What you need to know ... If this isn't the best defense in
Conference USA, it'll be close. The linebacking corps is
terrific with six great options and an all-star cast among the
front three led by Nick Bunting on the strongside and Nelson
Coleman in the middle. The secondary could be even better thanks
to the return of big hitting safety Kedrick Alexander along with
All-Conference USA safety Bobby Blackshire and corner Nick
Graham. There's plenty of room to tinker in the 3-3-5 alignment
with enough size up front to play a true 4-3 against the run and
enough speed and size among the backup linebackers to add
another speed rushing end to the mix.
Sacks: Nick Bunting, 5
Interceptions: Nick Graham, 5
Star of the defense: Senior LB Nick Bunting
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior NG
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB George Clinkscale
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Bobby Blackshire
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bunting, 2) Blackshire,
3) S Kedrick Alexander
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense from the front three
The goal of the front three is to not get run
over and provide a little bit of resistance so the great linebacking
corps can clean everything up. At least, that was the goal last year.
This season, Chadd Evans and Moton Hopkins appear to be ready for
breakout seasons on the end, while Brandon Jones leads a huge group of
nose guards in the middle. There are options to play with. The three man
front could quickly be a true 4-3 with three, 300+ pound players behind
Jones just waiting to see time as another tackle.
The key to the unit: The entire line has to be stronger against
the run and get into the backfield more.
Defensive Line Rating: 5
- DE Chadd Evans, Jr. - 34 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7 TFL, 2
The former Colorado transfer wasn't quite the pass rusher he was
expected to be, but he turned out to be the team's top tackling lineman
while also doing a decent job of getting into the backfield. The
265-pound junior is expected to grow into an even more productive player
now that he knows what he's doing.
- NG Brandon Jones, Jr. - 14 tackles
Jones isn't the biggest option on the nose at 297 pounds, but he's one
of the quickest and has the most experience. He started out as the
starter last season before serving as a reserve over the second half of
the season. He's tough and holds up relatively well on the inside
against average linemen.
- DE Moton Hopkins, Soph. - 28 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFL
Hopkins had a nice true freshman season and is poised for a huge second
year after bulking up from an athletic 255 pounds to a space-eating 275
pounds. He's a very strong, very quick end who's expected to be a
dangerous pass rusher.
- DE Robert Latu, Sr. - 21 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL
The former linebacker is a good-sized 271-pound option behind Chadd
Evans. He's better against the run than he is a pass rusher, and he'll
have to do a little of both as a key player in the rotation.
- NG Walter Boyd, Jr. - 13 tackles, 2 TFL
After cutting his teeth as a true freshman defensive end, Boyd got
bigger bulking up to 317 pounds and became a decent reserve on the nose.
He has the motor and the size to be a producer behind Brandon Jones.
- DE Tommy Daniels, Soph. - 10 tackles
The 338-pound sophomore saw time as a true freshman taking up
space in the middle. He's not all that athletic and he isn't going to
collapse the pocket, but he's strong and will battle for time on the
It'll be a total shock if this isn't Conference USA's best
linebacking corps by a long shot. You could make a preseason first-team
all-star list from Nick Bunting, Nelson Coleman and Chris Chamberlain
and you wouldn't be nuts. Bunting is a Butkus Award candidate on the
strongside, while Coleman could be even better in the middle. To make
things more interesting, the talented backups aren't just bigger than
the starters, they're a lot bigger. The coaching staff has an abundance
of riches to work with needing to find spots somewhere for George
Clinkscale and Alain Karatepeyan; each could play defensive end if
The key to the unit: Make a few more big plays
against the run while utilizing all the size among the reserves to be
stronger in running situations.
Linebacker Rating: 8
- Nick Bunting, Sr. - 85 tackles, 5 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 2 forced
The leader of a veteran defense, Bunting is back for his fourth season
as the starter with 252 career tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss. He's
one of the nation's best linebackers who knows everything about what the
defense is supposed to do and can put people in the right spot. While
not a lightning fast 230 pounds, he's always in the right position on
- Nelson Coleman, Jr. - 117 tackles, 4 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 1
interception, 2 forced fumbles
Coleman grew into his own last season moving from the weakside to the
middle after bulking up to 235 pounds. He didn't lose a step of speed
and way all over the place as both a run defender and a pass rusher.
He's smart enough to join Nick Bunting as the quarterback of the defense
and should be even more productive after a year of starting experience.
- Chris Chamberlain, Jr. - 88 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11 TFL, 1
interception, 2 forced fumbles
Chamberlain went from being a nice role player and a decent pass rusher
to a great all-around weakside linebacker finishing third on the team in
tackles. Before, he was a safety playing linebacker, but now he's a
linebacker with defensive back speed at a rock solid 225 pounds with
- Alain Karatepeyan, Jr. - 11 tackles. 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL
The former JUCO transfer couldn't get on the field too much last season
playing behind Nick Bunting on the strongside. He's a great tackler who
needs to find a spot somewhere in the mix to use his 250-pound size
against the run.
- Cody Madison, Jr. - 11 tackles, 2 recovered fumbles
Able to play linebacker or defensive end, the 239-pound junior has found
a home in the middle behind Nelson Coleman. He's strong and is great
against power teams, but he doesn't have anywhere near the range of
- George Clinkscale, Soph. - 12 tackles, 2.5 TFL
Clinkscale had a nice true freshman season as a reserve on the weakside.
He bulked up to 241 pounds and has the potential to grow into an
all-star once he gets more playing time. He could be a dangerous
situational pass rusher if used as a specialist on the line.
The pass defense finished 17th in the nation allowing 183
yards per game and 11th in pass efficiency defense, but to be fair, part
of the reason was because teams spent so much time running the ball.
Even so, Tulsa picked off 22 passes and got a great season out of its
back five. Now things should be even better with the return of safety
Kedrick Alexander after being out of the mix for the last two seasons
along with all-stars Bobby Blackshire and corner Nick Graham. There's
depth, speed, and plenty of great tacklers.
The key to the unit: Kedrick Alexander has to be as good
as he was in 2003 while Bobby Blackshire, Nick Graham, and the rest of
the returning talent has to be just as productive as last season.
Secondary Rating: 8
- CB Nick Graham, Sr. 72 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 6
interceptions, 6 broken up passes
The best all-around athlete in the secondary came through with a
tremendous season leading the team in interceptions while being a rock
of a tackler with a whopping 72 stops. He's one of the team's fastest
players and isn't afraid to throw around his 5-11, 191-pound frame.
- FS Bobby Blackshire, Sr. - 99 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions,
6 broken up passes
The 6-3, 205-pound all-star is back for another year after making 176
stops over the last two seasons. While he's not a blow-him-up hitter,
he's a sure tackler with fantastic range in pass coverage. He has the
ability to be a huge lockdown corner if needed.
- Bandit Kedrick Alexander, Sr. - 6 tackles, 1 TFL
Watch out. Alexander was one of the stars of the defense three years ago
making 121 tackles, but he was suspended all of 2004 and missed all of
last year after being charged with second-degree burglary. He spent that
time working out and is bigger, stronger, and faster getting up to 210
pounds. He should be in the hunt for all-star honors and should be among
the team's top tacklers.
- Spur Anthony Germany, Jr. - 49 tackles, 3 sacks, 13.5 TFL, 1
interception, 8 broken up passes
The 211-pound junior stepped in when injuries struck and turned into a
top all-around defender leading the way in tackles for loss. He has the
speed to play cornerback and the hitting ability to be an intimidating
safety both against the pass and as a pass rusher.
- CB Roy Roberts, Soph. - 33 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 broken
Roberts stepped in and became one of the team's top corners growing into
a physical defender with emerging skills in pass coverage. He's fast and
can hit well for a corner.
- S Steve Craver, Jr. - 8 tackles, 1 interception, 1.5 TFL
The former JUCO transfer was all set to play a big role in the secondary
when he got hurt and most most of the year. While he's not the hitter
Kendrick Alexander is, he's a 212-pound linebacker-like tackler against
- CB Julian McGowan, Sr. - 24 tackles, 4
interceptions, 6 broken up passes
A rail-thin 6-0 and 165 pounds, McGowan isn't going to provide any big
hits. However, he's great in pass coverage coming over from the JUCO
ranks to be one of the team's top corners. He'll start out behind Roy
Roberts and will see plenty of time.
The kicking game should be fine, but nothing special
after losing PK Brad DeVault and replacing him with Jarrod Tracy, who
appears to be reliable but without the same big leg. P Chris Kindred is
back for his third year and is a decent directional kicker. Replacing
Ashlan Davis as a returner will be the big key with Idris Moss likely to
take over after doing a better job than Davis on punt returns. The
coverage units were among the best in the country last year and were a
big help in the team's overall success.
The key to the unit: PK Jarrod Tracy has to be close
to as good as Brad DeVault, while P Chris Kindred needs to get his
average to around 40 yards a kick.
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Jarrod Tracy, Jr.
While he doesn't have any experience, the junior was good enough in
spring drills to prevent a panic over the loss of big-legged Brad
DeVault, who nailed 18 of 21 field goals including all seven from beyond
40 yards. Tracy doesn't have nearly the same leg, but he should be
- P Chris Kindred, Sr. - 63 punts, 2,385 yds, 37.9 yards per
kick, 12 inside the 20
After two years, you know what
you're getting. Kindred is a decent veteran who did a great job of
placing the ball but didn't do much to get the team out of trouble on a