Ohio Preview 2006 - Defense

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Ohio Bobcats Preview 2006 - Ohio Bobcat Defense

What you need to know ... Nine starters return to a defense that got shoved all over the field against the run and bombed on by anyone who could throw a football overhand. The linebacking corps will be the strength with MLB Matt Muncy among the best in the country and Tyler Russ and Michael Graham strong returning starters on the outside. The secondary should be far better even after the loss of all-star CB Dion Byrum thanks to a good-looking group of safeties. Finding some semblance of a pass rush will be the key up front.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Matt Muncy, 115
Sacks: Jameson Hartke, 4
Interceptions: T.J. Wright, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Matt Muncy
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Mark Parson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jameson Hartke
Best pro prospect: Muncy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Muncy, 2) LB Tyler Russ, 3) CB T.J. Wright
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush

Defensive Line
Three starters are back with the one non-returning starter, Jameson Hartke, likely to be the best of the group. There was no pass rush whatsoever from the front four outside of Hartke, and the run defense was appallingly average considering how big the line was. Shane Yates getting a sixth year of eligibility is a big boost for the inside, while Brett Sykes has to become more effective on the outside. Help is on the way for the pass rush with JUCO transfer Alan Goff ready to roll.
The key to the unit: Be far stronger against the run and help the Bobcats get a much more consistent pass rush.

Defensive Line Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- DE Brett Sykes, Jr. - 27 tackles, 4 TFL
Sykes has the size at 263 pounds to be a top playmaker against the run, but he's not a pure pass rusher even though he's a good athlete. He needs to be more consistent and has to generate some sort of pressure from the outside.

- DT Landon Cohen, Jr. - 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 9 TFL
Cohen bulked up to 278 pounds and should be an All-MAC candidate as the year goes. Despite playing inside, he's one of the team's best pass rushers with too much quickness for most guards to handle.

- NT Shane Yates, Sr. - 27 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
Yates got a sixth year of eligibility and should be a rock on the inside. The former offensive lineman is a good interior pass rusher and a strong anchor on the nose.

- DE Jameson Hartke, Soph. - 34 tackles, 4 sacks
Hartke had a tremendous true freshman season and is the future of the team's pass rush after leading the team with four. He's a great sized end at 6-4 and 259 pounds with a quick first step.

Top Backups
- DE Eric Kenkel, Soph. - 5 tackles
Kenkel took his lumps as a true freshman reserve last season, and it should all pay off this year working behind Brett Sykes at one of the end spots. He's smaller than Sykes, but quicker.
- DT David Escobar, Sr. - 15 tackles, 1 TFL
The team's top back up tackle last season, the 301-pound Escobar is the team's biggest lineman and a space-eater behind Landon Cohen on the nose.
- DE Alan Goff, Jr.
The JUCO transfer made 27 sacks in 19 games at College of the Desert. He's 263 pounds and too talented to keep off the field for long.

The linebackers should be one of the team's biggest strengths with the return of tackling machines Matt Muncy in the middle and Tyler Russ on the outside. Michael Graham also returns to start on the strongside. There's even a little bit of quality depth to count on with several decent prospects ready to push for time. Now there needs to be more overall production. Oh sure, the numbers will be there, but this group is too experienced to let the run defense be as lousy as it was last year.
The key to the unit: Keeping the starters healthy and getting more big plays.
Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Tyler Russ, Sr. - 88 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 3 TFL
A broken collarbone knocked him out of a promising 2004 season, but he stayed healthy last year and finished second on the team in tackles on the weakside. He's a good-sized MAC linebacker at 221 pounds with a great nose for the ball. Now he has to make more plays against he pass.

- Matt Muncy, Sr. - 115 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9 TFL, 1 interception, 6 broken up passes
Muncy was the team's best all-around defender leading the team in tackles and continuing to be solid in pass coverage. The 231-pound senior was the MAC's best linebacker last season and should be a lock to finish his career with over 350 tackles (he has 246 coming into the season)

- Michael Graham, Sr. - 54 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL
Graham has been a steady starter over the last two years getting lost a bit in the accolades with Matt Muncy starring on the inside. He's only 212 pounds, but he's a tough, big hitter on the strongside. Now he has to be better in pass coverage.

Top Backups
- Michael Brown, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 interception
The former safety moved over to linebacker and should grow into the reserve role behind Michael Graham. At 6-3 and 216 pounds, he's a tall, rangy defender with excellent speed.
- Taj Henley, Jr. - 25 tackles, 1 TFL
A good, solid reserve in the middle, the 226-pound Henley won't see too much time playing behind Matt Muncy. Even so, he's an effective tackler when he gets the chance.
- Jordan Meyers, Soph. - 21 tackles
Myers is the rising star of the linebacking corps, but he made the most noise last year on special teams. He'll be groomed to take over the weakside job next year.

Defensive backs
The secondary loses all-star corner Dion Byrum, but the pass defense wasn't exactly a rock when he was manning one of the starting jobs. Ohio allowed 283 yards per game and 18 touchdowns having problems stopping any passer with even the slightest bit of talent. Things should improve with a great group of safeties led by Todd Koenig and Tony Ward, who combined to make 146 stops last year.  The backup safeties, Michael Hinton and Michael Mitchell, might be better than the starters. T.J. Wright is a good corner who needs to shine as the new number one man, and Mark Parson is a rising playmaker taking over for Byrum.
The key to the unit: Pick off more passes and be much, much stronger at stopping the midrange to deep throws.
Secondary Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- CB T.J. Wright, Sr. - 49 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interception
One of the team's steadiest defenders over the last three seasons, Wright takes over the role as the team's top coverman now that Dion Byrum is gone. He's an excellent tackler who got bigger and stronger. Now he should be able to handle the physical receivers as well as the speedy ones.

- FS Tony Ward, Jr. - 69 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes, 2.5 TFL
Ward isn't all that big, but he's tough and very athletic with good range. He finished fourth on the team in tackles despite only starting eight games. Now he has to use his experience to make more big plays.

- SS Todd Koenig, Jr. - 77 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 broken up pass, 3 TFL
Koenig finished third on the team in tackles and was a rock against the run. He's a good-sized hitter at 6-2 and 212 pounds with the speed to play free safety if needed. He was a star high school running back who just now should be growing into an All-MAC caliber player.

- CB Mark Parson, Soph. - 17 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 broken up passes
Parson has to take over for Dion Byrum after having a strong first season as a true freshman. Used mostly as a nickel back, the speedster should be a good ball hawker and should once again be great at getting into the backfield.

Top Backups
- CB Marcquis Parham, Sr. - 10 tackles, 1 TFL
A career reserve, but a decent one, the 5-11 senior will see plenty of time as a nickel back and a backup behind Mark Parson. He has 33 games of experience.
- FS Michael Hinton, Jr.
It'll be interesting to see where he finds playing time. The 6-3, 197-pound Virginia Tech transfer has the skills, size, speed and talent to be the team's best defensive back right away. He'll start out behind Tony Ward at free safety.
- SS Michael Mitchell. Soph. - 21 tackles, 2 broken up passes
Mostly a special teamer, the 6-1 true sophomore showed plenty of promise as a reserve in the secondary. He won't push Todd Koenig out of a starting job, but he'll be good enough to step in if needed..

Special Teams
Can you kick? If so, you have a shot at playing for Ohio. The field goal situation wasn't good last year and Matthew Miller, who was a decent directional punter, didn't get much blast on the ball. The return game needs to be far stronger with speedy Scott Mayle and corner Mark Parson likely to handle most of the duties. The coverage units were awful.
The key to the unit: Find someone who can consistently kick the ball.
Special Teams Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- PK Matt Lasher, Sr.
It'll be Lasher's job to start after handling the kickoffs last year, but he'll get plenty of competition from five other prospects looking to replace the average combination of Matthew Miller and Brooks Rossman. He has a booming leg and should, at the very least, be used on long attempts.
- P Zac Wertz, Jr.
It'll be an open casting call to try to replace Matthew Miller, who averaged 38.6 yards per kick and put a whopping 23 kicks inside the 20.

Related Stories
Ohio Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006
Ohio Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006
Ohio Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 7, 2006

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