What you need to know ...
Defensive coordinator Tim Rose did wonders in his first
season turning around an awful defense. The Rockets have a flexible 3-4
alignment with the speedy outside linebackers used as pass rushing ends
and the front three mostly used to stop the run. Seven starters return
to the MAC's best defense, but there are leadership holes to fill losing
top linebacker Anthony Jordan and longtime star safety Keon Jackson.
Linebacker Mike Alston is one of the league's best pass rushers while
safety Tyrrell Herbert is on the verge of all-star honors.
Mike Alston, 9.5
Interceptions: Bo Martin, 2
Star of the defense: Senior LB Mike Alston
Player that has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman SS Lester Richmond
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Keith Forestal
Best pro prospect: Junior FS Tyrrell Herbert
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Alston, 2) Herbert, 3)
CB Nigel Morris
Strength of the defense: Speed, outside linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Size, pass rush from the front three
This is an unheralded group that worked well together
helping the Rockets hold teams to 125 rushing yards per game. There
isn't a dominant pass rusher in the front three, but that's not
necessarily a role that needs filling with all the pressure applied from
the linebacking corps. Even so, Sean Williamson and Seth Thitoff are
good at getting into the backfield and J.P. Bekasiak is a good anchor in
the middle. The only concern is size with the line relying on quickness
rather than bulk.
The key to the unit: J.P. Bekasiak has to hold up in the middle
or the coaching staff might have to work on bringing some beef over from
the offensive side. A bit more of a pass rush from the ends would be a
Defensive Line Rating:
- DE Sean Williamson, Jr. - 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6.5
Williamson slimmed down to an athletic 265 pounds and now is a true end
after being more of a tackle playing end last season. He's needs to be a
bit more explosive in the backfield, but there's no denying his ability
against the run.
- DT J.P. Bekasiak, Sr. - 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL
Bekasiak got a lot bigger and turned into a fantastic space eater on the
inside. He's the team's biggest tackle by far at 6-6 and 296 pounds, and
he plays like it. He's the unsung anchor of the MAC's top run defense
and should start to garner a little bit of all-star attention if he's as
consistent as he was last season.
- DE Patrick Clark, Jr. - 17 tackles, 2.5 TFL
As much of a tackle as an end, the 266-pound junior has to be a better
pass rusher after doing a great job against the run. He can move inside
if and when the Rockets want to go to a 4-3.
- DE Seth Thitoff, Sr. - 31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 6 TFL
Thitoff wasn't quite the sack artist he probably should've been, he
still led the defensive line in tackles and was one of the top defenders
at coming up with tackles for loss. He's a linebacker-sized 220 pounds
with good athleticism and range on the end behind Sean Williamson.
- DE Bernard Faithful, Jr. - 25 tackles, 1.5 TFL
The fast junior did a great job against the run on the outside and
should grow into even more of a pass rusher as a quicker option behind
Patrick Clark and can be used as a starter if the line goes to a 4-3.
- DT Aaron Albritton, Sr. - 4 tackles
Albritton is the biggest backup tackle option even though he's only 261
pounds. He hasn't made too much of an impact, but he'll need to be a key
part of the rotation right away behind J.P. Bekasiak.
The Toledo defensive system will help this
group succeed despite the loss of leading tackler Anthony Jordan and
third leading tackler David Thomas. This is a versatile unit with a
bunch of safeties being used to make plays both as linebackers and as
defensive ends. Mike Alston does a little of everything well at one
outside spot as the team's best pass rusher and an improving run
stopper. There aren't any huge prototype linebackers, but they can all
The key to the unit: Make more plays against the pass
and continue to be consistent terrors at getting into the backfield.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5
- Mike Alston, Sr. - 59 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 12.5 TFL
Here's the pass rush. The coaching staff spent a few seasons trying to
figure out where to play him to get his speed and pass rush ability on
the field. He was a 200-pound defensive end before becoming an All-MAC
star as a 212-pound outside linebacker who's used a bit like an end. He
ripped apart UTEP for three sacks in the bowl game and was a steady
all-around defender throughout MAC play.
- Keith Forestal, Soph. - 8 tackles
The 6-3 sophomore is a rangy defender with the athleticism of a big
safety playing inside. He saw a little bit of time last season on
special teams as well as on defense, and now he'll have to fill in one
of the inside spots as he tries to replace Anthony Jordan.
- Steven Morrison, Jr. - 31 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
The 220-pound junior has been a steady outside linebacker over the last
two seasons and now will be moved inside. His quickness and range should
make him one of the team's most productive tacklers.
- Mike Chamberlain, Sr. - 59 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL
The former JUCO safety became a tremendous outside linebacker from the
start. He was one of the team's most consistent tacklers finishing fifth
on the team in tackles despite missing two games. He's way undersized at
208 pounds, but he's tough and is great at using his speed to get into
- Greg Hay, Jr. - 43 tackles, 1 interception
A free safety by nature, the 200-pound Hay saw plenty of time at outside
linebacker and even got a few starts. With his skills, he should make
more plays against the pass along with being used more as a situational
pass rusher behind Mike Chamberlain.
- Shaun Fitzgibbons, Jr. - 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 TFL
A rock solid tackler able to play inside or out, he'll start out behind
Mike Alston as one of the team's biggest outside linebackers. He can be
used as a smallish defensive end if needed.
- Marques McFarlin, Sr. - 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL
The team's biggest linebacker at 6-2 and 232 pounds, McFarlin could be
used more on the inside for his strength against the run.
best secondary in the MAC last year should just as strong
with All-MAC candidates Tyrrell Herbert at free safety and Nigel Morris
at corner to build around and great prospects in Lester Richmond, Chris
Faison and Keiron Brown to bring young athleticism to the corps. To
nitpick, there could be a few more interceptions with Richmond needing
to shine in place of top pickoff artist Keon Jackson.
The key to the unit: The great young athletes need to
turn into instant producers while Tyrrell Herbert and Nigel Morris have
to build on their great 2005 seasons.
Secondary Rating: 6.5
- CB Nigel Morris, Jr. - 33 tackles, 1 interception, 6
broken up passes, 2 recovered fumbles
Morris is back for his third season and should be one of the leaders of
the defense. He's a sure tackler with 109 career stops and has become
more physical after getting up to 181 pounds.
While not a true burner, he's fast enough to be one of the MAC's top
- FS Tyrrell Herbert, Jr. - 94 tackles, 1 interception, 6 broken
There was some concern about replacing the ultra-productive Patrick Body.
94 tackles later, the 6-2, 190-pound Herbert proved to be an even bigger
hitter while also looking like a veteran against the pass. He showed
great range and fantastic instincts considering he was in his first year
as a starter. Expect All-MAC honors this season.
- SS Lester Richmond, RFr.
A great tackler with the range and quickness of a free safety, it'll be
up to the 6-1, 184-pound redshirt freshman to replace the steady
production of Keon Jackson.
- CB Keiron Brown, Soph. - 18 tackles
Brown saw plenty of action as a true freshman at strong safety, but he
has way too much speed to not be used as a corner. He's one of the
team's fastest players who's physical enough to handle himself well
against the bigger receivers.
- CB Bo Martin, Sr. - 15 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1
broken up pass
A good reserve throughout his career, the 6-2, 198-pound senior is the
team's biggest corner and is more than experienced enough to step into a
starting role if needed. He'll play behind Keiron Brown.
- SS Chris Faison, RFr.
Faison is a wiry thing 6-1 and 169 pounds, but he can really move. He's
a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium and should be an
interesting backup at both safety positions.
Mike Krispinski isn't going to be the field goal kicker
Jason Robbins was, but he has a good leg and has nice range. Punter
Brett Kern is a veteran who needs to be more productive in his third
season. Steve Odom and Richard Davis are excellent kickoff retuners
helping the Rockets average 21.9 yards per try. Odom is a decent punt
returner who could use a few more big plays. The coverage units should
be fantastic again.
The key to the unit: Mike Krispinski has to be a
steady field goal kicker and punter Brett Kern has to be more
Special Teams Rating: 6
- PK Mike Krispinski, Jr.
He has a big leg being used on kickoffs at times throughout last season,
but he hasn't attempted a field goal. It'll be a lot to ask to replace
Jason Robbins who went a perfect 13 for 13 last season.
- P Brett Kern, Jr. - 33 punts, 1,305 yds, 39.5 yards per kick, 9
inside the 20
Kern returns and has to get far more pop on his kicks after Toledo
finished 11th in the MAC and 105th in the nation in net punting. Kern
had four kicks blocked and didn't do enough to pin teams deep.