Nevada Preview 2006 - Defense
Nevada Wolf Pack
Posted Aug 9, 2006

Nevada Wolf Pack Preview 2006 - Nevada Pack Defense

What you need to know ... The defense welcomes back eight starters and a ton of depth to provide good competition at several spots, but now there has to be more production. The scheme can be a 3-4 or a 4-3 depending on the situation with more than enough size up front to be beefy against the run and huge, but relatively slow linebackers outside of talented strongside starter Ezra Butler. J.J. Milan is back from a foot injury to provide more of a pass rush to help out an improving secondary that gets Nick Hawthrone back at safety.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ezra Butler, 75
Sacks: Ezra Butler, 5.5
Interceptions: Joe Garcia, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Ezra Butler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior FS Sergio Villasenor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Joshua Mauga
Best pro prospect: Butler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Butler, 2) CB Joe Garcia, 3) SS Nick Hawthrone
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, size in the front seven
Weakness of the defense:
Overall speed, pas defense

Defensive Line
The linebacking corps might get most of the accolades, but the front three could grow into one of the team's strengths if J.J. Milan returns from a foot injury and ends up starting. It's a huge line with enough depth to play a little 4-3 thanks to JUCO transfers Mundrae Clifton and Fred White.
The key to the unit: Generate more of a pass rush from the ends and get the backups enough experience early to create more options for the defensive scheme.

Defensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- DE Charles Wilson, Sr. - 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL
Wilson is a great-sized end at 270 pounds with the experience to be an all-star if he can make more big plays. He's not a natural pass rusher and needs to get more in the backfield, but he's tough to move around and he isn't going to make many mistakes. 

- NT Matt Hines, Jr. - 22 tackles, 2 TFL
Hines won't make a lot of big plays being used as the anchor of the line, but he'll be a steady force in the middle against the run. He's a compact 6-1 and 285 pounds and tough to move on the nose. He has the athleticism to be a decent pass rusher, but he hasn't spent much time in the backfield over the last two seasons.

- DE Jay Dixon, Jr.
The 270-pound JUCO transfer will get the first look at end, at least until J.J. Milan can be 100% healthy. He's quick for his size and should be a solid pass rusher as the season goes on..

Top Backups
- DE J.J. Milan, Sr.
Milan has moved back and forth from defensive end to linebacker and back to defensive end (but he might still end up at linebacker). He missed all of last year with a foot injury and will now be back to get the start up front as one of the team's top pass rushers. He's 6-4, 265 pounds and extremely quick, but he still has to prove his leg is fine. .
- DE Erics Clark, Jr. - 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL
The 6-5, 260-pound Clark hasn't seen a lot of time, but he has made the most of his opportunities turning into an excellent situational pass rusher. He'll be a major factor if J.J. Milan isn't 100%.
- DT Fred White, Jr.
White provides more bulk on the inside. He's not an end, even in the Nevada system, but he's a 6-1, 280-pound rock who should grow into the role behind Matt Hines.
- DE Mundrae Clifton, Soph.
The JUCO transfer is the biggest player on the line at 6-1 and 295 pounds. He'll start out behind Charles Wilson at one of the ends, but he's too big and too athletic not to be used as a bullish pass rusher.

The four in the Nevada 3-4 are experienced and very big. It's not the fastest group around, but it should be a rock against the run with 255-pound Jason DeMars and 255-pound Ezra Butler potentially good enough to be All-WAC playmakers. There's good pass rushing on the outside with Butler and Jeremy Engstrom talented enough to be camped out in opposing backfields. There's quality depth with several solid options for each position.
The key to the unit: Make more plays against the pass and generate a consistent pass rush from all four spots.
Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Jeremy Engstrom, Jr. - 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 interception
Engstrom had a down year after exploding as a redshirt freshman when he made 97 tackles. He's a smart, active defender who's versatile enough to play inside or out. He's a more natural middle linebacker, but he'll play the Bandit position to use his size and range to make more big plays.

- Joshua Mauga, Soph. - 32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 broken up passes
The 245-pound sophomore is a very strong, very physical tackler who'll get the start at the Wolf, or the weakside linebacker. He's great at making plays in the backfield, and now he should become a major all-around playmaker after getting a full year of experience.

- Jason DeMars, Sr. - 39 tackles, 2.5 TFL
The former JUCO transfer turned in a nice first season taking over the starting job in the middle. At 255 pounds he's a big, physical presence on the inside who should be one of the team's top three tacklers.

- Ezra Butler, Jr. - 75 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 15.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 2 forced fumbles
Butler emerged as a top all-around playmaker on the strongside finishing second on the team in tackles and turning into a whale of a pass rusher. He's like another defensive end at 255 pounds and hits like a ton of bricks when he gets on the move.

Top Backups
- Scott Garrison, Sr. - 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 interception
A rock-solid reserve for the last few years, Garrison is a smaller, slightly quicker option at the Wolf position behind Joshua Mauga. He's a sure tackler who can fill in at middle linebacker if needed.
- Kevin Porter, Jr.
Porter missed all of last year and now returns as a veteran tackler in the middle. He's not as big as starter Jason DeMars, but he's tough and was able to contribute 20 tackles in 2004.
- Nich Fuhr, Jr. - 7 tackles
Fuhr didn't make the step up in production expected of him, but now he'll be asked to play a key role in the rotation playing behind Ezra Butler on the strongside. He's 245 pounds and can move.

Defensive Backs
The secondary got toasted on a regular basis in the pass happy WAC allowing 269 yards per game and had even more problems with precision passers. Things should change with the return of Nick Hawthorne from a knee injury and the emergence of Joe Garcia at corner. This won't be a rock of a secondary and it will get picked apart a little too much, but it won't be the worst in the WAC.
The key to the unit: Get more big plays from the corners on deep passes and more consistency from the safeties.
Secondary Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- CB Joe Garcia, Sr, - 72 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 4 interceptions, 14 broken up passes
Garcia turned into the team's top newcomer coming in from the JUCO ranks to be an All-WAC caliber corner with a whopping 14 broken up passes. He's a good-sized corner at 6-0 and 180 pounds with big-time athleticism.

- FS Sergio Villasenor, Jr. - 18 tackles
The JUCO transfer turned in a decent first season with good hitting ability. The 6-1, 206 pounder is a reliable veteran with tone-setting hitting ability.

- SS Nick Hawthrone, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Hawthrone is back after missing most of last year banged up with a knee injury. When healthy, he'll be one of the team leaders in interceptions and will be dangerous if he ever gets the ball in his hands. The three year starter scored twice in 2004 on picks and has eight in his career.

- CB
De'Angelo Wilson, Soph. - 11 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Wilson has the potential to grow into a strong number two corner after spending last year as a good reserve. He stepped in late last year to get a little bit of starting time showing off the good quickness and athleticism, but he'll have to get used to being thrown at with teams staying away from Joe Garcia.

Top Backups
- SS Uche Anyanwu, Soph. - 7 tackles
He's a big presence at 6-4 and 215 pounds and will get the starting nod until Nick Hawthrone is back from a knee injury. Anyanwu should be a tone-setting hitter as he gets comfortable with more playing time..
- CB Paul Pratt, Jr.
Pratt is a lightning-fast player who returns after missing last year with a knee injury. He has the talent to take back a starter job, or at the very least become a top backup behind De'Angelo Wilson.
- CB Shannon Sevor, Jr. - 20 tackles, 2 broken up passes
Able to play safety or corner, the 196-pound sophomore is a reliable veteran who'll play behind Joe Garcia and will push De'Angelo Wilson for time. He's not great against the pass, but he can tackle and he knows what he's doing.
- SS Mike Samples, Soph. - 24 tackles
At 6-0 and 195 pounds, Samples is a nice-sized strong safety with great range and good hitting ability. He could step in at free safety if needed.

Special Teams
The kicking game should be fine if Brett Jaekle is as consistent as he was last season, but new punter Thomas Barcia is a bit of an unknown. Robert Hubbard was the team's main kickoff returner last year, but he'll likely scale back with all he has to do on offense. Kyle Sammons will get the first look on kickoffs while Joe Garcia will handle the punt returns taking over for Kevin Stanley. The coverage units have to be far better.
The key to the unit: Get more range from the kicking game and hope for Brett Jaekle to be automatic from inside 40.
Special Teams Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- PK Brett Jaekle, Soph. - 12-15 FGs, 50-53 PATs
Jaekle had a nice first season  but he didn't show off a lot of range topping out at 40 yards. He was consistent after the second game of the year hitting 11 of his final 12 tries.
- P Thomas Barcia, Soph.
Gone is all-star Justin Bergendahl and his 41.3-yard average and in comes Barcia, who'll be the backup field goal kicker as well. He has a big leg despite only checking in at 5-7 and 160 pounds.

Related Stories
Nevada Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Nevada Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by  Aug 9, 2006
Nevada Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 9, 2006

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