2007 Miami University Preview - Defense
Miami University RedHawk Defense
Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: There were
huge concerns about the defense going into last season with only two
returning starters, but the lumps taken against the run and against way
too many mediocre offenses should pay off in a return to the days when
MU had one of the MAC's best defenses. While just six starters are back,
there are more than enough promising options at several positions to
create good overall competition and have more depth than there's been in
a long time. The pass rush needs to be better with Craig Mester needing
to get back to form to help out junior end Joe Coniglio. Joey Hudson and
Clayton Mullins form one of the MAC's best 1-2 linebacking punches,
while the secondary should be one of the team's strengths led by speedy
corner Jerrid Gaines and veteran safety Robbie Wilson.
Joey Hudson, 97
Joe Coniglio, 5
Interceptions: Joey Hudson, 5
Star of the defense: Junior LB Joey Hudson
Tackle experience, proven run defense
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
NT Mark Paun
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Jordan Gafford
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Jerrid Gaines
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hudson, 2) Gaines, 3)
SS Robbie Wilson
Strength of the defense: Overall experience, linebackers
Joey Hudson and Clayton Mullins
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The tackles will be a concern
early, but the ends should be in place even after losing several key
players from last season. Senior Craig Mester and junior Joe
Coniglio have plenty of experience, but they have to be far better
at getting into the backfield after a tremendously disappointing season.
The 6-5, 262-pound Mester has the speed and moves to be a regular in the
backfield, but he didn't make nearly enough big plays and never found a
groove in the rotation finishing with 23 tackles and just 1.5 sacks. If
he can get back to his sophomore form, MU will have the pass rusher it
sorely missed throughout last season.
Coniglio is a rock-solid 249
pounds, but he has to be better against the run and needs to improve
upon the five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss considering the spotlight
will be on him to shine. He's a former linebacker who should be more
consistent now that he's had a year at end under his belt.
The starting tackles need to be replaced, but that's not necessarily a
bad thing considering the rough time they have against the run. 6-4,
277-pound Ben Huddle moved over from end and got his feet wet
making four tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in a limited role with
injury issue midseason. He's not a space-eater against the run, but his
quickness should get him in on everything up the middle while making him
a factor as a pass rusher.
6-3, 272-pound Mark Paun will get the
first shot on the nose after seeing a little bit of time as a true
freshman making ten tackles and a sack after Kevin Samy had to quit the
team with injury issues. He's decent at the point of attack, but his
strength is his quickness as he should do a good job of collapsing the
pocket if the rest of the line does its job.
Projected Top Reserves: Miami likes to rotate its
linemen more then most teams, and this year won't be any different,
especially at tackle. Sophomore Martin Channels is a 6-0,
335-pound bowling ball on the inside providing more bulk than Huddle. He
only saw time in four games and made just two tackles as a true
freshman, but he'll play a far more prominent role this season.
Alex Stewart can play either tackle spot with nice quickness for a
player of his size. Joining him in the rotation is Sean Redwine,
who moved over from tight end to bring even more athleticism to the
On the outside, Sophomore Travis Craven is a star in the
making overcoming injuries to make 17 tackles, three sacks and 8.5
tackles for loss. He'll play behind Mester and could be one of the pass
rushing specialists the team was sorely lacking last season.
freshman Jordan Stevens brings more size behind Coniglio at 262
pounds. He was banged up last season, but he's healthy and ready to be a
factor with good intensity and a load of talent.
Watch Out For ... the ends that start off the year as
reserves to turn out to be better than the starters. While Coniglio was
good at getting to the quarterbacks, and Mester has the ability to be a
killer pass rusher, Craven and Stevens have more upside.
Strength: Quickness. Getting to the quarterback
wasn't supposed to be a problem last year, but it was with only 20 sacks
and 59 tackles for loss. That should change with excellent athleticism,
and decent options at all four spots.
Weakness: Tackle experience. Huddle, Paun, Channels and Stewart
should all turn out to be fine, but that's what everyone thought last
season when several relatively inexperienced players were expected to
shine. The production can't be much worse, especially against the run.
Outlook: The line was a disaster last season with
injuries and ineffectiveness making the front four stunningly
ineffective, and now with Tranaine SIlls, Otto Linwood and Seth Painter
all choosing not to play a fifth season, the overall experience has
thinned out. Even so with good options at end and promising newcomers in
the middle, there should be a night-and-day improvement in overall
production. At least that's the hope.
Projected Starters: In a bad year for the defense,
junior Joey Hudson was a bright spot leading the team with 97
tackles, 1.5 sacks, and ten tackles for loss, but what made him a true
standout in the middle was his ability in pass coverage picking off five
tackles. He's recovering from shoulder surgery, but he's expected to be
back and as good as ever as the tough leader of the linebacking corps.
He has nice size at 6-2 and 230 pounds and decent quickness with the
skill to play any of the three spots.
Junior Clayton Mullins
finished second on the team with 91 tackles, four tackles for loss and
two interceptions from his weakside spot. At 231 pounds, he's big for
the position after bulking up from 209 pounds from just a few years ago.
He's just as strong against the run as he is against the pass, and now
he should blossom into an all-star candidate if he builds on his
performance from the end of last season.
The one question is on the strongside with sophomore Caleb Bostic taking over the job after
serving most of last year on special teams and backup linebacker making
11 tackles. He's from central casting for a linebacker as a cut 6-3 and
222 pounds with excellent speed.
Projected Top Reserves: While Bostic has all the
tools to grow into one of MU's new stars, he'll have to battle with
223-pound redshirt freshman Dexter Korto and Donnie Hardy,
who's a safety-sized 6-1, 196 pounds but has the best wheels in the
corps. He could be a huge corner as easily as he could be an outside
Junior Chris Shula can play inside or out and will be
a key special teamer again. A top reserve making 21 tackles last season,
he bulked up to 226 pounds and should be a solid backup behind Hudson in
Sophomore Brad Goatley is back after missing
all of last year hurt and should see time on the outside and special
teams. Sophomore James Case is a 261-pound former defensive
lineman who's back after getting knocked out early last year. He'll add
more bulk and toughness to the inside.
Watch Out For ... a huge turnaround. The linebacking
corps was a glaring, screaming weak spot going into last season, and
while there were plenty of tackles and lots of nice stats, there weren't
enough difference-making plays. The team had to find starters much less
any quality reserves. That's changed this year with three good-looking
starters and decent prospects waiting in the wings
Strength: Hudson and Mullins. It's always a plus
to get the top two tacklers back, especially when they're juniors and
potential rocks of the defense for the next few seasons. The all-star
two-some have to start getting into the backfield even more and making
more stops at the line rather than five-plus yards down the field.
Weakness: Loads of speed on the outside. There are a few quick
prospects, like Hardy, but this isn't the fastest group around. The size
and overall experience in the corps has to make up for the average
Outlook: If Hudson can play like he did last
season and Mullins can do even more against the pass from the weakside,
the MU linebacking corps could grow into one of the best in the MAC.
With several good options to rotate in at all three spots, and a nice
variety of talents and skills, last year's biggest weakness could be
this season's strength.
Projected Starters: Even with the loss of
do-everything free safety Joey Card, the safety situation should be even
better with more depth and more options to play around with. Junior
Robbie Wilson is the one sure starter coming off a 59 tackle season.
If he's not the fastest strong safety in the MAC, he's not far behind
with NFL-caliber athleticism and skills. Now he has to use it all to be
an All-MAC caliber performer by doing far more when the ball is in the
air. Last season he had to spend most of his time making plays against
Replacing Card, at least early on, will be sophomore Jordan
Gafford, who turned into a key backup as a true freshman in the
secondary and on special teams making nine tackles and an interception.
He has the range and the potential to be a big hitter, but it's asking a
lot for him to be Card right away.
The corners should also be solid led by senior Jerrid Gaines,
who turned in a strong season an open field tackler making 34 solo stops
and two interceptions. He has decent size at 5-11 and 192 pounds, but
his key is the blinding speed that gives him the potential to be one of
the league's premier cover corners.
Teams will start to stay away from
Gaines if he starts to make some more big plays when the ball is in the
air, so it'll be up to sophomore Wendell Brunson to hold up on
the other side. While he's not the athlete Gaines is, he has good
quickness and nice cutting ability. He saw time in 11 games last season
getting a start and finishing with 13 tackles.
Projected Top Reserves: Battling with Gafford for
Card's old job will be redshirt freshman Peris Edwards, a
201-pound tackler who looks like a corner but has the physical ability
to grow into an intimidating ball-hawker.
Sophomore Jason Gibson
was mostly a special teamer last year, but now he'll be the first man
off the bench behind Wilson at strong safety. Able to play corner if
needed, his size at 6-1 and 203 pounds, when combined with his size,
makes him a natural safety.
The backup corners can play led by sophomore
Jeff Thompson, who's expected to be a key defender in nickel and
dime packages after making eight tackles as a reserve. The star of the
future, and possible the present, is true freshman Brandon Stephens,
who has all the talent to grow into a shutdown corner once he gets a
little bit of experience. He got to school early and should be a key
contributor behind Gaines.
Helping out the depth will be junior Bryan
Roland, who was expected to be a starter going into last season
before tearing up his knee. While he doesn't have the talent or
athleticism the other corner prospects have, the former high school
running back can play.
Watch Out For ... the corners to be among the best in
the league. Gaines will end up playing at the next level, or at least
will get a long look, while Brunson, Thompson and Stephens could all
start for most MAC teams. With their talent and experience, they need to
pick off more passes.
Strength: Talent. The coaching staff has done a
good job of blending veterans with promising new prospects at all four
spots, and the result should be another run at being the MAC's best pass
Weakness: Proven ball-hawks. The secondary had to spend too much
time helping out against the run, and while they might be better now
that they can concentrate on the pass a bit more, the need to show they
can pick off passes. Only four of 2006's interceptions return to the
Outlook: Last year, MU finished ninth in America
and first in the MAC in pass defense allowing 158 yards per game. That
was a bit misleading since almost everyone spent their time running the
ball. Now this group should be as good as the stats with good prospects
at all four spots and several all-star candidates. If this isn't the
league's best secondary, it'll be close to it.
Projected Starters: The kicking game took a big
turn to the positive when now-sophomore Trevor Cook took over the
placekicking job hitting ten of 13 field goal attempts including a
49-yarder. He has a good, accurate leg from inside 40 yards, and now
he'll likely get a shot to try long-range bombs now that the coaching
staff has more confidence in him.
Junior Jake Richardson was
good, not great punting the ball averaging 41.1 yards per kick and
putting 14 inside the 20. The coverage unit didn't help him out as MU
netted a mere 34.12 yards per kick. Replacing superstar punt returner
Ryne Robinson is going to be tough, but sophomore Jeff Thompson
will give it a try. The cornerback has good quickness and the potential
to be good, but he'll have to fight off Eugene Harris for the
job. Wide receiver Dustin Woods averaged 23.6 yards per try on 14
returns last season and should be a good one once again.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be a major plus
as long as the coverage units are better. As long as Richardson doesn't
outkick his coverage, he could be special. More blast on kickoffs would
be a help as long as the RedHawks aren't allowing the big returns like
they did last year.
Strength: Placekicking. Cook has the type of leg
to become an All-MAC weapon, while backup Jared Parseghian is a veteran
who can step in if there are problems. Each can handle the kickoff
Weakness: Proven punt returner. Robinson was an all-timer.
Thompson and Harris have potential, but it's asking a lot average 10.1
yards per kick while throwing a scare into opposing special teams
Outlook: It'll be fine as long as Cook is as good
as he was last season. A little tweaking will make the punting game a
plus, and the return game won't be all that bad. Cook will start trying
more big kicks meaning his percentage will likely go down, but it's a
necessary step the kicking game has to take. Improvement from the
coverage teams is a must.