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Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2006


Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2006 - MTSU Defense

What you need to know ... Only four starters return to the Sun Belt's best defense, but the cupboard is hardly bare. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's biggest issue is finding a tackle to replace Jeff Littlejohn along with linebackers Dennis Burks and Jonathan Bonner. The linebackers will be fine if J.K. Sabb is as good as he was last season, and the line will be fine if Sean Mosley and Erik Walden can generate consistent pressure on the ends. The secondary will be the strength with Bradley Robinson about to be hailed as one of the Sun Belt's top corners.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: J.K. Sabb, 71
Sacks: Eric Walden, 3
Interceptions: Bradley Robinson, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB J.K. Sabb
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Roy Polite
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NG Jonathan Presley
Best pro prospect: Sabb
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sabb, 2) CB Bradley Robinson, 3) FS Jonathan Harris
Strength of the defense: Secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Size up front, experience on the front four

Defensive Line
The line was amazing last year allowing a mere 136 rushing yards per game, but now it'll be a work in progress. On the plus side, there should be a more consistent pass rush with Erik Walden, Sean Mosley, and former linebacker Tavares Jones working on the ends. Trevor Jenkins has all-star potential at one tackle spot, but the other spot needs work with 310-pound Brandon Perry needing to get healthy and in shape to rotate with the 240-pound Jonathan Presley.

The key to the unit: Somehow be as effective against the run as last year's line while getting into the backfield on a more consistent basis.
Defensive Line Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters
- DE Erik Walden, Jr. - 33 tackles, 3 sacks, 8.5 TFL
A pass rushing specialist early in his career, Walden turned into a decent all-around end after getting the starting nod over the second half of last season. He saw a little time at linebacker to fill in when injuries struck, but the 238-pound junior is better on the line.

- NG Trevor Jenkins, Soph. - 11 tackles, 1 TFL
The 270-pound sophomore started to come on late last year as a true freshman and should be the anchor on the nose. He's a great athlete who's expected to eventually become an All-Sun Belt caliber pass rusher.

- DT Jonathan Presley, Soph. - 5 tackles
Presley saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and now needs to handle the job on the inside. He's only 240 pounds, but he should be far quicker than most linemen he'll go up against. At his size, he'll have to rotate with the bigger Brandon Perry.

- DE Sean Mosley, Jr. - 25 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL
The star of the line, Mosley has been a fixture for the last two seasons. At 250 pounds, he's the team's biggest end with the quickness to be used at linebacker if absolutely necessary. Now he needs to become a steadier pass rusher.

Top Backups
- DE Tavares Jones, Jr. - 19 tackles, 1 TFL
The 6-3, 238-pound Jones is being moved from linebacker to end in an attempt to generate more of a pass rush. Mostly a backup and special teamer so far, he should be a dangerous reserve behind Sean Mosley on the right side.
- DT Brandon Perry, Soph. - 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
The line needs the bulk of the 310-pound sophomore. Perry can play either tackle position and needs to get past an ankle injury to reach his full potential. He's size is also a bit of a problem; he'll be more effective at around 300 pounds.

Linebackers
No place takes a bigger hit than the linebacking corps after losing Dennis Burke and Jonathan Bonner. J.K. Sabb needs to repeat his fantastic first year and be the leader and top tackler on the weakside, while former JUCO all-star Chance Dunleavy has to step up his play in the middle. Marcus Brandon and Lonnie Clemons are undersized strongside linebackers who need to use their quickness to make plays against the run.
The key to the unit: Chance Dunleavy has to live up to his potential and Marcus Brandon has to be productive right away.
Linebacker Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- Marcus Brandon, Sr. - 15 tackles
While not the most talented Blue Raider defender, the 216-pound senior has been around long enough to get significantly more playing time on the outside. The key will be his ability to hold up against the run after being used mostly on third downs and passing situations.

- Chance Dunleavy, Sr. - 31 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL
The former JUCO All-American didn't set the world on fire in his first season, but he has the size and pass rushing skills to be a major factor this year. At 238 pounds, he's the team's biggest linebacker with the strength to be a rock against the run.

- J.K. Sabb, Sr. - 71 tackles, 2 sacks, 13 TFL, 1 interception, 5 broken up passes
Sabb lived up to his JUCO hype leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. He's a big-time hitter with great timing and closing ability once he gets a bead on a ball-carrier. He'll have to battle with for time on the weakside, but he'll find a spot at all times in the corps.

Top Backups
- Justin Rainey, Sr. - 7 tackles
The former JUCO all-star saw a little bit of time over the first three games before tearing up his knee, which appears to be fine going into the year. He's a strong 215 pounds with excellent athleticism on the weakside.
-
Lonnie Clemons, Soph. - 3 tackles
A special teamer in his redshirt freshman season, the 215-pound sophomore will need to quickly become a key reserve on the strongside behind Marcus Brandon.


Defensive Backs
Th
ere are a few question marks, but all in all this should become one of the team's strengths if Roy Polite can shine at one of the corner spots. Bradley Robinson is on the verge of first team All-Sun Belt status at left corner, while Jonathan Harris is an improving veteran at free safety. The return of Kevin Copeland from a foot injury is a huge help to the overall talent level. There's speed and depth, even if the reserves don't have a world of experience.
The key to the unit: Play like last year and keep improving. Despite all the experience, this is still a young group with the potential to get even better.
Secondary Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- CB Bradley Robinson, Jr. - 41 tackles, 5 interceptions, 7 broken up passes, 2 TFL
Robinson had a tremendous season earning a few All-Sun Belt honors showing he can do a little of everything well. He's not all that big at 5-10 and 170 pounds, but he's great in run support and was also one of the league's most dangerous covermen with his technique catching up with his speed.

- FS Jonathan Harris, Jr. - 37 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Back for his third season as the starter, Harris hits like a ton of bricks and improved his play in pass coverage. He needs to use his experience and range to be more of a big play performer and needs to be even more intimidating against the pass.

- SS Damon Nickson, Jr. - 35 tackles, 3 broken up passes
Nickson turned into a good starter over the second half of last season after moving over from corner. He's not huge at 6-0 and 177 pounds and isn't the best coverman around. He's a far better fit at safety where he should be in for a productive season.

- CB Roy Polite, Jr. - 23 tackles, 1 interception
A fantastic athlete with good size at 6-1 and 188 pounds, Polite needs to finally become a steady starter after spending the last few years as a great reserve. He has the talent and the all-around athleticism; now he has to put it all together.

Top Backups
- S Kevin Copeland, Sr.
Will he immediately take back a starting spot? Copeland was one of the team's top playmakers in 2004 and then missed all of last season with a foot injury. He's one of the team's pass defending safeties and is one of the team's fastest players.
- CB Craig Harris, RFr.
The high school quarterback also served as one of his team's better defensive backs. His athleticism and ball-hawking potential will be too much to keep off the field. He'll start out behind Bradley Robinson at left corner.

Special Teams
Colby Smith is great as a punter and needs work as a field goal kicker. Matt King will push for some of the placekicking duties. Taron Henry will be the main man on kickoff returns after seeing a little bit of work last season averaging 18.9 yards per try, while Bradley Robinson will once again handle the punt returns after averaging 9.2 yards on 18 returns.
The key to the unit: More is needed on field goal attempts and there could stand to be a little more production from the kick returners.
Special Teams Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- PK/P
Colby Smith, Sr. - 7-16 FGs, 26-26 extra points, 59 points, 2,484 yds, 42.1 yards per kick, 19 inside the 20
Smith is a fantastic punter and a not-so-hot field goal kicker lacking consistency with four misses inside 40 yards and showing little to no range. He has the leg, but he has to prove he can make more 40+ yarders. There's no questioning him as a punter as he should be among Sun Belt's best.

Related Stories
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tenn. Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006








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