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2008 Boston College Preview - Defense
Boston College DT B.J. Raji
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Boston College Eagle Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
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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
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.
Tackles: Mark Herzlich, 97
Interceptions: Paul Anderson, 2
Star of the
defense: Senior LB Brian Toal
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.
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
Weakness of the defense: The secondary
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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.