Preview 2007 - Defense
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2006 CFN Akron
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.
John Mackey, 88
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
On the way will be
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.