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2007 UCF Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 7, 2007


Preview 2007 UCF Knight Defense

 

UCF Golden Knights

Preview 2007 - UCF Defense


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


What you 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Johnell Neal, 66
Sacks: Leger Douzable, 7
Interceptions: Sha'reff Rashad, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Leger Douzable
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Joe Burnett
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

Defensive Line

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 season.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Linebackers

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 middle linebacker. 

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 another concern.
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.
Rating: 5

Secondary

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 after all. 

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 corner quickness. 

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 first season. 

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 year ago.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

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.
Rating: 7

 

Related Stories
2007 UCF Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 6, 2007
2007 UCF Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 6, 2007
2007 UCF Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 6, 2007








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