What you need to know ... There's a mix of major strengths and
glaring, screaming weaknesses. All three starters return to the
linebacking corps and the safeties will be rock-solid thanks to the
return of Caleb Campbell, but cornerback is going to be a work in
progress all season long and there's no proven pass rush whatsoever.
Power running teams will give the front seven big problems, and so will
precision passing attacks. On the plus side, this won't be a bad defense
against smaller, quicker offenses.
Cameron Craig, 5
Interceptions: Caleb Campbell, 5
Star of the defense: Junior SS Caleb Campbell
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
CB Darren Newson
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DT Travis Prikryl
Best pro prospect: Campbell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Campbell, 2) LB Barrett
Scruggs, 3) LB Cason Shrode
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Cornerback, pass rush
The pass rush was a major problem for the defense last
season generating a mere 13 sacks despite a good season from Cameron
Craig on the outside and Tony Fusco in the middle. Working on generating
more consistent pressure will have to move to the backburner while the
line tries to find a second tackle to help out Fusco. Size isn't too big
a problem, but coming up with reliable production early on this season
will be. The ends are fine with Craig, Brandon Thompson and John Wright
a nice trio to work around.
The key to the unit: Come up with more options at tackle and
generate more of a pass rush.
Defensive Line Rating: 4.5
- DE Brandon Thompson, Jr. - 20 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL
One of the team's best emerging all-around players, the 265-pound junior
was starting to grow into a menace when he hurt his leg late in the
season. He's a rock at 6-4 and 265 pounds with a tackle-like ability
against the run and good enough athleticism to grow into a pass rusher.
- DT Travis Prikryl, Sr.
While he won't be a superstar on the inside, the 270-pound senior needs
to use his size and aggressiveness to make plays at one of the tackle
spots. He'll be part of a rotation with the smaller, quicker Peter
Harrington after playing well this spring.
- DT Tony Fusco, Jr. - 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7 TFL
A bowling ball at 6-1 and 308 pounds, Fusco is a big anchor for the rest
of the line to work around. He's tremendously strong with good leverage
because of his build, and he's quick enough to get into the backfield on
a regular basis.
- DE Cameron Craig, Sr. - 56 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 TFL
The team's only sure-thing pass rusher has to be even better this
season. His problem has been his brain; he thinks too much. He has to go
full-bore more often and get in the backfield instead of trying to read
and react. He goes 100% all the time with the ability to grow into a
double-digit sack man.
- DE John Wright, Jr. - 17 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Wright had the potential to grow into a pass rushing terror if he sees
plenty of one-on-one blocking. He's an athletic 255 pounds and
experienced enough to take over as a starter after getting the nod over
the final two games of last year.
- DT Peter Harrington, Sr. - 3 tackles, 1 sack
A tall, thin 6-6 and 255 pounds, Harrington provides a
little bit of quickness on the inside behind Travis Pirkryl. He has to
prove he can hold up against the run on a regular basis after moving
over from the end.
The return of Charlie Rockwood and Luke Pell from knee
injuries makes this one of the team's strengths. There's good speed even
though there aren't any blazers, and there's plenty of experienced led
by Barrett Scruggs on the weakside and the rock against the run Cason
Shrode in the middle. Developing more reserves will important as the
season goes on considering this is a reckless crew that gets beaten up;
they're that physical.
The key to the unit: The starting trio of Charlie
Rockwood, Cason Shrode and Barrett Scruggs needs to stay healthy long
enough for several backups to emerge.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5
- Charlie Rockwood, Jr. - 15 tackles, 2 TFL
Rockwood was all set to have a huge season on the strongside when he
suffered a knee injury early last year. The 6-4, 221-pound junior is
back and should be one of the team's leading tacklers with great range
and a fantastic motor.
- Cason Shrode, Sr. - 69 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 TFL
The 251-pound senior is the team's biggest linebacker by far and is a
natural in the middle. He doesn't have the greatest range, but he's not
slow and he's always around the ball. He's one of the team's top run
- Barrett Scruggs, Sr. - 80 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 broken up passes
Scruggs came up with a phenomenal year on the weakside finishing second
on the team in tackles while doing more in pass coverage. He's a safety
playing linebacker using his speed to make up for his 6-1, 213-pound
frame. He flies all over the field and has the best range of any of the
- Luke Pell, Sr. - 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 9 TFL
Pell toughed it out as long as he could before breaking down at the end
of last season with a knee injury. He's a tone-setting hitter on the
strongside who'll see plenty of action playing behind Charlie Rockwood.
While he doesn't have Rockwood's range, he's more physical.
- John Plumstead, Soph. - 6 tackles
After seeing limited action last season making six stops, the 5-11,
217-pound sophomore should see more action on the weakside behind
Barrett Scruggs. He hits like a much bigger player.
The pass defense finished tenth in the nation last year
partly due to a great season and mainly due to playing few teams that
threw the ball. The safeties are great led by top tackler Caleb Campbell
at strong safety and the combination of Randy Chasten and Jordan Murray
at free safety, but there are major worries on the corners where Darren
Newson and Sean Grevious are extremely green. Forget about readily
available depth at corner.
The key to the unit: Uncover a few consistent corners
and hope Randy Chasten and Jordan Murray can get the job done at free
Secondary Rating: 4.5
- CB Darren Newson, Soph. - 16 tackles, 1 interception, 1
broken up pass
Newson spent his first season as a reserve and a key player in nickel
situations and on special teams. He's a strong tackler on the Field side
with enough quickness to quickly grow into the team's number one cover
- SS Caleb Campbell, Jr. - 97 tackles, 5 interceptions, 3 broken
up passes, 2 TFL
The 6-3, 223-pound tackling machine led the team in tackles and
interceptions after making a more-than-successful move from linebacker
to safety. While not lightning fast, he's always around the ball with
tremendous instincts and is a tone-setting hitter. On the preseason
watch list for the Ronnie Lott Trophy, he'll be the star of the defense
all season long.
- FS Randy Chasten, Sr. - 19 tackles, 1 interception
It'll be up to the 211-pound Chasten to make more of an impact at free
safety after starting half of last season. He's built like a strong
safety with the speed of a corner able to make plays all over the place,
and now he should be one of the team's top tacklers.
- CB Sean Grevious, Sr. - 3 tackles, 1 broken up pass
He has the athleticism with the speed to have been looked at by several
other schools coming out of high school, but he hasn't been able to put
it all together yet and become more than a special teamer. He'll get
plenty of room to move on the Boundary side.
- FS Jordan Murray, Jr. - 3 tackles
Murray got plenty of work this spring with Randy Chasten sitting out
injured, and he appears to be good enough to handle a starting spot if
he gets the chance. He's a strong 203 pounds who hits like a linebacker.
- SS Markenson Pierre, Soph.
One of the rising stars of the secondary, the speedy Pierre will find a
spot somewhere as the season goes on. He'll start behind Caleb Campbell
and showed in spring ball how good he can eventually be as a starter and
as an option at free safety.
The kicking game will be rock-solid with punter Owen
Tolson back for what should be another great year and veteran Justin
Koenig and Nebraska transfer Jared Nielson battling for the placekicking
job. Speedy Corey Anderson will be the main return man looking to add
more production than Scott Wesley did last year. The kickoff coverage
unit was great, but the Black Knights allowed too many big punt returns.
The key to the unit: Corey Anderson has to add more
to the return game and the punt coverage unit has to be far better.
Special Teams Rating: 8
- PK Justin Koenig, Sr. - 9-12 FGs, 20-20 extra points
The job isn't a lock with Jared Nielson good enough to take over, but
Koenig has the experience after a decent first season a the starter. He
showed excellent range hitting all three of his field goal attempts from
beyond 40 yards, and now he has to show he can be consistent.
- P Owen Tolson, Jr. - 59 punts, 2,370 yds, 40.2 yards per kick,
17 inside the 20
Tolson came up with a huge season even if his net stats
didn't how it. He hangs the ball up well and is fantastic at punning the
ball deep. Now he has to work better with his coverage teams to figure
out how cut down on the 10.6 yards per return allowed last season.