2007 UNLV Preview - Defense

Posted May 21, 2007

Preview 2007 UNLV Rebel Defense Preview

UNLV Rebels

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Bradley Niles
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 back depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 and strong.

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 it needed.

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 behind Geathers.

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.
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.
: 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.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters:
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 spot.

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.

Fighting 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.
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.
: 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 quest.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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 the air.

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.

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 nice range.

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.
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.
: 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.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.
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.
: 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.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 UNLV Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 21, 2007
2007 UNLV Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 21, 2007
2007 UNLV Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 21, 2007

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