2007 Tulane Preview - Defense

Posted May 16, 2007

Preview 2007 Tulane Green Wave Defense

Tulane Green Wave

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Tulane Preview | 2007 Tulane Offense Preview 
2007 Tulane Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Tulane Preview 

What you need to know:
Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: James Dillard, 55
Sacks: Frank Morton, 4
Interceptions: Evan Lee, 1

Star of the defense: Junior FS David Skehan
Player that has to step up and become a star: CBs Charles Harris, Carlis Jackson, Josh Lumar & Alex Wacha
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Logan Kelley
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Frank Morton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Skehan, 2) LB Evan Lee, 3) SS Joe Goosby
Strength of the defense: Experience, tackles
Weakness of the defense:
Proven corners

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Tulane fans looking for positives from a defense that allowed more than 33 points a game in 2006 can point to a defensive line that welcomes back three senior starters.  End Antonio Harris and tackle Frank Morton are a couple of all-Conference USA candidates after earning honorable mention recognition last year.  Harris has started all 34 games of his career, compiling 102 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks during a steady three-year tenure.  At 285 pounds, he’s the line’s best run defender, but needs to create more pressure this year on the quarterback. 

Morton goes 6-3 and 327 pounds, and is an unadulterated run-stuffer.  More than just a wide body, he led the Green Wave in sacks and tackles for loss a year ago, a testament to his uncommon quickness for a big man.  Joining Morton inside is Avery Williams, another senior with a ton of game experience.  While not as talented as his linemates, he’s a compact 6-1, 290-pound tackle coming off the most productive season of his college career. 

The fortunes of this line depend heavily on the impact of the left end, either sophomore Logan Kelly or sophomore Adam Kwentua.  With the three seniors getting plenty of attention, there’ll be a chance for one of these quick, 245-pound linemen to spark a horrible pass rush.  Kelly had 12 tackles in 11 games last season, seeing most of his relevant reps on special teams.  Kwentua is making a move from outside linebacker in order to get his speed closer to the quarterback. 

Projected Top Reserves: The loser in the tight race between Kelly and Kwentua will become the Green Wave’s third or fourth option at defensive end and a valuable situational pass-rusher.  Also adding depth on the outside is sophomore Troy Wilson who had a nice showing in his first season on the field and possesses the speed and quickness needed to fit into Thom Kaumeyer’s new attacking defense. 

Junior Julian Shives-Sams is Tulane most reliable tackle on the second unit.  At only 6-3 and 275 pounds, he’s not going to bull rush opposing linemen, but does have the quickness and agility of a one-time defensive end to beat his man off the snap.     

Watch Out For… the starters to be gassed in September.  Kaumeyer favors a constant rotation of linemen to keep everyone fresh, but he doesn’t have enough depth yet to use seven or eight players the way he’d like.
Strength: Senior leadership.  While Harris, Morton and Williams won’t be first-day draft choices next April, their more than 100 games of experience is an enormous benefit to a leaky defense that’s looking to plug a bunch of holes in 2007.
Weakness: Pass rush.  Tulane had a mere 19 sacks last year, including one or fewer in seven games.  Harris is a glorified tackle and Kelly and Kwentua are unproven, which is dire news for an already feeble pass defense that’ll be breaking in two new corners.
Outlook: The veteran defensive line is going to be the catalyst for an improved run defense, but unless it suddenly blazes a new path to opposing quarterbacks, the job will only be partially complete in 2007.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The coaching staff has its hands full trying to rejuvenate a linebacking corps that’s disappointed for the past few seasons.  The catalyst for the group is junior Evan Lee, a 6-2, 232-pound middle linebacker with all-league skills.  A big sticker with great lateral speed, he’ll soar past the 45 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss he collected as a seven-game starter last season. 

Cody Sparks
is a 6-4, 247-pound beast on the strongside who was playing well as a freshman in 2006 before breaking his ankle in September.  While the sophomore should be an asset against the run, his pass coverage skills remain a question mark. 

At weakside will be junior James Dillard, the linebacker’s leading returning tackler.  He had 55 stops and three tackles for loss in 2006, displaying the athleticism and range to make plays in all directions on the field.                

Projected Top Reserves: One of the program’s top recruits of 2005, junior Jordan Ellis is still waiting to match his lofty expectations.  The backup to Lee at middle linebacker and a solid run defender, he played in 11 games in 2006, starting four, and finished eighth on the team with 39 tackles. 

Sophomore James McMurchy is No. 2 at weakside behind Dillard.  A quick defender at 233 pounds, he played in ten games as a freshman, earning a start in the Sept. 30 loss to SMU. 

After playing mostly on special teams last season, sophomore David Kirksey is preparing to see more playing time as the reserve at strongside.  He came to Tulane looking like a safety, but has steadily gotten stronger in anticipation of an increase in playing time.             

Watch Out For… this group to help the Green Wave improve noticeably against the run in 2007.  Sparks’ return from injury and the emergence of Lee in the middle will give a big boost to a defense that allowed just under 150 yards a game on the ground last fall.
Strength: Middle linebacker.  Lee and Ellis both have noses for the football and should be even better this year after scratching the surface of their potential in 2006.
Weakness: Athleticism.  The Green Wave can be somewhat heavy-legged against quicker opponents, a shortcoming that really becomes obvious when they’re forced to drop back into pass coverage.
Outlook: If Sparks can remain healthy all year and Lee keeps learning at the position, the linebackers have the ingredients to be much less of a liability than they were the last two seasons.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters:  When the Tulane staff has sleepless nights in the off-season, it’s probably wondering how it’ll defense the pass in 2007.  Not only was the Green Wave 113th nationally in pass defense last year, but it’ll be breaking in two new starters at cornerback. Gulp.  Well, at least the safeties are decent.  Seniors David Skehan and Joe Goosby racked up enough tackles in 2006 to earn all-league recognition at the end of the season.  Skehan led the defense with 80 tackles and four interceptions, while providing a pass rush on blitzes.  Not the greatest athlete on the team, the former walk-on plays with intensity and possesses keen football instincts.  Although he needs work in coverage, Goosby is an intimidator at 6-1 and 218 pounds who plays like a linebacker in run defense.  A former receiver at Tulane, he started seven games a year ago, chalking up 54 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and six pass breakups. 

The corners will be a work-in-progress long after the season kicks off.  For now, junior Josh Lumar and senior Carlis Jackson have a leg up on the depth chart, but sophomore Alex Wacha and junior Charles Harris can just as easily nab a job with improved play.  To put it bluntly, the defense simply needs someone to step up and make plays in the secondary, something that happened too infrequently in 2006.  Lumar played extensively last year, starting four games, however, at 178 pounds, he’s no match for big, physical receivers. 

Jackson has moved from safety in order to bolster an area of the defense that needs his athleticism far more.  He has 29 games of experience which will be an asset to a unit that’s still very young and impressionable.

Projected Top Reserves: Wacha was getting increased playing time when an injury shortened his freshman year.  Blessed with outstanding straight line speed, he needs to show that he won’t always be using it to catch opposing receivers from behind.  Harris may be even a step faster, and at 6-3, has the size to match up with some of the league’s taller receivers.  Although he was one of the stars of the spring, this is his first year on defense which will bring a steep learning curve until he gets more playing time. 

The future at safety for Tulane is sophomore Chinonso Echebelem, a 6-2, 200-pound thumper that started four games late in his true freshman season.  Capable of playing either safety position, he’s growing up very quickly, and is only going to get better with more field time. 

Free safety Louis Thomas brings a ton of experience and a senior presence to the second unit.  A versatile defender that started seven games in 2006, he finished tied for fourth on the team with 54 tackles and chipped in a pair of sacks.       

Watch Out For… Sophomore cornerback Matt Harding.  Harding was on his way to his second letter in two years before an injury prematurely ended his season before it really began.  He’s got some of the best jets on the team, and if he shows he can cover, he’ll soar up the depth chart.
Strength: The safeties.  Skehan and Goosby give Tulane a solid and seasoned tandem of run stoppers, while their two backups, Echebelem and Thomas, have the talent to produce if pressed into the lineup.
Weakness: Corners.  The staff sees progress, but that alone won’t be enough to slow down the likes of Houston, SMU and UTEP later this year.  Like the school nickname, the corners are green which won’t be lost on opposing offensive coordinators.
Outlook: Without much of a pass rush to distract quarterbacks, there’s just not enough depth or quality at cornerback to keep Tulane from having one of the nation’s worst pass defenses for the second straight year.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: With an unreliable kicker and steady punter Chris Beckman out of eligibility, the Green Wave special teams will be an adventure in 2007.  Sophomore Ross Thevenot is slated to handle both duties this fall, but that’s by default because his competition is almost non-existent.  As the Green Wave kicker last year, he was just 9-of-15, getting two field goals blocked, and displaying a weak leg on kickoffs.  As a punter, he hasn’t laced it up since high school, a frightening thought for a Tulane defense that needs every field position advantage it can get. 

Senior Fred Smith is back for his fourth year as the program’s main punt and kick returner.  The Green Wave needs him to recapture the breakaway form he had before injuring tearing his ACL and missing all of 2005.  Last season, Smith was only 45th nationally on punt returns and 84th on kickoffs, dropping considerably in both categories compared to 2004.                                         

Projected Top Reserves: Thevenot’s competition arrives in August when the seal comes off this year’s recruiting class.  Darren DeRochemont will certainly be playing from behind, however, he was one of the highest rated punters and kickers in the South, averaging 42 yards and nailing 15-of-21 field goals for Armwood (Fla.) High School.  If he’s ready to contribute as a true freshman, both jobs could be there for the taking.           

Watch Out For… senior Barrett Pepper.  Pepper is petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship and one more year of eligibility.  A veteran that’s kicked and punted for the Green Wave before injuring his back, his presence could help settled down a shaky unit that’s relying exclusively on an erratic sophomore and a true freshman.
Strength: Young legs.  Yes, Thevenot has a long way to go and DeRochemont has even gotten to campus, however, both were coveted special teamers in high school that’ll mature over time.
Weakness: Punting.  After enjoying Beckman’s consistency over the past couple of years, Tulane is in dire need of a quality replacement that can assist a leaky defense that ranked among the nation’s worst in 2006.
Outlook: By every measurement, this is a weak special teams unit that covers kicks and punts poorly and does not have an ace at kicker that can be relied on late in games.  It’ll cost the Green Wave at least one game in 2007.
Rating: 4.5


Related Stories
2007 Tulane Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2007
2007 Tulane Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2007
2007 Tulane Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 16, 2007

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