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Marshall Preview 2006 - Defense
Marshall Thundering Herd
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Marshall Thundering Herd Preview 2006 - Herd Defense

What you need to know ... Head coach Mark Snyder is a defensive coach and should have things in shape soon. It might take a little while more with three new starters needed in the secondary and a run defense needing to improve after a lousy 2005. The line has the potential to be far better with 300-pounders Juan Underwood and Chris Terrell able to clog up the middle, and rising star Albert McClellan on the outside. The linebacking corps should be a strength if Brandon Souder shines in the middle allowing last year's top two tacklers, Matt Couch and Dennis Thornton, to combine on the weakside. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Dennis Thornton, 104
Sacks: Shavar Greer, Dennis Thornton, 4
Interceptions: Several with 1

Star of the defense: Senior SS Curtis Keyes
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Brandon Souder
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB J.J. Johnson
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Juan Underwood
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keyes, 2) LB Matt Couch, 3) Sophomore DE Albert McClellan
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line
The line has to be more effective than it was last season, and it should be with four returning starters and good depth to rely on. Albert McClellan needs to build on his fantastic freshman season and become a dominant pass rusher, while Shaver Greer has to make more plays on the other side. The tackle situation should be interesting with the possibility of putting the 323-pound Juan Underwood and the 326-pound Chris Terrell in the middle at the same time to load up against the run. 
The key to the unit: The run defense has to be better to go along with a more consistent pass rush.

Defensive Line Rating:

Projected Starters
- DE Albert McClellan, Soph. - 40 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 TFL, 2 broken up passes
The team's rising defensive star, McClellan is a 225-pound blur who should grow into an even more effective pass rusher. He only started five games at defensive end but was consistent and showed good explosion. Now he has to get used to having all the attention on him needing to bypass double teams to still be effective.

DT Chris Terrell, Sr. - 15 tackles, 1 TFL
Terrell was a key backup last year and will get every shot to start at left tackle. The former JUCO transfer is 326 pounds and is a huge run stopper. The gig is his with Adrian Davis suspended after spring ball.

- DT Juan Underwood, Sr. - 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 3 quarterback hurries
The former JUCO superstar lived up to the hype starting in nine games and becoming the 323-pound playmaker the defensive line needed. He's surprisingly quick for a defender of his size with All-Conference USA potential if he keeps progressing like he did throughout last season.

- DE Shavar Greer, Sr. - 22 tackles, 4 sacks, 4.5 TFL
Greer is an outside linebacker playing on the end at 6-0 and 226 pounds. He's a good athlete who used his wheels and athleticism to be the team's top sacker in six starts, but two of his four sacks came in the first two games.

Top Backups
- DE Jason Kaminski, Sr. - 3 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry
A reserve throughout last season, the 235-pound senior wasn't able to make much of an impact after missing all of 2004. He's a bigger option than Shaver Greer on the right side and needs to eventually be a key part of the rotation.
- DE Ryland Wilson, Jr.
The 248-pound JUCO All-American will be a bigger option at left end than the 225-pound Albert McClellan or on the right end behind the 230-pound Shaver Greer. He's a big pass rusher who can be used in any situation.
- DT Adrian Davis, Sr. - 18 tackles, 3 quarterback hurries
Davis has seen plenty of work over the last two seasons starting in every game last season, but his return is questionable after being arrested on marijuana possession charges leading to his suspension. If he returns, at his size, he has to be far better at getting into the backfield and has to be more of a pass rusher.

There's plenty of returning experience, but there has to be more production again the run. That's why the coaching staff is tinkering and experimenting with all the possibilities starting out with 2005's leading tackler Dennis Thornton as a reserve on the weakside to make room for middle linebacker and second leading tackler Matt Couch to add more size to the outside, but that has changed around throughout the off-season. Ian Hoskins is the team's biggest linebacker with impressive athleticism on the strongside. Outside of Thornton, if he actually is a backup once the season starts, there's no developed depth. However, star recruit Josh Johnson will change all that; he could quickly take over in the middle.
The key to the unit: The starting three has to be better against the run while room has to be made somewhere for Dennis Thornton.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Dennis Thornton, Sr. - 104 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
The team's leading tackler was listed as a backup going into spring ball, but that quickly changed. Thornton tied for the team lead in sacks and showed impressive pass rushing ability, but now he'll combine with Matt Couch on the weakside. 

- Matt Couch, Sr. - 97 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes, 5 TFL
Couch moved from the middle to the weakside, and now he'll move back to the middle to get Dennis Thornton on the field ... for now. Sophomore Josh Johnson could take over in the middle. He's a tough, quick tackler who finished second on the team in stops and showed a good ability to quickly drop into pass coverage. He'll get more room to work on the outside and should be an even bigger playmaker.

- Ian Hoskins, Soph. - 15 tackles, 1 broken up pass
Hoskins is the team's biggest linebacker and one of the most physical. A great athlete for his size, the former high school star running back is expected to play a much bigger role on the strongside after getting hit feet wet in four starts.

Top Backups
- Josh Johnson, Soph.
There will be a spot for him in a big hurry this fall. The star recruit runs a 4.56 40 and has the range in the middle to quickly become the team's top tackler. He originally signed with Georgia before having to go the military academy route.
- Brandon Souder, Sr. - 3 tackles
Can he hold battle for the job in the middle? Souder got most of the first team reps in spring ball moving Matt Couch to the outside, but he quickly became a reserve again. The former JUCO star has the size and the ability to be among the team's top tacklers.

- Maurice Kitchens, Soph.
One of the team's fastest linebackers, the 6-3, 226-pound sophomore will be used as a pass rusher behind Ian Hoskins on the strongside.
- Travis Noel, Jr.
The Canadian has to finally start to play a role. He has too much speed and potential to not be part of the rotation in the middle. He's only 222 pounds with one career tackle, but he can move.

Defensive Backs
The pass defense was one of the team's strengths last season finishing 12th in the nation and on top of Conference USA allowing 178 yards per game and only giving up 13 touchdown passes. However, it's not like the Herd played a who's who of passing offenses. Three starters are gone including longtime playmaker Chris Royal at free safety along with both corners. Geremy Rodamer will do fine in Royal's old job, but corner is a different story with a glaring weakness on the other side of J.J. Johnson. Even with the good overall stats, the Herd only intercepted nine passes and got picked apart on shorter passes.
The key to the unit: A second corner has to emerge and more big plays need to be made against short to midrange passers.
Secondary Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- CB James Johnson, Soph. - 42 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 3 forced fumbles, 1 broken up pass
J.J. was a great reserve getting two starts in his freshman season. He's an active tackler who makes plays all over the field, and now he has to become a top cover corner after not doing too much against the pass. He's a much bigger hitter than his 5-11, 180-pound size might indicate.

- FS Geremy Rodamer, Jr. - 29 tackles, 1 interception
Rodamer can play either safety position with his speed making him a more natural free safety. He got four starts and plenty of playing time behind Chris Royal, and now the job is his. Don't be shocked if he's better against the run than Royal was.

- SS Curtis Keyes, Sr. - 88 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 broken up passes
One of the best and most experienced defensive backs in the league, Keyes has 233 career tackles, 16 broken up passes and three interceptions. He's great against the pass, but he's known for his teeth-rattling hits as well as his leadership. He'll have to be better and more vocal than ever with all the inexperience around him.

- CB Terick Thomas, Soph. - 1 tackle
Thomas can move, but he's really, really, light at a rail-thin 5-11 and 155 pounds. He'll combine with Jeremy Frazie for the second corner spot on the other side of James Johnson.

Top Backups
- FS C.J. Spillman, Soph. - 38 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
Spillman had an excellent true freshman season with nice size and excellent speed. He's a big hitter who finds his way to the ball and always makes plays, and now he'll be a key defender behind Geremy Rodamer at free safety and as a nickel back.
- CB Jeremy Frazie, Sr. - 6 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The former walk-on from Morehead State will go from being a special teamer to battling for an open cornerback spot. He's not the prospect Terick Thomas is, but he's much bigger.

Special Teams
Both kickers return with improvement needed from both. Marty Biagi is an emerging punter who should be better after solid freshman season. Ian O'Connor is an inconsistent veteran who can handle all the kicking duties if needed, but he'll have to deal with incoming JUCO transfer Anthony Binswanger, who has an even bigger leg than O'Connor. Chubb Small will handle most of the return duties after averaging 25.9 yards per kickoff return and a mere 3.7 yards per punt return.
The key to the unit: More consistency on field goals, better punt coverage, and more production from Chubb Small on punt returns..
Special Teams Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- PK Ian O'Connor, Sr. - 7-14 FGs, 16-17 extra points
O'Connor has a good leg and has been the main man for the last two seasons on field goals, but he was too inconsistent last year and will be challenged for the starting job. He can punt if needed, but he'll spend his time focusing on field goals.
- P Marty Biagi, Soph. - 61 punts, 2,343 yds, 38.4 yards per kick, 15 inside the 20
Biagi had a good, not great, freshman season and needs to get more blast on his kicks. He's not bad at handing it up in the air and has decent accuracy, but now he has to show he can bail the team out of trouble on a regular basis.

Related Stories
Marshall Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Marshall Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Marshall Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 7, 2006

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