Ball State Cardinals
Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know: The defense wasn't anything special,
allowing 432 yards and 28.3 points per game, but it was better
than it had been over the previous three years. Now, any
production to help out the high-octane offense will be a plus.
There's enough experience returning to improve, but there needs
to be more production against the run. The coaching staff will
do what it can to get more of a pass rush and make more plays in
the backfield, but taking the ball away shouldn't be too much of
a problem after coming up with 19 interceptions last year and
getting three starters in the secondary back. LB Bryant Haines
is a strong all-around playmaker to work around, while end
Brandon Crawford should make a push for first-team All-MAC
Tackles: Bryant Haines,
Brandon Crawford, 8
Interceptions: B.J. Hill & Trey Lewis, 5
Star of the defense: Senior LB Bryant Haines
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Drew Duffin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Davyd Jones
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Brandon Crawford
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Haines, 2) Crawford, 3)
CB B.J. Hill
Strength of the defense: Back seven experience, Takeaways
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, run defense
Projected Starters: Overall, the defense has to generate
more pressure, but that isn't a problem for junior Brandon Crawford,
who's coming off a 60-tackles, eight sack, 17-tackle-for-loss season. He
bulked up to a large 260 pounds on a 6-3 frame, but he didn't lose his
quickness. Originally projected to be an outside linebacker, he has a
tremendous first step and is great at closing on the quarterback.
Working on the other side will be sophomore Justin Woodard, a
6-3, 222-pound linebacker who should add more speed to the end. used in
only three games last year, he made six tackles with a sack and two
tackles for loss. He needs to shine with all the attention paid to
Looking to stuff things up on the inside is junior Drew Duffin
after making 32 tackles and three tackles for loss in a backup role.
Woefully undersized at 6-3 and 255 pounds, his worth will be as an
interior pass rusher. Able to play on the end or on the inside, he'll be
moved around where needed.
Working on the nose will be 5-11, 271-pound sophomore Rene Perry.
A spot-starter who got the call in three games mid-season, he did a
decent job making 12 tackles in his four games. Now he has to be be the
anchor for the rest of the line to work around, and while he has the
strength, he need more experience.
Projected Top Reserves: With Duffin's size, there
needs to be a steady rotation at tackle. Unfortunately, 6-2, 256-pound
senior Gonzalo Barinaga doesn't bring much more bulk. He's a
veteran former linebacker who made ten tackles and a sack, but he'll
have to prove he can hold up against the run.
6-3, 224-pound sophomore
Robert Eddins was thrown in the mix for a few games at end
making four tackles and a tackle for loss in two games, and now
he'll work behind Woodard. A pass rushing specialist, he should
eventually be a disruptive force.
Watch Out For ... more attention to getting into
the backfield. This was an issue on a consistent basis last
year, and while the coaching staff will bring more pressure from
a variety of spots, it's up to the line, as a whole, to do more.
Strength: Crawford. The 31-year-old Marine is a big, talented
all-around playmaker for the rest of the line to revolve around.
With all the attention paid to him, everyone else needs to come
Weakness: Run defense. This has been a major problem for a few
years and will be a big issue once again. While the goal will be
to come up with more plays in the backfield to stop things
before they start, too many good running teams will destroy the
Outlook: The line will get into the backfield by
design a bit more, but the run defense will continue to
struggle. This is a smallish, inexperienced group that'll be a
problem early on. It needs to be able to do one thing well, and
that'll likely be generating pressure. However, it'll have to
come at a price; the run D could be even worse after allowing
204 yards per game.
Projected Starters: 6-5, 223-pound senior Bryant Haines
stepped up on the weakside and led the team with 125 tackles
with an interception and nine tackles for loss. He showed a
great flash last spring and he more than came through as one of
the team's few defensive playmakers, and now he should make even
more big plays. With his size and aggressiveness, he'll be a
regular in opposing backfields again.
Also returning to a starting spot is senior Kenny Meeks
on the strongside making 39 tackles with four sacks and six
tackles for loss. Mostly a special teamer before last year, he's
great when sent into the backfield and isn't bad in pass
coverage. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he's a big presence who needs
to be better against the run.
Is Wendell Brown going to be healthy and ready to roll?
The 6-0, 214-pound senior finished second on the team in tackles
two years ago with 86, and he was going to be the leader of the
2007 linebacking corps when he tore a pectoral muscle working
out. After missing the whole season, he'll have to work his way
back into a starting role, but he's a big hitter in the middle
and could see time on the strongside if needed.
Projected Top Reserves: Battling with Brown is
sophomore Davyd Jones, one of the stars of spring ball.
At only 6-1 and 200 pounds, he's woefully undersized, but he's
tough, and he can move. He made 23 tackles in a limited role,
but he has the quickness to be all over the field.
Lorren Womack was almost thrown into the mix as a true
freshman, but he ended up redshirting. The 6-0, 221-pounder has
decent size on the weakside and should grow into a big-time
hitter behind Haines. He was one of the stars of last year's
recruiting class, and he's almost certain to be a major factor
when he gets to step into a starting job next season.
Watch Out For ... Jones. He showed this spring
that he's ready to work anywhere in the linebacking corps and
even played well enough to keep a healthy Brown out of the
starting lineup. Jones will play somewhere.
Strength: Experience on the outside. Getting Brown back in the
mix should make a huge difference inside, even if he's the
backup, while Meeks and Haines are long-time vets working on the
outside. Now there has to be more ...
Weakness: Production. This group of vets haven't been able to
stop the run in a few years. The need to tackle better, be able
to get into the backfield ... something.
Outlook: The stats will look good and Haines is a
talent, but the experience has to translate into more stops. The
defensive front has to do its part, but the threesome in the
linebacking corps has to clean up more messes. The call has gone
out to get them into the backfield more, too, so there should be
more form Haines when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Projected Starters: There are good pieces to work around
with the corner tandem of Trey Lewis and B.J. Hill
potentially among the best in the MAC.
Hill, a 5-7, 180-pound senior, is a former running back who ran
for 257 yards and three touchdowns in 2006, and then came
through with a big season last year finishing fourth on the team
with 77 tackles to go along with five interceptions and six
tackles for loss. While he's not a big hitter, he's a sure
tackler, tremendously quick, and shows a good nose for the ball.
Now he has to do a better job in coverage, but with a year of
experience under his belt, he should shine.
Lewis is a 6-0, 190-pound senior who made 59 tackles, led the
team with six broken up passes, and tied with Hill with five
interceptions. He has to be more consistent against the
top-shelf receivers, but the former free safety can hit and can
make plays when the ball is in the air.
Also returning is 6-0, 194-pound junior strong safety Alex
Knipp, who's coming off an 82-tackle, four interception
season. One of the surprises of last year, the former high
school running back was a good reserve and blossomed as the last
line of defense against the run. He plays bigger than his size.
The one newcomer to the starting mix is sophomore Derrick
Henry who'll take over for Eddie Burk at free safety. The
6-1, 189-pound Henry saw a little time making 19 tackles, but he
didn't do anything in pass coverage. He has the range and the
athleticism, and now he needs the experience.
Projected Top Reserves: A spot starter, getting
the nod against Western Kentucky at corner and Navy at free
safety, is veteran Trey Buice, a 5-10, 175-pound senior
who finished fifth on the team in tackles despite playing a
backup role. Versatile enough to play almost anywhere in the
secondary, and serve as a nickel back, he made 64 tackles with
two interceptions and four tackles for loss. He'll start out
behind Lewis once his banged up shoulder heals.
5-11, 183-pound sophomore Brandon Carnegie saw a little
bit of time as a true freshman making ten tackles in four games
of work. Very smart and very athletic, he'll be a starter
somewhere in the secondary at some point this year. He's the
cousin of former Biletnikoff winner and former Pitt Panther,
Watch Out For ... a constant battle for the free
safety spot. Henry will be good enough to handle the work, but
Buice, once he's healthy, will look for playing time. If nothing
else there will be a strong rotation.
Strength: Interceptions. The Cardinals picked off 19 passes with
Hill, Knipp and Lewis combining for 14 of them. This group might
give up a ton of big plays, but it'll also come up with some big
stops of its own.
Weakness: Defending the pass. This has been a major issue for a
few years. This was the worst secondary in the MAC two years ago
and while it improved by leaps and bounds last year stat-wise,
allowing 228 yards per game, it got picked apart by anyone who
could throw and it did nothing against the efficient passers.
The Cardinals finished 90th in the nation in pass efficiency
Outlook: Teams were able to run the ball so easily
on the Cardinal front seven that they often didn't have time to
throw. After struggling for a few years, now the secondary has
to come through with plenty of veteran starters, decent depth on
the corners, and lots of upside among the rest of the backups.
Depth at safety will be a big issue early on, unless Buice moves
over from corner, and this will never be a brick wall of a pass
D, but it should be a bit better.
Projected Starters: Senior punter Chris Miller
might be the best in America. A 6-2, 211-pound bomber, he followed up a
46.3-yard-per-kick season by averaging 45.4 yards per kick while putting
23 inside the 20. He's a weapon who can blast the team out of any
situation and is great at pinning teams deep.
There will be a battle for the placekicker job between sophomores
Jake Hogue and
Ian McGarvey. Hogue hit 11 of 19 kicks but struggled from
midrange, while McGarvey nailed seven of nine field goals bit missed two
mid-range kicks. McGarvey has the better deep led, but Hogue can bang it
around 45 yards.
Dante Love is a solid kickoff returner averaging 22.9 yards per
try, while B.J. Hill is a serviceable punt returner averaging 9.7
yards per attempt.
Watch Out For ... more from the return game. A
weakness became a plus as the Cardinals finished third in the MAC in
punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns. Now Love and Hill, two of
the team's most explosive players, should be able to do more.
Strength: Miller. While he puts too many kicks in the end zone,
he's an elite talent who might be the team's best pro prospect. He has a
big leg and has been a major playmaker for the last few seasons.
Weakness: Punt returns. Miller sometimes outkicks his coverage,
but often times he doesn't get enough help. The coverage team allowed
11.5 yards per return, and if Miller can hang it up a bit more, that has
to go down.
Outlook: If the placekicking situation can be
settled, and if there can be a bit more consistency from 30 to 39 yards,
the special teams should be among the best in the MAC. Miller is a
superstar, Hill and Love are solid, and the placekickers, even with
their flaws, combined to hit 18 of 28 field goals.