Western Michigan 2006 Preview - Defense

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Western Michigan Broncos Preview 2006 - WMU Defense

What you need to know ... Nine starters return to what could be the X factor in the MAC race. The run defense was solid last season and no one was better in the MAC at getting to the quarterback, but the young secondary got flat-out torched. On the plus side, this is an exciting group of defensive backs that should be far better this season. The linebacking corps has the potential to be the best in the conference led by pass rushing terror Ameer Ismail on the outside. The line is nothing special, but it's experienced and has a rising star in tackle Nick Varcadipane.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Antwain Allen, 95
Sacks: Ameer Ismail, 8
Interceptions: Louis Delmas, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Ameer Ismail
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Londen Fryar
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Zach Davidson
Best pro prospect: Junior S Antwain Allen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ismail, 2) DT Nick Varcadipane, 3) Allen
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Size up front, proven pass defense

Defensive Line
The line has the potential to grow into something really good if the tackles can hold up. It's not a huge line with not enough sides of beef to clog things up in the middle, but it should be a good pass rushing group with room to grow. The best pass rusher, and best player, is tackle Nick Varcadipane, who's destined for a spot on the All-MAC team if Cory Flom can do his job and be a run stuffer on the nose. While the ends can move, there's not a sure-thing pass rusher in the group. That could quickly change if Zach Davidson grows into the starting job.
The key to the unit: Generate a bit more of a pass rush from the ends and get another great year out of tackle Nick Varcadipane..

Defensive Line Rating:

Projected Starters
- DE Anthony Belmonte, Sr. - 50 tackles, 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1 interception
The former linebacker is a veteran on the line now after starting the last two years up front. He's not a great pass rusher, but he's tough against the run and has steadily improved each season.

- NG Cory Flom, Soph. - 13 tackles, 2 TFL
The 285-pound nose guard started four games last year and grew into a nice anchor. He's one of the line's biggest players, and one of the strongest.

- DT Nick Varcadipane, Soph. - 50 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
The start of the line, the 272-pound Varcadipane had a tremendous freshman season turning into a top interior pass rusher and a strong run defender. He has the athleticism of an end in a tackle body.

- DE Zach Davidson, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5.5. TFL, 2 interceptions
A part-time starter as a redshirt freshman, Davidson grew into a decent all-around defender and showed good promise to become one of the team's better ends. He's a very athletic natural pass rusher.

Top Backups
- DE Matt Ludeman, Jr. - 28 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL
Leudeman started half of last year and could step in again if needed behind Zach Davidson. He's not as strong against the run as Davidson, but he can move. He's a good special teamer.
- DT Andy Laue, RFr.
The 255-pound Laue will see time at both end and tackle. He's one of the team's most talented prospects, but he needs to find a spot and has to grow into a role.

WMU has 16 linebacker prospects to work with starring three great starters in Dustin Dulco in the middle, Paul Tithof on the strongside, and pass rushing terror Ameer Ismail on the weakside. There's depth to burn with true sophomores Austin Pritchard and Greg Marshall good enough to start. Getting into the backfield and making plays against the run won't be a problem, but the entire group could be better in pass coverage.
The key to the unit: Using all the experience and talent to make more big plays.
Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Ameer Ismail, Sr. - 93 tackles, 8 sacks, 20 TFL, 1 broken up pass, 3 recovered fumbles
The former running back has become a natural linebacker. Ismail turned into one of the team's best all-around defenders last year as an unstoppable pass rusher from the weakside earning First Team All-MAC honors. He's good against the run, but the 225-pound senior is about speed on the outside.

- Dustin Duclo, Soph. - 58 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 2 interceptions
A rock of a starter in the middle last year, the sophomore did a little of everything well showing off good skills as a pass defender and finishing fourth on the team in tackles. He's a quick, active defender on the inside.

- Paul Tithof, Sr. - 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 recovered fumble
The former safety has been a solid linebacker on the strongside with good pass rushing ability and nice range. He was one of the team's top tacklers despite missing three games injured. He's tough as nails for only being 217 pounds.

Top Backups
- Austin Pritchard, Soph. - 54 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 1 interception
Pritchard turned into one of the team's top tacklers as a true freshman. The 215-pounder has great speed and is fantastic at getting into the backfield from the strongside. He'll start out behind Paul Tithof and could see some time on the weakside.
- Greg Marshall, Soph. - 34 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Marshall made a nice impact as a true freshman highlighted by a huge 14 tackle game against Temple. He's a bigger option than Dustin Dulco on the inside and has even better range.
- Cornelius Robinson, Soph. - 7 tackles, 1 interception
A speedy, versatile linebacker, the 210-pound sophomore will will be groomed to be the 2007 starter learning behind Ameer Ismail.

Defensive Backs
The coaching staff
chose to sink or swim with a bunch of freshman last year, and the pass defense sunk allowing 303 yards per game (only Texas A&M's secondary gave up more) and didn't do anything against the most pedestrian of passers. The pieces weren't necessarily there after making the switch from a 4-2-5 alignment to a more traditional 4-3, but they are now with plethora of exciting young safeties led by Antwain Allen, Louis Delmas and C.J. Wilson to go along with rising corner E.J. Biggers. There's depth and a whole bunch of speed. Now this group has to cover someone.
The key to the unit: Stop getting so badly torched on deep balls. All the talented young freshmen of last year have to become rock solid sophomores.
Secondary Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- CB E.J. Biggers, Soph. - 27 tackles, 4 broken up passes
Biggers is one of the team's fastest players and has the talent to turn into a shutdown corner. He struggles as a true freshman getting burned way too often, but that will change with experience. He has too much athleticism and too much upside not to eventually grow into an All-MAC candidate.

- FS C.J. Wilson, Soph. - 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Wilson started every game as a redshirt freshman and showed promise that he can become a big hitting tone setter for the defense. He's 6-2 and 206 pounds with sprinters' speed, and now he has to be more consistent and more of a playmaker against the pass.

- SS Antwain Allen, Jr. - 95 tackles, 1 TFL, 6 broken up passes
Allen moved over from wide receiver and turned into a star leading the team in tackles. He'll combine with Louis Delmas at strong safety early on and should start every game. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he's a bigger option than Delmas with excellent speed. He's not as fast as Delmas, but he can move.

- CB Londen Fryar, Soph. - 3 tackles
The son of former NFL star Irving Fryar, Londen saw a little bit of starting time last year and turned into a difference maker on special teams. He'll get the first look at one of the starting corner spots where he'll get plenty of action with teams looking to stay away from E.J. Biggers.

Top Backups
- CB/SS Louis Delmas, Soph. - 82 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 interceptions, 8 broken up passes
Delmas will be starting somewhere. He finished third on the team in tackles and led the team in broken up passes playing at corner and safety. His 4.5 40 time makes him a good cornerback option, but he's a solid fit at safety because of his hitting ability .
- CB Jimmie Vincent, Sr. - 12 tackles, 1 interception
A spot starter and reliable reserve, the 5-9 senior is the team's most experienced defensive back and will push for time behind Londen Fryar. He's a sure tackler.

Special Teams
This should be a bright spot if the kick returners come through. PK Nate Meyer is all but automatic inside 40 yards and P Jim Laney should be among the MAC's best, but Greg Jennings has to be replaced as the top punt returner and more pop is needed on kickoff returns. E.J. Biggers averaged 21.9 yards on his chances at returning kicks, while Louis Delmas will get the first look at returning punts. The coverage units were great last year.
The key to the unit: Get more out of the kick returns and continue to shine in the punting game.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Nate Meyer, Sr. - 12-19 FGs, 42-44 extra points
Meyer went from being a kickoff specialist to the team's regular placekicker. He has a big leg, but not a consistent one only hitting three of nine shots from beyond 40 yards, but he was solid from midrange going 9 of 10 inside the 40.
- P Jim Laney, Jr. - 60 kicks, 2,449 yds, 40.8 ypc, 18 inside the 20
Laney had a fantastic season helping to lead the Broncos to the top spot in the MAC in net punting. He doesn't have a booming leg, but it's good enough. He's great at pinning it deep.

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