2007 Eastern Michigan Preview - Defense
Eastern Michigan Eagles Defense
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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.
Daniel Holtzclaw, 114
Josh Hunt, 3.5
Interceptions: Jacob Wyatt, Chris May, Duan Bracey, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Daniel Holtzclaw
Size, defensive end
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
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,
Weakness of the defense:
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
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
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
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
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
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 ...
Weakness: ... 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.
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
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
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
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
Weakness: 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.