Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: Is it
time to start giving the BC defense a little love? It allowed 17
points per game in 2004, 15.92 in 2005, and 15.69 last year.
With defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani back, it should be
even better with nine starters returning including the entire
front seven if linebacker Brian Toal is back from a shoulder
problem. The monster tackles, B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, will gum
up everything inside, while the deep linebacking corps will
quietly be among the ACC's best. DeJuan Tribble is one of the
league's best shutdown corners, and Jamie Silva is a top free
safety. The problem? There isn't a reliable second corner, and
strong safety is a question mark.
Tackles: Jolonn Dunbar, 92
Larkin, B.J. Raji, 2
Interceptions: DeJuan Tribble, 7
Star of the defense: Senior CB DeJuan Tribble
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Allan Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior DT B.J. Raji
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Tribble, 2) Raji, 3) LB
Strength of the defense: Front seven, tackle size
Weakness of the defense:
Second corner on the other side of Tribble
Projected Starters: The BC
line will be among the best in the ACC, and it'll be close,
thanks to the tremendous tackle tandem of senior B.J. Raji
and junior Ron Brace. The 6-3, 335-pound Raji was
close to taking off early for the NFL, but came back and is now
in a salary drive for next year, when he'll likely go in the
first two rounds. Big, quick and tough, he made 26 tackles with
three tackles for loss as one of the rocks of the run defense.
The 6-3, 335-pound Brace made 20 tackles and two tackles for
loss with two recovered fumbles. While he's not as good as Raji,
he's a tough big presence on the inside. Sometimes he's too big,
needing to stay under 340 to be at his most effective. These two
will be tough to get past for inside running games, and now
they'll need to start doing more to get into the backfield.
While senior Nick Larkin wasn't named a starter coming
out of spring ball, that'll quickly change. A starter in the
last 25 games at end, the 6-4, 250-pound senior made 33 tackles,
three sacks and six tackles for loss as the active pass rusher
everyone has to deal with first. While he wasn't Mathias
Kiwanuka, he was disruptive. As good as he is, he'll still have
to keep working to play a full-time role with good players
pushing for time.
On the other side will be 6-2, 250-pound sophomore Brady
Smith. While he's a true end, he's seen starting time inside
and out as a quick tackle and a tough end making 25 tackles. Now
he has to grow into a pass rusher after only generating thee
tackles for loss with no sacks.
Projected Top Reserves: The battles are on for
spots on the end. 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Allan Smith,
not the all-star, Larkin, was listed first on the depth chart
going into the fall. A smallish, quick prospect who made four
tackles in a reserve role, he'll grow into a disruptive pass
Pushing for time at the left end job will be 6-5, 230-pound
sophomore Alex Albright after making 20 tackles and two
sacks as a true freshman. He needs to beef up and add more size
to his frame to play more of a regular role against the run, but
he'll at least be a strong end in the rotation with Brady Smith.
After starting against Navy in the bowl game, he proved he can
step in and shine.
As if there wasn't enough size in the middle, ready to
contribute will be 6-3, 340-pound redshirt freshman Thomas
Claiborne. A high school track star in the discus and shot
put, he'll be a strong, athletic inside presence behind Brace.
Watch Out For ... this to be a brick wall against
the run. With all four starters returning, and backups with
starting experience, and a whole bunch of size all along the
front, no one will run on a regular basis on this group.
Strength: Size. When the top three tackles for 340, 335 and 340,
you have anchors to count on. The ends aren't huge, but with the
inside presences they get to work around, they don't have to be.
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rusher. Larkin is a great all-around
defender and a likely All-ACC performer, but he's not a killer
pass rusher who can beat the double teams. He's certainly good,
but he needs someone on the other side to help take the
Outlook: The Eagles have four ends good enough to
star, three huge tackles and a quick reserve in Jerry Willette,
and the potential to grow into something special over the next
two years with everyone coming back in 2008 but Raji and Larkin.
There will be a good rotation and plenty of production at all
Projected Starters: Is
Brian Toal going to be ready? The 6-0, 232-pound senior
missed spring ball with a shoulder problem and could end up
redshirting the season if it's not right by the start of the
season. He made 50 tackles and two interceptions on the outside
while continuing to
serve as an unstoppable goal line back with 12 career
touchdowns. His overall production has dropped since a 77-tackle
freshman year, and it's all because of the shoulder problem.
Back in the middle is 6-0, 233-pound senior Jolonn Dunbar,
who led the team with 92 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for
loss after making 50 stops as a sophomore. Most known for taking
back two fumbles for scores in the win over Maryland, he's a
presence all over the field making big things happen. The former
running back has speed, range, and brutal hitting ability. Now
he knows what he's doing as the leader of the front seven.
On the outside will once again be 5-11, 220-pound senior
Tyronne Pruitt after a solid 48 tackle season with five
tackles for loss. While he's not huge, he doesn't miss a tackle
and always finds a way to get around the ball. He's terrific at
keeping short gains from becoming big ones.
Projected Top Reserves: If Toal isn't able to go,
it'll be up to 6-2, 240-pound junior Robert Francois to
step in and try to provide the same sort of physical presence.
He started seven games last season and finished fourth on the
team with 52 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Even faster than
Toal, the former high school star sprinter isn't much of a
downgrade if he gets the full-time starting gig.
Playing behind Pruitt will be will be 6-2, 212-pound junior
Kevin Akins, who's coming off a nice 36 tackle season with
7.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. While he's built like a
safety (where he could move if Toal is back), he bulked up and
should be a bit stronger against the run. He's a blur into the
backfield bringing his sprinter's speed to the outside.
At 6-0 and 250 pounds, sophomore Mike McLaughlin is the
biggest linebacker in the rotation and a physical presence
behind Dunbar in the middle. A good reserve with 12 tackles last
year, he'll be the understudy before getting the starting job in
Watch Out For ... Toal to stop double dipping as a
goal line back. If he's back this year, his shoulder will have
to limit the pounding. That's not a plus for a physical
linebacker, and he doesn't need to take more shots than
Strength: Experience and talent. Few teams can potentially lose
a player like Toal and be more than fine. With everyone
returning from last year's great corps, and a great anchor to
work around in Dunbar in the middle, everyone knows what they're
doing, and everyone has their role. From Larkin's pass rushing
to the speed of Francois, everyone can play.
Weakness: Not much. The only possible knock is that the group
isn't amazing in pass coverage. It's good, but not phenomenal.
Outlook: Virginia Tech's linebacking corps is the
best in the ACC, and Georgia Tech and Miami have great ones, but
BC's is up there. There's speed, hitting ability, experience,
and a boatload of talent with or without Toal. With a good line
in front of them taking care of most of the running plays, the
linebackers will roam free, for the most part, and be
DeJuan Tribble isn't all that big at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but
he's one of the ACC's premier cover corners with nine
interceptions and 11 broken up passes over the last two years,
stepping up his game last season with seven picks. With 106
tackles over the last two season, 89 of them solo, he's a tough
tackler who doesn't miss a play. Everyone will stay away from
him if possible.
On the other side will likely be 5-9, 181-pound junior Taji
Morris after no one else stepped up this spring. He was on
his way to a strong season with 21 tackles and four broken up
passes over the first five games before missing the rest of the
season with a groin injury. While he's not a great coverman,
he'll have to be with no one throwing at Tribble.
Helping out the overall cause will be steady free safety
Jamie Silva, a 5-11, 208-pound senior who finished third on
the team with 57 tackles and four interceptions with 6.5 tackles
for loss. A monster hitter with 185 career stops, he's great at
getting all over the field and should bail out the second corner
on the other side of Tribble time and again.
Trying to step in and take over at strong safety, at least to
start the year, will be 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Paul
Anderson after making 12 tackles and a pick as a reserve.
He's an athletic defender who could play free safety if needed,
and he'll have to be a part of a rotation at strong safety until
someone emerges as a consistent hitter.
Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Anderson at
strong safety, it'll be 6-2, 206-pound sophomore Marcellus
Bowman, who played in every game and made 12 tackles with a
broken up pass. He's a big option at the position and will split
time with Anderson if he doesn't take over the job. Next year,
he could end up at free safety.
Everyone wanted 6-0, 170-pound sophomore Roderick Rollins
to emerge as a starting corner, but he struggled in spring ball
getting beaten way too often. He'll still get plenty of chances
to take over the job and grow into the job, but for now, he'll
likely be a key reserve behind Morris.
Looking to learn on the free safety job before taking over in
2008 will be 6-1, 205-pound sophomore Wes Davis, who made
20 tackles as a reserve. He looked great as a true freshman and
should emerge over the next year as one of the team's most
promising defensive backs.
Watch Out For ... top pass rushing linebacker
Kevin Akins to see time at strong safety. He's built like a
strong safety, and has the speed and range that the coaching
staff wants to get on the field as much as possible. For now,
he's better than the combination of Anderson and Bowman.
Strength: Tribble and Silva. The Eagles have two all-star
caliber defenders to build around. Tribble will erase one side
of the field, while Silva will be all over the place cleaning up
Weakness: Second corner. The strong safety issue will be fine,
but if Morris isn't 100% healthy, and consistent, and Rollins
isn't better than he was this spring, there will be a big
Outlook: The secondary will be helped by a good
pass rush that'll generate consistent pressure. Although the
overall numbers from last year were good, there were too many
breakdowns and too many big plays allowed in key moments.
Basically, the teams on the schedule that could throw the ball,
did. There will be plenty of yards allowed, but if the secondary
can help pick off 21 passes again, it'll be an even trade.
Projected Starters: The special teams will be great as long as
junior Steve Aponavicius builds on his rags to riches story.
Having never played before, "Sid Vicious" saved the kicking game by
hitting 8 of 11 field goals including the 37-yarder to beat Navy in the
final seconds. He has no leg whatsoever, missing all three of his
attempts beyond 37 yards, but he's deadly accurate from close range.
Also back is senior punter Johnny Ayers after a nice season
averaging 42.1 yards per kick with 20 put inside the 20 and 12 forced
Watch Out For ... Billy Bennett.
Aponavicius is a fantastic story and a folk hero around the program, but
Bennett is big time. The true freshman is considered the nation's best
kicking prospect and will likely take over soon than later.
Strength: Punting and the return game. Ayers is a borderline
all-star. Star corner DeJuan Tribble averaged 8.7 yards per punt return,
while Jeff Smith is back after averaging 28 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Field goal range. If Bennett isn't the answer right
away, the offense will have to get to around the 20 to have any prayer
of generating points.
Outlook: Everything is solid, and there could be
an upgrade if Bennett is as good as he's supposed to be. The coverage
units were fantastic last year, and should be again, the returners are
in place, and Ayers is a weapon.