What you need to know ... The Southern Miss D is coming off
a strange season when it led Conference USA in sacks and scoring
defense, but gave up a ton of yards and struggled way too much
stopping decent passing teams. You know what you're going to get
this year; lots of aggressive plays, lots of turnovers, and lots
of big performances. The secondary is deep and experienced, and
now it needs a few players to become all-star caliber
performers. Despite the loss of all-everything star Kevis Coley,
the linebacking corps has the potential to be special with six
great players in a solid rotation. The line will be the concern
early on until three new starters get their feet wet and more
Robert Henderson, 5
Interceptions: Brandon Sumrall, 4
Star of the defense: Junior S Brandon Sumrall
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mitch Craft
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Caleb Hendrix
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sumrall, 2) Hendrix, 3)
LB Tokumbo Abanikanda
Strength of the defense: Overall depth, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Sure-thing pass rush from the line, tackle size
Southern Miss always finds ways to plug the holes,
literally, but the line, led by new defensive line coach Bill Wilt,
might be a work in progress for a few games after losing tackles Tom
Johnson and Terrance Ford along with end Akeem Lockett. There's not a
whole lot of size on the inside relying on the quickness of Ryan Watson,
Martavius Prince, and Man Nyang to make plays. The lack of a proven pass
rusher on the outside means Ken Griffith has to stay healthy and Matthew
Chatelain has to step up his play after moving to the Bandit position.
The key to the unit: Stop the run. USM's D line got pushed around
a little too much last year, and with the lack of any true space-eaters,
stopping the ground game will be priority one.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Ken Griffith, Jr. - 1 tackle, 1 TFL
Never healthy last season, Griffith was only able to see time in a few
games. At 6-3 and 275 pounds, he's more of a tackle than a true end and
should end up being moved around where needed. With his quickness, he's
a good fit for the outside.
- NT Ryan Watson, Jr. - 3 tackles
A bit undersized at 6-2 and 271 pounds, Watson is still a little bit raw
on the nose. He has the will and the effort is there, but he needs to
improve a bit on his technique and has to prove he can consistently hold
up against the run.
- DT Martavius Prince, Jr. - 16 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL
If the line is going to remain among the best in the league at getting
to the quarterback, Prince has to have a huge year. While he hasn't
played all that much, he's one of the team's most experienced linemen
with good quickness on the inside.
- Bandit Matthew Chatelain, Sr. - 30 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 2
broken up passes, 3 quarterback hurries
The former walk-on is the only returning starter up front. The 245-pound
senior spent last year at defensive end and will move to the more
free-range Bandit position to allow his experience to be a factor. He's
a high-motor defender who needs to grow into a more dangerous pass
- DE Shadler Manning, Sr. - 4 tackles, 1.5 TFL
A career backup, the 251-pound senior looked good enough this spring to
potentially earn some starting time, or at least be used more as a pass
rushing specialist. He's a speed rusher who'll see time at the Bandit
position behind Matthew Chatelain.
- NT Man Nyang, RFr.
A big-time recruit tow yards ago, the 260-pound Nyang should be an
unstoppable interior pass rusher once he figures out what he's doing. He
was dinged up a bit this spring and doesn't have ideal size for an
anchor, but he could prove to be too disruptive to keep off the field.
New linebacker coach Lytrel Pollard has a lot
of fun pieces to play with. The 150 tackles of all-star Kevis Coley are
gone, but he has six quality defenders to weave in and out of the
rotation. There's speed and athleticism on the outside with Gerald
McRath, who's finally healthy, on the strongside and potential
all-around force Tokumbo Abanikanda on the other. Pollard as the luxury
of having two of last year's starters, James Denley and Wayne Hardy, as
reserves. Mitch Craft and newcomer Marcus Raines will try to replace
Coley in the middle.
The key to the unit: Be dominant. With all the
talents available, there's no reason this can't be one of the team's
strengths as the season goes on.
Linebacker Rating: 7
Gerald McRath, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 interception, 1 broken up pass
A broken leg halted a promising season two games in. The 212-pound
sophomore is 100%, but can he shake the injury bug after missing all of
2004 with an ankle injury on top of last year's leg problem? He has the
speed to be a dangerous playmaker on the strongside as both a pass
rusher and pass defender.
- Mitch Craft, Soph. - 1 tackle
Craft will be in a battle with Marcus Raines all off-season for the
right to replace All-American Kevis Coley in the middle. The 224-pound
sophomore is the smaller, quicker defender between the two with a little
bit of experience, mostly on special teams.
- Tokumbo Abanikanda, Soph. - 12 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL
Abanikanda saw plenty of work as a true freshman getting into the
starting mix on the weakside as the year went on. At 200 pounds, he's
more like a physical safety playing linebacker, but he's also a
tremendous pass defender with the speed to be like a fifth defensive
back in coverage. He's also going to be used often as a blitzer.
- Wayne Hardy, Sr. - 53 tackles, 3 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 3 broken up
passes, 1 fumble recovery
A starter for most of last year, Hardy finished fifth on the team in
tackles highlighted by a dominant performance against Houston making 11
stops. At 223 pounds, he's a far bigger option than Tokumbo Abanikanda
on the weakside, but he's not as fast and he's not as good in pass
- James Denley, Jr. - 41 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL, 1 broken up
Denly took over the starting role on the strongside early on after
Gerald McRath suffered a broken leg. He's a bit bigger than McRath at
6-2 and 223 pounds, but he isn't anywhere near the same athlete.
- Marcus Raines, Jr.
The 240-pound JUCO transfer sat out last season and now appears ready to
make a big impact in the middle in a rotation with Mitch Craft. He's a
strong presence with great pass rushing ability and a nose for the ball.
The pass defense slipped in a big way last
year despite the benefit of the league's best pass rush along with
all-star players like Trevis Coley and John Eubanks. This is a
relatively young group overall, but there are some nice pieces to build
around with safeties Brandon Sumrall and LeVance Richmond two good
athletes to get excited about. Veteran corners Jasper Faulk and Caleb
Hendrix need to be more consistent.
The key to the unit: Better overall play. Southern
Miss shouldn't be eighth in Conference USA and 75th in the nation in
Secondary Rating: 6.5
- CB Jasper Faulk, Sr. - 40 tackles, 2 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 2
interceptions, 6 broken up passes
Versatile enough to play safety or corner, the quick Faulk will get the
start at Field corner to take advantage of his speed and range. He's a
dangerous force in all areas able to block kicks, rush the passer, and
make plays like a number one cover-corner.
- Rover Brandon Sumrall, Jr. - 88 tackles, 1 sack, 4
interception, 5 broken up passes
Last year's third leading tackler is back at the strong safety/rover
position. He's a great open field tackler who became a more consistent
pass defender as the year went on. He'll be in the hunt for all-star
honors all year long as one of the team's best returning defenders.
- FS LeVance Richmond, Jr.
The star JUCO recruit will finally get his chance to shine after sitting
out last season. He covers like a cornerback and now that he bulked up
to 193 pounds, should be a dangerous hitter. Speed isn't an issue; D-I
- CB Caleb Hendrix, Sr. - 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception,
6 broken up passes, 2 recovered fumbles
Back at his starting spot for a third year, Hendrix was never quite
right last year suffering from a hamstring injury. Even so, he had a
productive season and now should be one of the leaders of the back
seven. He'll start on the Boundary side.
- CB Eddie Willingham, Soph. - 21 tackles, 1
interception, 2 broken up passes
Coming off a successful true freshman season, Willingham is one of the
team's fastest defensive backs with huge upside at either corner spot.
However, he still needs work on his coverage skills and could use a bit
more experience before he can become a consistent starter.
- CB Cornelius McGee, Soph. - 4 tackles
McGee got a little bit of work as a true freshman and showed some
promise. He'll mostly play as a nickel back this season to get his great
athleticism on the field a more. He's 5-10, but he needs to get stronger
than his current 165 pounds.
- S Ladarius Webb, Soph. - 18 tackles
Pound-for-pound one of the biggest hitters in the conference, the
164-pound sophomore will see more time this season behind Brandon
Sumrall. He could stand to be more effective against the pass, but he
makes up for it with his play against the run.
The kicking game will eventually be outstanding once punter
Britt Barefoot gets his feet wet. If nothing else, he'll crank the ball
a mile. Placekicker Darren McCaleb is one of the best in the nation, and
he should be even better after improving his leg strength a little bit.
Jasper Faulk is a decent, but not special punt returner, while finding a
replacement for all-star kickoff returner John Eubanks and his 24-2-yard
average might be impossible.
The key to the unit: Get more production out of the
coverage units and improve the overall return game.
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Darren McCaleb, Sr. - 23-28 FGs, 38-39 extra points
Connecting from short range hasn't been a problem hitting all 13 of his
field goal attempts from inside 40 last season. Being effective from
deep has been a little bit of an issue missing from 45, 48, 40, 50 and
44 in 2005. His focus was on increasing his range, so if he can be
rock-solid from 45 and in, he'll be a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Britt Barefoot, Soph.
All Barefoot has to do is replace All-America punter Luke Johnson and
his 44.9-yard average. Blasting the ball won't be an issue for the
sophomore, but being as consistent and coming up with a good net average
will be the concern early on.