What you need to know ...
There will be plenty of position
battles before the season opener with new defensive coordinator
Rick Christophel keeping all his options open in the Blazer 4-3.
Short on stars but long on experience, there are several jobs
still up for grabs, especially in the secondary. Kevin Sanders appears
to be ready to star at one corner spot while Chris Felder and
Will Dunbar have to be solid at the safeties. Linebacker is
solid with five good veterans returning, and there should be
more of a pass rusher with all-star end Larry McSwain back. Size
up front is an issue.
Larry McSwain, 4
Interceptions: Several at 2
Star of the defense: Senior DE Larry McSwain
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Kevin Sanders
Best pro prospect: McSwain
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McSwain, 2) LB Orlandus
King, 3) LB Mastaki Smith
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Size up front, sure-thing second corner
The line turned into a disappointment last
season when it came to getting into the backfield, but it improved by
leaps and bounds against the run. Now, it might be the other way around
with Larry McSwain sure to be one of the league's best ends again and
the combination of Jermaine McElveen and David Miller certain
to get into the backfield more. The tackles will be the
concern with Clarence Respress needing to be as good as his brother,
Ernest, was last year. Brandon Jeffries and Jerricus Spreights are tall,
light tackles who need to use their quickness to make an impact.
The key to the unit: The tackles have to be as strong against the
run as last year's tackles were, and the ends need to get to the
quarterback on a more regular basis. Everyone has to be healthy after a
Defensive Line Rating:
- DE Larry McSwain, Sr. - 53 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFL, 1
interception, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles
McSwain didn't quite grow into the superstar pass rusher he was expected
to after a monster 13-sack 2004, but he was still a Conference USA first teamer for the second straight season. The former JUCO transfer will
once again have to deal with double teams and all the attention from
opposing blocking schemes, and once again, he should be able to handle
- DT Brandon Jeffries, Soph. - 6 tackles
Jeffries might only be 6-5 and 255 pounds, but he's a strong interior
pass rushing prospect who should do a decent job right away of replacing
Sam Williamson. If he's not getting into the backfield, he's not going
to be too much use as an every down defender because of his size.
- NT Clarence Respress, Sr. - 16 tackles, 3 TFL
At 320 pounds, Respress is the team's biggest lineman by far. It'll be
his job to replace his brother, Ernest, who made 42 tackles, three sacks
and 12.5 tackles for loss. The former JUCO transfer isn't his brother
when it comes to rushing the passer, but at his size he'll be a rock
against the run.
- DE Jermaine McElveen, Sr. - 26 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 1
McElveen hasn't quite lived up to his potential as a top pass rusher,
but he has plenty of experience and great athleticism. He'll combine
with David Miller to see single blocking on the other side of Larry
- DE David Miller, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL
Miller started for most of last season. At 265 pounds, he's 15 pounds
heavier than McElveen and decent against the run. He has to turn into
more of a pass rusher and could occasionally see time at tackle.
- DE Kyle Bissinger, Sr. - 8 tackles
Bissinger has see time all over the place in his career, but he hasn't
played too much. He started out his career at quarterback before moving
to linebacker before moving to defensive end. Now he'll back up Larry
- NT Jason Hamlin, Jr.
Out all of the last two years with a knee injury, the 280-pound junior
brings his much needed size to the line behind Clarence Respress. He has
a great motor and should be even more jacked up to get back in action.
The linebacking corps should be a strength with five very
good veterans returning led by Orlandus King on the weakside and Mastaki
Smith in the middle. Marcus Mark is a veteran on the strongside, but he
has to be more productive. There's good depth with Kris Guyton and Joe
Henderson good enough to start, and plenty of overall speed and range to
do a little bit of everything well.
The key to the unit: More big plays are needed from
the strongside and time needs to be carved out to get Kris Guyton and
Joe Henderson on the field more.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Marcus Mark, Sr. - 26 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL
Mark is a 230-pound big hitter on the strongside with a year of starting
experience. He split time over the second half of last year, but he's
good enough to be more of a factor this year when combined with the rest
of the veterans in the corps.
- Mastaki Smith, Sr. - 60 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Smith took over for Nigel Eldridge in the middle and had a nice season
finishing third on the team in tackle. He's a good-sized hitter in the
middle at 230 pounds with excellent range.
- Orlandus King, Sr. - 85 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 TFL, 2
interceptions, 3 broken up passes
The former JUCO recruit stepped in and led the team in tackles from the
weakside. He's not huge at 6-3 and 215 pounds, but he's great at doing a
little bit of everything. He's a solid pass rusher and is great against
- Kris Guyton, Soph. - 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception
Guyton saw starting time in the middle for a three game stretch last
season and will be one of the team's key defenders next year. He's 230
pounds and a pure tackler; now all he needs is more time.
- Joe Henderson, Soph. - 35 tackles, 1 interception
The star of the future, Henderson appeared to be on his way to a
starting spot last fall before getting banged up and moving behind
Orlandus King. He's one of the team's fastest linebackers and should be
a top all-around playmaker on the weakside when he gets on the field.
More production is needed from a defensive backfield with
plenty of starting experience but not enough sure-thing stars. Kevin
Sanders is growing into a strong corner and there are options at each
position, but there needs to be consistency and more big plays from
everyone. Will Dunbar and Chris Felder have good potential at safeties
and Brandon Register has more than enough experience to step in and
The key to the unit: Be better on third downs. The
Blazers allowed teams to convert 45% on third downs and got picked apart
by decent passers.
Secondary Rating: 6
- CB Will Evans, Sr. - 27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Evans has to prove he can be better now that he's the full-time starter.
He's a tough and very quick 5-9 and 175 pounds with plenty of
experience. He has to make more big plays against the pass and needed to
grow into a more consistent defender against deep passes.
- FS Will Dunbar, Jr. - 35 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up
A top special teamer so far, Dunbar will take over for the team's
second-leading tackler Dominique Cosper
after starting to get more work at the end of last year. The 6-1,
195-pound junior is a huge hitter with the quickness to play free safety
and the strength to play strong safety if needed.
- SS Chris Felder, Sr. - 24 tackles, 2 broken up passes
A star recruit who originally signed with Alabama and then went the JUCO
route to UAB, Felder is a fantastic athlete who saw a little starting
time last year in two games in the middle of the season. He's a strong
hitter with the speed and range to possibly be the team's top tackler.
- CB Kevin Sanders, Soph. - 15 tackles, 2 interceptions
Used as a nickel back and a starter over the first half of last season
before missing the final few games, Sanders showed flashes of being an
eventual star. He's a pure cover-corner with good technique for such a
young player and decent size at 5-11 and 185 pounds. He'll be the number
one man against top receivers.
- CB Carnell Williams, Jr. - 22 tackles, 1 broken up pass
Williams grew into a starter over the last three games and will battle
with Kevin Sanders to get the job back. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he's the
team's biggest corner and is a solid open-field tackler. He's not the
talent Sanders is but he'll see plenty of time on both sides.
- Nickel Back Durrell Fuqua, Jr. - 20 tackles, 2 TFL
One of the team's most versatile defensive backs, he'll be the main
nickel back and a top backup corner. He has plenty of experience and
enough speed to make more of an impact.
- FS Brandon Register, Sr. - 32 tackles, 2 interceptions
A good contributor for the last few years with 87 career tackles,
Register started at strong safety over the first five games and made two
interceptions against Tennessee, but he wasn't nearly consistent enough
and wasn't the pass defender he needed to be.
Parker Mullins will once again do a little of everything
again for the kicking game with Swayze Waters handling the kickoffs.
Mullins is great from short to medium range, but he's not going to bomb
any kicks. The punt return game needs far more punch after averaging a
mere 5.89 yards per kick. Kevin Sanders will take over for Reggie
Lindsey, while Norris Drinkard will once again handle kickoff returns
after averaging 22.4 yards per try.
The key to the unit: More blast is needed from Parker
Mullins and the kicking game, while more is needed from Kevin Sanders
and the punt return game.
Special Teams Rating: 6
- PK/P Parker Mullins, Sr. - 14-18 FGs, 37-27 extra
points, 44 punts, 1,698 yds, 38.6 ypc, 14 inside the 20
Mullins is a decent all-around kicker, but he doesn't
have a booming leg topping out at only 41 yards on field goals last
season while averaging a mere 38.6 yards per punt. He was great inside
the 40 hitting 12 of 13 field goal attempts and put 14 punts inside the