What you need to know ... UCF
underwent an overhaul of talent last year basically throwing out
all the veterans and starting from scratch in the back seven
with freshmen. The D didn't stop anyone, but the move unearthed
some potential superstars in the secondary led by corner Joe
Burnett and safety Jason Venson setting the foundation for a
potential fantastic defense either this year or next. There should be a
big step up in overall production as long as there aren't the
same mistakes made last year. The front four has to figure out
how to generate a pass rush without Paul Carrington to rely on
Tackles: Jason Venson,
Ronnell Sandy, 7
Interceptions: Joe Burnett, 5
Star of the defense: Sophomore CB Joe Burnett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jordan Richards
Best pro prospect: Burnett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burnett, 2) FS Jason
Venson, 3) LB Ronell Sandy
Strength of the defense: Secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush
Where's the pass rush going to come from?
Paul Carrington is gone leaving a huge void at end meaning Chris Welsh
has to become more of a playmaker and Kareem Reid has to play more like
an end than the natural tackle he is. This is a big line that has to be
stronger against the run, but that will only happen if some depth
quickly develops at tackle and if Brian Gabourel and Keith Shologam can
build on their experience.
The key to the unit: Establish a pass rush from the end and/or
hope someone can develop into a specialist in a big hurry.
Defensive Line Rating: 5
- DE Emeka Okammor, Jr. - 13 tackles
Part tackle, part end, the 270-pound junior will be tried out on the
left side to provide more beef against the run. He doesn't have proven
pass rushing skills, but he can move a little bit.
Leger Douzable, Jr. - 17 tackles, 2 TFL
He's a 295-pound tackle who will also see time on the end. A steady backup
over the last few seasons, now he has to become more of a force against
the run and push his way into more playing time after being unable to
build on a great start to last year.
- DT Keith Shologan, Jr. - 29 tackles, 1 TFL
One of the team's most dependable linemen over the last two years, the
275-pound junior needs to be a little stronger against the run and has
to start making more plays in the backfield. He saved his best game for
last with a tremendous performance in the bowl loss to Nevada to build
on for this year.
- DE Chris Welsh, Sr. - 23 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 quarterback
A steady but unspectacular starter last year, Welsh has to grow into
more of a pass rusher as the leading returning end after managing only
two sacks despite playing on the other side of Paul Carrington. He's
experienced and has the leadership abilities to be a key to the
defensive front four.
Kareem Reid, Sr. - 21 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
The former Kentucky transfer turned into a solid reserve over the first
half of the season before a mediocre second half. At 6-4 and 270 pounds
he has the size to play either end or tackle with enough quickness to
grow into a steady pass rusher.
Bryan Gabourel, Sr. - 14 tackles, 2 TFL
At 320 pounds Gabourl is the team's biggest lineman and has to play like
it after starting half of last year. Even with his size he's athletic
enough to be more than just a statue on the inside.
- DE Antonio Wallace, Soph. - 4 tackles
Originally a linebacker, the 240-pound Wallace needs to use his speed to
become a key pass rusher behind Chris Welsh on the right side.
There was some major shuffling last year and it should pay
off this season if Steven Baker can handle the starting job in the
middle. More of a safety than a linebacker, Baker's emergence will allow
Ronnell Sandy to move to the strongside where he can use his size
against the run. This isn't a big linebacking corps and it might have to
go through one more year of growing pains before it can be a strength.
The key to the unit: Hope Steven Baker can be a force
in the middle and get a full season out of Jordan Richards on the
Linebacker Rating: 5.5
- Jordan Richards, Soph. - 41 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
It's all about speed for the 215-pound sophomore. He's a good hitter who
can make plays in the backfield when he gets a straight-line to a ball
carrier, but he has to prove he can hold up for an entire season against
the run after getting knocked out with a shoulder injury for the final
- Ronnell Sandy, Sr. - 52 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL, 1 interception
Versatile enough to play either in the middle or on the strongside, the
230-pound Sandy will be looking to build on a great end to last year
after finishing fifth on the team in tackles. He's the team's most
physical linebacker with great straight-line speed.
- Cory Hogue, Soph. - 34 tackles, 1 interception, 3 TFL
A spot starter last year, the 220-pound sophomore will see more time on
the strongside if Ronnell Sandy moves back to the middle. He had a great
true freshman season highlighted by a nine tackle game against East
Carolina despite playing with a shoulder injury that eventually knocked
him out for a game.
- Travis Barr, Soph. - 17 tackles, 1 interception, 1.5 TFL
Even at only 225 pounds he's a strong player in the middle. He'll push
hard for the starting spot after an impressive true freshman season that
started off well before tailing off over the second half of the year.
However, he still has a little maturing to do to handle the job
- Steven Baker, Jr. - 6 tackles, 1 sack
The former walk-on will see time in the middle so Ronnell
Sandy can play some on the strongside. Mostly a special teamer so far, the
215-pound junior is an athletic former receiver who'll have to grow into
a steady run defender.
The coaching staff made a bold move going with an all freshman
secondary early last year and it'll pay off big time. The pass defense
didn't actually slow anyone down taking plenty of expected lumps, but
this should turn into one of the league's strongest units with corner
Joe Burnett and safety Jason Venson emerging as All-America caliber
performers. They can all run and hit, and with their experience they
should give up so many big plays and should be far tighter against
veteran, precision quarterbacks.
The key to the unit: Make the jump from raw, talented
freshmen to tough, savvy sophomores.
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Johnell Neal, Soph. - 69 tackles, 7 broken up passes
While not huge at 5-11 and 180 pounds, Neal turned into a big-time
tackler at left corner. He hits like a safety and hardly ever misses a
one-on-one open field stop. Now he has to turn into a better cover
corner and make more big plays when the ball is in the air.
- FS Jason Venson, Soph. - 85 tackles, 3 interceptions, 5 broken
up passes, 2 forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
The team's leading tackler last year is strong enough to be one of the
team's biggest hitters and fast enough to play corner if needed. Even
though he goes for the highlight reel shot a bit too much, he tends to
make more big plays than misses and now is in a battle with Marlon
Williams for a starting job. He's at his best against the better
running teams highlighted by a 15 tackle game against Rice.
- SS Sha'reff Rashad, Soph. - 29 tackles, 1 interception, 1
broken up pass
Rashad got his feet wet in the starting mix last season playing a little
bit of free safety after coming back from a broken hand that cost him
most of 2004. He'll get the start at strong safety this season but could
move back to free safety if Jason Venson turns out to be better used in
- CB Joe Burnett, Soph. - 63 tackles, 5 interceptions, 9 broken
up passes, 2.5 TFL
Burnett was one of Conference USA's best cornerbacks as a true freshman
finishing third on the team in tackles and becoming the ball-hawking
coverman the defense desperately needed. He has decent size at 5-11 and
180 pounds and is lightning quick when the ball is in the air. He'll
likely be used as a punt returner to take advantage of his speed and
open field moves.
- FS Marlon Williams, Jr.
A top transfer who made 127 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and ten sacks
at Reedley JC in Califonrnia is being given every look at winning a job
at either free safety or corner. He was listed as the starting free
safety coming out of spring ball, but don't' look for that to last too
- CB Travonti Johnson, Sr. - 50 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4
broken up passes, 1.5 TFL
At 6-2 and 185 pounds, Johnson is the team's biggest corner and the top
back in nickel situations. He's a good hitter and has next-level
athleticism playing behind Johnell Neal on the left side.
- FS Renford Parkes, Jr. - 26 tackles
Parkes has done his most work when stepping in for injured starters, and
now he should push for one of the starting safety jobs. He's an
experienced reserve with a little bit of starting experience able to
play either safety spot.
The kicking game should be fine if new PK Michael Torres
kicks like he did in his first season at UMass and not his second.
Punter Aaron Horne is a weapon. The punt return game finished fourth in
the nation averaging 16.5 yards per return thanks to Joe Burnett, but he
might become too valuable at corner to risk injury. The kickoff returns
need more pop after averaging a mere 18.8 yards per return last year.
The key to the unit: Consistency from new kicker
Michael Torres and being better at all phases of kickoffs from coverage
Special Teams Rating: 7.5
- PK Michael Torres, Jr.
The UMass transfer wasn't always consistent for the Minutemen hitting 11
of 20 field goals. Now he has to replace the booming leg of Matt Prater
and be consistent from 45 yards and in.
- P Aaron Horne, Jr. - 57 punts, 2,197 yds, 42.2 average, 15
inside the 20
Horne had a tremendous season after
transferring over from FIU boosting up his average from 38.7 to 42.2
while continuing to be a solid directional kicker. UCF was fourth in the
league in net punting last year and should be even better this season as
Horne becomes even more consistent with his two years of experience.