2007 Ohio Preview - Defense

Posted May 27, 2007

Preview 2007 Ohio Bobcat Defense Preview

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7 - Defense

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

What you need to know: The defense made a night-and-day improvement from 2005, and should be among the best in the MAC again if replacements can be found for the three star linebackers and All-MAC corner T.J. Wright. The defensive line is big and active, and it needs to be stronger against the run. Getting into the backfield won't be a problem with All-MAC end Jameson Hartke leading the way. The safeties will be fantastic leading a deep and talented group. It's all up to the linebackers, who have talent, but are relatively inexperienced and haven't stayed healthy. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Michael Mitchell, 55
Sacks: Jameson Hartke, 7.5
Interceptions: Michael Mitchell, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Jameson Hartke
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Taj Henley
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Michael Brown
Best pro prospect: Hartke
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hartke, 2) DT Landon Cohen, 3) CB Mark Parson
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, defensive line, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The star of the experienced line is junior Jameson Hartke, who has good size at 6-4 and 262 pounds and great quickness leading the team with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss to go along with 45 tackles. He was a second-team All-MAC pick who dominated in the MAC title game and should explode with the talent around him up front to take away some attention.

On the other side is Ernie Hodge, a 271-pound sophomore who made 38 tackles as a true freshman and showed good pass rushing ability with 3.5 sacks. The size of most MAC tackles, he should grow into a strong run stopper.

In the middle, the only new starter will be senior Brett Sykes on the nose after starting last year at the end. He's been a decent reserve over the last three years and now he'll finally become a regular starter. He's not a true anchor and will only be a major factor if he's getting into the backfield, but as far as new starters go, he's not a bad option.

Next to him will be senior Landon Cohen, a second-team All-MAC performer  who made 25 tackles and has been great at making plays in the backfield. A durable rock for the last three seasons, he's tough as well as quick.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Eric Kenkel missed part of last season with a broken hand, but returned to finish with seven tackles as a reserve end. He's smaller than Hodge, but quicker, and now has to show he can get to the quarterback.

Former JUCO transfer Alan Goff was a disappointment last season making just two tackles in a little bit of time on the end. He'll be a slightly undersized 6-4, 266-pound tackle behind Cohen.

283-pound junior Jacob Williamson is one of the bigger defenders up front playing on the nose behind Sykes. He saw time in every game last season making five tackles, and now he'll play a far greater role behind Sykes.

Watch Out For ... the line to be forced to do far more against the run. The luxury of having a superior linebacking corps to clean things up is gone, and now the big front four, at least by MAC standards, has to use its athleticism to be a rock against the quicker running teams.
Quickness. They can all move and they can all get into the backfield. The line basically has four large ends across the front, however ...
The line basically has four large ends across the front. Teams with good, powerful lines were able to pound the ball a bit, and should be able to again.
Outlook: If this isn't the strength of the team, it'll be a major positive with two all-stars in Hartke and Cohen and good veterans in Hodge and Sykes. There's even some quality depth. With good size all across the front, and surprising athleticism, this should be one of the league's better lines.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
Senior Taj Henry has the unenviable task of trying to replace long-time playmaker Matt Muncy in the middle. He saw time as a reserve making 14 tackles and should be effective now that he's in a full-time role. After beefing up to 232 pounds, he'll be a tough rock who'll put up nice numbers.

On the weakside will be 220-pound junior Jordan Meyers, who's finally healthy after not being quite right last year with a banged up leg. He was productive in a limited role making 27 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, and now he'll have to show he can be consistently effective against the pass. 230-pound junior Michael Brown suffered a broken leg and only made 11 tackles in five games.

Projected Top Reserves: A former safety and a star high school running back, sophomore Lee Renfro was converted to linebacker and should grow into a strong all-around defender on the weakside. Mostly a special teamer last season, he was also a good reserve making 22 tackles and breaking up a pass.

In the middle, behind Henley, will be redshirt freshman Stafford Gatling, a star on the scout team with tremendous speed. He's only 219 pounds, but he has room to grow into his 6-4 frame.

221-pound junior Chris Hall will back up Brown on the strongside after making seven tackles last season. The former safety can move and could play on the weakside if needed.

Watch Out For ... the tackles and stats to be there. Just because the top linebackers of last year are gone, that doesn't mean the overall production will stop. The linebackers will come up with good numbers, they just might not be as meaningful until everyone starts to figure out what they're doing.
Speed. With so many former defensive backs moving to linebacker, there will be plenty of plays made all over the field. Now the corps has to use its athleticism to be disruptive.
Starting experience. There isn't any. There are plenty of good reserves, but it's asking a lot to go from seeing a little bit of time to replacing all-stars like last year's trio.
Outlook: And here's the problem. The running game might have carried the offense to the MAC title game, but it was the linebacking corps that set the tone in defensive battle after defensive battle. You don't get better by losing Tyler Russ, Matt Muncy, Michael Graham, and their 235 tackles, 31 tackles for loss and over 700 career stops. This group will run well, it's big enough to handle itself against the run, and it should be fine in time.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The secondary was terrific last year, but it loses its top playmaker, corner T.J. Wright. Replacing him will be an ongoing issue until the start of the season with three prospects battling for the job. The most likely starter on opening day will be sophomore Idris Lawrence, who made nine tackles last season as a backup and a special teamer. He's not all that big at 5-8 and 170 yards, but he's a smart, quick player who, at the very least, will be an important defender in the rotation.

On the other side will be junior Mark Parson returning to his starting spot after making 44 tackles and breaking up a whopping 16 passes with one interception. He has tremendous speed and is great at closing when the ball is in the air.

The safeties will be one of the team's bright spots with the return of senior free safety Todd Koenig and junior strong safety Michael Mitchell. Koenig is a big hitter with 121 tackles in the last two seasons. He was banged up for past of last season and was still sixth on the team in tackles. Able to play either spot, he's incredibly physical for a free safety. Mitchell is a big 6-1, 217-pound all-star-in-waiting who made 55 tackles and picked off two passes despite only starting in eight games.

Projected Top Reserves: Lawrence will have to earn the starting corner spot with redshirt freshman Julian Posey and sophomore Thad Turner each getting equal chances to win Wright's old job. Posey was a good recruit last year coming in as a top defensive back and good all-around offensive player. He has good speed and more size than Lawrence. Turner is the biggest of the three, and also needing the most work, after moving over from receiver. He made the move before the bowl game and should be ready to be a big part of the rotation if he doesn't win the job. At free safety, 6-2, 197-pound sophomore Steven Jackson is a rising star making 23 tackles as a true freshman despite missing the final two games with a knee injury. If he can stay healthy, not a given so far in his career, he'll make a big push for playing time. Senior Ervin Jackson overcame a knee injury to finish with ten tackles in seven games. As one of the team's fastest safeties, he's a dangerous free safety option if healthy.

Watch Out For ... the pass defense to be one of the best in the MAC. It won't statistically be the best since some MAC defenses will get run all over and offenses won't pass the ball, but this will be one of the most effective.
Experience. With three starters returning and a host of good reserves, this is the one area of the team the coaching staff will feel the most comfortable.
Weakness: A true shutdown corner. Can Parson be it? He was great as a number two on the other side of Wright, but now he'll be the number one on everyone's top receiver. He has the talent and the experience, but Wright was special.
Outlook: The pass defense was one of the team's biggest areas of improvement allowing 111 fewer yards per game than in 2005. It'll be just as strong with so many good prospects. If the second corner situation can quickly be solidified, there won't be any real concerns.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
It'll be up to senior Michael Braunstein to take over for Matt Lasher, who connected on 13 of 18 field goals but had no range whatsoever. Braunstein is a transfer from Washington having graduated but with a year of eligibility remaining under the new transfer rule. He was great last year hitting 10 of 12 field goals earning All-Pac 10 honors.

Redshirt freshman Matt Schulte will take over Lasher's punting duties. Lasher was unbelievable at pinning teams deep with a whopping 30 kicks inside the 20 and with 20 forced fair catches. Schulte can be used as a placekicker, but won't need to be with Braunstein taking over.

Watch Out For ... Braunstein to be even better than Lasher. He'll add a bit more pop and can be used from beyond the 40.
Coverage units. The Bobcats made a tremendous improvement after an awful 2005 by allowing just 14.8 yards per kickoff return and 3.6 yards per punt return.
Reliable punting. Lasher was tremendous at preventing returns. Schulte will come up with a few more bombs, but it'll be a shock if he's as consistent.
Outlook: A mega-weakness going into last season will be a major play. Braunstein will be great, Chris Garrett is a tremendous punt returner averaging 14.5 yards per try and should be great on kickoff returns after averaging 25 yards per pop. The coverage units should once again be a manor plus.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Ohio Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 27, 2007
2007 Ohio Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 27, 2007
2007 Ohio Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 27, 2007

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