2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Defense
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Defense
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What you need to know: This should be one of the Sun Belt's
best defenses in time, but only if the back seven can fill all
the holes. The front four will be regulars in the backfield with
three all-conference caliber ends in Erik Walden, Sean Mosley
and Tavares Jones along with nose tackle Trevor Jenkins. The
linebackers are a big problem needing to replace all three
starters, but they aren't the problem the cornerbacks are.
Bradley Robinson is an all-star, but there's no depth and a
concern at the second spot. Damon Nickson will carry things for
a while at safety.
Damon Nickson, 61
Erik Walden, 11.5
Interceptions: Damon Nickson, 5
Star of the defense: Senior FS Damon Nickson
Experienced linebackers, number two corner
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior SS
Anthony Glover or senior SS Dana Stewart
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DT Derek Mason
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Sean Mosley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nickson, 2) DE Erik
Walden, 3) DE Tavares Jones
Strength of the defense: Defensive line
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The Sun Belt's best front line is
highlighted by the ends with seniors Tavares Jones, Sean
Mosley and Erik Walden each terrors in opposing backfields.
Jones earned First Team All-Sun Belt honors with 39 tackles and 5.5
sacks. While he's not the speed rusher Walden is, he's a little bit
bigger at 242 pounds with a linebacker's quickness. Mosley, who rotates
with Walden but gets the start, is a big former linebacker (like the
rest of the Blue Raider ends) at a quick 260 pounds with pure pass
rushing moves. He lived up to his potential with 9.5 sacks and 40
tackles last season despite being slightly over shadowed by his fellow
star ends. He's a big hitter who's great at forcing turnovers causing
285-pound junior Trevor Jenkins is the unsung anchor in the
middle coming off a phenomenal year making 10.5 tackles for loss and 35
tackles. Not just great against Sun Belt teams, Jenkins had his best
game of last year against Maryland making five tackles in the 24-10
loss. He's a good enough athlete to play end if needed, but he's found a
home on the nose.
Next to him is 271-pound senior Derek Mason,
who's still trying to figure out what he's doing after moving over from
the offensive side. The senior only made four tackles last year, but
he's improved in the off-season and should be a force against the run
with all the attention paid to the other three starters.
Projected Top Reserves: While Mosley starts,
Walden is quick to come off the bench and is like starter No. 1A. The
6-2, 238-pound super-sub made 11.5 sacks and 48 tackles on his way to
First Team All-Sun Belt honors, and if he's not double teamed all year,
he'll be in the hunt for 15 sacks. Able to play linebacker if needed,
he's physical enough to handle himself fine up front to go along with
speed that's too much for most Sun Belt offensive linemen to handle.
Being groomed for next year is Andre Wicker, the biggest of the
end options at 6-1 and 265 pounds. He'll play behind Jones on the left
side, but he'll need to get his feet wet now so he can become a key
starters in 2008. In time, he could eventually project to tackle if he
gets a bit stronger. In the middle.
Senior Chris Anderson will
try to return to form after missing almost all of last year hurt. At 270
pounds, he's one of the team's bigger linemen who needs to be a key
factor in the rotation behind Mason.
6-4, 258-pound junior Jonathan
Presley is undersized for a noseguard, but his quickness and
toughness make up for it. He played in every game last season making 13
tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss as a top backup.
Watch Out For ... a dominant season. There are three
all-star quality ends, too much quickness on the inside, and experience
all over the place. It'll be a shock if the Blue Raiders don't finish in
the top five in the nation (they were third last year) in tackles for
Strength: Pass rushing ability. All four linemen,
along with Mosley, are aggressive and can get into the backfield on a
regular basis. Offenses can't focus on stopping any one of them.
Weakness: Youth for next year. It'll be too tempting to play all
the senior stars, along with the senior backups, in a killer rotation,
but the coaching staff has to carve out time to groom several young
players or the cupboard will be bare.
Outlook: Without question, this will be the Sun
Belt's best defensive line. It would be nice to have a little more beef
on the inside, but that's not what the design is with quickness being at
a premium. Expect at least 40 sacks, 100 tackles for loss, and games
where the front line completely shuts down opposing Sun Belt offenses.
Projected Starters: All three starters are gone from last
year's linebacking corps, but there's a little bit of experience
returning. Senior Chance Dunleavy started last year but
redshirted after dislocating his kneecap just before the season got
rolling. The former JUCO All-American was underwhelming in his first
season inside making just 31 tackles, and now he has to prove he can
play as well as Justin Rainey, who tied for the team lead in stops. At
238 pounds he has the size, but he has to show he has the quickness
coming off the injury.
Taking over for J.K. Sabb on the weakside is
junior Lonnie Clemons, who stepped into the starting role for a
three game stretch late last year when Sabb was struggling. At 230
pounds, he's big for a weakside defender but he has the quickness to
handle himself well in space. After making 22 tackles, and with five
starts, he's ready to be one of the team's top tacklers.
senior Derek Shropshire will start on the strongside after
spending most of last year on special teams making just two tackles. The
former JUCO transfer is one of the best athletes in the linebacking
corps, but now he has to be a steady defensive performer.
Projected Top Reserves: 240-pound sophomore
Danny Carmichael is the biggest linebacker in the mix, and bigger
than some of the ends. He had a nice true freshman season making 26
tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, highlighted by a ten-stop game in the
win over Arkansas State, as a reserve in the middle. A sure-tackler,
he's a pure middle linebacker who can take over the starting role if
Dunleavy's knee isn't quite right.
JUCO transfer Andrew Harrington
is the X factor in the corps. 6-2, 220 pounds and fast, he'll start
out behind Shropshire on the strongside but he has the speed to become a
terror on the weakside.
Sophomore Cam Robinson spent last year on
special teams making nine tackles, and now he'll play behind Clemons on
the weakside. He has running back quickness and change of direction, but
he's not an offensive player playing defense; he can hit.
Watch Out For ... the corps to not be that bad. Any
time you lose three starters there's going to be some adjusting, but
there's enough size and athleticism to be decent early on and strong in
Strength: Size. In the Sun Belt, it's a luxury to
have six linebackers who all check in at 220 pounds or more. The
starting three will be among the biggest in the league.
Weakness: Inexperience. This might not be a bad thing since all
the jobs are, for the most part, open making for some interesting
competition. However, there isn't one super-stud to revolve around just
Outlook: The team had the same problem last year
needing to replace some key starters and turned out just fine.
Fortunately, the early problems should be masked by the great defensive
line. This group won't have to do too much blitzing and should be able
to focus on staying at home, stopping the run, and making sure decent
gains don't turn into big ones.
Projected Starters: Replacements need to be
made in the secondary, but there's a superstar to build around in senior
safety Damon Nickson, who's one of the Sun Belt's top kickoff
returners along with being an all-star defender. He's not all that big
at only 6-0 and 177 pounds, but he flies all over the field making plays
finishing third on the team last season with 61 tackles and five
interceptions with four coming in the win over UL Lafayette. The former
corner could play strong safety if needed.
The other safety spot is
still a question mark junior Anthony Glover likely to take over
for Jonathan Harris. The former linebacker made five tackles last year
in a limited role, but he has the size (6-2, 218 pounds) and the range
to grow into a fearsome producer.
Senior Bradley Robinson returns at one corner playing on the left
side after making 37 tackles and picking off two passes last season.
While he's not huge at 5-10 and 175 pounds, he's physical against the
bigger receivers and good against the run. With three years of starting
experience, he knows what he's doing.
The other side is more of a
problem after starter Roy Polite was kicked off the team. 5-9, 163-pound
junior Alex Suber will take over after getting a little bit of
starting work and finishing with 17 tackles. The former running back
will be tested with everyone staying away from Robinson on the other
Projected Top Reserves: Glover is option one at
strong safety, senior Dana Stewart is right behind and could end
up getting the gig. While not as give as Glover, he's a good hitter with
more production making 35 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Backing up Suber for the right cornerback job will be sophomore Josh Gregory,
who's going to need a little bit of seasoning before he's ready to push
for the starting job.
Trying to find a little depth, the coaching staff
has moved former wide receiver David Raymond behind Robinson. He
has the speed, but he's not a polished corner by any stretch.
Watch Out For ... quarterbacks doing everything
possible to stay away from Robinson and Nickson. With so many question
marks in the Middle Tennessee secondary, no one will want to go after
Strength: Nickson. He allows the rest of the
secondary to do so many different things since he's always in the right
position to help out the corners while playing well against the run.
Weakness: Depth. There's concern over the depth at safety, while
the corner backups are a big, big problem. The panic sirens will go off
if Robinson goes down.
Outlook: The secondary will get all the help it
can ask for from the defensive front that'll get into the backfield
early and often. Fortunately, no one in the Sun Belt can throw on a
regular basis, but Louisville and LSU will bomb away. Nickson and
Robinson will be in the hunt for all-star honors, and Suber will be
decent, but it's going to be tough to find other consistent starters.
Projected Starters: Junior Matt King
spent last year handling the kickoffs and now brings a bigger leg than
Colby Smith, who missed two of six chances from beyond 40 yards. He has
yet to try a field goal or extra point and needs to be consistent while
becoming a bit of a long-distance weapon.
Sophomore David DeFatta
was a top high school punter averaging 42.3 yards per kick. He'll take
over for Smith, who was a far better punter than a field goal kicker
putting 22 inside the 20 and forcing 17 fair catches.
is an All-America caliber kickoff returner averaging 28.8 yards per
try last season.
Watch Out For ... a drop-off. King and DeFatta should
be decent in time, and they have the legs to provide some pop, but Smith
Strength: Nickson. Opposing teams will have to do
whatever possible to keep him from getting on the move. He's a
game-breaker who gives the offense boost after boost with big returns.
Weakness: Experience. Easily the shakiest part of the team, the
kicking game is a total unknown while a dangerous punt returner needs to
be found if it's not Bradley Robinson.
Outlook: Smith will be tough to replace. All
anyone wants is for King and DeFatta to be consistent from close range;
anything else will be gravy. The coverage units are decent and the
return game will turn into a plus no matter who's taking over at punt