2007 Memphis Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 18, 2007

Preview 2007 Memphis Tiger Defense

Memphis Tigers

Preview 2007 - Defense

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

What you need to know: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Heath Grant, 84
Sacks: Greg Terrell, 5
Interceptions: Brandon Patterson, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Greg Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB LaKeitharun Ford & Junior CB Michael Grandberry
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Josh Weaver
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Freddie Barnett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) LB Tommy Phelps, 3) DT Freddie Barnett
Strength of the defense: Depth on the front seven
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Memphis is deep and diverse along the defensive line, which is a very good thing considering the coaching staff switched back to a four-man front last September.  The rotation, especially at end, will cycle regularly and keep legs fresh.  Sophomore end Jada Brown used March and April as a springboard to a starting job and recognition as the Tigers’ Most Improved Defensive Player.  Originally an Ole Miss Rebel, he’s an impact player with the strength to play the run and the quickness to get after the quarterback. 

Like Brown, Josh Weaver is a sophomore end who matured since the close of last year.  At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he’s a pure speed rusher who can also drop back into coverage, but will need to bulk up to be more of a factor against the run. 

Inside, Memphis is counting on juniors Freddie Barnett and Brandon Douglas to plug the holes that were often gaping in 2006.  Barnett comes via Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College where he played much faster than his 6-2, 300-pound size would indicate and brings a fresh energy to the defense.  A top prep prospect that initially signed with Arkansas, he’ll be counted on heavily in his debut season in blue and gray.  As a part-time starter last season, Douglas chipped in 28 tackles, three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, playing in all 12 games.  To enhance his worth to this unit, he must get regular penetration and become a more effective run stopper.    

Projected Top Reserves: Two of last season’s key contributors at defensive end, sophomore Greg Terrell and junior Clinton McDonald, could play back up roles in 2007, a sign that the depth is beefing up.  An end in an outside linebacker’s body, Terrell had 43 tackles and a team-high five sacks in 2006 en route to a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman squad.  Regardless of who starts games, he’ll play an integral role as third-down pass rusher and is way too disruptive to keep on the sidelines for very long.  Although McDonald was a starter as a sophomore and registered 41 tackles, he rarely pressured the quarterback, making him vulnerable to faster ends, such as Brown and Weaver. 

Redshirt freshman Charlie Bryant has fully made the transition from offensive line to defensive tackle and is ready to see action in 2007.  At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he’s easily the biggest Memphis lineman which will make him an appealing option on obvious running downs.    

Watch Out For… junior defensive tackle Corey Mills.  Mills isn’t currently listed on the two-deep, but that’ll change the moment he’s healthy enough to put pads back on.  A ten-game starter a year ago, he has the quickness and technique on the inside to offset a 260-pound frame.
Strength: Depth.  Now that he has enough capable bodies to fill out a depth chart, West will find it infinitely easier than a year ago to run the 4-3 system that he so desires for his Tigers.
Weakness: Run stoppers.  After allowing 178 yards a game on the ground in 2006, Memphis is going to need Mills to be completely healthy after shoulder surgery and Barnett to play as if this isn’t his first year at the I-A level.
Outlook: The Tigers go two-deep at every position and are on their way to giving Tommy West his best rotation of defensive linemen since arriving at the school six years ago.               
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: The Tiger linebackers haven’t cut it the last few seasons, opening the door for change and open competitions for every job.  That’s great news for junior Tommy Phelps, who’s flourishing in the new climate in his first year out of Butler (Kan.) Community College.  A 6-3, 240-pound thumper that flies all over the field, he’s edged ahead of last year’s second leading tackler Heath Grant at middle linebacker. 

Senior Jake Kasser is built like a free safety at 5-10 and 195 pounds, but is technically sound, very tough and rarely out of position.  As a part-timer in 2006, he had 46 tackles and was actually second on the team with 3.5 sacks. 

Junior Greg Jackson is coming off a solid season in which he was fourth on the team with 69 tackles and tied for first with seven tackles for loss.  He pursues well and has good lateral quickness, but at only 205 pounds, really struggles when he has to shed linemen or bigger tight ends.                        

Projected Top Reserves: As the defense is currently constructed, Memphis will have a second team that comprises two former starters and 159 tackles from last year.  That may be bad for the three backups, but it’s terrific for the team’s depth.  Grant had 81 stops in 2006 and will be a great veteran to have as a reserve, however, he lacks the size, athleticism and big-play ability of Phelps. 

Senior Quinton McCrary has had a long and very productive career in Memphis with 170 tackles and 23 starts.  A good athlete at 6-2 and 232 pounds, he rebounded well last year after suffering a devastating leg injury in 2005, and won’t back down quietly from the challenge he’s getting from Kasser. 

Sophomore Jeremy Rockette has as much athletic upside as any Tiger linebacker, but needs more reps with the defense after spending most of his maiden season on special teams.   

Watch Out For… Phelps.  Memphis needs someone to step up in run defense, and Phelps has the instincts and sure tackling skills to be that guy.
Strength: Depth.  Whether or not Grant and McCrary can recapture their starting jobs, it’s already clear that new defensive coordinator Rick Kravitz has four or five experienced players that he’s comfortable slotting into the lineup.
Weakness: Star power.  While the Tiger linebackers should be more consistent than last year, the unit still lacks that one player that creates turnovers and takes over games by regularly disrupting plays in opposing backfields.
Outlook: While a lot is riding on whether Phelps is prepared to become the star of the group, it already looks as if the 2007 linebackers won’t drive West batty as frequently as last year’s unit did.                        
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: It’s highly likely the defense will spend the entire year trying to compensate for a secondary that allowed 24 touchdown passes and almost 14 yards a reception in 2006 and was gutted by graduations.  Get ready for a complete overhaul and plenty of new faces in the Memphis defensive backfield. 

Relatively speaking, the veteran is junior free safety Brandon Patterson who started games at corner and safety a year ago, making 47 tackles and picking off three passes.  Because of the inexperience surrounding him, he’ll be expected to emerge as a playmaker and one of the unit’s leaders. 

Making a strong push at strong safety will be junior Dontae Reed, an Ole Miss transfer who has the 6-2, 210-pound frame to make receivers shy away from crossing patterns.  A tough, dedicated student-athlete, he works as hard on the field as he does in the classroom. 

The corner jobs will be handled by junior Michael Grandberry and senior LaKeitharun Ford.  Grandberry is an intriguing player who shifted from wide receiver last October, and caught on quickly, making 28 tackles and breaking up a couple of passes.  A terrific athlete at 5-10 and 171 pounds, he’s still learning and prone to getting burned twice for every big play he makes.  Ford is in his second season since transferring from Mississippi Delta Community College.  He started five games in 2006, but was more a part of the problem than the solution in pass coverage, struggling at 5-9 to slow down opposing receivers. 

Projected Top Reserves: Junior free safety Tony Bell comes to Memphis from Auburn where he played two seasons with the Tigers and was a highly-regarded recruit.  At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he hits like a linebacker and moves real well in space, a combination that’ll earn him a ton of playing time in 2007.  It’s imperative that a couple of corners emerge to provide depth and help fill out the team’s second unit.  Sophomore Alton Starr is a former receiver that needs to become more than just a special teams player that gets reps in blowouts.  He’ll be pushed by sophomore Deante Lamar, sophomore Bernard Key and redshirt freshman Bryan Wright, none of whom has distinguished himself to this point. 
Watch Out For…  Junior college transfer LeRico Mathis.  Few schools in America offer a quicker path to playing time for corners than Memphis which has put out want ads for quality cover men.  Mathis is a speedy, 6-1 and 185-pound defender with the skill set to win a job shortly after he arrives.
: The safeties.  Patterson was one of the lone bright spots from 2006 and the two SEC imports have a chance to be impact players early in their Memphis careers.
Weakness: Pass coverage.  It’s sort of obvious, but the Tiger corners are too small and too inexperienced to have a prayer this year against offenses dedicated to picking on them.
Outlook: The secondary is a major work-in-progress that’ll have no answers against the better passing teams while forcing the Tigers to take part in a ton of high-scoring shootouts.             
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The glass will be half full with the Memphis special teams, which welcomes back sophomore kicker Matt Reagan and elusive junior kick returner Michael Grandberry, but will take a hit from the graduation of punter Michael Gibson and must locate a punt returner.  Reagan led the Tigers in scoring in 2006, earning Freshman All-America honors and doing a decent job of succeeding Stephen Gostkowski.  For the year, he hit 12-of-17 field goals and all but one of his 26 extra points, but only hit 4-of-8 outside the 30.  Junior Brent Sutherland was signed out of Hinds Community College to handle the team’s punting duties in 2007 and beyond.  At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he has good leg strength, but is even better at hitting directional kicks and pooch punting.                                 

Projected Top Reserves: If Reagan regresses or suffers through a sophomore slump, Tommy West could turn to Joey Mack, a senior who sat out last year after transferring from Southern Utah.  Sutherland’s only competition at punter will be Reagan who averaged 40 yards a kick when he last punted as a senior in high school.
Watch Out For… Reagan’s development on distance kicks.  Yeah, he was an ace on the chip shots, but if the sophomore is going to blossom into one of the league’s better kickers, he has to nail the 42-yarders with more consistency.
Strength: Grandberry.  As a sophomore he led Conference USA in kickoff returns and was just one block away from taking a couple of kicks back in the second half of the year.
Weakness: Punting.  It’s not as if Sutherland can’t become a solid punter, however, the drop-off from Gibson is inevitable and Memphis is a defensively challenged team that desperately needs to win the field position battle.
Outlook: While Reagan should take the next step in his maturation as a kicker, the key is Sutherland who’ll set back the defense if he disappoints.
Rating: 6.5


Related Stories
2007 Memphis Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 17, 2007
2007 Memphis Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 17, 2007
2007 Memphis Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 17, 2007

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