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2007 Houston Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 19, 2007


Preview 2007 Houston Cougar Defense

Houston Cougars

Preview 2007 - Defense

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

What you need to know: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Trent Allen, 95
Sacks: Phillip Hunt, 8
Interceptions: Ernest Miller, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Phillip Hunt
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Quinte Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Ell Ash
Best pro prospect: Hunt
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hunt 2) Senior LB Trent Allen 3) Junior LB Cody Lubojasky
Strength of the defense: The front seven
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: With the exception of nose tackle Marquay Love, the two-deep at defensive line returns intact for the Cougars.  The undisputed leader of the threesome is junior end Phillip Hunt, a burgeoning star after collecting 58 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks in a breakout, all-league season.  More than just a 6-2, 250-pound blur off the edge, his technique is sharp and his motor is non-stop. 

Inside, junior Ell Ash has tackle size to go along with the agility and quickness of an end.  The 6-5, 293-pound Tennessee transfer has a season of experience behind him and a limitless upside to work toward over the next two years.  As a reserve last year, he had 21 tackles and was second on the team with three sacks. 

After splitting the season as starters in 2006, juniors Cody Pree and Tate Stewart could be going Dutch again this year.  The pair is basically No. 1 and No. 1A at nose tackle, respectively, giving the interior some much-needed depth and experience.  Pree was the more productive of the two last season, but still endured a decline from 2005, when he debuted as a freshman with 42 tackles, six sacks and four tackles for loss.              

Projected Top Reserves: Assuming he remains 1A, Stewart is the type of player every coach likes to have on the roster.  Unselfish, relentless and hard-working, he’ll do whatever it takes to help the program succeed. 

The most gifted reserve end is sophomore Brian West, a well-sized Auburn transfer that’s ready for action after sitting out last season.  More of a tackle than a true rush end at 6-4 and 265 pounds, he’s expected to use that size to be an asset on the outside in run defense.

Watch Out For… Ash to begin turning the heads of scouts this season.  After laying the foundation for success in 2006, he’ll be too big and too fast as a first-year starter for most Conference USA linemen to contain.
Strength: Depth.  Hunt is a pass-rushing beast, Ash and West are SEC-caliber players and Pree and Stewart are interchangeable parts at the nose with significant starting experience.
Weakness: Getting quarterback pressure from someone not named Hunt.  The Cougar end had more than a third of the team’s sacks in 2006, meaning he’ll see a ton of double teams in 2007, unless someone else steps up.
Outlook: The Cougars boast of solid collection of juniors that are growing up together within the system.  They’ll be improved in 2007, but even better if everyone is back in 2008.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Four of last year’s top 11 tacklers were linebackers with more eligibility remaining.  The leaders of a quality group are inside linebackers Cody Lubojasky and Trent Allen, both of whom had at least 90 tackles in last year’s conference championship season. 

From his weakside position, Allen had 95 stops on his way to a spot on the All-Conference USA squad.  While not the speediest of the Cougars, the senior has great instincts for the position, and at 245 pounds, is strong enough to fight through blocks and make plays. 

Like Allen, Lubojasky is not a speed guy, but has a great nose for the ball, collecting 164 tackles in his first two seasons on campus.  Even more important, he’s also exhibited a knack for making plays behind the line, making the junior unique to the team’s other linebackers.

On the outside, the Cougars will turn to senior Brendan Pahulu and junior James Francis.  Pahulu has played a ton of football for Houston, bagging 194 tackles and 24 tackles for loss as a three-year starter.  The unit’s best combination of size, speed and athleticism, he could be used as a rush end when the defense shifts to a four-man front.  Francis has a loose grip on the starting job after sitting out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery. 

Oklahoma State transfer Stephen James was projected to be the starter, but was lost for the season when he tore his ACL.  Francis moves like a safety at 6-1 and 215 pounds, but has mainly been a special teams player so far.         

Projected Top Reserves: Francis is going to get pushed hard this summer by sophomore Broderick Bean who’s still learning, but turned a few heads this spring with his speed and tenacity.  The tools are there for him to be the kind of pass defending playmaker that the defense can really use. 

The top reserve at both inside spots is junior Rodney Rideau, a two-time letterwinner with 24 games of experience and 118 stops to his credit.  He moves very quickly to the ball and represents an important part of the rotation at linebacker.      

Watch Out For… more plays for negative yards out of this group.  The Cougars want to attack in 2007 and have the right combination of inside experience and outside quickness to make life miserable for opposing backfields.
Strength: Experience.  Houston welcomes back three players, Allen, Lubojasky and Pahulu, with eight letters between them and a seasoned reserve in Rideau, who can seamlessly slide into the lineup, if necessary.
Weakness: Inside speed.  Yeah, Allen and Lubojasky have been perennial stalwarts on this defense, but they’re still a step slow, making both vulnerable when forced to cover quicker tight ends, or worse, someone looping out of the backfield.
Outlook: A solid group of sure tacklers, the linebackers will be the heart and soul of the Houston defense for the second straight year.
Rating: 6.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The departures of Willie Gaston and Will Gulley leave the Cougars a little more vulnerable.  Helping address the problem will be junior corner Kenneth Fontenette, who blossomed into an all-league type pass defender in 2006.  Second on the team with 13 passes defended, he can also come up and stick like a safety, as evidenced by his two-season total of 148 tackles. 

There’s far less certainty at the opposite corner, where junior Quinte Williams will be taking Gaston’s place.  A quality athlete at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he needs to be prepared for opposing passers that will be looking to avoid Fontenette’s side.

Technically, junior Ernest Miller and senior Rocky Schwartz are battling for the job at strong safety, but both are going to play a lot this season, especially when a rover is needed in the 4-2-5.  Schwartz might even freelance at outside linebacker periodically.  He missed most of last year with a knee injury, denying the defense of one of its physical and inspirational leaders.  A genuine headhunter that plays fast and fearless, he led the Cougars with 114 tackles in 2005. 

The frontrunner at free safety is senior Joseph Gonzales, a career backup with 33 games of experience and a surgically-repaired shoulder that’s on the mend.  He’s played well in place of Gulley and Schwartz in recent years, needing now to show that he’s the man from day one of summer drills.   

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Kellan Yancy is the team’s most experienced corner, but he’ll be extremely vulnerable to kids, such as sophomore Carson Blackmon and redshirt Teric Williams, that have greater upside.  If Yancy can’t improve his speed and man-to-man coverage, he’ll be relegated to no more than a special teams body. 

Behind Gonzales at free safety is sophomore Brandon Brinkley, a member of last year’s Conference USA All-Freshman team.  Still only 175 pounds, he’s the future at free safety once he spends a little more time in the weight room.   

Watch Out For… Schwartz’s impact on the defense.  The Cougars certainly survived after he went down last September, but his presence was missed in the secondary.  If Schwartz can regain his 2005 form, the ripple effect will be felt in every unit of the defense.
Strength: The safeties.  At strong safety, the Cougars have two players worthy of post-season honors and a new starter at free safety that’s no stranger to live action.  On the second unit, Brinkley has the makeup of a future star.
Weakness: Creating turnovers.  The defensive backs got their hands on plenty of passes last year, but too few were converted into picks.  This season, Houston is eyeing more turnovers after picking off just a dozen passes in 2006.
Outlook: While the Cougar secondary is solid against the run, it still needs to tighten up in pass coverage.  Fontenette has lockdown potential, but Williams is a question mark that could get exposed against the league’s better passers.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: After two seasons on the job, junior Ben Bell has emerged as one of the most reliable placekickers in Conference USA.  Coming off a sterling, 14-of-18 year on field goals, he’s now connected on almost 75% of his kicks since becoming the starter in 2006.  Where Bell struggles, however, is with his distance.  He doesn’t have the leg to handle kickoffs, has a career long field goal of just 42 yards and is only 1-of-3 lifetime beyond the 40. 

Garrett LeFevre was supposed to take over as the punter in 2007, but he left the program, putting an already dicey situation in even worse shape.  Redshirt freshman Tommy Skinner has to come through because there’s no safety net after him.  A 6-4, 215-pound walk-on with the Cougars, he has a strong leg and a chance to be a special teams hero if he can help the program’s failing punt team.

Seniors Anthony Alridge and Donnie Avery are back to handle kickoffs in 2007 after helping Houston to No. 3 in Conference USA.  If used enough, Alridge has the blinding speed in the open field to be a special teams this season.  The situation with punt returns, however, is an entirely different story.  A couple of redshirt freshmen, Teric Williams and Randall Antoine, are being counted on to ignite a unit that averaged just 7.6 yards a return last year.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Jonathan Gibson will be the backup to Bell and can punt or kickoff in an emergency as well.  A walk-on with the program, it won’t be a good sign if No. 83 is spending lots of time on the field this year.

Watch Out For… Skinner’s development as the team’s only real option at punter.  The buzz around the program is that the redshirt freshman has a big leg, but until he sees live action, he’s a potential liability for a unit that really needs a steady performer.
Strength: Bell’s short game.  From inside 40 yards, the Cougar kicker has been nearly automatic.  Beyond 40, he still has something to prove in the second half of his career.
Weakness: Net punting.  In all facets of the punting game last year, Houston was a mess, getting little production from the returners and finishing a dismal 114th nationally in net punting.  With an inexperienced rookie handling punts this season, an about face is improbable.  
Outlook: Although Cougar fans might be holding their breath on punts of any kind, the kicking game is in good hands.  With a new quarterback this season, Bell is likely to be trading in a few PATs for more field goal attempts in 2007.
Rating: 5.5

  

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2007 Houston Preview - Depth Chart
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