Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: Troy won the Sun Belt title despite a
mediocre year from the defense. Now the D will be positively
dominant with the best secondary and a defensive line that's
either the best, or a close second behind Middle Tennessee's.
Generating pressure won't be a problem with phenomenal pass
rushers from every spot, while the secondary will use five and
six defensive backs at times just to get all its talent on the
field. The linebacking corps is the weakness of the defense by
default considering how good the line and secondary will be, but
it'll still be fantastic with Boris Lee and Marcus Richardson
each deserving all-star consideration.
Kenny Mainor, 6.5
Interceptions: Boris Lee, 3
Star of the defense: Senior CB Leodis McKelvin
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DT Chris Bradwell
Best pro prospect: Bradwell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McKevin, 2) DE Kenny Mainor,
3) LB Boris Lee
Strength of the defense: Overall experience, secondary,
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The defensive line was
terrific at getting into the backfield on a regular basis led by 6-4,
216-pound speed rusher Kenny Mainor, who finished with 47
tackles, 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. While the junior might be
way undersized for a lineman, he's a blur in the backfield and finally
learned how to close on the quarterback after coming oh-so-close time
and again as a freshman. With room to put at least another 15 pounds on
his frame, he has the potential to be truly special if he hits the
weights hard and doesn't lose his speed.
On the other side is 6-3,
245-pound senior Shawn Todd, a veteran with tremendous strength
and a good burst into the backfield with a team-leading 17 quarterback
hurries to go along with 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and seven tackles for
290-pound Marcus Pittman returns to his spot on the nose, but he
can play either tackle position with enough quickness to get into the
backfield and enough strength to hold the middle. He made 20 tackles and
two sacks, but his real worth was his ability to occupy blockers and
allow everyone else to work.
Next to Pittman, at least to start the season,
will be 6-5, 280-pound Chris Bradwell, a former starter for
Florida State who missed all of last year after being suspended for
off-the-field issues. He has the talent to be an All-Sun Belt star, but
he has to keep his head screwed on straight.
Projected Top Reserves: Even if Bradwell turns
into the player everyone's expecting him to become, it might be hard
keeling 6-6, 290-pound JUCO transfer Dion Gales out of the
lineup. Originally signing with Ole Miss, he turned into a terror at
Gulf Coast CC and could've gone just about anywhere. He's a fantastic
pass rusher who'll end up starting somewhere on the line.
Brandon Lang could start for almost anyone else in the Sun Belt.
A top-shelf pass rusher, he made 4.5 sacks and 26 tackles as a reserve
behind Mainor on the left side.
273-pound Maurice Coleman will
see time at tackle after being suspended all of last year. With his size
and quickness, he's a tough all-around player on the nose.
Not to be
forgotten is 6-4, 280-pound junior Steve McLendon, who started
last year when Bradford got booted. He's a good athlete who made 20
tackles, but isn't going to get in the backfield like the other tackles
Watch Out For ... the line to be camped out in
opposing backfields all season long. All four spots can rush the passer,
and so can the backups.
Strength: Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Mainor
is the best of a phenomenal lot that'll overwhelm average offensive
lines. Not just fast, this is a big group.
Weakness: Production against the run.
Inconsistency was a problem. It stopped pedestrian running attacks cold,
but got rolled over by Arkansas State, UL Monroe and UL Lafayette.
Getting into the backfield is a huge concern that it sometimes takes
away from stopping the play.
Outlook: This was going to be a good line, and
then it picked up Gales and got Bradwell and Coleman back. There's
legitimate NFL talent up front, and if everyone plays up to their
potential, this will be a dominant front four with a tremendous
Projected Starters: Sophomore Boris Lee
came from out of nowhere to become a major playmaker in the middle
finishing third on the team with 62 tackles with a team-leading three
interceptions with two sacks and six tackles for loss. He's only 210
pounds, but he's fast enough to move all over the field coming up with
big plays against the pass and in the backfield. He's always, always
around the ball and one of the surest open field tacklers in the Sun
Back in the corps is 6-3, 214-pound senior Marcus Richardson,
who got hurt last season breaking his collarbone tackling Georgia Tech
star Calvin Johnson. Even so, he still made 40 tackles. With 4.4 speed
and pass coverage skills of a defensive back, he's a dream of a weakside
linebacker after playing on the strongside last season.
The one new
starter to the mix is 6-2, 225-pound senior Romanique Lewis,
who's finally 100% healthy and able to show what he can do. He made 26
tackles in a reserve role and will be one of the team's biggest hitters.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 245-pound JUCO
transfer David McDowell
won't knock Lee out of a starting spot in the middle, but he's a
phenomenal prospect who might be too good to keep out of the lineup.
He's big, fast, and very, very productive, at least at the JUCO level.
204-pound senior Josh Maxwell is one of the only reserves with
appreciable D-I experience making 17 tackles last season. He has the
athleticism of a corner and has seen a little action in the middle.
He'll play on the weakside behind Richardson.
Watch Out For ... Richardson to have a special senior
season. He's in the right position for him able to use his speed to make
more plays in space. It'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's top
three tacklers and an All-Sun Belt performer if he stays healthy.
Strength: Speed. Lee, Richardson and Lewis can all
move. They're all physical and they can all be disruptive in the
backfield as well as in pass coverage.
Weakness: Overall experience. There's almost none
among the backups while Lewis is still a little bit of a question mark
on the strongside. If injuries start to strike early on, there will be
Outlook: It's not nearly the concern it might
appear to be. Lee and Richardson are both all-stars, and McDowell should
eventually be a major impact player somewhere. Don't be shocked if Lee
ends up moving to the strongside if McDowell turns out to be the real
deal in the middle. In any event, the linebacking corps is the one
perceived weakness on the defense, and it's not really that bad.
Projected Starters: Senior Leodis McKelvin
is one of the best players in the Sun Belt as both a kick and punt
returner and a corner finishing second on the team with 66 tackles with
eight broken up passes. He's the team's shutdown corner with the speed
to erase any Sun Belt receiver. While he's not all that big at 5-11 and
187 pounds, he's extremely physical.
On the other side is Elbert Mack,
a junior who's good enough to make teams pay for avoiding McKelvin on
the right side. While a rail-thin 5-10 and 168 pounds, he's a decent
There's so much talent in the secondary that the coaching staff will
often go with five defensive backs in nickel situations. Getting
Sherrod Martin back on the field is a must after he missed all of
last year getting healthy after having problems with his shoulders. He
has 146 career tackles and 16 broken up passes seeing time at both
Junior Tavares Williams is back at free safety
after making 58 tackles. One of the team's better all-around athletes,
he'll be asked to do even more when the ball is in the air and use his
speed to play at an All-Sun Belt level. The one newcomer to the starting
mix will be junior Terence Moore, a 6-3, 195-pound hitter who did
a nice job making 29 tackles and two interceptions in a reserve role.
Projected Top Reserves: Former Florida State
Seminole Trevor Ford will push extremely hard for a starting
spot. He sat out last year after walking on to the team after making 13
tackles for FSU. He's 6-1, 195 pounds, and one of the fastest players in
the Sun Belt; he'll be too good to keep off the field and could quickly
find a himself starting at corner.
Redshirt freshman Chris Bowens
is the star corner of the future, but he might have a hard time seeing
the field playing behind McKelvin.
At safety, senior Derick
Pendergrass has to find time after an ankle injury limited him to
just four games last season. While not as big as Moore, he's a big
hitter at strong safety.
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to have a major
problem on its hands, in a good way. The team has too many good
defensive backs to get on the field at once.
Strength: Depth. You could put together a second
team of of Bowens, Ford, Pendergrass and Martin and it might be the best
in the Sun Belt.
Weakness: Playing up to the talent. If there's so
much talent and so many good players, why wasn't the pass defense better
last season? Secondaries dream of getting a pass rush like the Troy
front four generated, but seven teams threw for 200 yards or more and
picked apart the star corners. There's no excuse for troy to allow 215
yards per game again.
Outlook: Head coach Larry Blakeney talked about
going to a nickel defense just to play all his great defensive backs,
but he might think about going to dime packages as well. This is the
best secondary in the Sun Belt, and now it has to play like it.
Projected Starters: It's not like Jason Wright
aired it out all that often last season, but the former punter was great
at forcing fair catches (20) and tremendously effective on a consistent
basis. Senior Adrian Vera has the best shot at taking over with a
big-time leg, but no accuracy whatsoever meaning junior Greg Whibbs
could take over the duty to go along with his placekicking job. A
solid if unspectacular kicker, Whibbs doesn't have much in the way of
range, but he's decent from close despite having problems with blocked
kicks over the last two years. He tops out at around 40 yards even
though he's hit from close to 50 in his career.
Watch Out For ... the punting game to be worse, but
for Vera, if he actually gets the job, to have a couple of wow kicks the
team didn't have last year. If he can just be consistent, the coaching
staff would take it.
Strength: Leodis McKelvin is one of the nation's
premier return men averaging 23.5 yards per kickoff return and 11.2
yards per punt return with a touchdown. He's a weapons other teams will
have to avoid.
Weakness: Pop in the kicking game. Whibbs doesn't
have a deep leg, and Vera has to prove his big blasts aren't flying
through the end zone into the tenth row.
Outlook: The coverage units have been great under
Larry Blakeney and should continue to be. Leodis McKelvin is an elite kick
returner, and the Greg Whibbs is more than just a serviceable placekicker. If
the punting comes around, the special teams should once again be a