Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The good: The D improved giving up nine fewer yards and
four fewer points per game than in 2005. The bad: The Owls were 117th in
the nation in total defense and 118th in scoring D. The 2008 version
should be tremendous once all the freshmen and sophomores are crusty
veterans, but for now, there's good competition at almost every spot
with no sure-thing starter. The defensive line should be far better with
an instant infusion of talent, while the back seven has potential,
especially at linebacker, to make a big jump in production. It would be
nice if a true shut-down corner could quickly emerge with the hope that
JUCO transfer Tommie Williams will be that guy. Don't expect miracles,
but the overall numbers should improve.
Tackles: Dominique Harris, 59
Terrance Knighton, 3
Interceptions: Dominique Harris, Georg Coleman, 2
Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Brian Sanford
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DTs Daniel Popper and Andre Neblett
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Wallace Bates
Best pro prospect: Bates
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sanford, 2) NT Andre
LB Alex Joseph
Strength of the defense: Options and competition for
spots, defensive line
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, run defense
Projected Starters: While he's only a true
sophomore, and he's new to the line, Brian Sanford will be
expected to become the main man up front. The former outside linebacker
made 24 tackles last season, bulked up, to 253 pounds, and now will try
to be a key pass rushing end. He ran the hurdles in high school; he has
the quickness to get into the backfield.
On the other side will be true
freshman Morris Blueford, a rangy 6-4, 220-pound
linebacker-turned-end who comes over from Fort Union Military Academy
where he spent a year working on his new position. He's a fantastic
athlete who should be a mainstay on the line for the next four seasons.
The starting tackles have to be far better than last year, and Temple
has the players to form a decent rotation. 6-2, 285-pound sophomore
Andre Neblett will start out on the nose where he made 18 tackles as
a true freshman. One of the team's tougher players, he had problems as a
true freshman coming up with consistent stops against the run.
overall run defense is going to be better, he'll be the key. At tackle,
6-1, 275-pound sophomore Daniel Popper has gotten much stronger
in the off-season and should be ready to make an impact after not
playing last season.
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Popper hard for
the starting spot is 6-2, 285-pound junior Philip Simpson, a
former high school quarterback who'll move inside after making 29
tackles and two sacks on the end.
311-pound junior Terrance Knighton
is the team's biggest defender and a potential run clogger on the
nose. He started 11 games last season and made 57 tackles and 6.5
tackles for loss, but he wasn't consistent. In better shape, he should
be stronger at getting into the backfield.
On the outside, junior
Leyon Azubiuke moved from linebacker to end to play behind Sanford.
Originally a defensive end, he was one of the big keys to the defense
going into last year after being moved to the rush end. He only made 24
tackles, but he was active, at times at getting into the backfield.
Junior James Tindall, a transfer from Minnesota, is ready
to go after sitting out last season. He'll play at the Rush End behind
Blueford bringing more size at 240 pounds.
Watch Out For ... improved play against the run. The
line was full of raw prospects last season, but they got experience and
now they have reinforcements who should be even more productive. There
are enough prospects to form a solid rotation.
Strength: Depth. The new, young players have
rocketed up to the top of the depth chart, while most of last year's top
players got moved down a peg. That means veterans will be coming off the
Weakness: A proven run stopper. You don't finish last in the
nation in run defense without having significant problems up front.
While there's good size, decent new prospects, and several options to
play around with, there isn't a sure-thing playmaker against the run.
Outlook: Potentially the strength of the defense
with more depth and more players to choose from than anywhere else, the
line has to make the biggest jump up in production. With beefed up
linebackers playing on the end, the pass rush should be steady, but
unless more plays are made at the point of attack, the defense isn't
going to be too much better.
Projected Starters: 6-2, 228-pound sophomore
Alex Joseph made 19 tackles and a sack as a backup last season. That
makes him the veteran star of this crew. While he might not have a world
of experience, he showed tremendous potential and should become one of
the team's biggest producers playing in the middle. It'll be a shock if
he doesn't lead the team in tackles.
On the strongside will be 205-pound
sophomore Lamar McPherson (at least until all the recruits
arrive). The Syracuse transfer isn't big, but he's fast enough to have
been considering a move to running back and he's plenty tough.
230-pound Wallace Bates is poised to be the star of the corps if
he lives up to his billing. After originally signing with Oregon State,
Bates went the JUCO route where he was an all-star at College of the
Canyons in California. He's a tremendous athlete, but he's very, very
raw playing just one year of high school football.
Projected Top Reserves: 220-pound Dave
Chiavacci is a hard-nosed true sophomore in the middle who made
three tackles in a little bit of time last season. While he's not the
athlete Joseph is, he'll see plenty of playing time.
Le'Ron Irwin is a far bigger option on the strong side behind the
205-pound McPherson. While he saw time in ten games last season, he
didn't register a tackle.
Of the new recruits who'll likely see time
right away, Tommie Weatherspoon and Amara Kamara have the
chance to make the biggest impact. Kamara is a tackling machine making
193 stop with seven forced fumbles in his senior year. He's only 210
pounds, but he's a linebacker, not a safety. The 245-pound Weatherspoon
was a JUCO star at Reedly CC in California where he upped his game in a
big way after originally signing with Middle Tennessee out of high
Watch Out For ... the new guys. It'll be a shock if
the linebacking corps is completely and totally different by the start
of the season than it will be at the beginning of fall practice.
Weatherspoon, Kamara and Bates are that good.
Strength: Potential. This is one of the most
athletic linebacking corps Temple has put together in a long time. It's
been years since the program hasn't had prospects like the ones coming
Weakness: Experience. There's absolutely no one, outside of
Joseph, the team knows for sure can play. It might take some adjusting,
at least half the season, before everyone figures out what they're
Outlook: The 2008 Owl linebacking corps will be an
absolute killer. With no experience and all three jobs open for a
battle, this will likely be a work in progress all season long until the
right combination is found. On the plus side, the talent level has
undergone a significant upgrade allowing some of the linebackers from
last year to move to the line.
Projected Starters: The starting corners going
into the season might not be the starters at the end with plenty of
competition at both spots. The likely starter at the Boundry Corner will
be JUCO transfer Tommie Williams, a veteran who played for two
years at Reedley CC in California. What kind of an athlete is he? He was
the Florida state high school triple jump champion and also earned
honors in weightlifting.
Sophomore Dy'Onne Crudup will likely get
the start on the Field side after spending last year mostly at wide
receiver where he made two catches for 16 yards. While raw, he appears
to have taken to the transition.
The safety spots will also be up for grabs. Sophomore Wilbert Brinson
hits like a ton of bricks, but that's also how he covers. He made 31
tackles as a true freshman and forced two fumbles, but unless he's more
productive against the pass, he'll get pushed out of the strong safety
Sophomore Dominique Harris is the team's leading returning
tackler making 59 stops along with two interceptions, but he'll still
have a fight on his hands for the free safety job. At 6-3 and 205
pounds, he's the team's biggest defensive back, and he hits like it.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Evan Cooper,
one of the team's more experienced players, will get every shot to win
his job back at the Field Corner. He finished fifth on the team in
tackles with 52 stops and has the speed to be even more productive. One
problem: he didn't do much when the ball was in the air.
On the other
side, sophomore Anthony Ferla will be neck-and-neck with Williams
all year long. Ferla made 17 tackles as a true freshman with one broken
up pass. While he doesn't have the upside of Williams, he should be able
to hold his own now that he knows what he's doing.
At strong safety,
junior Richard Sheppard will battle with Brinson for time. A good
hitter who could play free safety if absolutely necessary, he made 35
tackles but didn't do much against the pass.
Former running back
Georg Coleman started off last season at corner and now will compete
for the free safety job. The junior was one of the team's better ball
hawks with two interceptions to go along with 36 tackles.
Watch Out For ... competition all season long. With
at least two options at all four positions, if there isn't production
early on, there will be changes. The depth is there to make them.
Strength: Choices. With all the position battles,
the coaching staff can go with the hot hand or come up with a strong
second team that can make wholesale changes if needed.
Weakness: Playmakers. Can anyone actually defend the pass? It's
not like teams were bombing away considering all the success they had
running the ball, but the secondary still couldn't make any plays. A
shut-down corner has to emerge.
Outlook: Like everywhere else with the Owls,
expect the secondary to be a work in progress. Unlike last year, there's
actually a bit of experience among the defensive backs, and a potential
star in Williams at one corner. The hope will be for the safeties to be
able to concentrate on the pass instead of trying to patch up the run
defense all the time.
Projected Starters: The punting spot is up for
grabs despite a decent first season from Jake Brownell, who
averaged 38.5 yards per kick. He didn't get much help from the coverage
unit. but he didn't showoff the biggest leg. While he forced 12 fair
catches, he only put ten inside the 20.
6-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman
Jonathan Boyer has the big leg and will will get every chance to
win the job. Brownell hit two of his three field goal chances and will
likely get the job to start, but redshirt freshman Garrett Clawson
could quickly take over if he can be consistent inside the 40.
Freshman Delano Green will take over the return duties after the
Owls averaged a nation-low 3.18 yards per punt return. Travis Shelton
will get the kick return gig back at some point after averaging an
amazing 28.8 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... an open battle for the kicking jobs
up until the opener. The coaching staff is making the kicking game
priority one, and it'll make sure it finds more consistency in the
punting game and a field goal kicker it can rely on.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Shelton is one of the
best in the nation, while the speedy Green should be a major factor in
the field position.
Weakness: Punt returns. Green needs to quickly improve the
team's average, but he also needs help from the blocking.
Outlook: Head coach Al Golden is taking over the
special teams duties looking to make them a strength. The kicking game
will eventually be better, and the return game should be interesting at
times. Golden wants the special teams to be a major strength, and he'll
find a way to make it happen.