What you need to know ... The defense melted down over the
second half of last season and needs to be far more productive
with nine starters returning. The linebacking corps should be
excellent with top two tacklers Jeremy Jones and Troy Collavo
returning, while the secondary will be one of the most
productive in the conference once the corner situation is
settled. Alex Obomese leads a good line that should be better if
tackles Zach West and Justin Hanel can stay healthy.
Tackles: Jeremy Jones,
Alex Obomese, 6.5
Interceptions: Quintin Demps, Joe Fleskoski, 3
Star of the defense: Senior DE Alex Obomese
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman FS Braxton Amy
Best pro prospect: Obomese (as a linebacker)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Obomese, 2) S Quintin
Demps, 3) LB Jeremy Jones
Strength of the defense: Experience, safety
Weakness of the defense:
This was a solid line last season helping to
generate 29 sacks while holding up relatively well against the run.
Enough experience returns to expect far more production with nine of the
top 11 linemen returning led by pass rushing star Alex Obomese on the
end. Justin Hanel is an emerging talented at tackle, while Zach West is
an all-star if he can stay healthy. There's more than enough depth and
talent to form a good rotation.
The key to the unit: A consistent number two pass rusher has to
emerge on the other side of Alex Obomese, while more is needed from the
tackles against the run.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Alex Obomese, Sr. - 57 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL,
One of the league's best all-around defenders. the 245-pound senior is a
pass rushing terror who got better last season against the run. He's
more of an outside linebacker playing end with the speed and quickness
to be strong in pass coverage. The only question mark is a knee injury
that kept him out of spring ball.
- DT Justin Hanel, Sr. - 46 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL
Hanel stepped in when Chris Mineo got banged up and turned out to be the
team's top tackling lineman. The experience of last year should help the
285-pound senior become an even bigger playmaker.
- DT Zach West, Sr. - 25 tackles, 5 TFL
West is more than just a run-clogger on the inside, the 295-pound senior
showed he can get into the backfield on a regular basis despite battling
a slew of nagging injuries. He's a consistent tackler on the left side
and should get back to his all-star status of 2004 if he can stay
- DE Joe Ward, Sr. - 19 tackles. 1.5 TFL
Ward has the experience to be a reliable every down defender, and now he
has to become more of a pass rusher with all the attention paid to Alex
Obomese on the other side. If he's not getting into the backfield on a
regular basis, he'll quickly be a reserve behind Justin Watson.
- DE Reggie Miles, Sr. - 36 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL
Miles returned after missing a year due to academics and became a top
backup behind Alex Obomese. If Obomese has problems with his knee, the
250-pound Miles should be able to step in and be almost as productive
helped by some of the best wheels on the line.
- DT James Olaekan, Soph. - 9 tackles, 2 TFL
One of the team's top recruits last season, "King James" showed great
promise as a true freshman. Now the 295-pound sophomore has to do even
more as the biggest player on the line.
- DE Justin Watson, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 4 broken up
passes, 5 quarterback hurries
Watson is close to being a top starter. He's a huge 275-pound end with
linebacker quickness. After becoming a dangerous pass rusher, he'll push
Joe Ward hard for the starting job on the right side.
- DT Ricky Van, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack
Van is an athletic, quick tackle with good size at 285 pounds. He'll be
a key reserve behind Zach West as long as he's not limited by a banged
Things should be fine even after losing top
NFL prospect Thomas Howard. Jeremy Jones and Troy Collavo eat everything
up combining for 242 tackles and 29 tackles for loss last season. Is
there a sure tackler on the strongside in place of Howard? It'll be a
battle throughout the early part of the season. Redshirt freshmen Brian Wilkins, Landon
Goodwell, and the ridiculously strong Alan Kirkland will see plenty of
playing time and could form the starting trio in 2007.
The key to the unit: Emeri Spence, Josh Chamois, and Jason McQuay have to do a good
job of replacing Thomas Howard on the strongside. Jeremy Jones and Troy
Collavo have to stay healthy and be as good as they were last season.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5
- Jeremy Jones, Sr. 130 tackles, 3 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 2
The 235-pound senior went from being a promising reserve to the team's
top tackler. He had the skills to be a pass rushing threat, and then he
turned on the production doing a little of everything well on the
weakside. He's a great athlete who should be even more productive this
season after bulking up 15 pounds.
- Troy Collavo, Sr. - 112 tackles. 3.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 3
broken up passes
Collavo had to replace long-time Miner star
Robert Rodriguez in the middle and
did a fantastic job finishing second on the team in tackles while
showing great range and speed. He's a smart defender who always seemed
in the right position.
- Emeri Spence, Jr. - 16 tackles
The former safety moved over to linebacker and was a decent reserve.
He's the fastest of the linebacker prospects with free safety speed
playing on the strongside.
- Jason McQuay, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 interception
The former JUCO superstar has the toughness to replace top NFL draft pick Thomas
Howard on the strongside. McQuay made 115 tackles in his last year at
Victor Valley JC and has the speed to be a dangerous all-around
playmaker. He's not nearly the same athlete Howard is, but he's 210
pounds and can move.
- Brian Wilkins, RFr.
One of the stars of the future, the 235-pound redshirt freshman will be
groomed behind Jeremy Jones as the starting weakside linebacker in 2007.
He's a great tackler with excellent range.
This should be a strength if the cornerback situation is
settled. The safeties will be among the best in the league with Quintin
Demps and Joe Fleskoski sure to combine for around 150 tackles again.
There are options on the corner with starters Nate Draughon and Josh
Ferguson to be pushed hard by Bryant Tisdale and Tom McCullough. There
are several top prospects who'll need playing time. Braxton Amy is too
athletic to keep off the field, while Da-mon Cromartie and Lance
Castleberry are promising hitters.
The key to the unit: Two steady corners need to emerge
from the pack and safeties Quintin Demps and Joe Fleskoski have to be as
good as they were last season.
Secondary Rating: 6.5
- CB Nate Draughon, Sr. - 25 tackles, 10 broken up passes
Daughon stepped in and became one of the team's biggest surprises
leading the team with ten broken up passes. While he's not a big
tackler, he's really fast with a great nose for the ball when it's in
- FS Quintin Demps, Jr. - 78 tackles, 3 interceptions. 6 broken
Demps has been one of the team's leading defensive backs for the last
two seasons and should be in the hunt for all-star honors. He's a great
hitter with excellent range picking off five passes in two seasons with
ten broken up passes and 136 tackles. He'll be the leader of the
secondary and should finish in the top five in tackles again.
- SS Joe Fleskoski, Sr. - 75 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 3
interceptions, 3 broken up passes
A huge, tone-setting hitter, Fleskoski pops like a linebacker and showed
improved ability in pass coverage in his breakout season. He was on his
way to a big year as a sophomore before suffering a knee injury, but
there were no ill-effects shown last year. He's good enough against the
pass to play free safety if needed.
- CB Josh Ferguson, Jr. - 31 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 broken
He's a small 5-7 and 185 pounds, but he's tremendously quick and isn't
afraid to make the tough tackle. He started in seven games last year and
now will be pushed hard by Tim McCullough for a starting spot.
- CB Bryant Tisdale, Sr. - 14 tackles
Tisdale is expected to challenge for the starting left cornerback job
once he returns healthy after breaking his hand. He's a good tackler for
his size with nice quickness.
- CB Tim McCullouch, Sr. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
The former JUCO transfer will get every shot at the starting job on the
right side. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, he's bigger than the 5-7 Josh
Ferguson with more speed.
- SS Phillip Moss, Sr. - 12 tackles
The former quarterback is just now getting the hang of playing in the
secondary. He's a fast strong safety and a good special teamer.
- FS Braxton Amy, RFr.
The best athlete in the secondary. the 6-0, 195-pound star recruit of
last year will see a little time somewhere. He can jump out of the
stadium and has terrific range, but he'll have a hard time seeing action
at free safety with Quintin Demps holding down the job.
This could be the best group of special teams in
Conference USA if Johnnie Lee Higgins can do a bit more on kickoff
returns. The senior averaged 22.4 yards per try, but the team averaged a
mere 19 yards per return. Higgins was a solid punt returner averaging
9.4 yards per kick. The coverage units were fantastic, and should be
again. Both kickers return led by all-star-to-be Reagan Schneider, who's
one of the nation's best long-distance field goal kickers. Punter Ryan
Hotchkiss doesn't boom it, but he's effective.
The key to the unit: Hope for more of the same. A few
longer boots from Ryan Hotchkiss would be nice and a few longer kick
returns from Johnnie Lee Higgins would be gravy.
Special Teams Rating: 8.5
- PK Reagan Schneider, Sr. - 18-23 FGs, 41-41 extra
Schneider had a fantastic year hitting seven of nine field goals from
beyond 40 yards showing off one of the nation's most consistent deep
legs. He missed three kicks inside the 40, but he more than made up for
it with his deep shots.
- P Ryan Hotchkiss, Sr. - 45 punts, 1,739 yds, 38.6 yards per
kick, 9 inside the 20
Hotchkiss didn't get a whole bunch of blast on
his kicks, but he was tremendously effective at working within the
system as UTEP finished 24th in the nation in net punting. He needs to
pin it deep on a more regular basis and could use a crushing kick or two
now and then.