Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The defense struggled way too much to get a stop early in
games, and it forced the offense to press way too often. Now
there should be a bit of an improvement with several good
returning starters and a fearsome pass rush. The ends should be
terrific, and the linebackers can all move, but the emphasis
going into the year will be to stop the run. Are the defenders
in place to do it? That remains to be seen, but the biggest
concern will be with a secondary that didn't make nearly enough
plays last year, and now it doesn't have Eric Wright.
Tackles: Beau Bell, 76
Sacks: Jeremy Geathers, 5.5
Interceptions: Daryl Forte, 1
Star of the defense: Senior LB Beau Bell
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Thor Pili
Best pro prospect: Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bell, 2) DE Jeremy
Geathers, 3) CB Mil'Von James
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, experienced defensive
If the line is considered to be the strength of the defense, then junior
Jeremy Geathers is the star. While a linebacker-sized 6-2 and 245
pounds, he's a speed-rusher having come over from the JUCO ranks to
crank out 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, to go along with 32
tackles. He's not a consistent pass rusher and struggles against bigger
tackles, but when he gets a step, he's in the backfield.
On the other
side will be junior Thor Pili, a former Oregon Duck who was one
of the stars of spring ball and should be the perfect defender to allow
the coaching staff to go to a more traditional 4-3. He's 6-3, 265-pounds
6-5, 290-pound junior Jacob Hales is the main man on the
inside coming off a nice 23 tackle season as the anchor of the front.
He's an all-star candidate with the quickness to start to get in the
backfield more and the size to plug things up against the run. He's a
good one, but he needs help.
6-2, 270-pound Elton Shackelford
made 25 tackles, but he didn't become a factor until late in the year.
While he's a bit undersized for a tackle, he's quick enough to
eventually grow into a solid interior pass rusher. He could move to end
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for time at
tackle, and looking to get Shackelford's job, will be 6-2, 260-pound
senior Faauo Faga, and undersized plugger who made 12 tackles
last year as a spot starter. While he won't be effective if he has to
start for long stretches, he's great in the rotation. First, he has to
come back from a broken foot suffered in spring ball.
On the way to make
an impact on the ends will be JUCO transfers Luke Plante and
Larry Dennis, two of the team's top recruits. Dennis is a
265-pound speed rusher who made 20.5 sacks in two years for Compton CC,
while Plante is a rangy 6-4, 245-pound athlete who should be great
Watch Out For ... far more production against the
run. Stopping the ground game is job one going into the year, meaning an
emphasis will be on being more physical.
Strength: Pass rushing. Geathers is a solid pass rusher,
and Dennis has the talent to be special. With the emergence of Pili,
either as an end or a tackle, the Rebels should be far, far better at
consistently getting to the quarterback.
Weakness: Stopping the run. The coaching staff might be
putting an emphasis on run stuffing, but the linemen aren't there to do
it. There aren't any big-time tacklers outside of Hales, and the ends
have to do far more than they did last year.
Outlook: The switch to a full-time 4-3 takes
advantage of the team's strength, the ends, but it also means more bulk
up front to try to stop the run for the first time in several years. The
potential is there for a devastating pass rushing rotation, but it'll
all go for naught unless the tackles play well. Hales will, but finding
a second tackle will be a problem.
The linebacking corps revolves around senior
Beau Bell, a tackling machine who came off a 92-tackle season to
make 76 stops in the first seven games before being lost for the year
with an ankle injury. He's a tough 6-3 and 245 pounds able to hold up
well against the run and get to the quarterback from time to time. He
came up with four sacks, but he didn't do enough against the pass. That
should change this year.
In the middle will be Bradley Niles in a
full-time role after struggling through injuries last year. He made 38
tackles in just eight games, but the former JUCO transfer is a strong
tackler with the potential to come up with a huge statistical season.
Consistency against the run will be the key to him hanging on to the
At the Rebel position, more of a second weakside linebacker than a
strongside defender, will be Starr Fuimaono, a 5-11, 210-pound
sophomore with tremendous speed. It'll be his job to fly to the ball and
try to become a disruptive force all over the place. He made 29 tackles
last year as a true freshman, and now he knows what he's doing.
Projected Top Reserves: Back after seeing eight
starts last year is 6-3, 215-pound sophomore Jason Beauchamp, who
finished third on the team with 69 tackles to go along with 3.5 sacks.
He was a huge help when Bell went down, and now he'll try to find time
on the other side when he isn't providing backup help.
for the job in the middle is 240-pound sophomore Jimmy Miller, a
transfer from Mississippi State who beefed up in the off-season and will
see plenty of time in the rotation.
Behind Fuimaono, and providing more
size, to the Rebel spot is 6-3, 240-pound junior K.C. Asiodu, who
made 34 tackles and two tackles for loss in ten games. He has six games
of starting experience and can step in just about anywhere in the corps,
but first he has to return healthy after having undergoing hip surgery.
Watch Out For ... Bell to blow up into an
All-Mountain West star. He was on his way to a monster season before
getting hurt, and now he should have more room to roam in the new 4-3.
Strength: Overall quickness. The outside linebackers can
move, while Niles is a quick middle man. Having a safety-like defender
in Fuimaono helps the speed of the starting three.
Weakness: Stopping the run. UNLV has been known over the
years for cranking out linebackers who make a ton of tackles, but few
meaningful ones. The tackles have to be made on short gains and not
five, six, ten yards down the field.
Outlook: The right combination and the right
chemistry has to be found. Bell is a definite, but everything else is up
in the air. Athleticism isn't an issue, and there's good depth to form a
solid rotation, but the coaching staff needed to figure out who can
actually make plays on a regular basis. That might be a season-long
Job one is to replace NFLer Eric Wright at one corner, and while JUCO
transfer Geoff Howard will fill the starting void, 6-0, 210-pound
senior Mil'Von James has to become the number one that Wright
was. James finished fourth on the team in tackles making 55 stops, but
he only broke up three passes and didn't come up with an interception.
The former UCLA Bruin has the speed and quickness, but his technique has
to be better and he has to be far more consistent when the ball is in
Howard will have to fight to keep the starting spot after
spring ball, but at the very least he'll be a key corner in the
rotation. While not all that big at 5-10 and 185 pounds, he's physical.
The safeties are far
more settled than the corners with the emergence of former Oklahoma
Sooner Tony Cade at one spot and sophomore Daryl Forte at
the other. Cade finished fifth on the team with 43 tackles, and with his
combination of corner speed with 6-2, 205-pound size, he has a big
chance to make a NFL name for himself with a big season. Doing more
against the pass is a must to get the attention.
Forte had a great true
freshman season making 37 tackles with an interception. Despite only
being 5-10 and 185 pounds, he's a keeper with great hitting ability and
Projected Top Reserves: Howard will likely get the
starting nod going into the season, but that could quickly change thanks
to the emergence of true freshman Quinton Porter, who brings
lights-out speed with a maturity on the field beyond his years. At his
age, consistency will be vital, but he has too much in the way of raw
skills to keep off the field.
On the way is safety Shane Horton,
a true freshman who was hotly pursued by several teams on the west
coast. A quarterback and receiver throughout his high school career,
he's also a physical defender who could quickly become a key part of the
mix behind Forte.
Watch Out For ... the pass defense to need the
full season before it figures out what it's doing. With so many
freshmen, true and redshirt, seeing key time, and so many variables in
the mix, it could take a while to figure out the right combination.
Strength: Safety. Forte got his feet wet last year and
now should be ready to make a much bigger splash. Cade is a big-time
talent who needs to start playing like one, but if the light goes on, he
could be special.
Weakness: Veteran corners. James is good on one side, and
there's a whole bunch of potential waiting in the wings, but there's not
much to rely on right away. The corners will need to take their lumps
for a while.
Outlook: UNLV gave up 226 yards a game and was
113th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, and that was with Eric
Wright. How bad were things? The Rebels gave up 211 yards and four
touchdowns to Air Force. Now the secondary, while fast and athletic, has
to do far more after helping the D pick off just nine passes and break
up only 22. The potential is there to do far more and crank out a better
season, but bigger plays need to be made.
The Rebels are set on field goals with the return of senior Sergio
Aguayo, who should be far better after recovering from a knee injury
suffered when making a tackle on a kickoff return. Even with the injury,
he still managed to hit 8 of 16 field goals. He has far better range
than he showed last year and should be one of the team's main weapons on
field goals. He's so good, and so valuable, that the coaching staff
won't use him on kickoffs.
The punting game was a plus last season
thanks to Kip Facer, and now it'll be up to senior Brian Pacheco
to live up to his JUCO All-America promise. He's not big, but he has a
decent enough leg to average close to 40 yards per kick.
Watch Out For ... a drop-off in return production.
Eric Wright averaged 23.9 yards per kickoff return. There are good
speedsters on the team to potential get the yards rolling, and Ronnie
Smith averaged 22.6 yards per try, but Wright was special.
Strength: Aguayo will be an All-America caliber star
again. With a healthy knee, he'll make a night-and-day difference with
the way the offense could run. Now, the coaching staff knows the O just
needs to get around the 35 to get points.
Weakness: Sure-thing punting production. Pacheco is a
promising senior, but Facer was fantastic averaging 45.2 yards per kick
with 13 put inside the 20. It'll be tough to match that.
Outlook: The special teams were one of the few
bright spots last year, and now there should be good all-around
production as long as the punt coverage unit is better. Aguayo is
excellent, Casey Flair is a good punt returner, and Ronnie Smith should
be fine, in time, now that he's the main kickoff returner.