Preview 2007 - Defense
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2006 CFN Tulane
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.