Preview 2007 - UAB Defense
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need to know:
While the back seven of the defense figures to be a strength in
2007, you might not know it unless the defensive line can
effectively replace three key starters from last year. Senior
end Brandon Jeffries will be productive, but after him, UAB is
feverishly searching for answers to prevent opposing passers
from having all day to throw. Junior college transfer Antonio
Forbes is being counted on to deliver right out of the gate at
tackle. The linebackers have a budding star in junior Joe
Henderson and senior free safety Will Dunbar is one of just a
handful of Blazer defenders with all-league potential.
Several with 2
Interceptions: Will Dunbar, 3
Star of the
Player that has to step up and become a star: Forbes
Unsung star on the rise: Henderson
Best pro prospect: Dunbar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dunbar 2) Henderson 3)
Strength of the defense: The back seven
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the quarterback, pass
Not unlike its counterparts on the offensive side of the ball, the
defensive line was destroyed by graduation, and will be attempting to
rebuild in 2007. The lone returning starter is senior Brandon
Jeffries, who’s shifting back to his familiar end position after
playing tackle last year. Despite being routinely undersized at 250
pounds, he contributed 22 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, setting the
stage for what could be a borderline all-league year. With little
proven help around him, Jeffries has to provide some heat from the
Sophomore Joe Happe has stepped up in the off-season to grab a
lead for the job on the opposite end of the line. The son of a former
all-SEC center by the same name, he has a great motor and good quickness
at 6-4 and 250 pounds.
Until the newcomers arrive in August, senior Cortlin Johnson and
sophomore Todd Howanitz will be the frontrunners at tackle. A
couple of lightweights for the position, they’ll trade technique and
fundamentals for raw power, in an effort to make plays for negative
yards. Johnson has earned three letters during his career, playing on
the defensive line and occasionally at tight end. At 6-7 and 265
pounds, Howanitz has the size to eventually grow into an effective
interior lineman against the run and the pass.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Brandon Madden is
battling Johnson for playing time at the nose after seeing limited
action in seven games last year. At 285 pounds, he’s in a select group
of UAB linemen that’s big enough and strong enough to create an up field
push versus opposing centers. Even if he can’t surpass Johnson, Madden
will play a key role in the rotation this fall.
Junior end Richard Carter is 6-6 and 235 pounds with limited
experience or results to match his terrific size. He’s one of a handful
of pass rushers being counted on to compensate for the graduations of
Larry McSwain and Jermaine Mcelveen.
Watch Out For… JUCO transfer tackle Antonio Forbes.
In desperate need of interior line help, the Blazers were ecstatic to
land Forbes from Butler County (Kan.) Community College. A former
academic casualty at Alabama, he should rise to the top of a flimsy
depth chart shortly after receiving his playbook.
Strength: Athleticism. UAB knows it’s small up front, but is
counting on the quickness and speed of the defensive linemen to offset
their obvious lack of size.
Weakness: Interior presence. Unless Forbes winds up being
otherworldly, the Blazers are going to get completely manhandled by
bigger lines intent on lining up and ramming the ball right at them. At
tackle, they only average about 260 pounds, which is a recipe for lots
of 100-yard rushers.
Outlook: Conference USA teams ran at will on UAB
throughout the second half of last season. Expect more of the same in
2007, as the defense hunts for linemen other than Jeffries to plug a few
holes and pressure the passer.
This might be the team’s strength. Led by juniors Joe
Henderson and Kris Guyton on the outside, the Blazers
welcome back a couple of starters and enough letterwinners to
fill out a solid two-deep. Henderson’s debut on the weakside
was a big success, particularly in the second half when the rest
of the Blazers seemed to be slowing. Flashing terrific lateral
quickness and sure tackling, he finished third on the team with
63 tackles and second with 8.5 behind the line.
Guyton is making the move from the middle to strongside in 2007,
a logical move considering he’s the toughest and biggest Blazer
linebacker at 6-3 and 230 pounds. He had 55 tackles a year ago,
while proving to be surprisingly strong in pass defense.
Guyton’s relocation makes way for B.J. Steed to get more
playing time this season. A part-timer in 2006, the sophomore
plays the game on the edge, giving the defense a potential
playmaker in the middle.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jeffery Williams
has played a lot of football in Birmingham, earning three
letters and plenty of attaboys for his play on special teams.
Although he’s not starting timber, he provides valuable depth
and experience at either outside position. Senior Stanley
Lykes was about to see his role increase last year before a
bum ankle slowed his development. An athletic hitter with a
couple of solid seasons of junior college ball in the books,
he’s prepared to contribute at outside linebacker now that he’s
back to 100%.
Watch Out For… Henderson to take the next step to
being one of the league’s star defensive players. He runs well,
tackles well and will clean up a lot of the messes this year
created by an ineffective Blazer D-line.
Strength: Speed. All three starting linebackers
pursue the ball relentlessly, have outstanding closing speed and
are well-coached at stripping the ball. For their diligence,
each will rack up at least 60 tackles this fall.
Weakness: Proven backups. If one of the starters
is lost for an extended period of time, does UAB have a near
equal reserve ready to step in without skipping a beat?
Unlikely. Backups like Williams, Lykes, Larry Blanchard
and Henry Blackmon have peaked, and are better suited for
special teams than valuable minutes on defense.
Outlook: As long as they don’t have to dig too
deep into the roster, the linebackers will shine all year, while
easily being one of the strongest units on either side of the
UAB is counting on a senior-dominated secondary to reverse last
year’s rampant breakdowns in pass defense. The Blazers were 103rd
nationally in pass defense in 2006, when there was some
semblance of a pass rush. Without much help expected up front
this year, things could get even more difficult. Leading the
way will be free safety Will Dunbar, a hard-hitting
senior that led the team with 65 tackles and three interceptions
last year. Well-sized for the position at 6-1 and 200 pounds,
he’ll contend for all-conference honors this season.
At strong safety will be senior, Durrell Fuqua, who has
earned a letter the last three years, yet is entering a season
as the starter for the first time. At only 5-11 and 185 pounds,
he’s got decent cover skills, but needs to prove he can be a
physical defender in run support.
Manning the corners will be senior Zach Britten and
junior Kevin Sanders. Sanders is a ball hawk coming off
a season in which he had 32 tackles, three picks and a team-high
eight passes broken up. He’ll draw the opposition’s top
receiver in 2007, an assignment that’ll go a long way to
determining the success of this unit. After getting his feet
wet in 11 games last year, it’s time for former JUCO star
Britten to deliver. He was enjoying a breakout spring before
hurting his neck, and is expected to be healthy for the start of
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore corner
Brandon Carlisle has really impressed the coaching staff
throughout the off-season with his speed and athleticism.
Although, he’ll still get burned occasionally trying to make the
big play, his aggressiveness and ball skills have been warmly
Senior corner Carnell Williams brings safety size and
lots of experience to the second unit. At 6-1 and 205 pounds,
he’s a sure tackler that needs to be more of a stopper in pass
defense as well. Trailing Fuqua at strong safety is Anthony
Davis, a promising redshirt freshman that brings better size
and a more physical game to the position.
Watch Out For… Carlisle to challenge for more
playing time all year long. The Blazers need more playmakers in
the secondary, a void the fearless corner appears capable of
Strength: Experience. There are obvious reasons
why it helps to have six upperclassmen on the two-deep. And
then there are the no-so obvious reasons, like the impact the
vets will have on the next generation of Blazer defensive backs.
Weakness: Preventing the big play. This has been
an on-going problem for a secondary that got victimized
regularly in 2006, especially on third down.
Outlook: There’s a decent pool of talent for the
new staff to with in 2007; however, unless the front seven can
create a ton of pressure, the better passing attacks will still
get their numbers when UAB is in town.
Junior Swayze Waters enjoyed a solid first season as the Blazers’
placekicker, hitting 9-of-12 field goals and all seven of his extra
point attempts. Now, the program is banking on him handling the punting
job with equal success. The graduation of Parker Mullins means Waters
will wear many hats this fall, including handling kickoffs for a second
Sophomore Rashad Slaughter will be the primary kick returner and
share punts with junior Kevin Sanders. Slaughter has the giddyup
to help spark a return game that was sub par in 2006.
Projected Top Reserves: Waters’ only competition is at
kicker, where 6-2, 180-pound redshirt freshman Matthew Terwilliger
is attempting to unseat the incumbent. Although the staff likes his
potential, his lack of practical experience at this level is a major
Watch Out For… Waters’ development as the team’s punter.
The Blazers have no other options at the position, so it’s up to the
junior to deliver for a defense that’s attempting to replace seven
starters in 2007.
Strength: Swayze’s leg. The junior’s range extends to 50
yards on field goals and he averaged a commendable 63 yards on kickoffs
in 2006. Now, if that leg strength can be translated into punting
prowess, the Blazers could have an all-league performer in Birmingham.
Weakness: Kick coverage. As if the defense needs another
hurdle to clear, the Blazers were 99th in the country last
year at covering kicks, a special teams flaw that needs to be addressed
before the season begins.
Outlook: While still erratic at times, Waters has an SEC
leg with an important year of experience already in the vault. He’s a
keeper, particularly if he ably fills the void at punter. If the
special teams unit is to gravitate beyond average, the coverage teams
must tighten considerably.