2007 Tulsa Preview - Defense
Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense
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need to know:
Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive
style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.
The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s
players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.
Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back
to Tulsa. In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the
Hurricane had 36 takeaways. Without him last year? 14. The
strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters
and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers
you’ve never seen play. With so much over pursuing going on in
2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this
year as it has in the last two combined.
Sacks: Chris Chamberlain, 2
Interceptions: Chris Chamberlain, 2
Star of the
Senior LB Nelson Coleman
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Junior NG Terrel Nemons
Best pro prospect: Coleman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Coleman 2) Senior LB
Chris Chamberlain 3) Nemons
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, creating turnovers
Projected Starters: Anchoring the Hurricane defensive line for
the second straight year will be behemoth junior nose guard Terrel
Nemons. At 6-4 and 345 pounds, he’s a prototypical two-gap run
stuffer that consistently occupies multiple blockers. If Nemons can
develop a few moves to go along with his raw power, he could be headed
to the NFL in 2009.
Someone on the outside needs to step up and replace the six sacks that
Robert Latu contributed to the offense in 2006. The most logical
candidate is junior Moton Hopkins, who had 40 tackles a year ago
and started the entire season. More of a run defender at 6-3, 275 than
a true pass rusher, he must produce much more than the half-sack and two
quarterback pressures that he did in 2006.
Unlike Hopkins, junior Jeph McAlester is a genuine speed rusher
in the body of an outside linebacker. Although he played sparingly in
his year out of junior college, coaches are hopeful he can parlay all of
his athletic ability into sacks and hurries this season.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Nemons at the nose is
senior Brandon Jones, a seasoned veteran of 37 games, eight
starts and three letters. He’s a smaller, quicker version of Nemons,
and an absolute luxury to have on the second team.
Out of sophomore Cedric Godfrey and redshirt freshmen Jon Bell
and Tyler Scarbrough, one of the young ends needs to step up and
become a viable member of the rotation. The edge for now goes to Bell,
who’s coming off a solid first spring at Tulsa and is one of the
strongest players on the defense.
Watch Out For… it to be really tough running on Tulsa
again in 2007. Nemons’ presence and ability to eat space allow the
linebackers and safeties to come up and support in run defense with far
Strength: Nose guard. Not only does Nemons have
all-league ingredients, but his backup, Jones, could start for half the
teams in Conference USA.
Weakness: Pass rush. Who on the line is going to create
pressure on opposing quarterbacks? Hopkins moves like a tackle and the
underclassmen on the opposite end are completely unproven.
Outlook: While the run defense will be fine, Tulsa’s
inability to get to the quarterback is going to be a year-long problem,
especially since the secondary is without three of last year’s starters.
Projected Starters: With all due respect to the offensive
backfield, this will be the strongest unit of the program for the 2007
season. In Nelson Coleman, Chris Chamberlain and Alain
Karatepeyan, Tulsa boasts three seniors with eight letters and a ton
of tackles between them. The headliner is Coleman, an ideal middle
linebacker that closes fast, tackles well and has keen natural instincts
for the position. A safe bet to be back on the all-Conference USA first
team, he’s been a starter since his freshman season, and begins his
final year with 274 career tackles.
Don’t be fooled by Chamberlain’s position. He plays at weakside, but
can bring the payload. A fourth-year starter with outstanding speed,
he’s equally effective on the blitz as he is at dropping back in pass
coverage. Chamberlain was named third team all-Conference USA by league
Karatepeyan may be the newcomer to the first unit, but he’s no stranger
to getting reps in key games. The biggest of the linebackers at 250
pounds, he’s played in 25 games over the last two years and had 39
tackles and five tackles for loss as a part-time starter in 2006.
Projected Top Reserves: If there’s an injury to a starter,
the defense is really going to feel it. The reserves are young,
untested and a year away from being ready for bigger roles. Sophomore
Mike Bryan is learning behind Coleman in the hopes of manning the
middle in 2008 and 2009. He played in all 13 games last year, picking
up 17 tackles and some valuable experience along the way. When this
group rebuilds next fall, he’ll be one of the cornerstones.
On the outside, the staff really likes the athleticism and upside of
redshirt freshmen Tanner Antle and Donald Gobert, but
recognizes both are still very raw and in need of more time with the
Watch Out For… a huge rebound season from Chamberlain, who
wasn’t really himself in 2006 after missing the first five games with a
knee injury. A frenetic playmaker, he’s a hand-in-glove fit for a
defense that wants to attack and create turnovers.
Strength: The first unit. Chamberlain is fast and
disruptive. Karatepeyan is big and physical. Coleman is a combination
of the two. Together, they give Tulsa one of the most underrated set of
starting linebackers in the country.
Weakness: The backups. You’d expect a drop-off from the
starters, but at Tulsa it’s precipitous. The second unit is dominated
by inexperienced underclassmen that aren’t quite ready to play
significant minutes in 2007.
Outlook: Even without star Nick Bunting, Tulsa is home to
Conference USA’s best linebackers, a nicely blended group that’ll help
the Hurricane near the top of the league in total defense.
Projected Starters: The loss of three quality starters to
graduation makes defensing the pass a focal point for Tulsa heading into
the 2007 season. The secondary features five players, two corners and
safeties to go along with a bandit, a safety/linebacker hybrid. Playing
the position this year will be Steve Craver, a 6-1, 212-pound
senior that has the physical tools to have an outstanding final season.
He run very well, hits like a linebacker and is as healthy as he’s ever
been in his Tulsa career.
In Todd Graham’s defense, the safeties play a significant role in run
and pass defense, giving senior Anthony Germany and junior
Randy Duncan an opportunity to stand out this fall. Germany begins
his third season as a starter with all-conference aspirations. An
intimidating defender in the secondary, he needs to revert to his 2005
form when he led the Hurricane with 13.5 tackles for loss.
Duncan has persevered through injuries and academic problems to reach
the top of the depth chart at free safety. He’s 6-2 with solid coverage
skills, but will have a hard time filling the shoes of two-time
all-conference player Bobby Blackshire.
Returning starter Roy Roberts is easily the program’s best cover
man. An underrated open filed tackler, he was fourth on the team last
year with 36 solos and chipped in a half-down pass breakups.
The other corner, however, is a glaring question mark. For now, the
answer will be sophomore Charles Davis, who played well enough in
the spring to earn the promotion. While his athletic ability is
obvious, he’s also just 5-9 and 165 pounds, which will be a serious
liability against bigger receivers.
Projected Top Reserves: At 6-2 and 220 pounds, junior
Ty Page hits like a linebacker, yet moves like a corner. One of the
group’s best all-around athletes, he’ll back up Craver at bandit this
year before succeeding him in 2008.
Sophomore Josh Burris put heat on Duncan in the spring, and will
continue to do so throughout the season. He’s only 5-10 and 188 pounds,
but has shown a tendency to play a lot bigger.
In a shallow pool of talent, sophomore Kenny Sims is capable of
quickly becoming the Hurricane’s most dependable cornerback off the
sidelines. He played in ten games as a true freshman, and after
starting the spring at safety, made a nice transition to corner.
Watch Out For… a monster season from Craver. This defense
forces the safeties to make plenty of plays, a challenge that the senior
is up to now that he’s finally at full strength.
Strength: Physical play. All of the safeties, including
the backups, are big hitters that will intimidate opposing receivers and
press up to support the run defense.
Weakness: Depth at corner. After Roberts, things get
dicey in a hurry. Davis played well in the spring, but that was against
a very green group of Tulsa receivers. If he can’t hack it, there
aren’t many other viable options deeper on the depth chart.
Outlook: This is not a vintage Hurricane secondary, which
has been so good over the past few seasons. While they’ll shine on run
downs, better quarterbacks will move the ball through the air,
especially if the pass rush is slow to come around.
Projected Starters: Junior kicker Jarod Tracy
didn’t get many chances last season, but when he did, he rarely
disappointed. In his first season as the starter, he was 11-of-12 on
field goal tries and 43-of-45 on extra points. More important, Tracy
displayed excellent leg strength, hitting all four attempts outside 40
yards, including one from 50. While he still needs work on kickoffs,
he’s been an unexpected find for the special teams.
After splitting the punting with inconsistent Chris Kindred in 2006,
junior Paul Jurado is hoping to have the job all to himself this
fall. Last year, he averaged just over 40 yards a punt, placing
one-third of his 18 punts inside the opponents’ 20.
The graduation of Idris Moss leaves the Hurricane looking for both a new
kick and punt returner. Likely filling both roles will be Charles
Davis, an undersized and elusive sophomore, who was a hit covering
kicks in 2006.
Projected Top Reserves: Jurado’s competition at punter
will be coming from sophomore Alexander Bridge, who possesses a
stronger leg, yet lacks the consistency and experience to win the job at
this point in his career. If Tracy suddenly digresses, Tulsa could turn
to Robert Jaworski, a transfer from Georgia Military College.
Watch Out For… Tracy to get limited opportunities to shine
again this year. In this offense, fourth down is often just another
opportunity to get a first down, so Tulsa could frequently be passing on
a chance for three in 2007.
Strength: Kick coverage. Only three teams in the country
were better at covering kicks last year than Tulsa, which held opposing
returners to less than 16 yards a return. This is especially important
in a year that kickoffs are being pushed back five yards to the 30.
Weakness: Punting. Neither Jurado nor Bridge looking
especially sharp in the spring, raising concerns that the punt team
could be an adventure for a second consecutive season.
Outlook: If Davis can breathe life into the return game,
the special teams unit figures to be no worse than average in 2007.
Tracy’s a quality kicker who should start receiving some of the
recognition he deserves in 2007.