Preview 2007 - UCF Defense
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need to know:
Nothing typified UCF’s collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy
play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally
and allowed almost 30 points a game. The secondary was a
particular mess, prompting George O’Leary to open up the
competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.
The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his
young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as
tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey,
this season. More than anything else, the Knights are looking
to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout
the 2006 season.
Leger Douzable, 7
Interceptions: Sha'reff Rashad, 4
Star of the
Senior DE Leger Douzable
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: True freshman CB Darin Baldwin
Best pro prospect: Douzable
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Douzable 2) Junior CB
Johnell Neal 3) Junior SS Sha’reff Rashad
Strength of the defense: The defensive line
Weakness of the defense: The linebackers, pass defense
Projected Starters: UCF welcomes back five linemen
that started at least one game last year, but that alone won’t
address a leaky run defense and a pass rush that disappeared too
often in 2006. The unit will be built around senior Leger
Douzable, a 6-4, 305-pound bull that was strong enough to
handle the interior during the first half of the year before
finding a permanent home at end in November. One of the few
bright spots on the defense, he led the Knights with 10.5
tackles for loss and seven sacks, getting multi-sack games
against South Florida and East Carolina.
Douzable’s move outside made room for promising sophomore
Torrell Johnson to get work late in his freshman year. A
6-3, 335-pound space-eater in the middle of the line, UCF is
banking on him developing into its chief run-stuffer. He’ll be
lined up next to senior Keith Shologan, a steady, if
unspectacular, defender that led all linemen with 40 tackles a
year ago. A dependable player, he needs to start making more
stops for negative yards.
Replacing Chris Welsh at right end will be Antonio Wallace,
a little-used junior with a golden opportunity to make a splash
as a pure pass rusher. A former linebacker that’s bulked up to
250 pounds, he has to use his speed to supply some kind of
pressure off the edge.
Projected Top Reserves: The Knights’ second team
is a nice blend of vets on the outside and future building
blocks on the interior. Senior Emeka Okammor has played
in 34 games, earning starts at both tackle and end throughout
his career. While not a scary pass rusher, he’s a powerful,
low-to-the-ground lineman that’ll contribute to run defense.
Junior Jared Kirksey, on the other hand, is a 260-pound
end that can really get after the quarterback. In his first
season out of St. John’s River (Fla.) Community College, he had
23 tackles and three sacks, all in the second-half of the year,
setting the stage for an even bigger role in 2007.
Sophomore tackle Travis Timmons was one of George
O’Leary’s headline recruits of 2006. A 6-4, 300-pound lineman
with outstanding lateral quickness and foot speed, he’s ready to
push for more playing time after breaking the seal with eight
appearances as a true freshman last fall. While Johnson and
Timmons got immediate playing time in their first years, fellow
tackle Wes Tunuufi Suavao used last season to redshirt
and get used to the speed of the college game.
Watch Out For… the emergence of the young
tackles. Johnson and Timmons are a pair of sophomores with good
size and the potential to be two-gap run-stuffers once they
accrue more game experience later this year.
Strength: Depth at end. Okammor has played in as
many games as any other Knight defender and Kirksey has enough
talent bump Wallace from the starting lineup at some point this
Weakness: Pass rush. Douzable stoked the pass rush late
last year, but he won’t sneak up on anyone in 2007 and will need
help if UCF is going to tighten up its defense, especially
through the air.
Outlook: While the run defense has a chance to be
stingy, the line will be judged on its ability to find a player
or two to complement Douzable at defensive end.
Projected Starters: UCF was less than thrilled
with its linebackers in 2006, but the group had a good excuse.
Starters Steven Baker, Corey Hogue and Jordan
Richards all missed time with injuries last fall, however,
their healthy returns bring new hope. Baker is recovering from
a knee injury that limited him to just seven games last year. A
former wide receiver with good size, he’ll be manning the middle
in his final season with less than two years experience at the
position and a whole lot left to learn.
At strongside will be Hogue, a junior that started eight games
and had 50 tackles last season before hurting his thumb. He’s a
smart player that reads plays well and is coming off the best
spring of his Knight career.
There are high hopes for Richards, the weakside starter, if he
can stay on the field. The fastest of the linebackers, the 6-2,
220-pound junior missed time in 2005 with a shoulder injury and
was shut down early last year with a bum ankle.
Projected Top Reserves: The silver lining of all
those UCF injuries was that some of the kids got valuable
late-season reps earlier than expected. The biggest beneficiary
was sophomore Chance Henderson who started three games
after Hogue was injured. He responded to the opportunity with
16 tackles and a couple of sacks in those games, showing the
staff that’s he’s about ready to handle a job permanently at
Like Henderson, sophomore Kyle Fowler started a pair of
games as a freshman, putting him a year ahead of schedule in his
development. After picking up 21 tackles last season, he’s
poised to back up Hogue at strongside and be one of the Knights’
better special teams players.
Watch Out For… freshmen to play integral roles at
linebacker for the second straight year. Experience is great,
but George O’Leary wants playmakers which will create an
opportunity for rookies, such as Troy Kelly, Lawrence Young
and Josh Linam.
Strength: Depth. Last year’s injuries to the
starters mean this year’s key backups, Henderson and Fowler, are
in much better positions to push for more playing time and
solidify the second unit.
Weakness: Speed. As a group, the UCF linebackers
are a step slow and lack a proven stopper that can consistently
rack up double-digit tackles on Saturdays. Durability is
Outlook: Now that the starters are healthy again,
this group has to be a rung better than last year, however, it
still lacks an all-league candidate to lean on and will be
vulnerable in pass defense.
Projected Starters: Finishing 111th
nationally in pass defense has made fixing the secondary the No.
1 priority on defense in 2007. The defensive backs may not have
been the only culpable Knights, but they sure did get burned an
awful lot in 2006. For better or worse, four starters, all
juniors, return so there is something to work with in Orlando.
A versatile third-year starter, Johnell Neal became the
first cornerback in school history last year to lead the team in
tackles. A feisty player despite being only 5-11 and 180
pounds, he fills the lanes well in run defense, but must become
more active when the ball is in the air.
Following a sensational freshman debut, the other corner, Joe
Burnett, slumped badly last year, giving up too many big
plays and experiencing a sharp drop in production. A return to
his 2005 form, when he picked off five passes, will give an
enormous lift to the beleaguered secondary.
Lost in last year’s miserable season was the play of 6-0,
200-pound strong safety Sha’reff Rashad who led UCF with
pass breakups and four interceptions en route to all-conference
recognition. He became an improbable and consistent ball hawk
in 2006, lending hope that there are playmakers in this group
Rashad will be joined at safety by Jason Venson who was
second last year with 63 tackles and chipped in three tackles
for loss and a half-dozen break ups. The Knights’ leading
tackler in 2005, he’s a nice mix of sure-tackling safety with
Projected Top Reserves: One of the big stories of
the spring was the development of true freshman cornerback
Darin Baldwin who has already risen to No. 2 on the depth
chart behind Burnett. He’s bigger than Burnett and has already
enough cover skills to warrant plenty of playing time in his
Sophomore Emery Allen will also provide depth at the
position after earning a pair of starts and appearing in nine
games as a true freshman. While undersized at 5-9 and 172
pounds, he has the speed and back-pedal to stay with opposing
receivers. Now a junior, it’s about time for free safety
Breon Rogers to start approaching his potential. A top
signee from three years ago, he has the size and sticking
ability to be much more than just a wedge-buster.
Watch Out For… Incoming freshman Alphonso
Bryant. Arguably the most heralded recruit to ever select
UCF, Bryant is exactly the caliber of player that this defense
is looking to inject into the secondary. A terrific all-around
athlete with great ball skills, he’ll make it very uncomfortable
for the rest of the corners once he arrives.
Strength: Chemistry. More than just experienced,
this group of defensive backs knows each other’s tendencies
inside and out and has played a lot of football together over
the last two years.
Weakness: Pass coverage. Way too often over the
last two years, this group is out of position or simply not fast
enough to make up ground on blown coverages. It’s no accident
that UCF allowed 22 touchdown passes and intercepted just ten a
Outlook: The talent here isn’t all that bad, but
if UCF is going to be more than a place for passers to pad their
numbers, every member of the secondary must be better in pass
coverage. Expect a very, very big turnaround.
Projected Starters: The kicking game might be an
occasional adventure in 2007 as placekicker Michael Torres
attempts to also win the punting job vacated by the graduation
of Aaron Horne. The senior hasn’t punted since his
post-graduate days at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, but
averaged 45.4 yards there and almost 49 yards a year earlier in
high school, so leg strength isn’t a concern. Torres the scorer
also has some pop, however, he can be erratic, hitting just 63%
of his field goals in a career that’s included a one-year stop
at UMass. Last season, he led UCF in scoring with 76 points.
Both of the Knights’ primary returners will be back on special
teams this fall. Junior Joe Burnett is one of the
nation’s premier punt returners and the main reason UCF was No.
8 in the country in punt return average last year. Senior
Curtis Francis is a pedestrian kick returner who averaged
just 20.6 yards an attempt last year and has a long return of
only 59 yards during his career.
Projected Top Reserves: If the spring is any
indication, junior Jake Howard could turn the
placekicking job into a serious competition. A soccer player
trying football for the very first time, he displayed unexpected
accuracy and leg strength in April, giving the Knights an option
if Torres goes into a funk. The only other contender at punter
is Parker Langley who redshirted last season.
Watch Out For… how Torres reacts to handling two
jobs and having another kicker in his rear view mirror. He’s
been erratic during his career which will be doubly painful for
the UCF special teams if it continues in 2007.
Strength: Range. Torres and Howard have big legs
and put on a show in the spring, consistently exhibiting range
from 45 yards and longer.
Weakness: Punting. The Knight D can use all the
help it can get in terms of field position, however, Torres has
yet to handle a punt since arriving in Orlando care of UMass.
Outlook: There’s a lot of pressure on Torres to
perform at a high level this season. If he comes through,
especially at punter, the Knights could wind up being in the top
half of Conference USA in overall special teams.