2007 UAB Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 5, 2007

Preview 2007 UAB Blazer Defense Preview


UAB Blazers

Preview 2007 - UAB Defense

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

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Will Dunbar, 65
Sacks: Several with 2
Interceptions: Will Dunbar, 3

Star of the defense: Dunbar
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) Jeffries
Strength of the defense: The back seven
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the quarterback, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 outside. 

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.
: 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.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: 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 ball.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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 summer practice.

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 received. 

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 filling.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 straight year. 

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 drawback.                        

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.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 UAB Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 4, 2007
2007 UAB Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 4, 2007
2007 UAB Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 4, 2007

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