What you need to know ... Eight starters return to one of
the Sun Belt's better defenses. There isn't a lot of size, but
there's plenty of production in the front seven with linebackers
Mark Risher and Brenton Burkhalter each on the verge of all-star
honors. Corner Michael Adams might only be 5-8 and 170 pounds,
but he's one of the league's best all-around corners. Being
stronger against the run will be the major area of improvement,
while preventing sharp passers from dinking and dunking will
also be a priority.
Tackles: Mark Risher,
Brenton Burkhalter, Anthony Hills, 4
Interceptions: Michael Adams, 2
Star of the defense: Senior CB Michael Adams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Korey Raymond
Best pro prospect: Raymond
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Adams, 2) DE Anthony
Hills, 3) LB Mark Risher
Strength of the defense: Secondary depth
Weakness of the defense:
Size, run defense
The line improved by leaps and bounds against
the run in Sun Belt play, but it got steamrolled over by everyone else.
This should be a strong front four with Anthony Hills and Rodney
Hardeway a strong pass rushing tandem, while JUCO transfer Korey Raymond
should be an instant star in the middle. There's enough good experience
among the reserves to get a good rotation going.
The key to the unit: More pressure needs to be generated in the
middle, and Anthony Hills and Rodney Hardeway have to be dominant on the
Defensive Line Rating: 4.5
- DE Anthony Hills, Sr. - 19 tackles, 4 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 2
The honorable mention All-Sun Belt senior has been a nice pass rusher
and an occasional run stopper, and now he has to do everything well.
He's an imposing 6-4 and 240 pounds with good quickness and the most
experience up front.
- DT Korey Raymond, Jr.
A top JUCO prospect, the 6-4, 290-pound junior originally signed with
Ole Miss but was ineligible. He's a big run stuffer with surprising
quickness on the inside. Don't be shocked if he becomes the line's best
Sr. - 12 tackles. 1.5 TFL
The 6-0, 276-pound bowling ball in the middle is the team's best clogger.
He's not flashy being used to occupy the middle of the line so everyone
else is free to make plays. He's not huge and he won't make many big
plays in the backfield, but he'll be a key cog.
- DE Rodney Hardeway, Jr. - 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 4.5 TFL
It'll be Hardeway's job to take over
Eugene Kwarteng's job on the other
side of Anthony Hills. He came one over the second half of last year to
be the team's most productive lineman down the stretch and should be a
dominant pass rusher if Hills can take the pressure off with a strong
- DT Travis Ferguson, Sr. - 11 tackles
The 295-pound senior is the team's biggest lineman with the skills to
become a force on the inside ... maybe. He hasn't lived up to his
potential over the last few seasons and needs to be more of a factor.
- DT Joe Bradley, Sr. - 13 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Used occasionally as a big end, the 6-3, 265-pound veteran will be a top
backup on the inside behind Marshall Delesdernier. He needs to be a more
effective interior pass rusher.
- DE Greg Hathorn, Jr.
A linebacker by trade, the JUCO transfer turned into a strong defensive
lineman at East Central College in Mississippi. He'll backup Rodney
Hardeway and at 245 pounds will be the team's biggest end.
The linebackers should be excellent with Brenton
Burkhalter and Mark Rusher two rising stars who should be among the
team's leading tacklers again. The return of Wes Simon from a concussion
problem and Joseph Hadnot from an ankle injury will be a huge boost to
the all-around play, while Tre Green has the speed to grow into Tyler
Norman's old role on the outside.
The key to the unit: The undersized group has to hold
up against power teams. Toughness isn't an issue, but it'll be hard to
ask everyone to stay healthy for an entire season.
Linebacker Rating: 5
- Mark Risher, Jr. - 59 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 2 forced
Richer went from being a tough middle linebacker to a productive
playmaker on the outside finishing second on the team in tackles. He's
not going to be a dangerous pass rusher, but he'll be among the team's
most consistent players and should become even more effective at making
- Brenton Burkhalter, Soph. - 53 tackles, 4 sacks, 4.5 TFL
The 230-pound Burkhalter finished third on the team in tackles and tied
for the team lead in sacks. He turned up his production several notches
over the second half of the year before missing the UL Monroe game with
a wrist injury. He has All-Sun Belt potential with the ability to hover
around the 80-tackle mark.
- Tre Green, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2 TFL
The speedy Green will take over a full-time starting role looking to
replace leading tackler Tyler Norman. He's a good veteran with 13 career
starts under his belt, but he'll have to battle hard to keep the job
with several good prospects waiting in the wings. He has to start making
more plays in the backfield.
- Wes Simon, Sr. - 20 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Simon started over the first three games and looked like he'd be in for
a huge season before getting knocked out, literally, with a concussion.
He's a fearless open field tackler who hits like a ton of bricks despite
only being 6-1 and 200 pounds.
- Joseph Hadnot, Soph. - 2 tackles
An ankle injury kept him out almost all of last year and missed spring
ball this season. He's a safety-sized 5-10 and 200 pounds with the speed
to grow into a top tackler, but he has to stay healthy and has to prove
he can hold up.
The secondary got picked apart by accurate passers but only
gave up 190 yards per game. Things should be even better even after
losing top safety Tyrell Fenton with Lamar Morgan and Johnny Felders
ready to come into their own as full time starters. Michael Adams might
be small, but he's one of the Sun Belt's best corners. Kyle Ward and
Torres Kingsby could each be a solid number two man. There's good depth
at each spot.
The key to the unit: Be a bit tougher on short to
midrange passes and tighter in the red zone.
Secondary Rating: 5
- CB Michael Adams, Sr. - 45 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2
broken up passes, 2.5 TFL
One of Sun Belt's best tackling corners for his size, the 5-8, 170-pound
senior is as tough as they come with 82 tackles over the last two
seasons. He has a tremendous speed burst making him a dangerous kick
blocker as well as a shut down corner. He has problems with the bigger
receivers, but the former Alcorn State transfer has speed to handle the
quicker number one receivers.
- FS Lamar Morgan, Jr. - 31 tackles, 1 interception
Morgan split the starting duties at strong safety last season and now
will move over to free safety taking over for Tyrell Fenton. He's the
team's biggest defensive back at 6-2 and 210 pounds and should be even
better now that he's a year removed from a knee injury that cost him all
- SS Johnny Felders, Sr. - 51 tackles, 1 interception, 2 TFL
Felders was one of the surprises of last season finishing fourth on the
team in tackles despite only starting six times. He's a good hitter
who's better against the run than against the pass. He's not huge at
5-11 and 190 pounds, so holding up for a full season as the starter
could be a problem.
- CB Kyle Ward, Jr. - 21 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up
Ward was the starter over the second half of last season showing off the
potential of growing into an All-Sun Belt performer if he can be more
consistent. He's 6-2 and 188 pounds with track-star speed. He'll be in a
battle all year with Torres Kingsby for the starting job on the left
- CB Torres Kingsby, Jr. - 31 tackles
A great tackling corner with 54 stops over the last two seasons, the
5-11, 190-pound Kingsby is neck-and-neck with Kyle Ward for one of the
starting corner jobs. If nothing else, he's a reliable back up even
though he has to make far more plays against the run.
- NB Jarrett Jones, Sr. - 19 tackles, 1 broken up
An almost perfect nickel back for this team, the 5-10, 190-pound veteran
has enough corner experience and enough toughness to do a little of
everything well. He's not quite good enough to be a lock-down corner,
but his range allows him to make plays in pure passing situations.
- CB Jemarcus Smith, Soph. - 29 tackles, 4 broken up passes
Smith had a nice freshman season coming through more often than not
despite getting picked on. At 5-10 and 180 pounds he's a bigger option
on the right side than Michael Adams and will be groomed for the
starting job in 2007.
- SS Derik Keyes, Jr. 16 tackles
Keyes had a nice season as a reserve strong safety and will push for
time as the team's nickel back. He's a tough 5-9 and 190 pounds with
The kicking game will be
a big issue with Drew Edmiston and Tyler Albrecht looking to replace
placekicker Sean Comiskey and punter Brit Framel needing to be better.
The punt coverage team needs to improve by leaps and bounds there has to
be far more production on kickoff returns after averaging just 16.9
yards per try.
The key to the unit: The coverage teams have to be
far better and the kicking game has to at least be average..
Special Teams Rating: 4.5
- PK Drew Edmiston, Soph.
It'll be up to Edmiston to take over for the steady Sean Comiskey. He
has practice time, but he'll have to be sharp this fall when freshman
Tyler Albrecht gets his shot.
- P Brit Framel, Sr. - 47 punts, 1,801 yds, 38.3 yards per kick,
9 inside the 20
Framel needs to get more blast on his kicks
with the Ragin' Cajuns finishing 112th in the nation in net punting.
Part of the problem was the coverage unit, and part of the problem was