Arkansas State Preview 2006 - Defense
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Arkansas State Indians Preview 2006 - ASU Defense

What you need to know ... It'll be a surprise if this isn't one of the Sun Belt's best defenses thanks to a tremendous back seven led by All-Sun Belt safeties Tyrell Johnson and Khyyam Burns. The linebacking corps goes from being experienced and decent to experienced and tremendous thanks to the return of star Josh Williams in the middle after being suspended last year. The run defense has to be far more effective, and that'll start up front where the tackles have to be more consistent. A pass rush has to be found from the ends with starters Brian Flagg and Jonathan Najm nursing knee injuries. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tyrell Johnson, 112
Sacks: Brian Flagg, 5
Interceptions: Tyrell Johnson, Koby McKinnon, Dominique Williams, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Josh Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Reggie Green
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NT Prince Hickman
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) SS Tyrell Johnson, 3) FS Khayyam Burns
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, ends, corners

Defensive Line
This could be an issue. It might have been one of the team's strengths had Brian Flagg and Jonathan Najm not suffered knee injuries last year, but now there's a concern with the ends and whether or not they can come up with a consistent pass rush. Stopping the run is the bigger concern. Jamarrow James. Prince Hickman and Curtis Bonds have to hold up better against power running teams and more depth needs to develop to form a good rotation.
The key to the unit: Be better against the run and find a steady pass rusher.

Defensive Line Rating: 4.5

Projected Starters
- DE Brian Flagg, Jr. - 32 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 TFL
The former linebacker turned into a killer of a pass rushing end last season, but he suffered a knee injury late in the year and now will likely be out of the mix for at least a little while. He's listed as the starter on the left side coming out of spring ball and should turn out to be fine with more rest this summer.

- DT Jamarrow James, Jr. - 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks
The team's best returning lineman is a good presence on the inside and a solid pass rusher. He has to get used to handling all the blockers trying to knock him around and keep him from being his disruptive self, but he'll get into a few grooves where he'll blow up play after play. At 275 pounds, he's big enough to start being more of a factor against the run.

- NT Prince Hickman, Jr. - 17 tackles, 2 TFL
Hickman has been a decent reserve, but he needs to blossom into a more dominant run defender. He's the biggest player on the line at 289 pounds and will be a key to the line needing to become an anchor on the nose.

- DE Brandon Rollins, Jr. - 24 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
Rollins has been a big of a disappointment having problems with academic issues and injuries to go along with a horrifying accident a few years ago. He has the size at 6-5 and 257 pounds to be a major disruptive force, but he has to develop into more of a consistent pass rusher.

Top Backups
- DE Reggie Green, Jr. - 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 forced fumbles
Green stepped in late last year and turned into a nice surprise showing good pass rushing ability. He's a good sized playmaker at 6-5 and 255 pounds, and now he'll have to come up with a strong start to the season until the rest of the ends get 100% healthy.
- DE
Jonathan Najm, Sr. - 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 TFL
Najm was just growing into a top player when he tore his ACL and was out for the year. He'll be a starter if he can make it back this year, but it might be a while before he's 100%.
- DT Curtis Bonds, Jr. - 12 tackles, 1 sack
Bonds stepped up when he had to turning into an invaluable anchor of the line late last year. At 6-4 and 289 pounds, he's an imposing defender on the inside. His continued development will be the key to the line as his emergence needs to help take some of the attention away from Jamarrow James.

It'll be a shock if this isn't the Sun Belt's best linebacking corps. There were problems last year with inexperience and even bigger problems handling good running teams, but that won't be a problem this year thanks to the return of certain All-Sun Belt selection Josh Williams in the middle after he was kicked off the team last season. His return allows big, fast Devrett Wade to move to a more natural outside position. Now the hope is for Koby McKinnon to grow into the strongside role after a rocky freshman season. Ben Owens and Elias Ellis could both start at some point.
The key to the unit: Hope for Josh Williams to be even better than he was as a star freshman.
Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Koby McKinnon, Soph. - 55 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 3 quarterback hurries
The former safety had a good first year at linebacker, but he was a bit inconsistent on the strongside. To be fair, he was thrown into the job, but he showed he can handle himself in pass coverage and occasionally was able to get into the backfield. He's a bit light at 215 pounds so there will have to be a good rotation to keep him fresh.

- Josh Williams, Jr.
Williams had a fantastic first season leading the team in tackles and was the nation's best freshman tackler with 110 stops, but he was kicked off the team last season for "conduct detrimental to the team." He was allowed back on the team as a walk-on this year, and he has been a terror in the weight room looking to get hi NFL caliber career back on track. He's up to 255 pounds and if all goes as planned should be the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. He'll add a nasty element to the run defense that was missing last year.

- Devrett Wade, Sr. - 87 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 13 TFL
The former JUCO transfer is a big 231-pound playmaker on the weakside. He's strong enough to hold his own against the run, and fast enough to be a tremendous pass rusher. He played in the middle last year and should be dominant now that Williams is back on the inside and he can go to the outside.

Top Backups
- Ben Owens, Soph. - 5 tackles, 2 TFL
Owens is technically the starter in the middle, but that's just window dressing before Josh Williams is fully back in the mix. He's very fast and has good size to play on the inside, but he could end up seeing time on the outside so he can get on the field. He'll also play on special teams.
- Elias Ellis, Sr. - 41 tackles, 3 TFL
Ellis has battled with diabetes early in his career and has had a hard time staying in the starting mix, but he's an experienced enough tackler to see plenty of time behind Devrett Wade on the weakside.

Defensive Backs
The secondary only allowed 192 yards per game last year finishing 27th in the nation, and now it welcomes back the league's best safety tandem in Khyyam Burns and Tyrell Johnson. The concern is at corner needing Montis Harrison's shoulder to heal and for Dominique Williams to be more consistent after a good, but occasionally rough freshman season. There's decent depth and great competition for the corner jobs.
The key to the unit: Find the two best corners early on and hope one can become a true shut-down defender.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB Dominique Williams, Soph. - 21 tackles. 2 INT, 7 broken up passes
A bit inconsistent after being forced into action, Williams still showed plenty of promise that he'll grow into a top corner. He'll get beat a little too often, but he's not afraid to take chances and go after the ball. He'll get the start on the left side.

- FS Khyyam Burns, Jr. - 89 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 6 quarterback hurries
Burns has been a solid defender for the past two seasons with the versatility to play either safety position without a problem. He's good at flying to the ball in pass coverage and should be an All-Sun Belt performer if Tyrell Johnson doesn't take all the recognition on the other side.

- SS Tyrell Johnson, Jr. - 112 tackles, 2 interceptions
One of the Sun Belt's best players, Johnson is a tackling machine highlighted by an incredible 25 tackle game against North Texas last year. He's big and extremely athletic with good range and tremendous hitting ability in the open field. The two-time Sun Belt honoree will be in the mix for Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year honors.

- CB Darren Toney, Sr. - 18 tackles, 1 interception
Mostly a special teamer and nickel back so far, Toney will have to hold down the right side in place of top starter James Johnson. One of the stars of the ASU track team, Toney is one of the team's fastest players.

Top Backups
- CB Montis Harrison, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
Can Harrison come back after his shoulder problem? The junior is a good hitter and was just starting to develop into a top coverman. Now he'll have to get healthy and fight to get his starting job back.
- CB Kelvin Cox, Sr. - 10 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries
Cox is a slightly bigger option on the right side than Darren Toney and has more than enough experience to take over a starting spot. He can play safety if needed and is a good special teamer.
- SS Marcus Brown, RFr.
Speed, speed and more speed. It'll be hard for Brown to see too much playing time playing behind Tyrell Johnson, but his speed will be too much to keep off the field in nickel and dime situations.

Special Teams
The kicking game will go through an overhaul losing do-it-all kicker Eric Neihouse, who took over for Jared Little's punting duties. The return game was no big deal last year, but there's plenty of speed to add more pop with Gary Vincent the main punt returner and Kevin Jones taking over the number one kickoff returner role after averaging 22.4 yards per return last year.
The key to the unit: Better coverage is needed on punts, and the new kickers have to be reliable from the word go.
Special Teams Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- PK Ryan Hoorman, RFr.
It'll be Hoorman's job to take over for Eric Neihouse who hit 13 of 22 field goals last year. Hoorman had a broken foot this off-season, but he'll be the main man this fall with a big leg. Accuracy will be the question mark.
- P Brett Shrable, Soph.
The former linebacker and fullback will take over the punting duties. He's 226 pounds and tough with a good leg, and he can't make things any worse than they were last year when the Indians netted fewer than 32 yards per punt.

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