2007 Boston College Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 19, 2007

Preview 2007 Boston College Eagles Defense

Boston College Eagles

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Boston College Preview | 2007 BC Offense Preview 
2007 BC Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Boston College Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jolonn Dunbar, 92
Sacks: Nick 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 Taji Morris
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 Jolonn Donbar
Strength of the defense: Front seven, tackle size
Weakness of the defense:
Second corner on the other side of Tribble

Defensive Line

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 rushing specialist.

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.
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. 
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 attention away.
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 four spots.
Rating: 8


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 last year,
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 2008.

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 necessary.
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.
Not much. The only possible knock is that the group isn't amazing in pass coverage. It's good, but not phenomenal. It's nitpicking.
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 extraordinary.
Rating: 8.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Senior corner 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.
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 everyone's mess.
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 problem.
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.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

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 fair catches.

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 7.5


Related Stories
2007 Boston College Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 19, 2007
2007 Boston College Preview
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2007 Boston College Preview - Depth Chart
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