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Akron Preview 2006 - Defense
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Akron Zips Preview 2006  - Akron Zip Defense

What you need to know ... The 3-3-5 defense of Jim Fleming should be even better with eight starters returning including several All-MAC candidates. Kiki Gonzalez will get more respect this season as one of the league's best linemen, while end Jermaine Reid will be a terror of a pass rusher. Linebackers Kevin Grant and Brion Stokes will more than make up for the loss of leading tackler Jay Rohr, while Rover John Mackey will be the tone-setting leader of what should be the MAC's best secondary.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: John Mackey, 95
Sacks: Jermaine Reid, 7
Interceptions: Reggie Corner, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jermaine Reid
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Nate Robinson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Davanzo Tate
Best pro prospect: Reid
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Reid, 2) NG Kiki Gonzalez, 3) LB Kevin Grant
Strength of the defense: Experience, secondary
Weakness of the defense:
More turnovers need to be forced

Defensive Line
The front three should be outstanding thanks to All-MAC performers Kiki Gonzalez in the middle and Jermaine Reid at end. Reid is a huge pass rusher who should be in for a big season, while Gonzalez is a true anchor to revolve the offense around. The depth is good with big Nate Robinson and Eric Lively combining at tackle, and Clarence McPherson a rising star at end.
The key to the unit: Get more of an interior pass rush and continue to get steady production from Kiki Gonzalez and Jermaine Reid.

Defensive Line Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- DT Nate Robinson, Jr. - 15 tackles
At 315 pounds he's the biggest player on the line and needs to play like it. While the former Rutgers tranfer doesn't have the upside of Eric Lively, he's a surprisingly quick defender for his size.

- NG Kiki Gonzalez, Sr. - 35 tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL
One of the MAC's best linemen and the anchor of the defense, the 300-pund senior is the fantastic run stopper. He's not great at getting into the backfield, but that's not his job. He's supposed to be a run-clogger who ties everything up on the inside, and he does that extremely well.

- DE Jermaine Reid, Sr. - 59 tackles, 7 sacks, 13.5 TFL
The 275-pound senior is the team's best pass rusher and is tackle-big against the run. He stepped up his game in a big way after being a pure run stopper a few seasons ago. He grew into a top sack man and should be a threat for double digits.

Top Backups
- DT Eric Lively, Soph. - 3 tackles
Lively played a little bit as a true freshman and now will push Nate Robinson for starting time at tackle. Up to 270 pounds after playing around a light 250, he should be better suited to handling the work on the inside.
- NG Jared Cecchetti, Jr. - 14 tackles, 2 TFL
At 264 pounds, the athletic Cecchetti is a much smaller option on the nose than Kiki Gonzalez. He can play tackle if needed with enough experience on the inside to start.
- DE Clarence McPherson, Soph.
The 6-3, 255-pound sophomore has the size and the speed to grow into a top pass rusher. He'll start out behind Jermaine Reid, but he might be too good to keep off the field and could be used as a second end.

The corps has two good players to build around in certain All-MAC performer Kevin Grant on the outside and Brion Stokes on the strongside. Bryan Howe sill take over for leading tackler Jay Rohr, but he has to stay healthy. There's depth, size, and a little bit of speed, and now the group has to make more plays against the run at the line and needs to force more turnovers.
The key to the unit: Kevin Grant and Brion Stokes have to build on their great 2005s and Bryan Howe has to last the full season in the middle.
Linebacker Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- Kevin Grant, Soph. - 73 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL
The 245-pound Grant is part linebacker, part defensive end with a fantastic burst into the backfield and good toughness against the run. He was the team's fourth leading tackler as a freshman and should be an All-MAC star with his athleticism and growing playmaking ability.

- Brion Stokes, Jr. - 89 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Stokes went from being a good reserve to the team's third leading tackler after taking over the starting spot on the right side earning second team All-MAC honors. He's a very athletic, fast 220 pounds who hits like a ton of bricks on the strongside.

- Bryan Howe, Jr. - 10 tackles, 2 TFL
Limited by a shoulder problem, Howe wasn't able to do much in the middle behind leading tackler Jay Rohr. He's a strong 242 pounds with the talent to be among the team's top hitters, but he has to stay healthy.

Top Backups
- Parris McNeal, Sr. - 19 tackles
A safety-sized 206 pounds, McNeal moves from the secondary to strongside linebacker to add better pass coverage and more speed to the linebacking corps.
- Kevin Jackson, Jr.
Jackson will combine with Parris McNeal on the strongside. At 220 pounds he's a bigger defender than McNeal, but he isn't as fast. He'll also see time on special teams.
- Doug Williams, Soph. - 5 tackles
Williams started out as an undersized end and now will move to a more natural outside linebacker spot behind Kevin Grant. He's extremely strong for his size.

Defensive Backs
Akron finished second in the MAC in pass defense after allowing 181 yards per game and 18 touchdowns, but there's still room for improvement after giving up too many short to midrange passes and only coming up with seven interceptions. Four starters return led by playmaking Rover John Mackey and longtime starting corner Reggie Corner. There's hope for a bigger all-around season with the healthy return of safeties Chris Brown and Chevin Pace after each was banged up throughout last season. The group is so deep that Dionte Henry, a 21-game starter, will likely start the season as a reserve.
The key to the unit: Continue to not give up the deep passes while picking off more passes while being stronger against accurate passers.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Reggie Corner, Sr. - 46 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 broken up passes
Corner is back for his third season at starter and will be the team's number one cover corner. He's not big at 5-9 and 175 pounds, but he can be physical with 101 career tackles and is very, very fast.

- FS Chris Brown, Jr. - 26 tackles, 1 interception
Brown was never right last year having problems with a shoulder injury and ended up making his biggest impact on special teams before making seven tackles against Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. He's a short 5-9, but he's 200 pounds with good potential to be a top playmaker at free safety.

- SS Chevin Pace, Jr. - 26 tackles, 2 sacks
Pace was one of the team's top players in 2004 and was off to a good start last season before getting knocked out with a knee injury. He's not all that big, but he's a good tackler with good range.

- Rover John Mackey, Jr. - 95 tackles, 1 sack, 8.5 TFL, 1 broken up pass
Mackey was one of the team's biggest surprises going from being a good special teamer to the team's second leading tackler. The 213-pound junior doesn't make enough plays against the pass, but he's a sure run stopper and can get into the backfield.

- CB Davanzo Tate, Jr. - 41 tackles, 6 broken up passes
Tate is one of the team's faster players and has grown into a steady corner. The former West Virginia transfer is a good hitter with the athleticism to become a shutdown defender when tested on the other side of Reggie Corner.

Top Backups
- CB Dionte Henry, Sr. - 46 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL
Henry has been a 21-game starter in the secondary starting at corner last season before stepping in at safety when injuries hit. Davanzo Tate emerged as a top corner and the safeties are healthy, so Henry has become a bit of an odd man out. He's one of hte team's biggest corners at 5-11 and 196 pounds and is sure to find is way on the field somewhere.
- FS Jason Nedd, Sr. - 20 tackles, 3 TFL
Nedd can do a little of everything able to play any of the safety spots and is a key special teamer. He's a top athlete with enough experience to step in for Chris Brown at free safety if needed.
- CB Brandon Anderson, Soph. - 22 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
Anderson is a great athlete with even more speed than starter Reggie Corner. He has great leaping ability and has the talent to grow into a nickel back and a possible starter.

Special Teams
This is a major area of flux for the Zips losing both kickers along with top all-around kick returner Domenik Hixon. Dennis Kennedy will try to replace Hixon's 23.5-yard kickoff return average, while Jermaine Lindsey will try to replace Hixon's 7.7-yard punt return average. Matt Domonkos will get the first look as the new placekicker, but he'll have to battle with incoming freshman Igor Iveljic. The coverage units have to be better.
The key to the unit: Reliable replacements in every area are needed with the hope for a bit more production
Special Teams Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- PK Matt Domonkos, Jr.
It'll be up to the junior to replace the steady Jason Swiger, who hit 14 of 20 field goals. He has to show good range early and has to be consistent or else he could quickly lose his job to top recruit Igor Iveljic.
- P Andy Hildreth, Soph.
Punting wasn't a strong point last year for Akron with Billy Sullivan only averaging 39.4 yards per kick, but he put 15 inside the 20. Hildreth will be pushed by PK Matt Domonkos.

Related Stories
Akron Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Akron Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Akron Preview 2006 - Offense
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