2007 Nevada Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 10, 2007

Preview 2007 Nevada Wolf Pack Defense

Nevada Wolf Pack

Preview 2007 - Defense

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

What you need to know:
There will be some new defensive coaches taking over with coordinator Ken Wilson keeping the 3-4 scheme to take advantage of the great linebackers. Ezra Butler, Jeremy Engstrom, and Joshua Mauga are as good as any trio in the WAC, and will be the team's strength. The line is solid, helped by the emergence of nose tackle Matt Hines as a top all-around playmaker. The secondary is fine, but nothing special; the better WAC passing games won't have a problem against it.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ezra Butler, 71
Sacks: Ezra Butler, 7.5
Interceptions: Joshua Magua, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Ezra Butler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Kevin Porter
Unsung star on the rise: Junior SS Uche Anyanwu
Best pro prospect: Butler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Butler, 2) LB Joshua Mauga, 3) NT Matt Hines
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, overall experience
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The front three should be fine as long as junior Mundrae Clifton turns into a player at the end. In a limited role, the 292-pounder made seven tackles, and with his size should be considered a third tackle as opposed to a pass rusher, even though he has all the measurables. The former JUCO transfer is big, strong, and quick, but the light has to go on.

The other spots are set with the return of seniors Matt Hines and Erics Clark. The 285-pound Hines is the best of the front three with terrific moves and the potential to grow into a star interior pass rusher. He was good against the run making 33 tackles, and he was decent behind the line with 4.5 tackles for loss, but he should do far more this year and be more than just an anchor at nose tackle for everyone else to work around. The 6-6, 270-pound Clark was expected to be a good pass rusher as last year went on, but it didn't happen with just 2.5 sacks and 19 tackles. Even so, he's a good lineman with the big body needed to stop things up.

Projected Top Reserves: There should be an interesting rotation behind Clark at one end with the emergence of redshirt freshman Kevin Basped and sophomore Thomas Flinn. The 6-6, 235-pound Basped is a pure playmaker, even if he's a bit undersized for what the line needs. The 270-pound Flynn is more of a run stopper, coming over from the JUCO ranks.

270-pound senior Jay Dixon made eight tackles with 2.5 sacks as a reserve last season, and while he's quick for his size and should be a good pass rusher with more time behind Clifton.

Backing up Hines on the nose is 285-pound sophomore Nate Agaiava, who isn't the pass rusher that Nines is but has the strength to be good against the run. He and his brother, 270-pound sophomore Daniel Agaiava, will be keys to the line over the next few years.

Watch Out For ... a great year from the front three. Hines is on the verge of all-star honors, Clark is fine, and there are good options to fill in the blanks among the reserves. The three didn't do much to get into the backfield last year, but that should change.
Strength: Size. While there aren't any 300+ pound monsters up front, there are close-to-300-pounders who are extremely quick and can make plays behind the line, but ..
Weakness: Can they stop the run? The overall stats weren't that great, and it's not like the Pack played a who's who of running teams. Hawaii and Louisiana Tech, not exactly offenses with powerhouse running games, got the ball moving. Nebraska and Northwestern will be a problem in the first two games.
Outlook: It's an experienced front three with several prospects and options to form a good rotation. It'll do its job or holding up, for the most part, and letting the linebacking corps shine, but it has to be stronger against the run and live up to the promise showed this spring when it comes to getting into the backfield.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
The linebackers will be one of the team's strengths led by all-star Ezra Butler at the Bandit position. More like a defensive end than a linebacker, the 6-2, 248-pound senior has cranked out 146 tackles, 13 tackles and 33.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. Way too quick for most tackles, he's a great speed rusher who's proven to be decent against the pass. He'll go into the season as the preseason WAC defensive player of the year and the one the defense will revolve around.

On the other side, the strongside, will once again be senior Jeremy Engstrom, who reduced his role as a pass rusher and did more against the pass. The 6-1, 247-pound is active at getting to the ball with 41 tackles and two recovered fumbles, and he'll be even more of a rock against the run this season getting more room to move.

Junior Joshua Mauga grew into the job at the Wolf, or on the weakside, finishing tied for second on the team with 56 tackles and three interceptions. He's 6-2, 245 pounds, and extremely athletic with great speed. He has the measurables to play on Sundays in the near future.

The one new starter in the corps is 6-1, 240-pound sophomore Kevin Porter, who made 18 tackles as a reserve. He's had a strange career, starting off as a good backup in 2004, missing all of 2005, and getting back into the mix last year. He won't have to make every play with the good defenders around him, but he'll have to be steady against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Porter for the starting job in the middle will be 265-pound junior Jerome Johnson, a bigger inside presence who had a great spring. the JUCO transfer has nice range and good ball skills against the passing game. He'll find a starting spot sooner than later.

Senior Nick Fuhr hasn't had much of a chance to do anything over the last few years, and made only seven stops in 2006, but he's a veteran who can step in on the strongside behind Engstrom and be decent.

Watch Out For ... Mauga. Butler will get all the publicity and all the accolades, but Mauga could, at times, be the better player.
Strength: Experience. Mauga, Engstrom, and, of course, Butler, would make for a phenomenal veteran threesome. Throw longtime reserve Kevin Porter into the mix, and the starters are going to know what they're doing.
Weakness: The corps isn't as good against the run as many might believe. Yeah, there's a ton of talent, and yeah, there are several all-star candidates who fly around the ball, but good power teams should be able to hammer the ball on this group.
Outlook: This might be the best linebacking corps in the WAC thanks to the return of Butler and Engstrom. There will be plenty of plays made all over the field by the four in the 3-4 that's supposed to fill the stat sheet, and this veteran crew will do the job.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: After De'Angelo Wilson was kicked off the team, that left a hole at corner. Senior Devon Walker was getting prepared to go into the season as a number two, and now he's a starter after making 18 tackles and two broken up passes. He has good speed and 6-0, 180-pound size, but he has to prove he can handle himself on a regular basis against the better WAC offenses.

On the other side, as the top cover-corner, will be junior Paul Pratt, who stepped up and was great this spring. He made 24 tackles and broke up six passes, but he only picked off one pass and got beaten deep way too often. He's a full year removed from a knee injury and still has all his speed.

Sophomore Jonathan Amaya is back at free safety after being one of the shocks of last year. The former walk-on made 42 tackles and an interception. While he's 6-2 and 190 pounds and can get around, he needs to do even more against the pass and has to provide more help for the corners.

The big issue is at strong safety, where Uche Anyanwu takes over for all-around star Joe Garcia. He played hurt for a big portion of last year, but he's growing into a playmaking star after a great spring when he was all over the field providing a huge pop. He's 6-4, 220 pounds, and can really, really hit with 29 tackles in a limited role last season.

Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Walker is senior Shannon Sevor, who is good enough to start if needed. With the loss of Wilson, he's getting plenty of reps with the ones, and he has just enough experience and skill to push for time.

On the other side, redshirt freshman Kenny Viser has excellent upside behind Pratt. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, he has more size than Pratt and enough toughness to move to safety if needed. He'll need time, and seasoning, but he could become the team's most important reserve because of his versatility.

Backing up Amaya at free safety is senior Justin Jackson, a decent veteran who was good at making plays behind the line with three tackles for loss to go along with 22 tackles. He has just enough speed and hitting ability to play either safety spot.

Watch Out For ... Anyanwu. He might not make 51 tackles, six interceptions and seven broken up passes like Garcia, but he's turning into the leader of the secondary and a major force.
Strength: Experience. Even the new starters have seen enough action to be almost considered starters. The backups can all step in and be productive in the rotation.
Weakness: Big plays. The top WAC passing games bomb away on everyone, and this group is more than happy to get torched on occasion. The corners are decent, but they're not good enough to not give up a few home runs.
Outlook: While the secondary improved, but it still allowed 196 yards per game. It should be fine this year, but the best players from last year's defensive backfield, Joe Garcia and Nick Hawthrone, are gone. It's a serviceable group that'll have its good moments, and won't be a weakness, but it'll hardly be special.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Brett Jaekle isn't going to hit a lot of bombs, but he'll do his part inside the 40. Hitting 20 of 26 field goals over the last two years, and 8 of 11 last year, he's as reliable as they come. Punting is a bit more of an issue after finishing 103rd in the nation, but senior Zachary Whited isn't bad, averaging 39.1 yards per kick while putting 14 inside the 20. He has a nice leg, but he has to do a better job of not outkicking the coverage.

Watch Out For ... Jaekle to be even better. Even if he doesn't hit 50 yarders, he'll win a game or two with a clutch kick.
Strength: Return game. Dwayne Sanders was terrific last season averaging 25 yards per kick return. He and Brian Fludd should be solid in punt returns.
Weakness: Jaekle's leg. Forget about anything from beyond 45 yards. The offense will have to go for it on fourth downs from time to time to get into his range.
Outlook: It's asking a lot to be ninth in the nation in punt returns and 14th in kickoff returns, but the Wolf Pack return game will be great. The punting game is effective, even if the net stats aren't great, and Jaekle is a rock. The special teams will be as good as any in the WAC.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Nevada Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Nevada Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007
2007 Nevada Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 10, 2007

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