2007 Arkansas State Preview - Defense

Posted Apr 18, 2007

Preview 2007 Arkansas State Indians Defense

Arkansas State Indians

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Arkansas State Preview | 2007 ASU Offense Preview
2007 ASU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN ASU Preview 

What you need to know:
It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning along with Ben Owens in the middle. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tyrell Johnson, 112
Sacks: Brian Flagg, 5
Interceptions: Tyrell Johnson, Koby McKinnon, Dominique Williams, 2

Star of the defense: Senior SS Tyrell Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Alex Carrington
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Ben Owens
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) FS Khyyam Burns, 3) FLB Koby McKinnon
Strength of the defense: Safety, overall pass defense
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, backup linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Defensive tackle will be a little bit of an issue early on after losing productive playmakers Jamarrow James and Jeremy Wallace, so it'll be up to senior Curtis Bonds to quickly play a big role after making 15 tackles and two sacks as a reserve. He's a tough 6-4, 285-pound veteran who's been a key fill-in when needed, and now he's a full-timer. Next to him is returning starter Prince Hickman, a 6-1, 289-pound senior who turned into one of the team's most active linemen last season making 21 tackles. He's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but he has the experience to be the leader of the line and clog things up so others can make plays.

6-5, 267-pound senior Alex Carrington returns at one end  after missing the end of last year hurt. He made 14 tackles in eight games, but failed to do much to get into the backfield with only one sack. His size makes him potentially strong against the run, and now he has to generate more pressure when he gets the chance.

On the other side, the return of junior Brian Flagg after missing all of last year hurt is a huge boost from the line. The former linebacker was supposed to be ready to go after a little bit of time off, but it didn't happen. Now he's 100% and should the team's premier pass rusher if he can quickly regain the form that got him five sacks in 2005.

Projected Top Reserves: The loss of Flagg was big, as was the absence of 6-5, 257-pound senior Brandon Rollins, who missed all but three games finishing with six tackles. He had academic problems in 2005 and injury issues last season. Now he'll be a bigger backup behind Flagg and needs to use his size to be a force against the run.

Former Arkansas Tech transfer Stanley Wakwe will play behind Carrington on the other side. At tackle, 283-pound sophomore Khari Mays is a good-looking prospect behind Bonds on the nose. While he has to prove he can hold his own on a regular basis, he has the build and the strength to become a rock against the run. 6-2, 260-pound redshirt freshman Bryan Hall is a smaller, quicker tackle behind Hickman. 

Watch Out For ... the ends to go from average to great if Flagg and Rollins play up to their pre-injury potential. Carrington has to be more of pass rusher, but the size and speed are there to become dangerous pass rushers.
Strength: Defensive end depth. The injury nightmare of last year allowed several players to see critical time. That'll pay off in a huge way this season with a good rotation and enough possibilities to make end a strength. However ...
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rushing. Flagg is a terror, but the rest of the line is long on looks and short on backfield production. Flagg has to be as good as he was before the knee injury and at least one of the other prospects has to hit the quarterback on a regular basis.
Outlook: The line was pathetic at getting into the backfield last season with the team finishing with just 13 sacks and 55 tackles for loss. That should change with most of the banged up players returning on the ends, but the tackle need to chip in, too. The run defense could stand to be a bit better, and the size is there to hope for a big improvement.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: The linebacking corps should be more than solid even after losing Devrett Wade and Josh Williams. 6-3, 215-pound senior Koby McKinnon is a major-league playmaker on the strongside finishing third on the team with 57 tackles, three sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. He's a do-it-all defender who can hold up well against the run and cover like a safety, which he used to be, against the pass.

6-2, 223-pound junior Ben Owens will take over in the middle after spending last year as a key reserve making 34 tackles and two sacks. While he's not Williams, he has tremendous speed and range; the production won't drop off.

Sophomore Matt Taylor bulked up to get over 212 pounds, and now the former safety will get a long look on the weakside. It's asking a lot for him to be Wade, but he'll have plenty of time to get his feet wet with McKinnon and Owens helping out. 

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Javon McKinnon will get every shot to take over the starting job on the weakside if Taylor isn't up-to-snuff. While only 6-0 and 205 pounds, he's extremely fast and should be great against the pass.

Sophomore Greg Hardy saw a little bit of time in ten games last season making three tackles. He's a smallish 215 pounds, so he has to show he can hold up on a consistent basis in the middle behind Owens.

The backups won't likely be solidified until this fall when five key high school recruits come in along with JUCO transfers Charlton Hankston and Vernon Catlin. Hankston brings some desperately needed size to the mix at 256 pounds, while Caitlin, a 6-4, 225-pound former wide receiver, brings the athleticism.

Watch Out For ... the newcomers to make a huge splash in the rotation. Linebacker was a recruiting priority for the coaching staff, and they got several good prospects. They might play sooner than later.
Strength: McKinnon. The corps is good, but a little bit green. McKinnon is the type of player who can make up for everyone else's mistakes and be the one the rest of the linebackers rely on for a big play.
Weakness: Experience and size. Unless the JUCO transfers are big factors from day one, there's almost no size to rely on with a bunch of former safeties trying to hold up against teams like Texas and Tennessee early on. Uh oh.
Outlook: You don't get better by losing players like Wade and Williams, and it might take a month before the right combination is found, but the cupboard isn't bare of talent. There are plenty of good athletes that should make up for their mistakes in Sun Belt play by simply being more athletic than most conference teams.
Rating: 4

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The cornerbacks are good, but they can be better. Senior Montis Harrison returned from a shoulder problem to regain his form making 18 tackles and an interception. He's extremely fast with good tackling skills, but he needs to make more big plays in coverage. Fellow senior Darren Toney has even better speed having been fast enough to become a sprinter on the track team. He made three interceptions, 39 tackles and broke up five passes as he grew into the starter's role as the year went on.

The safeties are among the best in the league. Senior strong safety Tyrell Johnson and senior free safety Khayyam Burns are each all-stars who'll be among the team's leading tacklers once again. Johnson led the team with 63 stops to go along with an interception and four broken up passes on his way to First Team All-Sun Belt honors. He's a consistent player who's always on the field starting 34 games with a whopping 269 career tackles and seven interceptions. There are few better open-field tacklers in the league. Burns finished second on the team with 60 stops and led the way with four interceptions and seven broken up passes. He's a big hitter who makes plays all over the field with the speed and skill to play either safety spot.

Projected Top Reserves: Along with Harrison and Toney, junior Dominique Williams can be considered a starting safety after seeing plenty of time throughout last season making 24 tackles and three interceptions to go along with six broken up passes. While he's inconsistent, he's aggressive and isn't afraid to go make the big play. However, he'll get beaten more than Harrison and Toney.

Sophomore Daylan Walker is another veteran corner in the rotation making six tackles and an interception in a limited role. He's only 5-9 and 166 pounds, but he's quick.

The backup safeties aren't as set with 6-2, 199-pound sophomore Evan Van Dolah, the team's biggest defensive back, playing behind Burns and redshirt freshman M.D. Jennings getting his feet wet behind Johnson. Van Dolah's a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium and has sub-4.4 speed. Jennings is only 6-0 and 165 pounds, but he's expected to be a physical backup.

Watch Out For ... the starting foursome to be as good as any in the league. This group can do it all. Run, hit, pick off passes, it'll be a shock if this secondary doesn't dominate the weak Sun Belt passing games.
Strength: Experience. Johnson and Burns have been around forever, while there are three starting-caliber corners who've all seen more than enough time to be rock-solid.
Weakness: Backup safety experience. Van Dolah's a big-time prospect, but he hasn't done much of anything yet. Jennings is a smallish strong safety who'll have to prove he can hold up.
Outlook: Was the pass defense great because teams spent so much time running the ball, or was it because no one in the Sun Belt could throw, or was ASU just that good? All three. All the teams with decent quarterbacks (SMU, Auburn, Troy) threw without a problem on the ASU secondary, and all the good passers on this year's schedule will also throw at will. Everyone else will be shut down.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Both kickers are back, for good and bad. Josh Arauco was decent in his freshman year hitting 12 of 16 field goals, but he doesn't have much of a leg topping out just over 35 yards. He got three kicks blocked and didn't hit a field goal longer than 38 yard. Even so, he's reliable. Junior Brent Shrable is a former linebacker, and he often punted like one averaging just 38.1 yards per kick. He showed good direction putting 13 inside the 20, but he has to get more hang time and far more blast. The kick return game was mediocre last season averaging 19.16 yards per try. Darren Toney was the number two man averaging 21.7 yards, and now he'll be the main returner. The punt returns were non-existent averaging just 3.78 yards per return with Kevin Jones averaging 4.2 yards per try. He'll give it another shot.

Watch Out For ... Shrable to do more. He doesn't have the biggest leg around, but he's shown the potential of being a whale of a directional kicker. Experience should mean more consistency.
Strength: Short-range kicking. Shrable should start putting everything inside the 20 and Arauco is automatic inside 35 yards. While it would be nice to have more overall distance, most coaches would take ASU's short-range consistency any day of the week.
Weakness: Proven returners. Considering ASU lives and dies with the running game, field position is everything. Getting something, anything on returns would be a huge bonus.
Outlook: There's nowhere to go but up on the return game. The coverage units will be fine and the kicking game won't be bad.


Related Stories
2007 Arkansas State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 17, 2007
2007 Arkansas State Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 17, 2007
2007 Arkansas State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 17, 2007

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