with a dislocated shoulder. He was a big-time playmaker as a sophomore making 83 tackles and ten tackles for loss, and there's no reason to think he won't revert back to form.

- Glenn Cook, Jr. - 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
A career backup with three starts, the 212-pound Cook is a veteran with good pass coverage abilities. He's not as special as Darryl Sharpton and will have to fight for the job in the middle, but he could end up seeing time on the strongside if he's pushed out of the starting role inside.

- Jon Beason, Jr. - 66 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 broken up pass
The former fullback turned in a strong season on the weakside last year after taking over the starting role. He's the team's most versatile linebacker able to play an of the three spots. He's more fast than quick, but he can handle himself well in pass coverage as well as against power running offenses.

Top Backups
- Romeo Davis, 33 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 broken up passes
Davis saw starting time last year in the middle growing into a good all-around defender, but now he'll push for time on the strongside adding more size and experience. He could move back in the middle at times to be a bigger option than Glenn Cook or Darryl Sharpton.
- Darryl Sharpton, RFr.
He's not all that big at 6-0 and 210 pounds, but he hits like a ton of bricks. He saw a little big of time as a true freshman before getting knocked out for the year with an ankle problem, but now he's healthy and will use his tremendous speed and range to push for the starting job in the middle.
- Willie Williams, Soph. - 17 tackles, 2 TFL
Will he be worth all the trouble? After all the off-the-field hoopla surrounding his arrival at Miami, Williams hasn't had a whole bunch of luck so far missing all of 2004 with a knee injury and being relegated to backup duty last year. There's no questioning his talent or his ability as 6-3, 232-pound heat-seeking missile on the weakside, but now he has to play up to the hype and push for  a starting spot.

Defensive Backs
This won't be the nation's number one pass defense again, but it won't be far off. There's a little bit of a question mark at corner needing Glenn Sharpe to return 100% from a torn ACL and hoping for either Randy Phillips or Bruce Johnson to go from being decent backup to a solid starter, or else hope for star recruit Ryan Hill to live up to expectations right away. The safeties are among the deepest and most talented Miami has ever had with Brandon Meriweather and Kenny Phillips each on the short list for All-America honors and Anthony Reddick, once he returns from a knee injury, isn't far behind. Lovon Ponder is a great looking young safety who has to somehow find his way on the field.
The key to the unit: Hope for Glenn Sharpe to be a number one corner.
Secondary Rating: 9.5

Projected Starters
- CB Glenn Sharpe, Jr.
Sharpe is finally back after missing all of last year with a torn ACL suffered during summer workouts. He has the experience and quickness to be a top corner, but he only has a little bit of starting experience and he has to prove his track star speed hasn't changed since the injury.

- FS Brandon Meriweather, Sr. - 115 tackles, 13 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 7 broken up passes
Meriweather is a big enough hitter to play strong safety and fast enough to be a major playmaker at free safety. He's one of the team's most experienced players with 40 career games of experience and 202 tackles, and now he should be on everyone's All-America list with the range to be a major factor against the pass and the speed to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

- SS Kenny Phillips. Soph. - 88 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 interception, 4 broken up passes
He was as good as advertised. One of 2005's top recruits stepped and starred from the start showing off the 4.4 speed to be in on seemingly every play and the smarts of a long-time veteran. He's a good-sized hitter at 6-2 and 200 pounds with moves like a cornerback. 

- CB Randy Phillips, Soph. -11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 broken up pass
Phillips saw time in eight games as a true freshman playing mostly as a nickel back. He hits hard for a corner and while he doesn't have elite speed, he's hardly slow. 

Top Backups

- SS/FS Anthony Reddick, Soph. - 6 tackles
Reddick was one of the team's top defensive stars as a true freshman making 73 tackles and started off last year playing well against Florida State before tearing his ACL. He's a great tackler with excellent range, but he isn't huge at 6-0 and 197 pounds and will have a hard time taking over one of the starting spots with Brandon Meriweather and Kenny Phillips firmly entrenched in their spots.
- FS Lovon Ponder, Soph. - 20 tackles, 3 interceptions, five broken up passes
The hard part it finding a spot for him. He's a fantastic ball-hawker tying for the team lead in interceptions during his limited action in nickel situations. He makes things happen whenever he gets on the field.

- SS Willie Cooper, Jr. - 4 tackles
Cooper has been mainly used on special teams so far and will try to play more of a role in the secondary after moving from linebacker last year. He's not nearly as fast as the other safety options, but he's tough and can hit. Now he has return healthy after suffering a gunshot wound in the buttocks this off-season.
- CB Bruce Johnson, Soph. - 7 tackles
The 5-10, 170-pound sophomore plays bigger than his size and has the talent to grow into a spot as the top corner off the bench. He'll start out on the left side behind Glenn Sharpe, but he can play either position.
- CB Ryan Hill, Fr.
Will he force his way into the mix as a true freshman? Miami's top recruit comes from a long line of great defenders as the
cousin of former Florida State stars Corey Fuller and Sam McGrew. Assuming he doesn't redshirt, he should be one of the team's top backup corners.

Special Teams
It'll be a shock if the Hurricane special teams aren't among the ACC's best. PK Jon Peattie is too experienced to have another average season, while P Brian Monroe has improved each of his last three years growing into a whale of a directional kicker. The return game is more than fine even after the loss of Devin Hester with Darnell Jenkins taking over the main roles. He isn't as explosive as Hester on punt returns, but he was far better on kickoff returns last season averaging 21.9 yards per try to Hester's 16.1. The coverage units should once again be fantastic.
The key to the unit: Being sharp against Florida State right away and getting PK Jon Peattie to return to his 2003 form.
Special Teams Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- PK Jon Peattie. Sr. - 15-20 FGs, 34-39 extra points
Peattie started off with an inconsistent first half of the season only to come on in a big way late hitting his final six field goal attempts including a 44 yarder against Georgia Tech. He has been decent throughout his career with decent range, but he's pushing it to go beyond 45 yards. It's not a bad thing that he had a down year and still cranked out 79 points.
- P Brian Monroe, Sr. - 64 punts for 2,549 yards, 39.8 average, 26 inside the 20
The 39.8 yard-per-kick average might not seem like anything special, but his numbers went down because he became a more accurate kicker putting a whopping 26 inside the 20. He doesn't have a huge leg and doesn't put too much air under it, but he has been effective for the last three seasons. He'll handle the kickoffs and is athletic enough to get the coaches thinking about playing him at receiver.

Related Stories
Miami Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Miami Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Miami Preview 2006 - Offense
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