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2007 Eastern Michigan Preview - Defense
Posted Apr 3, 2007

Preview 2007 Eastern Michigan Eagles Defense

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 EMU Preview | 2007 EMU Offense Preview 
2007 EMU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Eastern Michigan Preview 

What you need to know: EMU's defense hasn't been productive in years, but if there's not a major improvement this year with ten starters returning along with a slew of experienced depth, it might never happen. Junior Daniel Holtzclaw is a superstar middle linebacker who'll be the one the rest of the defense revolves around. Tackles Jason Jones and Josh Hunt can't stop the run, but they're regulars in opposing backfields. As long as the corners and ends start to produce, and the experience and quickness at all spots makes up for a general lack of size, things should be better after finishing 116th in the nation against run and 98th in total defense.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Daniel Holtzclaw, 114
Sacks: Josh Hunt, 3.5
Interceptions: Jacob Wyatt, Chris May, Duan Bracey, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Daniel Holtzclaw
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Corey Riley
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Andre Hatchett
Best pro prospect: Holtzclaw
Top three all-star candidates: 1)
Holtzclaw, 2) DT Jason Jones, 3) DT Josh Hunt
Strength of the defense: Defensive tackle, safety, experience
Weakness of the defense:
Size, defensive end

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The tackles aren't all that big, but they're veterans with seniors Josh Hunt and Jason Jones having been key factors for the last two seasons. Jones is a rangy 6-5, 262 pounds with good quickness and a nice ability to get into the backfield with four sacks and a whopping 18.5 tackles for loss last season. The former tight end has spent the last few years bulking up, but he hasn't lost any of his athleticism. The 280-pound Hunt is one of the team's biggest linemen and the only real space-eater. While he's not exactly a rock against the run, he's also great at getting into the backfield making ten tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks to go along with 53 tackles. 

The ends have to do a better job of being disruptive in the backfield with senior Eric Young, a former JUCO transfer, needing to be to crank out more than just a half a sack. Undersized at only 6-1 and 235 pounds, if he's not hitting the quarterback, he's not doing the line much good.

Senior Corey Riley will get the nod on the other side after seeing a little time as a spot starter. He's a tremendous athlete who made 21 tackles and a big interception against Kent State. To hold off a slew of other end prospects, he has to start getting into the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Juniors Corey Everson and Brandon Downs will push Riley hard for the starting defensive end job on the other side of Young. Everson is only 6-0 and 202 pounds with excellent speed and athleticism, but he's still trying to figure out what he's doing after moving over from the offensive side and seeing time in the secondary and linebacker. Downs is one of the bigger defensive ends at 247 pounds, but he's a converted tight end trying to get time at a new position.

Junior Spenser Smith will be the first end in the rotation with decent size and a little bit of experience seeing plenty of backup time making eight tackles. The reserve tackles have seen time and should be effective in the rotation.

254-pound junior Alan Cozart was a spot starter making ten stops, and now he'll work behind Jones. At only 5-9, his game is about getting leverage.

Redshirt freshman Chris Radney was one of the team's better recruits over the last few seasons and will quickly find his way on the field behind Hunt. He's only 245 pounds, but he's quick.   

Watch Out For ... the ends will benefit from all the attention paid to Jones and Hunt. Teams will do everything possible to keep the two senior tackles from getting into the backfield, and that should free up Young and Riley. Can they take advantage of the single blocking?
Strength: Tackles for loss. The front four is designed around speed and quickness, and with all the experience returning, there should be plenty of big plays, more sacks, and lots of disruption. However ...
... the run defense is still going to be a problem. With no size whatever, any team with a big, athletic offensive line should be able to dominate. Quickness and experience only goes so far when a bunch of 300-pound road graters are pounding away.
Outlook: There's enough experience to be more productive and far better than last season, but the three returning starters have to hold up much better against the run. The tackles will wreak havoc against the slower, mediocre offensive interiors but will have a nightmare of a time against the better teams on the schedule. The depth is as good as it's been in a long time.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: A starter in the middle from day one, junior Daniel Holtzclaw is one of the MAC's most productive linebackers making 205 tackles over the last two seasons. He's a consistent hitter with good size and decent range, and now he has to use his experience to start making more big plays and get into the backfield when the timing is right. His strength is, well, his strength, never getting bowled over and almost never missing a tackle. He's stronger than most of the team's linemen.

Senior Darran Matthews has started 22 games over the last two seasons and should just now start to play up to his capabilities after moving over from running back a few years ago. He's made 168 tackles since making the switch and now should be a rock on the strongside.

Sophomore Andre Hatchett was a key reserve as a true freshman behind Michael Richardson making 32 tackles seeing time in every game. Only 200 pounds, he's fast enough to be a big help against the run while being strong in the open field against most MAC receivers.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Chris Campa will see plenty of action on the weakside behind Hatchett. While he's not as fast as Hatchett, at 6-1 and 220 pounds he's bigger and a stronger hitter making 11 stops as a reserve.

Junior Cortland Selman will backup Matthews on the strongside again adding experienced depth and a little bit of starting experience. He made 13 tackles last season and should play an even bigger role at both the outside spots.

Sophomore Lorenzo Seaberry has been a special teamer so far and will back up Holtzclaw in the middle. He's only 5-6 and 195 pounds, but he can move.

Junior Korey Jackson is one of the team's most talented linebackers able to play at either outside position, but he has to prove he can come back and produce after a leg problem kept him out.

Watch Out For ... Holtzclaw to finally start to get some national recognition. He's been a one-man gang over the last few seasons and now will get some attention outside the MAC. He'll also start to receive attention in the MAC, where he'll earn all-conference honors.
Strength: Experience. Even the backups have seen enough action to reliable. With Holtzclaw doing it all in the middle, Matthews and Hatchett should rock on the outside now that they know what they're doing.
Size. Outside of Holtzclaw and Matthews, EMU has a slew of safety-sized players trying to hold up at linebacker. They can all move, but they can all get moved around, too.
Outlook: With no size on the defensive front, the linebackers have to spend too much time cleaning things up against the run. With all the returning experience, there should be more production and even a few plays in the backfield. By design, it's not up to the linebackers to get to the quarterback, but this group might have to.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Cornerback should be one of the team's strengths with three starting-caliber veterans to rely on. Senior Blake Smith moved from corner to safety to corner starting seven times making 39 tackles and breaking up four passes. He's one of the team's bigger corners and one of the better all-around athletes. He'll combine at the boundary with junior Lyle Garrison, who started in seven games making 18 tackles. Only 5-8 and 170 pounds, he has to rely on his quickness to be a factor. While he's a decent tackler for his size, he's not physical.

Senior Duan Bracey is moved over from wide receiver a few years ago and became a good hitter. Health has been an issue, but when he's right, he's one of the team's better open field tacklers making 27 stops, 22 of them solo, in only nine games of work.

There's returning production at safety, but sophomore Chris May and junior Jacob Wyatt have to be better when the ball is in the air. Wyatt finished fourth on the team in tackles at strong safety making 89 stops and two interceptions. He's great at getting into the backfield, and at times, he can be the team's most physical defensive back. May is promising making 89 stops, two interceptions and four tackles for loss starting every game. He's a smart player who always seems to be in the right position, but he needs to come back healthy after breaking his arm in spring ball.

Projected Top Reserves: The Eagles are deep at corner, thin at safety. Along with Garrison, who'll combine with Smith at one corner spot, senior Julius Brown has enough starting experience to take over if needed. He's only 5-9 and 155 pounds, but he's not afraid to throw his body around finishing with nine tackles. The former JUCO transfer will see time in nickel and dime packages.

Senior Zedrick Bryant has the talent to be one of the team's better all-around pass defenders as long as he's healthy. He was going to be in the starting mix last season before suffering a shoulder injury.

At safety, 6-2, 200-pound junior Jermaine Jenkins is one of the only reliable reserves making nine tackles and being a key factor on special teams. He'll play behind May as a bigger option at free safety.

The coaching staff loves redshirt freshman Ryan Downard, who's been one of the team's better practice players. He has good size and nice range at strong safety behind Wyatt.

Watch Out For ... the stats to be better than the talent. Last year, teams spent so much time running the ball that the secondary rarely got picked on. While they didn't give up too many yards, they got dinked and dunked on to death and will likely be again.
Strength: Experience. Five players with significant starting experience return with good options at both corner spots and two veteran safeties. They've all seen the bad times over the last few years, and now they hope that all the time spent working together will turn into production.
Size. As is the problem all over the place on the EMU defense, size is an issue. There's enough quickness to get to the ball and everyone is tough enough to try to make the big plays, but they can get bullied around a bit by the more physical receivers.
Outlook: While all the returning starters should combine to form the tightest unit yet in the Jeff Genyk era, it's still not going to be a brick wall. As long as it avoids allowing too many big plays and keeps everything in front of them, it'll be one of the team's strengths. However, there's simply not enough talent to slow down the high-octane passing attacks.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: All redshirt freshman Sean Dutcher has to do is replace All-America-caliber kicker Andrew Wellock, who had one of the nation's strongest, most accurate legs. Dutcher doesn't have the range to his seven of ten field goals from beyond 50 yards like Wellock did last season, but he shouldn't be awful inside the 35.

Sophomore punter Zach Johnson was terrific averaging 40 yards per kick while putting a whopping 20 inside the 20. He helped the Eagles finish tenth in the nation in net punting and could be used on long distance field goal tries if Dutcher doesn't shine right away.

With top kick and punt returner Trumaine Riley gone, the Eagles will likely go to senior Julius Brown to handle both duties.

Watch Out For ... Johnson to handle all the kicking duties at times. Dutcher will get his shots to take over, and has performed well in simulated pressure situations, but he doesn't have the leg Johnson has.
Strength: The punting game. Johnson was a godsend with his ability to put the ball inside the 20, but the coverage unit also did a great job. Expect more of the same from one of the MAC's best punting situations.
Returns. EMU needs more pop from a return game that didn't get too mane big plays from Trumaine Riley last season. Field position is everything to a team with a mediocre offense.
Outlook: While Dutcher won't be Wellock, the kicking game should turn out to be fine in time. He'll have to be with an offense that'll bog down as much as EMU's will. As long as Brown is adequate as a return man, and if Johnson can do what he did last season, the special teams could become a strength.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 Eastern Michigan Preview - Offense
 -by  Apr 3, 2007
2007 Eastern Michigan Preview - Depth Chart
 -by  Apr 3, 2007
2007 Eastern Michigan Preview
 -by  Apr 3, 2007

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