2007 Akron Preview - Defense

Posted May 21, 2007

Preview 2007 Akron Zip Defense Preview

Akron Zips

Preview 2007 - Defense

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

What you need to know: The 3-3-5 defense of Jim Fleming was excellent last year, and it should be even better with eight starters returning and the right pieces in place. To run this type of defense, you need big linemen. Check. The Zips have 300-pounders in a rotation at tackle and big size at the other two spots. You need playmaking linebackers. Check. Three starters return with excellent depth to rotate in. You also need a secondary to hold its own. Not a problem. Four starters return in the back five led by veteran corners Reggie Corner and Davanzo Tate.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: John Mackey, 88
Sacks: Brion Stokes, 5.5
Interceptions: Reggie Corner, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Brion Stokes
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Eric Lively
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore DT Wallace Pendleton
Best pro prospect: Pendleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stokes, 2) CB Reggie Corner, 3) LB Doug Williams
Strength of the defense: Experience, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Forced turnovers, pass rushing linemen

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Zips have to replace main linemen Kiki Gonzalez and Jermaine Reid, but 270-pound senior tackle Jared Cecchetti is back after making 39 tackles and two tackles for loss. While he's not much of an interior pass rusher, he's tough and athletic enough to make plays laterally.  

Taking over for Gonzalez, an underrated rock in the middle, will be sophomore Wallace Pendleton, an up-and-coming 6-1, 315-pound space-eater who saw a little bit of time last year making two tackles. While he'll need time to grow into a true anchor, he'll be the big body in the middle most MAC teams don't have.

On the end in the 4-3 will be junior Eric Lively, who made nine tackles and a tackle for loss in a reserve role last season. More of a tackle than a true end, he bulked up from 250 to 285 pounds over the last few years and will be expected to do more against the run than as a pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: Not only do the Zips have a 315-pound nose tackle in Pendleton, but they have a 6-5, 315-pound backup in senior Nate Robinson. The former Rutgers transfer has decent quickness and plenty of experience making 23 tackles last season along with six tackles for loss.

Behind Lively on the end is 220-pound junior Mitchell Magloire, an inside linebacker by trade who'll give the front three a speed rusher. Fast, fast, fast, he was a star high school sprinter and should be a disruptive force in the backfield.

Watch Out For ... a bit of a transition period. Gonzalez and Reid weren't always rocks, but they were solid producers over the last two years. Pendleton and lively have tremendous potential, but they're still unproven on a full-time scale.
Size. The line could easily go to a 4-3 if it wanted to with two 315-pound tackles and two tackle-sized ends. There's too much beef to not be better against the run.
Sure-thing pass rusher. The Zips only came up with 17 sacks last year as a team with six coming from the Reid/Gonzalez combination. If Magloire isn't the speed rusher he's supposed to be, don't expect much pressure on the passer from this group.
Outlook: Just hold down the fort. That's the job of the Akron front three. It doesn't have to be splashy and doesn't have to be anything amazing, but it has to stack up against the run and let everyone else get the glory. Of course, getting some push from the front line wouldn't be a bad thing. If Pendleton and Robinson play up to their size, this should be a solid wall.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Junior Doug Williams moved to linebacker from defensive end, and now he appears to be on the verge of MAC stardom. An extraordinary playmaker throughout spring ball, the 235-pounder was all over the place doing a little bit of everything from the weakside Bandit position. He made 50 tackles and seven tackles for loss last year, and now those numbers might double.

In the middle will once again be Kevin Grant, a 6-2, 245-pound junior who finished second on the team with 87 tackles to go along with nine tackles for loss. He's part linebacker, part defensive end with phenomenal pass rushing ability when he's used on the outside. With 160 stops in his first two years, he has a chance to put up astronomical numbers if he can stay healthy. Considering his range and toughness, 300 career tackles should be an easy goal.

220-pound senior Brion Stokes returns on the strongside after making 79 tackles with a team-leading 5.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Extremely fast and very athletic, he's more than just a pass rusher, he's a tackling machine who hits like a ton of bricks. While he might not have the ideal size for a strongside linebacker, he makes up for it with his toughness.

Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Grant in the middle will be sophomore Al-Teric Balaam, a good-looking young defender who made ten tackles and two tackles for loss in limited action. He's a tough defender with nice size; he could end up on the strongside.

Behind Stokes is veteran Parris McNeal after spending the last two years as a decent reserve making 33 tackles. The former safety has bulked up to 220 pounds and should be even tougher against the run.

6-1, 190-pound sophomore Amin Kabir made eight tackles as a freshman, but he has the athleticism and ability to do far more. He's a much smaller option than Doug Williams on the weakside, but he has defensive back speed, big-time hitting ability, and should be a disruptive force when he gets a chance.

On the way will be
Almondo Sewell, the team's top recruit and a possible fourth man in the mix from the word go. He's 235 pounds, fast, and extremely tough. He got offers from several bigger schools, and will soon be the star of the linebacking corps.

Watch Out For ... lots and lots of big plays. Stokes, Grant and Williams are fantastic against the run and can get in the backfield. Now they should do even more and be even more disruptive.
Experience. The starting three have been around the defense for years, and Balaam, McNeal and Kabir all have seen time and can do more in the rotation. This group has seen it all in MAC play.
Pass defense. While the corps isn't asked to do much when the ball is in the air, it would be nice if it came up with more broken up passes and a few interceptions here and there.
Outlook: This will be one of the MAC's best linebacking corps with three All-MAC caliber prospects. Williams appears to be ready to grow into something special, while Grant and Stokes are long time playmakers who won't make many mistakes. It won't be a shock if the starting three flirt with the 300-tackle mark. The reserves have potential to be excellent.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The secondary was a major plus last year, and should be again, led by the corners, Reggie Corner and Davanzo Tate. They're not all that big, both seniors go around 5-9ish and 180 pounds, but they can each move. Corner made 44 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions with eight broken up passes, while Tate made 54 stops, five tackles for loss and came up with 13 broken up passes. Corner has phenomenal speed and has made 145 career stops, while Tate, a former transfer from West Virginia, has speed and hitting ability.

In the 3-3-5, the fifth defensive back, the Rover, will be senior John Mackey, who led the team with 88 tackles and cranked out seven tackles for loss. More like a smallish linebacker at 215 pounds, he's allowed to roam and do a little of everything from serving as a fourth linebacker to helping out in pass coverage. He's not great when the ball is in the air, but with 183 stops in two years, he can hit.

Back at free safety is junior Andre Jones, a hard-nosed scrapper who made 77 tackles with four tackles for loss and seven broken up passes. He's a huge hitter forcing three fumbles and using his body all over the place to make plays. Helping him out will be junior Brandon Anderson at strong safety, the one new starter in the secondary. He's not big at 5-11 and 175 pounds, but he has experience making 27 tackles with three broken up passes last season. A phenomenal athlete, he can play corner if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Chevin Pace was a top defender a few years ago before suffering a knee injury. He doesn't have the corner range and speed he once had, but he's a good veteran, who made 28 tackles last year, and a strong hitter at strong safety.

Senior Yamari Dixon will be a part of the rotation at free safety coming off a 22-tackle season. He hasn't quite lived up to overall expectations, failing to become a regular starter, but he's a nice backup to have.

The main backup corner will be junior Miguel Graham, who might be smallish at just 5-9 and 160 pounds, but he has speed and a good JUCO experience playing for Coffeyville CC last year. He's ready to step in and play right away behind Corner on the field side.

Watch Out For ... more big hits. There's too much experience and too many big hitters to not force more turnovers. Everyone can tackle, even the smallish corners, and the safeties should be in better positions, now that they really know what they're doing, to come up with game-changing sticks.
Experience. With four returning starters, and a fifth defensive back in Brandon Anderson who has plenty of time in the secondary. There's not a passing game in the MAC that this group shouldn't be able to handle.
Interceptions. The Zips only came up with seven last year, and Corner had four of them. Coming up with the broken up pass is nice, but getting the pick would be even better. Everyone, outside of Corner, has to do a better job of ball-hawking.
Outlook: This has been one of the MAC's better secondaries over the past few years, and while there's room for improvement, getting four starters back, and all with speed, should mean a bigger season. The corners will be excellent, the safeties can all pop, and the backups are all promising. It'll be a shock if this isn't one of the team's strengths.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The kicking game needs a lot of help. A lot. Senior Matt Domonkos only hit two of eight field goals last year, but he connected on a 46-yard shot. He'll have to battle with redshirt freshman Igor Iveljic, who has a better leg, for the job. Sophomore John Stec had a rough first year punting with just a 38.6-yard average, but he was a good directional kicker putting 11 inside the 20 and forcing 12 fair catches.

Watch Out For ... Iveljic. Domonkos got his shot last year and didn't come through. Iveljic was a top recruit two years ago and will pay divedends.
Um, uh .... things can't be any worse. The one bright spot on the special teams, kick returner David Harvey, is gone. The overall kicking game has to get better by default.
Take your pick. Brandon Anderson and Andre Jones each did nothing for the kick return game when they got their chance, and Jones was average in punt returns. The kicking game was among the worst in the MAC.
Outlook: As bad as Stec's average was, his ability to pin teams deep made up for a lot of problems. The placekicking has to be far steadier, and someone has to show some sign of life returning a kick or a punt. This is one of the team's major areas of attention in practices, so the hope will be for things to be better.
Rating: 5


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

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