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2008 Boston College Preview - Defense
Boston College DT B.J. Raji
Boston College DT B.J. Raji
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 18, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Boston College Eagle Defense

Boston College Eagles

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN BC Preview | 2008 BC Offense 
- 2008 BC Defense | 2008 BC Depth Chart
-
2007 CFN BC Preview |
2006 CFN BC Preview 

What you need to know: Ryan got most of the pub last fall, but the defense was the backbone of a program that often had trouble putting points on the board.  Even without LB Brian Toal and DT B.J. Raji, Boston College finished second nationally in run defense and No. 19 in total D, despite beginning the season without any true stars. The cornerstones of this year’s crew will be DE Alex Albright, DT Ron Brace, and LB Mark Herzlich, who’ll help form a sturdy front wall that’ll again be tough to run on. The pass defense, however, will be easier for opponents to navigate. Fiery S Jamie Silva and top CB DeJuan Tribble are gone, putting pressure on Marcellus Bowman and DeLeon Gause, respectively, to bridge the gap.        
 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mark Herzlich, 97
Sacks: Alex Albright, 8.5
Interceptions: Paul Anderson, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Brian Toal
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB DeLeon Gause
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Mark Herzlich
Best pro prospect: Senior DT B.J. Raji
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Raji, 2) Toal, 3) Junior DE Alex Albright
Strength of the defense: The front seven, stopping the run
Weakness of the defense: The secondary

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: After sitting out last season due to an academic issue, senior B.J. Raji is back at defensive tackle and looking to recapture the form that made him an NFL prospect. A pillar of strength in run defense at 6-1 and 325 pounds, he uses his leverage to his advantage, bull rushing opponents en route to the backfield.

Raji will be joined in the middle by another space-eater, 6-3, 325-pound senior Ron Brace.  Nearly as dominant in the trenches, he picked up a lot of the slack after Raji was declared ineligible, earning honorable mention All-ACC recognition with 27 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Tough to move off his blocks, he was a key reason why the Eagles were No. 2 nationally in run defense.

The problems for the line begin on the outside, especially after projected starter Brady Smith was booted from the program. The onus falls on junior Alex Albright to do even more than last year when he had 38 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and a team-high 8.5 sacks. At 6-5 and 235 pounds, he shows good natural pass-rushing instincts and the closing speed to zoom around most tackles.

For now, 6-4, 247-pound junior Jim Ramella is occupying the other end spot vacated by Smith.  Better suited to be the first end off the bench, he’s played a lot of football for the program, but needs to show more as a pass rusher. He stepped into the lineup after Albright was injured, starting three games and finishing with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack.      

Projected Top Reserves: With senior Jerry Willette, junior Austin Giles, and sophomore Damik Scafe back as returning letterwinners, Boston College goes three-deep with capable players at defensive tackle. All three played in at least a dozen games a year ago, earning playing time at important stages of the season. Giles has starting experience at defensive end, but has bulked up to 6-3 and 291 pounds over the last couple of years. 

At 6-3 and 305 pounds, Scafe is a budding run-stuffer with the quickness and upper body strength to be a front-runner for a starting assignment in 2009. As a freshman, he played in all but one game, making nine tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack.

Depth on the outside is an issue, putting pressure on junior Brendan Deska to begin producing off the bench. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he has the right frame for the position, but has yet to convince the coaches that warrants more time on the field.     

Watch Out For
... freshman DE Max Holloway. Although he’s raw and severely undersized at 6-2 and 230 pounds, that couldn’t stop him from making play after play in the spring. A speed rusher off the edge, he’s quickly scaled the depth chart, mounting a challenge for playing time in his first season.
Strength
:
Tackle. They are big, deep, and poised to once again be the catalysts for one of the nation’s stingiest run defenses. Adding Raji to an interior that already includes Brace will be a nightmare for opposing running games.
Weakness: A complement to Albright. After Albright, who’s outstanding, the Eagles are dangerously thin at defensive end. If opponents get wise to this situation and double Albright, there are concerns that Boston College won’t be able to generate much pressure.

Outlook: With a deep stable of tackles and one really good pass rusher, BC will again have one of the more productive lines in the ACC. To be the best, however, the Eagles need more help on the outside to take some pressure off Albright.
Rating: 8.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: An already well-rounded group of linebackers will be even better with the return of 6-0, 252-pound senior Brian Toal, who sat out last season to rehab an injury. When healthy, he’s extremely productive from the weakside, flashing tremendous, lateral quickness, and football instincts. If he can put it all together for 13 games, a career in the NFL awaits.

Holding down the job in the middle will be junior Mike McLaughlin, a three-game starter who finished fourth on the team with 64 tackles and five tackles for loss. An outstanding reserve the last two seasons, no drop-off in his production is expected as he accepts a more comprehensive role.

The unheralded star at strongside is junior Mark Herzlich, who quietly out performed the rest of the linebackers with 97 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and a couple of forced fumbles. With the desired blend of size and speed, he reads and reacts in an instant and is a fundamentally sound tackler.  

Projected Top Reserves: There’s no shortage of talent on the second unit, which features three returning lettermen and two players with starting experience. Behind Toal on the outside is 6-2, 245-pound senior Robert Francois. A thick run defender with outstanding straight-line speed, he started seven games as a sophomore and had 39 tackles and a couple of tackles for loss last year.

The backup at strong side is 6-2, 220-pound junior Kevin Akins, an outstanding overall and playmaker. An asset coming off the edge on the blitz or dropping back into coverage, he’s had 13.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He’s always around the ball and the type of player who gets better with more reps.

Watch Out For ... the health of Toal’s surgically-repaired shoulder. The reason for his decline since 2004 is directly attributable to the problems he’s had with his neck and shoulders. If he can play pain-free, the entire defense is going to benefit.
Strength
:
Talent and experience. Same as last year. Even after losing Jolonn Dunbar to the New Orleans Saints, the Eagles are well-stocked and go two-deep with players capable of stepping into the lineup and making plays.
Weakness: Depth in the middle. It’s unlikely to haunt the corps, but behind McLaughlin is sophomore Darius Bagan, who has yet to accumulate any relevant game experience with the program.
Outlook: Toal is the key in 2008.  This is a quality unit no matter what he gives the defense, but if he’s completely healthy, Boston College will be home to one of the dozen or so best linebacker corps in the country.
Rating
: 8.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: All eyes will be on sophomore CB DeLeon Gause, who’s being counted on to replace last year’s best cover man, DeJuan Tribble. As a true freshman, he made an immediate impact and played beyond his class, collecting 39 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pick. A 5-11, 179-pounder with great feet and hips, he’s the budding star of the secondary.

The battle at the other corner spot is a fierce one pitting juniors Roderick Rollins and Razzie Smith against one another. The 6-0, 178-pound Rollins got more reps with the first team in the spring, but this competition is far from over. A terrific athlete with plenty of unrealized potential, he had 26 tackles in a reserve role.

At 5-10 and 186 pounds, Smith has a little less size and game reps than Rollins, yet battled in April as if he plans to be in the opening day lineup. An infrequent contributor on defense a year ago, he’s a physical corner who needs to improve when the ball is in the air.

Like Gause at cornerback, junior Marcellus Bowman has huge shoes to fill, replacing all-star and defensive sparkplug Jamie Silva. At 6-2 and 214 pounds, he has terrific size and can lay out receivers, but has done little in two seasons, making 13 tackles a year ago. After missing five games with an injury as a sophomore, he’s ready to deliver a breakout year while providing most of the muscle out of the secondary.       

Back for one final year at strong safety is 6-1, 208-pound senior Paul Anderson, who finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles, adding two interceptions and a half-dozen pass breakups. A good athlete and run defender, he bites too often on pass plays and needs to make strides with his covers skills.

Projected Top Reserves: BC appears to be cultivating a future star in true freshman CB Donnie Fletcher, who looked anything but a rookie in his first spring. Well-sized at 6-1 and 185 pounds, he showed sharp instincts for such a young player, positioning himself for playing time in the fall.

Although junior Wes Davis hasn’t been able to surpass Bowman at free safety, he still figures prominently into the defense’s plans in 2008. Another big hitter at 6-1 and 215 pounds, his action plan hit a roadblock a year ago when injuries limited him to just four games. 

Watch Out For ... the staff to consider moving Bowman to strong safety and starting Davis at free safety, effectively getting the Eagles two best safeties on the field at the same time. It’s a possibility for coordinator Frank Spaziani, especially if Anderson continues playing at a mediocre level.
Strength
: Physical defenders. Everyone in this defensive backfield can deliver the payload, particularly the safeties, such as Bowman and Davis. Silva might be gone, but crossing the middle will still be perilous for opposing receivers.
Weakness
:
Unproven. Losing Tribble and Taji Morris means the program will be breaking in two new starters at cornerback. Gause has a great future, but it’s cause for concern when such a young and green player is being counted on to be the rock of the pass defense.
Outlook: Easily the most uncertain of the three defensive units, the secondary will be looking for new playmakers this summer and fall.  While they’ll be vulnerable, the stout front seven will help hide some flaws and the schedule features very few accomplished passers.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Although senior Steve Aponavicius authored a feel-good story two years ago when he walked on to the team with no experience, he’ll be ripe for the picking if he remains inconsistent. He dipped a year ago, making just 6-of-12 field goal attempts beyond 30 yards, missing four extra points, and displaying below average leg strength. 

When the post-spring depth chart was released, punter was left blank for a reason—the program has no viable option at this time. Sophomore Billy Flutie is a possibility, but the Eagles are hopeful true freshman Ryan Quigley can run away with the job in the summer. He has a great leg and a bright at both punter and placekicker.

Provided shoulder problems don’t hamper him, senior Brandon Robinson is the favorite to handle both kickoff and punt returns. On kickoffs last year, he averaged a modest 19.8 yards, which ranked him near the bottom of the ACC.          

Watch Out For ... sophomore PK Billy Bennett. Had it not been for a nagging injury, Bennett might have won the job as a freshman. Purely in terms of potential and leg strength, he’s way ahead of Aponavicius, but now he needs to convince the coaching staff he can be trusted to make clutch kicks during the season.
Strength: Coverage units. Covering kicks and punts were the two most consistent areas of special teams last year, with the Eagles finishing near the top of the ACC in both categories.
Weakness: Punter. Special teams coach Don Yanowsky needs Quigley to be the man shortly after he gets on campus, which is asking a lot of true freshman who’s better known for his prowess as a placekicker. If he fails, the program will be scrambling to find a live body who won’t be a weekly adventure on snaps.
Outlook: This is going to be an area of concern for the program all year long. Unless several players step it up over the next few months, a tattered special teams unit will cost Boston College at least one game this season.
Rating: 5.5