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UCF Preview 2006 - Defense
Central Florida Golden Knights
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 6, 2006


UCF Golden Knights Preview 2006 - UCF Defense

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 anymore.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jason Venson, 85
Sacks: 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 Chris Welsh
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

Defensive Line
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


Projected Starters
- 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.

- DT 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 hurries
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.

Top Backups
- DE 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.
- DT 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.

Linebackers
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 weakside.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- 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 four games.

- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 full-time.
- 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.


Defensive Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 more space.

- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 long.
- 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.

Special Teams
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 to returns.
Special Teams Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- 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.

Related Stories
UCF Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
UCF Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006
UCF Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 6, 2006








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