What you need to know ...
The D had is moments last year doing a great job against
mediocre offenses but struggling mightily with good passing
games and high-octane attacks. Pass defense has been the problem
for the last few years, but there's hope for an improvement with
five returning starters led by All-American Wesley Smith. The
linebacking corps loses its top two tacklers, but gets a big
boost with the return of Quinton McCrary on the outside. The
three man line should be able to get to the quarterback and has
decent size against the run.
Tackles: Wesley Smith,
Brandon McDonald, 3
Interceptions: Brandon McDonald, 3
Star of the defense: Senior FS Wesley Smith
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior NG
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Greg Hinds
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) LB Quinton
CB Jamal Rufus
Strength of the defense: Experience in the secondary,
Weakness of the defense:
Starting experience on the line
The line was a work in progress all of last year even
having to go to two down linemen at times thanks to injury problems. On
the plus side, the time missed by Marcus West and LaVale Washington
allowed several young players to get their feet wet for this year. There
isn't a dominant lineman in the group, but there doesn't appear to be a
glaring weakness as long as Van Houston's knee is healthy on the nose
and Brandon Douglas turns into a space-eater at one of the tackle spots.
The key to the unit: Fight through the growing pains. This is a
very young, very inexperienced group that'll need a while to find a
Defensive Line Rating: 5
- DT Corey Mills, Soph.
The Ole Miss transfer stepped up this spring and took over the number
one job on the left side. He has the prep résumé as one of the top
recruits for the Rebels a few years ago, and now he's expected to
quickly grow into one of the top all-around producer up front. While
he's not huge at 6-4 and 260 pounds, he's strong and can get into the
- NG Van Houston, Sr.
Houston needed to fill in for big Albert Means last year and be the
veteran anchor, but he suffered a knee injury and missed the entire
season. He slimmed down to 280 pounds and should be an active interior
- DT Rubio Phillips, Sr. - 3 tackles, 1 sack
Last year was supposed to be the breakout season for the former JUCO
star, but he suffered a knee injury in the opener against Ole Miss and
missed the rest of the season. He's a 262-pound pass rusher who should
be among the team leaders in tackles for loss if the rest of the line is
effective at keeping the heat off him.
- NT Brandon Douglas, Soph. - 2 tackles, 1 TFL
Douglas got a little bit of work last year on the nose and at the other
tackle spots seeing time in eight games. At 6-3 and 291 pounds he's the
team's biggest defensive lineman, and now he has to grow into a rock as
a backup nose tackle. He's not going to be much of a pass rusher, but he'll be a
key player against the run.
- DT Cortez McCraney, Soph. - 10 tackles
McCraney filled in when injuries struck the line and ended up seeing
time in 11 games. He bulked up to 255 pounds and should be stronger
against the run on the left side behind Brandon Douglas.
- NG Ryan Williams, Soph. - 10 tackles
Williams had a good redshirt freshman year showing great promise on the
inside, but he had problems with his shoulder and struggled through a
few games. At 278 pounds, he needs to be a factor behind Van Houston in
- DT Clinton McDonald, Soph. - 6 tackles
While he's only 240 pounds, McDonald is one of the strongest players on
the line. He has the potential to be a good pass rusher on the right
side, or he can be used like another outside linebacker against the run.
The team's top two tacklers, Tim Goodwell and Carlton
Baker, are gone after combining for 190 tackles, nine sacks and 11
tackles for loss, but the Tigers get a key player back in Quinton
McCrary. The junior only played in two games last year, but he's healthy
now and should be even more disruptive than Goodwell and Baker were.
Heath Grant is ready to be a playmaker in the middle, and Greg Hinds
provides big-time athleticism on the outside.
The key to the unit: The health of Quinton McCrary
and the development of Greg Hinds. These two should be tremendous pass
rushers if they can stay on the field.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Greg Hinds, Jr. - 6 tackles
Hinds was a top high school receiver and was a huge recruit for
Memphis a few years ago. Now he's expected to grow into a dangerous
all-around playmaker on the outside using his speed and athleticism as a
pass rusher as well as a top coverman against running backs coming out
of the backfield.
- Heath Grant, Jr. - 32 tackles, 1 sack, 4 broken up passes, 2
Grant played a key backup role all last year showing he can be a
disruptive force when he got his chance to show what he could do. He's a
mobile 225 pounds in the middle with decent range and quickness.
- Quinton McCrary, Jr. - 10 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 2 forced
McCrary was on his way to a monster season when he suffered a thigh
injury after missing the first two games of the year with an ankle
injury. The 232-pound junior is a bolt of lightning with defensive back
speed and big hitting ability on the outside. The former safety made 82
tackles in 2004.
- Mike Snyder, Sr. - 44 tackles, 1 sack, 3 broken up passes
Snyder turned into a key starter taking over when Quinton McCrary
couldn't go on the right side. Now the 234-pound senior will go back to
being a backup as long as McCrary is healthy. He's strong enough to play
in the middle if needed.
- Michael Spurlock, Sr. - 18 tackles, 1 sack
Spurlock got over the badly broken leg suffered two years ago to be a
good backup in the middle. He's not all that fast, but he's a tough
player behind Heath Grant.
The good: The Memphis pass defense
improved to 107th in the nation after finishing 114th in the nation in
2004. The bad: The Memphis pass defense allowed 280 yards per game, four
more yards per outing than it did two years ago. Experience won't be an
issue with five players with starting experience returning led by
All-America safety Wesley Smith. Brandon McDonald has to grow into a
true shutdown corner after an impressive first season, and the rest of
the secondary has to make more big plays and can't keep getting torched
deep. Memphis allowed a whopping 14.2 yards per catch last year.
The key to the unit: Slow down efficient passers and
be stronger against the deep ball.
Secondary Rating: 5.5
- CB Brandon McDonald, Sr. - 49 tackles, 3 interceptions,
11 broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer is a ball-hawking machine leading the team in
interceptions and broken up passes. He had a few problems through out
the year, but he made enough big plays to hope he'll be in for a steady
season as the team's top corner.
- Right Cat Safety Rod Smith, Jr. - 50 tackles, 2 interceptions,
2 broken up passes, 1 sack
Smith was supposed to be one of the new stars of the secondary, and he
didn't disappoint turning into a reliable all-around defender. He has
the size at 6-1 and 215 pounds to go along with cornerback speed. If he
can stay healthy, something he couldn't do last year, he should flirt
with all-star honors now that he knows what he's doing.
- FS Wesley Smith, Sr. - 82 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3
broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
One of the nation's best defensive backs, the 6-3 Smith hits like a
linebacker and covers like a corner. He's the unquestioned leader of the
defense earning three straight first team All-Conference USA honors with
269 career tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and five
- Left Cat Safety Derek Clenin, Sr. - 17 tackles, 1 interception,
The former walk-on isn't all that big at 5-9 and 193 pounds, but he
quick enough to hold his own. He has enough starting experience to know
what he's doing, but he could quickly get knocked out of the starting
spot if Sam Brewer and/or Tyler Griffin shine in fall practice.
- CB Jamaal Rufus, Sr. - 41 tackles, 7 broken up passes
Rufus has the potential to be special this year. He has safety size at
6-3 and 207 pounds and is a sure tackler. He'll man the left corner
spot, but could move to safety if Dustin Lopez takes over one of the
- CB Dustin Lopez, Sr. - 14 tackles
The former JUCO transfer is experienced enough to see starts on the left
side. He's not nearly as big as Jamaal Rufus, but he's very athletic and
plays like a veteran.
- CB Jermaine Chambers, Sr. - 13 tackles
The former walk-on found his niche on special teams. At 6-0 and 207
pounds he's a bigger option at right corner behind Brandon McDonald.
- S Sam Brewer, Sr. - 16 tackles, 1 broken up pass
A good special teamer and a solid backup so far, Brewer will push Derek
Clenin hard for the starting spot on the left side. He's bigger and more
of a playmaker.
Punter Michael Gibson will be on the All-America short list, but it's an
open casting call to replace placekicker Stephen Gostkowski. The return
game needs a lot of help after averaging a paltry 4.78 yards per return
last year and 20.19 yards on kickoff returns. Top running back Joseph
Doss will handle the kickoff returns to start, while top corner Brandon
McDonald will try to add more pop than he did last year returning punts.
The key to the unit: Find a steady, reliable
placekicker and get more from the return game.
Special Teams Rating: 6
- PK Trey Adams, Soph.
Adams has to try to replace all-star Stephen Gostkowski, who nailed 70
of 92 career field goals and scored 369 points. The walk-on will have to
battle with Kittrell Smith and freshman Matt Reagan.
- P Michael Gibson, Sr. - 59 punts, 2,632 yds, 44.6 average, 13
inside the 20
One of the nation's best punters returns after
a tremendous first season after coming over from the JUCO ranks. He's
big, experienced, and has a huge leg able to blast the team out of any
situation. The Tigers finished third in the nation in net punting.