Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: The defense did what it could with no
help from the offense, and now seven starters return with a shot
to be among the league's best. The secondary gets all four
starters back, led by Lionell Singleton at corner. The line is
big and good with a pair of strong 300-pounders (Roland Clarke
and Jonas Murrell) inside. Now for the problem: the great
linebacking corps loses all three starters. The top four
tacklers are gone, along with the top pass rushers. Keyonvis
Bouie, Alexander Bostic, and Antwan Barnes were stars who won't
be easily replaced.
Jeremiah Weatherspoon, 50
Jarvis Penderton, 2
Interceptions: Lionell Singleton, 5
Star of the defense: Senior CB Lionell Singleton
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LB Mannie Wellington
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Jonas Murrell
Best pro prospect: Singleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Singleton, 2) DT Roland
Clarke, 3) FS Jeremiah Weatherspoon
Strength of the defense: Secondary, size on the line
Weakness of the defense:
With Antwan Barnes gone, sophomore Artis Warthen has to step in
and try to become a top pass rusher. A linebacker by trade, he's 232
pounds after bulking up over the last two seasons and has the potential
to be a major-league disruptor if he can stay healthy. Injuries limited
him to only made one tackle in three games.
On the other side, 282-pound
junior Jarvis Penerton is back after spending last year at tackle
making 21 tackles and two sacks. While not a natural pass rusher, his
size and strength should make him a rock against the run.
Inside, 6-4, 305-pound senior Roland Clarke is back after
starting most of the season and making 17 tackles. The former transfer
from South Florida isn't going to get into the backfield, but he should
turn into an anchor.
Next to Clarke will be 6-2, 305-pound junior Jonas
Murrell, a rising star with 33 career tackles. He's a tremendous
run-stuffer who didn't build on his great freshman year, but still
showed the potential of being something special. He has the size and the
strength to be a rock against the run.
Projected Top Reserves: When the line wants more
of an athlete on the end in place of Penerton, 267-pound Reginald
Jones will step in after starting ten times last season. He only
made one sack and didn't get into the backfield nearly enough, but he
was one of the line's best tacklers making 23 stops. With a little
experience at tackle, he's strong enough to hold his own on the outside.
In the middle, 279-pound junior Jonathan Betancourt will backup
Murrell after making eight tackles and four tackles for loss. He's a
quick interior pass rusher who should be great in the rotation, even if
he's a bit undersized to be a regular tackle.
Behind Clarke will be
sophomore Justin West, who got better over the course of the
season finishing with 14 tackles. Helped by a little bit of starting
experience, he's prepared to do far more this season.
Ready to step in
will be top recruit
a 6-3, 270-pound run stopper who originally committed to NC State before
choosing FIU. He's one of the team's strongest linemen and should see
time right off the bat.
Watch Out For ... the run defense to be better. With
a pair of 300-pounders at tackle, and a 282-pound end in Penerton, this
is one of the Sun Belt's biggest lines, with enough experience to be far
better against the good league ground games.
Strength: Size. The projected starting four is
big, and there's more beef coming off the bench with the 297-pound West,
the 279-pound Betancourt, and the 267-pound Jones on the end.
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rusher. You just don't immediately
replace a speed rusher like Antwan Barnes, at least FIU doesn't, and
there's no one up front who's guaranteed to generate five sacks.
Outlook: With three solid starters and too great
newcomers to the starting mix in Murrell and Warthen, the line should
grow into a strength. A pass rusher needs to emerge, and there needs to
be more pressure generated from the tackles, but that's nitpicking. The
line will eventually be just below the Sun Belt's best.
So, who's going to try to replace Keyonvis Bouie and Alexander Bostic?
Starting in the middle, 5-8, 211-pound sophomore Mannie Wellington
will take over for Bouie after making one tackle as a reserve and a
special teamer before an injury cut his season short. He might not be
all that big (neither was Bouie), but he can fly for a linebacker with
sub-4.6 speed to go along with the strength of a defensive lineman.
Taking over for Bostic, who made eight sacks and 19 tackles for loss,
will be sophomore Michael Dominguez, who made 23 tackles as a
freshman reserve. He was a top special teamer and a great backup in the
middle behind Bouie, and now he'll have to try to be a pass rusher on
On the strongside, until everyone gets healthy, it'll
likely be 205-pound sophomore, Scott Bryant, who made 21 tackles
as a true freshman. He's undersized, but he's tough enough to take on
blockers and still make plays.
Projected Top Reserves: When sophomore Wendy
Napoleon is back after getting knocked out seven games into the
season with a neck injury. At 235 pounds, he provides far more size on
the strongside than Bryant, but he'll have to prove he can hold up and
regain his form.
Behind Wellington in the middle, if Napoleon doesn't
take over, will be sophomore Matt Garris, who started his career
as a 212-pound undersized end. He made 14 tackles and two tackles for
loss last season, but he's a more natural fit at linebacker.
Watch Out For ... the tackling production won't slip
all that much, even without Bouie and Bostic. Wellington and Dominquez
can hit, and Napoleon, if healthy, could lead the team in stops.
Strength: Quickness. By design, the corps is a bit
smallish with the hope of using speed to be disruptive. Everyone at all
three spots can get around.
Weakness: Reliability. Is Napoleon going to be healthy? Is
Wellington going to be able to play? Can Dominguez make the transition
from good backup to top starter? There's a whole bunch of question marks
and not a lot of answers.
Outlook: You don't lose 217 tackles, 37 tackles
for loss, and 11 sacks from Bouie and Bostic and get better. The
newcomers will make tackles and put up stats, but they're not going to
get into the backfield like last year's corps did, and they're not going
to be nearly as good. Even so, this is a young group with the potential
to be solid as long as it doesn't have to do everything right away. Time
is needed to develop the backups and to get comfortable.
All four starters return to a rock-solid secondary led by all-star
corner Lionell Singleton, who led the team with five
interceptions and 11 tackles for loss to go along with 38 tackles. He
went from being a nice number two corner to a number one coverman who
turned into a far better all-around defender. Now he'll likely be the
key to the defense.
On the right side will be junior Robert Mitchell,
who had a nice season making 45 tackles and and two interceptions with
five broken up passes. While not the cover-corner Singleton is, he can
hit and he could see plenty of passes his way.
Also back are both starting safeties led by junior Jeremiah
Weatherspoon, who at 6-1 and 221 pounds is one of the Sun Belt's
bigger, smarter free safeties. He's the team's top returning tackler
after making 50 stops last season with two interceptions, and now he
should be in the hunt for all-star honors. He can do it all.
strong safety Cory Fleming made 17 tackles in only six games. A
top special teamer, he started the final three games and now has to stay
healthy and be a regular, consistent contributor to the run defense.
Projected Top Reserves: Along with Fleming, junior
Jeremiah Flood will man the strong safety spot after making five
tackles. A speedy former South Florida Bull, he doesn't have size at
only 5-11 and 205 pounds, but he can move.
Behind Mitchell on the right
side is junior Malik Jones, who made 13 tackles as a reserve in
the rotation. While not a shutdown corner, he's serviceable.
On the way
is Devin Parrish, brother of Buffalo Bill and former Miami
Hurricane receiver, Roscoe Parrish. A top athlete who had his pick of
where to go, he was a huge get for the program as either a receiver or a
defensive back. While he's not big, he can move.
Watch Out For ... more of the same from last year,
but a little bit more responsibility to be put on everyone. There won't
be the overall pressure generated last year, so the corners will have to
be that much better.
Strength: Experience. With four starters
returning, and a star in Singleton to rely on, this will be one of the
Sun Belt's better secondaries.
Weakness: Reliable backup corners against the pass. Jones can
play, and sophomore Dezariah Johnson is a promising prospect has a year
to learn behind Singleton, but there's not a sure-thing backup coverman
if something happens to the starters.
Outlook: The safeties haven't had to make the
plays most safeties have made, but with a new starting linebacking corps
that might change this year. Singleton and Mitchell will have games when
they shut down mediocre receivers, and they should be better at picking
off passes now that they've been around for a while. This might not be
the nation's fourth best pass defense again, but it'll be solid.
Sophomore Dustin Rivest stepped in last year and struggled
hitting just five of ten field goals and eight of 11 extra points. He's
not all that big and doesn't have a big leg with his longest shot coming
from 37 yards out. Someone might be able to step in and take over the
Sophomore Chris Cook handled the punting duties and
struggled mightily averaging 35.4 yards per kick pitting 12 inside the
20. The left-footer has more of a leg to start airing it out a bit more.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be a work in
progress all season long. It's unlikely for Rivest and Cook to be
handling the kicking chores from start to finish if they do what they
did as freshmen.
Strength: Lionell Singleton. One of the Sun Belt's
best corners, he's also among the league's top kick returners averaging
ten yards per punt return and 28.7 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Kicking. Last year was miserable with no range on
field goals and the worst punting game in the nation. There's a lot of
room to improve. A lot.
Outlook: Singleton is a special returner, and Cook
has talent enough to turn into a good punter, but that's about where the
positives stop. The coverage units were abysmal, Rivest has to show
something in the way of consistency, and a lot of overall work needs to