Eastern Michigan Preview 2006 - Defense

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Eastern Michigan Eagles Preview 2006 - EMU Defense

What you need to know ... The EMU defense has improved a little bit over the last few seasons, but it hasn't been a rock and it'll have to go through some big growing pains this season in the secondary losing three starters. By design, this is a ridiculously undersized defense that relies on speed and quickness to make plays, but it finished last in the MAC in tackles for loss. There are All-MAC talents in the front seven to work around in pass rushing terror Kevin Howe at end and rising superstar Daniel Holtzclaw at middle linebacker. Overall, the D has to be better against the run and stronger on third downs.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike Richardson, 102
Sacks: Kevin Howe, 10.5
Interceptions: Daniel Holtzclaw, 5

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Daniel Holtzclaw
Player that has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman FS Chris Campa
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Jacob Wyatt
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Kevin Howe
Top three all-star candidates: 1)
Holtzclaw, 2) Howe, 3) LB Michael Richardson
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense

Defensive Line
The line is experienced, fast, and very, very, small. That's a bit by design hoping to use the quickness up front to generate pressure in the backfield, but there wasn't enough big plays made to offset the lack of size. Kevin Howe is a premier pass rusher who should be one of the MAC's best ends. Tackles Jason Jones and Josh Hunt make the most with what they have to work with, but they get pushed around way too much. There's no developed depth whatsoever on the ends.
The key to the unit: Since the pass rushing duties of the defense fall to the line, it has to get to the quarterback more. Backups need to be developed to get a good rotation going for the small line.

Defensive Line Rating:

Projected Starters
- DE Kevin Howe, Sr. - 55 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 16.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 3 forced fumbles
Howe went from being a situational pass rusher to a fantastic all-around end. He's a quick 240 pounds who finished second in the league in sacks and should be just as strong again. He was consistent and turned out to be better than expected against the run.

- DT Jason Jones, Jr. - 47 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 12 TFL
Jones is an interesting prospect on the inside. He's a former tight end who bulked up to 242 pounds to be an undersized, but extremely athletic, tackle. While he'll have problems with the bigger, stronger linemen who get a lock on him, he's too quick for most guards.

- DT Josh Hunt, Jr. - 37 tackles, 5.5 TFL
The 264-pound junior is one of the biggest players on the line and showed good quickness throughout last season. The former Colorado transfer has to be more consistent and has to start getting to the quarterback.

- DE Corey Riley, Jr. - 4 tackles
A great athlete, the undersized 226-pound junior needs to use his speed to get in the backfield on a regular basis and take advantage of all the attention paid to Kevin Howe on the other side.

Top Backups
- DT Greg Egbuigu, Jr.
The line needs Egbuigu to fill the inside. He started out as a defensive lineman, moved to the offensive line, moved back to the defensive line, and now he has to be healthy to use his 312 pounds to help out the undersized group.
- DT T.J. Lang, Soph. - 11 tackles
Lang is a physical, quick tackle who'll get every show at playing time behind Josh Hunt. He can see time at either tackle position.

It's a typically undersized EMU linebacking corps that'll once again be very productive. Daniel Holtzclaw was a terror as a freshman and now should be an All-MAC rock in the middle. Former JUCO transfer Michael Richardson was solid on the outside, and Darran Matthews is able to hold up well on the strongside. There's even a little bit of depth.
The key to the unit: Considering the corps is full of safeties, it needs to use its overall range to make more big plays in the backfield.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- Michael Richardson, Sr. - 102 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 broken up pass, 1 interception
The top JUCO transfer paid off big-time in his first season leading the team in tackles while also turning into a good pass defender. He's a physical 214 pounds with excellent range, and now he has to make more big plays.

- Daniel Holtzclaw, Soph. - 91 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 5 interceptions
Holtzclaw is going to be an All-MAC star over the next three seasons after earning freshman All-America honors and finishing third on the team in tackles. He has the strength of a defensive lineman and the range of a safety while playing like a veteran in the middle.

- Darran Matthews, Jr. - 64 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception
The former running back turned into a nice strongside defender using his speed to make plays against the run. At 211 pounds, he has to be a bigger factor in pass defense to make up for his lack of size against stronger running teams.

Top Backups
- Korey Jackson, Soph. - 10 tackles
Jackson was projected to be the starter on the weakside until Michael Richardson emerged. Jackson is 219 pounds without nearly the same quickness or athleticism of Richardson. Now he has to return after he was dinged up for half of last season.
- Spenser Smith, Soph. - 9 tackles, 1 TFL
Smith needs to be a big part of the linebacker mix in a big hurry. He's very quick and very athletic, and most importantly, big. At 230 pounds, he's by far the team's biggest linebacker. He'll start out backing up Darran Matthews on the strongside.

Defensive Backs
This will be a problem. The secondary wasn't bad last season, but now it loses three starters including all-star safety Rontrell Woodruff. To make matters worse, the only returning starter, Duan Bracey, is banged up. There's almost no experience returning anywhere needing very green safeties, Chris Campa and Jacob Wyatt to play like veterans right off the bat. Forget about any reliable depth.
The key to the unit: Duan Bracey has to be healthy and be a number one coverman while the safeties have to make up for their inevitable mistakes with big plays.
Secondary Rating: 4

Projected Starters
- CB Lyle Garrison, Soph. - 8 tackles
Garrison is very quick and very small at only 5-6 and 160 pounds. He'll have to step in for Steven Lewis at one of the corner spots and he'll have to get used to getting picked on early.

- FS Chris Campa, RFr.
Campa is a converted linebacker who'll get the first shot at free safety replacing Corey Parker, who finished fourth on the team with 93 tackles. At 6-1 and 188 pounds, Campa is a good-sized defensive back who'll have to play like a veteran right away.

- SS Jacob Wyatt, Soph. - 12 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception
Wyatt is a physical player who needs to replace top tackler and All-MAC star Rontrell Woodruff. He showed good potential in the little time he saw last year coming up with a big interception against Miami University.

- CB Duan Bracey, Jr. - 51 tackles, 2 broken up passes, 1 interception
Bracey started his EMU career at wide receiver and even saw a little time at quarterback before being moved to defensive back. He got hurt at the end of last year, but he's expected to return and be the leader of the secondary as the only returning starter. He can play any of the defensive back spots but is most needed at corner.

Top Backups
- CB Corey Reid, Soph.
Reid will get a long look at field corner until Duan Bracey returns healthy. The former Colorado Buffalo has the speed to eventually hold down a starting spot somewhere.
- SS Blake Smith, Jr. - 33 tackles, 1 interception, 6 broken up passes, 3 fumble recoveries
Originally looked at as a cornerback to start last season, Smith appears better suited for safety. He's a great athlete who can play anywhere in the secondary and provides one of the team's few experienced defensive backs.

Special Teams
Andrew Wellock is one of the nation's best placekickers, but he's a mediocre punter and needs to get his average around 40 yards per kick. The return games needs a big boost after finishing 103rd in the nation in punt returns with Trumaine Riley averaging 6.1 yards per try. He's a better kickoff returner. The coverage unit was great against kickoff returns but needs more against punts.
The key to the unit: Better production is needed on kick returns and Andrew Wellock has to be half as good at punting as he is as a field goal kicker.
Special Teams Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- P/PK Andrew Wellock, Sr. - 18-25 FGs, 22-24 extra points, 57 punts, 2,183 yds, 38.3 yards per punt
One of the nation's best kickers, Wellock has nailed 52 career field goals with fantastic range and consistency. While he's an All-America placekicker, he's a mediocre punter needing to use his big leg to get more blast on his kicks.

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