Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: This
will be a solid defense, but it won't be spectacular. It could
be fantastic in 2008 when all the promising young prospects are
ready to shine, but for now, this will be a good, sound D that
should be far more consistent than last year. Demario Pressley
and Martrel Brown lead a strong line that should be the
strength, while three senior linebackers will keep the mistakes
to a minimum. The secondary has to come up with more big plays
after helping the Pack pick off just seven passes.
Tackles: DaJuan Morgan, 82
Interceptions: DaJuan Morgan, 2
Star of the defense: Senior DT Demario Pressley
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DT Alan Michael Cash
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Willie
Best pro prospect: Pressley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pressley, 2)
DE Martrel Brown, 3) SS DaJuan Morgan
Strength of the defense: Line, experienced linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The line should be good if the
two returning starters play up to their talent. 6-3, 295-pound senior
Demario Pressley was a superstar recruit a few years ago and started
to live up to the hype last year with 46 tackles, two sacks and seven
tackles for loss as an every game starter at right tackle. He has the
potential to be a first day draft pick with another big season, and
he'll get every chance to show off what he can do as the anchor and main
man on the inside. Quick enough to play end at times, he'll start at
The other returning starter is 6-2, 290-pound senior Martrel Brown,
who's built like a tackle but has next-level pass rushing skills making
seven sacks and eight tackles for loss to go along with 49 tackles. A
tough run defender, he moved outside after mostly playing tackle as a
sophomore and flourished in the full-time role. He had a few problems
with a slight knee injury, but fought through it and finished the year.
The biggest hole to fill is at left tackle, where second-leading tackler
Tank Tyler is gone. 6-1, 291-pound sophomore Alan Michael Cash
isn't Tyler, but he's a quick, active defender who can hold his own
against the run. Little used as a reserve, he finally got a starting
spot in the season finale when Pressley was dinged up, and finished the
year with 13 tackles and a sack.
Taking over for on the left end will be 6-6, 244-pound senior
Littleton Wright, who'll be a part of a steady rotation. The former
top JUCO transfer didn't do much in his first season, seeing time in
just eight games and making 14 tackles with a sack, but he has the size
and the athleticism to become a good pass rusher, and he's tough to
throw over with four batted down passes.
Projected Top Reserves: Even if Wright gets the
start, 6-5, 230-pound sophomore Willie Young will see plenty of
action, if not take over the job on the left side after starting three
of the final four games. With tremendous speed, he's a promising pass
rusher who cranked out 15 quarterback pressures and three tackles for
loss. Now he has to do a better job of closing after not making a sack.
He also proved he can make plays against the run with 60 tackles.
Playing inside behind Pressley, and possibly moving to the other spot to
see a little starting time, is 6-2, 272-pound sophomore Ted Larsen,
who had a nice first season with 30 tackles, two sacks and four tackles
for loss. While he's a bit undersized, he has a non-stop motor.
Watch Out For ... a big year from the front four. The
defensive scheme will stick with a 4-3 and put more emphasis on making
plays at the line. Pressley and Brown have All-ACC potential.
Strength: Getting into the backfield. This is a
quick front four that can get to the backfield from each spot. The ends
aren't the only good pass rushers, Cash, Pressley and Larsen will make
their share of plays.
Weakness: Replacing the Tank. There's a reason
DeMarcus Tyler was a third round draft pick. Pressley has the potential
to be even better, but finding that second tackle, hoping for Cash,
Larsen or John Bedics to step in, will be vital.
Outlook: The line will be the strength of the
defense, as long as Pressley and Brown are healthy. It'll be a tough
overall group to pound the ball on with decent size at all four spots,
but there aren't mammoth space-eaters on the inside. That's not a big
deal; overall quickness will make up for it.
Projected Starters: Only one starter returns to
the linebacking corps, but he's a solid veteran. 6-1, 223-pound senior
LeRue Rumph has been great for the last few years making 61
tackles in 2005 after moving over from safety, and 69 last year with two
sacks and six tackles for loss. Always a solid tackler, he turned into a
more disruptive force over the second half of the season after being
turned loose into the backfield. Now he'll be the one everyone works
around on the strongside.
Taking over in the middle for heart-and-soul star Pat Lowery will be
6-1, 236-pound senior James Martin, who made 12 tackles as the
starter in the first four games on the strongside before suffering a
dislocated wrist, knocking him out for the year. He came back from a
torn ACL to see a little time as a backup defensive end, and he started
to come on as a linebacker before the wrist problem. He should be tough
on the inside.
On the weakside, in place of Reggie Davis, will be 6-2, 225-pound senior
Ernest Jones, who made 68 stops and two sacks in a reserve role
with one start against Wake Forest. While he's solid and doesn't miss
many stops, he doesn't do nearly enough against the pass. Even so, he
makes a lot of plays and should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
Projected Top Reserves: The seniors dominate the
initial starting lineup, but it could be a sophomore, 6-0, 224-pound
Ray Michael, who changes all that in the middle. A potentially
dynamic defender, he's a huge hitter who was a great special teamer and
did a decent job in the little time he got on defense, making 15
A smaller, quicker option on the strongside behind Rumph will be 6-1,
207-pound redshirt freshman Nate Irving, a good prospect who
should be good in pass coverage and has good open field hitting skills.
Irving and fellow redshirt freshman, 5-11, 210-pound John Ware,
could be the ones who make a decent corps more dangerous.
Watch Out For ... Rumph to have an All-ACC caliber
season. He battled for the starting strongside job last year, lost, and
then took over once Martin got hurt. He was great, and now he should be
special. If he can come up with a few splashy plays here and there,
he'll get all-star recognition.
Strength: Veterans. Martin might have gotten hurt
and Jones might have mostly been a backup, but the starting trio are all
seniors and they've all logged plenty of minutes.
Weakness: Big plays. The starting three is great
at getting to the ball and coming up with the tackle, but it isn't great
at forcing turnovers or scaring anyone. Michael, Ware and Irving have to
use their speed to be the disruptive forces when they're in the game.
Outlook: It's a very good, very sound linebacking
corps, but it's not special. It won't do enough to help out the pass
defense, and it'll do just enough to clean up everything the line
misses. It's not a weakness by any stretch, but it's also not going to
be a dominant strength.
Projected Starters: Senior free safety Miguel
Scott has been a regular for the last few seasons making 53 tackles
in 2005 and 63 stops last year. Now he has to show he can do more
against the pass with only two interceptions in the last two seasons and
a mere five broken up passes. A great athlete and a good hitter, being
physical isn't the problem.
While Scott struggles to come up with the big play when the ball is in
the air, 6-1, 200-pound junior DaJuan Morgan is a ball-hawker who
finished fourth on the team with 82 tackles with a team-leading two
interceptions. A part-time starter who also starred on special teams, he
makes things happen whenever he's on the field. Now he has the starting
strong safety job to himself.
The right cornerback job is the most competitive on the defense with
6-0, 191-pound junior J.C. Neal listed first on the depth chart
going into the fall. A backup last year who came up with 18 tackles and
four broken up passes at free safety, he was a playmaker at corner
throughout spring and should be physical.
The other corner job will likely go to 6-2, 186-pound junior Jeremy
Gray, who made 18 tackles and broke up seven passes. He was solid
throughout spring ball showing good tackling skills along with the
potential to become a number one cover corner. He doesn't miss open
Projected Top Reserves: If Neal isn't the starter
at right corner, it might be 5-11, 181-pound senior Jimmie Sutton,
who started at times throughout last year making 49 tackles, but he
wasn't fantastic when it came to making game-changing plays when the bal
was in the air. A good, experienced athlete, he'll find time somewhere.
Also in the hunt for a corner job is 5-11, 191-pound junior Levin
Neal, one of the team's fastest players clocking a 4.25 40. He
proved to be a decent backup with 22 tackles and four broken up passes,
and he could end up adding more flash than Gray on the left side.
While 6-0, 188-pound redshirt freshman Javon Walker won't beat
out Morgan for the starting strong safety job, he'll find time somewhere
in the secondary after a terrific spring session with two picks in the
final scrimmage. A tough tackler, he could end up at either safety spot
and will be starting by next year.
Watch Out For ... Walker. The coaching staff will
have a hard time pushing Morgan of Scott out of a starting spot, but
there might not be much of a choice if Walker keeps improving.
Strength: The backups. It's not always a bad thing
when the reserve look better in practices than the projected starters.
State has plenty of good athletes to build around for the future, and
enough good players to come up with a good rotation at all four spots.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Pack came up with
seven. That's it. This isn't the best group when it comes to attacking
Outlook: There will be more big plays allowed, but
more big plays made. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer will allow his
corners to play in man coverage and to be more aggressive. The safeties,
the strength of the secondary, will be able to roam a bit more and won't
be tied into protecting a particular zone.
Projected Starters: Gone is John Deraney, who did
a little of everything, hitting 11 of 15 field goals, including a
54-yard bomb, while averaging 39.1 yards per punt, putting 23 inside the
20. JUCO transfer Jeff Ruiz is expected to have the punting job
handed to him when he arrives after an All-America season averaging 43.3
yards per kick with 23 put inside the 20 for Southwestern JC. The
placekicking situation is more up in the air with redshirt freshman
Josh Czajkowski likely to get the gig. He was decent enough this
spring to expect this not to be a weakness this fall.
Watch Out For ... the overall kicking game. Nate
Franklin will push for both the punting and placekicking job.
Consistency will be the key for whoever gets the gigs.
Strength: Darrell Blackman. One of the nation's
most dangerous kick and punt returners, he averaged 28.9 yards per
kickoff return and 8.6 yards per punt return. Everyone will try to do
anything possible to stay away from him.
Weakness: Certainty in the kicking game. Ruiz had
better be all that and a bag of Cheetos, or State will be in real
trouble. There wasn't an attempted punt in the spring game, and while
Franklin will push for time, he's more of a placekicker.
Outlook: Blackman makes the special teams
dangerous no matter what happens with the kicking game. Czajkowski
should be fine, but he has to prove he can hit a clutch kick. The
coverage units could stand to be better.