2007 Miami University Preview - Defense

Posted Apr 3, 2007

Preview 2007 Miami University RedHawk Defense

Miami RedHawks

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 MU Preview | 2007 MU Offense Preview
2007 MU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Miami Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joey Hudson, 97
Sacks: Joe Coniglio, 5
Interceptions: Joey Hudson, 5

Star of the defense: Junior LB Joey Hudson
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:
Tackle experience, proven run defense

Defensive Line

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.

279-pond 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 inside.

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.

Redshirt 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.
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.
Rating: 5


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 linebacker.

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 the middle.

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.
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 athleticism.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

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 the run.

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 defense.
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 defensive backfield.
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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

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 duties.
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 coaches.
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.
Rating: 7.5



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