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2007 Western Michigan Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 17, 2007


Preview 2007 Western Michigan Bronco Defense

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2007 - Defense


- 2007 Western Michigan Preview | 2007 WMU Offense Preview  
- 2007 WMU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Western Michigan Preview 


What you need to know: It's not a big D, but it's very quick, very disruptive, and very good. After a big year, the MAC's number one defense gets eight starters back. The line will get in the backfield early and often with the return of Zach Davidson and big-play tackles Nick Varcadipane and Cory Flom. The secondary is loaded with speed and experience with all four starters returning after helping the D pick off 24 passes. The big concern is at outside linebacker after losing Ameer Ismail and Paul Tithof, but Austin Pritchard is a rising star and Dustin Duclo is good in the middle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: C.J. Wilson, 62
Sacks: Zach Davidson, 8
Interceptions: Londen Fryar, 5

Star of the defense: Junior DT Nick Varcadipane
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Cornelius Robinson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Austin Pritchard
Best pro prospect: Junior SS C.J. Wilson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Varcadipane, 2) CB Londen Fryar, 3) DE Zach Davidson
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, secondary, tackles
Weakness of the defense:
Size, outside linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: While WMU is known for being able to get into the backfield, it's also terrific against the run. That starts in the middle of the line where juniors Cory Flom and Nick Varcadipane return. the 6-2, 272-pound Varcadipane isn't just a run stuffer, he's great at providing a steady interior pass rush with 2.5 sacks and nine tackle for loss along with 51 tackles. With 101 stops in his first two seasons, he's one of the MAC's best, more active linemen. The 6-3, 285-pound Flom is tremendously quick on the nose making 33 tackles and 1.5 sacks with five tackles for loss. The two are also great at blocking kicks, combining for six last season.

6-2, 243-pound junior Zach Davidson is back on the right side after making 47 tackles and eight sacks with 10.5 tackles for loss. More of an offensive linebacker than a top end, it doesn't matter; he's a major producer. Good against the run, he's a natural pass rusher and a disruptive force who forced three fumbles.

The one new starter to the line will be 6-0, 230-pound junior bowling ball Greg Marshall, who made 13 tackles as a reserve. He got a little bit of starting time and is experienced enough to step in and be fine against the run. While not a top pass rusher, he'll have plenty of chances to shine with everyone paying attention to Davidson on the other side.

Projected Top Reserves: Working with Marshall on the left side will be sophomore Mark Berghuis to provide more of a pass rushing threat. He's only 6-3 and 211 pounds, but he won't be an every down end. It'll be his job to get into the backfield when he's in the game.


Also fitting the WMU mold of a linebacker playing end is 6-4, 215-pound sophomore Justin Braska after making 14 tackles and two sacks as a good backup. He has a motor that goes 100 miles per hour on every play, and he should be a nice reserve behind Davidson.

Bringing a little more size to the inside will be 295-pound sophomore Cody Cielenski, who's over 20 pounds bigger than Varcadipane. he made three tackles in a reserve role, and while he won't push Varcadipane for significant time, he'll be a decent safety valve.

Watch Out For ... All-MAC honors for the three returning starters. Davidson, Flom, and especially Varcadipane, will all put up the big numbers needed, and be the stars for the front seven, to find spots on the All-MAC teams.
Strength
:
Quickness. The line is extremely aggressive and very active. They're so good up front that the linebacking corps is allowed to do whatever it wants to.
Weakness
:
Bulk size. The tackles aren't tiny, but there isn't a 300-pound big body to come in and provide a brick wall on short yardage plays. Bigger teams should be able to pound the ball a little bit late in games.
Outlook: This will be one of the best WMU lines in recent history with three great producers who'll now be the stars of the defense with the replacements needed at linebacker. Davidson will be in the quarterback's face all season long, while Varcadipane is quickly growing into one of the league's all-time great tackles.
Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The linebacking corps is undergoing a facelift on the outside, but gets junior Dustin Duclo in the middle after a good 53 tackle, 1.5 sack, 6.5 tackle for loss season. While he's only 5-10 and 225 pounds, he's a tough rock in the middle with 111 stops in the last two years. He's quick, he's active, and now he'll have to be the star with the loss of Ameer Ismail and Paul Tithof.

All Ismail did was make 183 tackles, 25 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss over the last two years from the weakside. 6-2, 210-pound junior Cornelius Robinson can't possible live up to those standards, but he's very fast and very promising. He saw a little bit of time in every game making ten tackles and a sack, and while he won't be the backfield terror Ismail was, he'll be a good pass rusher.

Taking over for Tithof on the strongside is 6-5, 225-pound Austin Pritchard, a good-looking junior who made play after play in spring ball, and appears to be one of the team's newest pass rushing stars. He made 27 stops, two sacks and four tackles for loss in a limited role, and now he'll be one of the team's top three tackles. Very fast with good size and toughness, he'll be great.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 210-pound junior Fernand Kashama is a former tight end who hasn't seen the field all that much. A good athlete, he should grow into a pass rusher on the weakside behind Robinson, but his toughness against the run is a question.

6-0, 225-pound Garrett Sosnovich is another undersized defender in the middle. The walk-on has seen time here and there, but he only made one tackle last season. Mostly a special teamer, he'll have to play a bigger role behind Duclo.

Watch Out For ... Pritchard. He'll ease the pain of losing Ismail and Tithoff with good all-around skills and the potential to grow into an All-MAC producer.
Strength
:
Speed. Built to get into the backfield, the linebacking corps loses two stars on the outside, and replaces them with more smallish, speedy speed rushers. This will be a disruptive group no matter who's starting.
Weakness
:
Size. By design, this is a small, quick group that's supposed to make plays because of its speed and athleticism. While that hasn't been a problem in MAC play, it might be an issue from time to time.
Outlook: The situation isn't as bad as it'll be made out to be. You don't get better by losing the outside defenders WMU has to replace, but Robinson and Pritchard should be fine as the season goes on, and Duclo is an unsung playmaker in the middle.
Rating: 5.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The secondary is loaded with all four starters returning. The star of the show is 5-11, 185-pound junior Londen Fryar after an All-MAC season. The team's leading pickoff man with five interceptions, and he's one of the team's surest tackles with 52 stops. The son of former NFL star, Irving, Fryar is fast, active, and tough.

On the other side is rail-thin 6-0, 165-pound junior E.J. Biggers, one of the team's fastest players who made 31 tackles and four picks. A top recruit when he came to the program a few years ago, he started to grow into a top all-around corner. Now he should be a star with the experience to go with his wheels.

Junior safeties Louis Delmas and C.J. Wilson are big hitters who also grew into ball hawks. The 6-0, 181-pound Delmas is back at free safety after finishing third on the team with 53 tackles and four interceptions. With 4.5 speed, he could play corner if needed, but he's too good a tackler, especially in the open field, to not be a safety. The 6-2, 206-pound Wilson was second on the team with 62 tackles to go along with three interceptions and six broken up passes. He's an intimidating force at strong safety with great range, and now he should be an All-MAC star with the reputation to go along with the numbers.

Projected Top Reserves: While senior Anthony Gebhart won't see much in the way of starting time behind Wilson at strong safety, he could step in and be productive if needed. He's not all that big at 5-8 and 195 pounds, but he's a tough tackler with 45 stops and an interception in a reserve role. He makes things happen when he's on the field.

Senior Antwan Allen made 95 tackles in 2005 and was all set to become a big-time star at strong safety, but he suffered a knee injury and missed the entire season. While he won't push Delmas out of a spot, the former wide receiver is too good to not see time somewhere.

The top backup corner will be 6-0, 190-pound junior Desman Stephen, a bigger option than Biggers who made eight tackles and an interception. He might not have made many plays, but he was a difference maker with his pick going for a touchdown in the win over Virginia.

Watch Out For ... this to be one of the MAC's best secondaries. It gave up a few too many big plays considering the pass rush was in the backfield all the time, but with all four starters returning, and good reserves, there's no reason for this to not be one of the team's biggest strengths.
Strength
:
Experience. The backup safeties are good enough to start without a drop-off in production. To get Bronco fans even more excited, all four starters are juniors. Things should be even better in 2008.
Weakness
:
Consistency. The secondary has speed and talent, but it got picked apart a bit too often, having problems with Miami University, Ball State and Eastern Michigan, while it was solid against Florida State and Virginia. If there isn't the same pressure from the front seven that there was last year, will there be problems?
Outlook: It's been a work in progress over the last two seasons, throwing freshmen to the wolves in 2005, allowing over 300 yards per game, sticking through the inconsistencies as sophomores last year, and now hoping for everyone to be tremendous as juniors. There's depth, speed, experience, and enough talent to be great.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The big question mark will be at placekicker, where senior Mike Jones has to replace Nate Meyer, who was good with 17 of 24 made field goals. Jones came in and hit a 22-yard field goal against Temple for his only work, and while he doesn't have Meyer's leg, he should be fine from close range.

Returning at punter will be senior Jim Laney, but he has to be a lot better after averaging a mediocre 38.2 yards per kick. He put 15 inside the 20, but he didn't show off a big leg and didn't air it out enough. After a great sophomore year, at least directionally, he needs to be steadier.

Watch Out For ... the kicking game to prove costly at some point. WMU played six games decided by a touchdown or less. Jones will miss a few kicks that Meyer would've hit, and Laney isn't going to blast the team out of trouble.
Strength
:
Return game. The Broncos led the MAC in punt and kick returns, and Brandon West and E.J. Biggers will make this a major strength again.
Weakness
:
Huge legs. The offense will have to get the ball down to the 25 to have any real confidence in Jones, while Laney has to come up with more than a 59-yard kick for his biggest blast.
Outlook: The kicking game will be fine, but nothing remotely special. The returners will be the best in the league and will have to be a concern for every opponent. The punt coverage team has to be better, but it needs help from Laney, while the kickoff return unit should be excellent again.
Rating: 6.5

 

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2007 Western Michigan Preview - Offense
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