2008 Central Michigan Preview - Defense
Central Michigan DE Frank Zombo
Central Michigan DE Frank Zombo
Posted Apr 21, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Central Michigan Chippewa Defense

Central Michigan Chippewas

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Central Michigan Preview | 2008 CMU Offense 
- 2008 CMU Defense | 2008 CMU Depth Chart 
- 2007 CFN Central Michigan Preview | 2006 CFN Central Michigan Preview 

What you need to know: The defense was abysmal against any offense with a pulse finishing 118th in the nation against the pass, last in the MAC in total D, and 111th in the country in scoring defense. The secondary should be better with eight good players returning to form a nice rotation led by corner Josh Gordy. The coaching staff will play around with the overall combination all season long to find the right fit for the other three spots. Nick Bellore is a strong presence in the middle of the linebacking corps and Mike Petrucci is a high-riser on the weakside, but this is a very, very light overall group that'll have problems holding up against the stronger running teams. The biggest issue is the defensive line that didn't get much of a pass rush when end Frank Zombo wasn't on, and now has to replace all the size. The projected four tackles in the rotation average around 250 pounds. The word you're looking for is uh-oh.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Nick Bellore, 102
Sacks: Frank Zombo, 7.5
Interceptions: Josh Gordy, 4

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Nick Bellore
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Sean Murnane
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Mike Petrucci
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Josh Gordy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bellore 2) Gordy, 3) DE Frank Zombo
Strength of the defense: Secondary experience, Bellore & Gordy
Weakness of the defense:
Size in the defensive front seven, production in the secondary

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The defensive front did a miserable job of generating pressure. That wasn't junior Frank Zombo's fault after leading the teams with 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss to go along with 62 tackles. At 6-4 and 259 pounds, he grew into the role after a decent first year as a reserve. He's a good run stopper with the speed to chase down ball carriers, but his job is to hit the quarterback.

Senior Antrione Archer started his career as a speedy 210-pound linebacker prospect and never fully grew into a job. A reserve throughout last year, he only made one tackle and now will be asked to beef up the pass rush in place of Larry Knight on the outside. The 6-3, 232-pounder has athleticism and will have Zombo taking attention away on the other side, but now he has to produce.

Losing All-MAC tackle Steven Friend will hurt, but that means senior Casey Droscha has to play an even bigger role on the nose the team's veteran run stopper. While he's only 6-1 and 258 pounds, he's extremely active making 92 tackles over the last two seasons with two sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season. He'll get shoved around by the bigger, stronger interior linemen, but he'll make his share of plays.

Taking over for Friend will be 6-2, 237-pound sophomore Sean Murnane, a woefully undersized tackle who made 14 stops as a reserve. He plays tough, but if he's not getting into the backfield and not a disruptive force, he's not much use on the inside. Even so, he has tremendous upside somewhere on the line and could end up starting at his more natural end position.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 243-pound junior Larry Knight has a world of upside and should eventually take over the starting end spot on the other side of Frank Zombo, but he has to get over a knee injury and he has to be more consistent. He has defensive back speed and decent size, but he hasn't been able to blow up as expected. Even so, he was good last season making 41 tackles with five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Because of the lack of size on the inside there will be a consistent rotation to try to keep everyone fresh. That means end-sized players like 250-pound sophomore Tredale Kennedy and 245-pound redshirt freshman Josh Allison have to play big roles early on. Kennedy has to potential to be fantastic with good quickness and playmaking skills, but he'll get beaten up if he has to be a regular in place of the even smaller Murnane. Allison has the potential to be a top interior pass rusher. A good closer once he gets into the backfield, he'll be moved around where needed.

6-4, 218-pound junior Sam Williams has been a decent reserve on the end making 19 tackles and two sacks in a limited role. At first he was a linebacker, then he was a tight end, and now he needs to play a bigger role as a pass rushing specialist in the rotation along with Antrione Archer.

Watch Out For ... the interior to get into the backfield on a regular basis. The tackles aren't big, but they're extremely quick and should make plenty of plays behind the line. At least that's the hope.
Zombo. It took a little while, but he turned into the team's top all-around defensive end with the quickness and speed to get to the quarterback and the toughness to hold up against the run. He gives CMU one good reserve to build around.
Size. It's hard to get away with starting 250-pound tackles on a regular basis. Anyone who's strength is pounding the ball between the tackles should be able to run all day long.
Outlook: The line isn't going to be a strength. It's a scrappy bunch with decent-sized ends and painfully smallish tackles, and to be effective, everyone has to use their speed and quickness to get into the backfield on a more regular basis. Considering CMU was 11th in the MAC in sacks and tenth in tackles for loss, this is a key area for improvement. Anyone who wants to run on this group should be able to, but it might take a few quarters of pounding before the big results come.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The linebacking corps needs to replace a whopping 254 tackles of production from Red Keith and Ike Brown on the outside. Fortunately, one starter returns, and he's a good one. 6-1, 234-pound sophomore Nick Bellore turned into one of the nice surprises of last season starting every game in the middle and finishing third on the team with 102 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss. He has good size, excellent range, and can drop into pass coverage as easily as he can get into the backfield.

Starting on the weakside in place of Keith is redshirt freshman Mike Petrucci, a safety-sized 6-2, 208-pound hitter who was all over the place in spring ball and showed he might be able to fill the huge shoes and 148 tackles of lost production. He's a speedster who should grow into a star over the next four years.

Taking over for Brown on the strongside will be junior Tim Brazell, a slight 6-0, 185-pounderer who made 19 tackles as a reserve. A fantastic special teamer, he has tremendous speed and just enough strength to handle himself against the run. He'll need to be part of a rotation to hold up for a full season, but he's plenty tough.

Projected Top Reserves: Making the move from safety to linebacker is Calvin Hissong, a talented safety who made 63 tackles two years ago and 37 last season before injuring his shoulder. While he's a rangy 6-4, 196-pounder who doesn't look anything like a linebacker, he's a good-hitting veteran who can step in at either of the outside spots.

6-1, 235-pound sophomore Matt Berning provides some needed size, but he's a middle linebacker and that spots filled by Petrucci. Berning had a nice freshman season making 31 tackles as a key reserve in every game. A foreign exchange student from Germany, he picked the sport up playing for the Dusseldorf Panthers, and he played for the German National team last year. He's a tough hitter who can be used on the outside as a pass rusher.

6-2, 202-pound Barron Miles was a great-looking prospect a few years ago before injuring his knee and missing the entire 2006 season. He came back to serve as a reserve making 13 tackles in a limited role, and now he'll back up Petrucci on the weakside.

Backing up Brazell on the weakside is 6-0, 213-pound senior David Lawrence, a small, quick option who made eight tackles in a disappointing season. He has the big-play potential to see plenty of action, but he had a hard time getting on the field with Red Keith coming up with a huge season.

Watch Out For ... Petrucci to emerge as a major playmaker. It'll take a while to replace what Red Keith provided, but he'll be a threat to hit the 100-tackle mark.
Quickness. Brazzel and Petrucci might not be big, but they can move. There might be a few mistakes here and there, but the overall athleticism should make up for the inexperience early on.
Size. Bellore is a good-sized veteran in the middle, but the outside prospects are really, really small. Considering the D line is full of linebacker-sized players, the linebackers will have plenty of work coming their way.
Outlook: Even with the big losses of Red Keith and Ike Brown, the situation isn't all that bad. The CMU linebackers always produce, and while it'll be a problem for the smallish group to hold up against the bigger running teams, there's enough athleticism to make big plays all over the field. Consistency might be a problem early on and a good rotation has to be developed from day one to keep everyone fresh.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Injuries were an issue for the nation's second-worst pass defense, but it allowed several players to see starting time. The best of the bunch is junior corner Josh Gordy, a steady all-around defender who made 56 tackles and picked off a team-leading four passes, with three coming against Army, despite missing four games. He has decent size at 5-11 and 190 pounds and has a great combination of size and strength. Now he has to stay healthy to give the secondary someone to work around.

On the other side will be junior Tommy Mama, a spot starter over the second half of last season when Gordy was hurt. He made 35 tackles and an interception, but he didn't do nearly enough in shootouts. Even so, he has the promise and potential to be a good one with a little more work, and his emergence has allowed the coaching staff to play around with the lineup going into the season.

Junior Chaz West finished fourth on the team with 90 tackles to go along with three interceptions and four broken up passes from his corner spot, and now he'll move to strong safety where he can use his hitting ability where he's supposed to. He's not a huge safety at 5-11 and 181 pounds, but he doesn't miss a tackle and should do even more against the run.

Sophomore Bobby Seay didn't make a start last season but came up with 18 tackles as a reserve. With Calvin Hissong moving to linebacker, Seay, a big-time prospect who could've gone to some much bigger programs, should become one of the team's breakout stars. The 5-11, 185-pounder can move and should be all over the field.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 203-pound sophomore E.J. McLaughlin is a rising star at strong safety. While Chaz West might be hard to push out of a starting spot, it's still a 50/50 shot on who'll get the job come fall. He made 42 tackles and an interception as a key reserve at both safety jobs getting a start over the final four games at free safety.

6-0, 202-pound junior Eric Fraser turned into a big part of the secondary over the last two years as a spot starter and finishing fifth on the team with 80 tackles with an interception and five broken up passes. A tough hitter, he'll rotate in with Seay at free safety and will see time at both safety spots.

There's going to be a battle for the second corner spot on the other side of Josh Gordy early on this fall with junior Kirkston Edwards just a hair behind Tommy Mama on the depth chart. At 6-1 and 183 pounds, Edwards is the bigger of the two options and will see plenty of time after making 43 tackles and a tackle for loss. While not a blazer, he has decent range.

Sophomore Vince Agnew is also in the hunt for the second corner job after a great spring. While he made nine tackles as a special teamer and a reserve, he's still missing the experience of Mama. In time he'll be a bigger factor; he's been too good to keep off the field for long.

Watch Out For ... an ongoing battle for the starting jobs. Gordy will start at one corner job. That's it as far as any certainty in the lineup.
Options. There's a ton of experience returning providing plenty of chances for the coaching staff to come up with the best possible combination.
Production. The secondary didn't do anything to slow anyone down. Can anyone actually play? Can the experience translate into production? The Chippewas gave up 300 yards or more seven times and allowed 34 touchdown passes. 
Outlook: The CMU secondary hasn't stopped anyone cold in years, but with eight decent veterans and plenty of starting experience coming back. Gordy has All-MAC potential, but someone has to emerge on the other side and make teams pay for staying away from the star. There should be a steady rotation at safety with McLaughlin and Fraser every bit as good as the projected starters, Seay and converted corner West.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Andrew Aguila had problems with his consistency, but he nailed 60 PATs and nine of 14 field goals. He has a big enough leg to get a few shots from 50 yards, but he needs to be better on his midrange attempts.

The punting game struggled a bit, but Tony Mikulec put 18 kicks inside the 20. Brett Hartmann redshirted last season and has the inside track at taking over. He has a huge leg and can be used on kickoffs and long field goals. While he might struggle a bit with his placement compared to Mikulec, but he should air it out from time to time.

Antonio Brown had a nice year returning punts, but he only got 13 chances averaging 10.9 yards per try. He's an elite kickoff returner averaging 26.2 yards per try with a 90-yard touchdown against Northern Illinois.

Watch Out For ... Hartmann. He was supposed to be a major factor last season as a placekicker, but he ended up redshirting. He has the leg to be more of a bomber than Mikulec was and he should be able to bomb away on long field goals if needed.
Brown as a kickoff returner. He got plenty of chances thanks to the porous defense, and he made the most of them.
Punt coverage. Mikulec was great at putting the ball inside the 20, but the coverage team didn't help out the cause allowing 11.1 yards per return.
Outlook: The kicking game will turn out to be fine, but Aguila needs to hit more of his attempts inside the 40. Brown is an elite kick returner, but he could stand to do more on punt returns while the punt coverage team has to be far better. Hartmann is a big-legged punter who should be a major factor over the next three years.
Rating: 6.5