Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Memphis Preview
2008 Memphis Depth
2007 CFN Memphis Preview
2006 CFN Memphis
What you need to know:
of the defense resides at safety and on an experienced line
that’s led by all-league candidate Clinton McDonald, a
sneaky-good penetrator from the inside. The front wall will
need to be extra special to compensate for a back seven that’s
defenseless versus any passing game with a pulse. The Tiger
defensive backs like to take chances and play aggressively,
accepting the occasional blown coverage for takeaways that go
the other way. Unfortunately for the defense, the corners get
burned regularly, but the momentum-changing plays have been
non-existent. New coordinator Tim Walton’s lofty goal for
Memphis is to maintain that frenetic, high-energy personality,
while improving its tackling and fundamentals.
Clinton McDonald, 4
Interceptions: LeRico Mathis, Brandon Patterson, 3
Star of the
Senior DT Clinton McDonald
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Junior DE Demetrius Culpepper
Unsung star on the rise: Senior SS Tony Bell
Best pro prospect: Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McDonald, 2)
Senior FS Brandon Patterson, 3) Junior LB Greg Jackson
Strength of the defense: Veteran depth, the
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the pass
Memphis keeps building its depth along the defensive line, with
a particular emphasis at tackle. Carrying the banner for the
unit will be senior Clinton McDonald, who’s coming off
his best season with the school. Just 6-3 and 265 pounds, he
used the quickness of an outside rusher to collect 55 tackles,
9.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. The leader of the D,
McDonald also became the first junior in over 15 years to be
named team captain.
Next to McDonald will be senior Freddie Barnett, a more
traditional run stopper at 6-2 and 300 pounds. A former
Arkansas Razorback with a good base, his first season out of
Valley (Tex.) Community College included 33 tackles, 8.5 tackles
for loss, and 2.5 sacks. The staff expects even more from
Barnett in his second season in the program.
There’s far more uncertainty at defensive end, a position that
hasn’t produced enough penetration. Junior Greg Terrell
will start on one side, looking to improve on last season’s 38
tackles, 5.5 tackles, and one sack. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he
needs to improve his explosion off the edge in order to turn
more of those pressures into sacks. Terrell had five sacks as a
freshman, but wasn’t nearly as productive in 2007.
He’ll be joined by Corey Mills, a senior that’s yet to
approach expectations when he was signed by Ole Miss out of high
school. The 6-4, 260-pounder was a part-time starter, producing
just 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack, numbers that
make him vulnerable to some of the kids on the B team.
Projected Top Reserves: Contending for more
playing time on the outside will be junior Jada Brown and
sophomore Tommy Walker. Another former Ole Miss Rebel,
the 6-2, 265-pound Brown had 27 tackles, three tackles for loss,
and a pair of sacks, but disappeared late in the season. He has
an exciting blend of power and quickness that should warrant an
increase in production.
Walker was one of just four true freshmen to play in 2007, and
represents an important part of the future for coordinator Tim
Walton. Big enough to play the run at 6-3 and 270 pounds, he
made seven tackles in 10 games, while impressing the staff in
At tackle, depth will come from senior Brandon Douglas
and junior Steven Turner. The 6-3, 270-pound Turner
split time in the lineup with Barnett, making 24 tackles and
seven tackles for loss. Most of his big plays came against the
softer opponents on the schedule, which is why Barnett got the
majority of the reps late in the season.
After a table-setting sophomore year, the 6-3, 291-pound Douglas
faded a year ago, making just 12 tackles and becoming an
afterthought in the rotation.
Watch Out For ... Demetrius Culpepper. A 6-4,
255-pound transfer from East Mississippi Junior College, he’s
exactly the type of speedy edge rusher that the Tigers have
lacked for years. Culpepper arrives this summer with lofty
Strength: The tackle tandem of McDonald and
Barnett. Coming off solid seasons, both senior linemen are
capable of shooting the gap and making stops behind the line of
Weakness: Getting to the passer. Tiger defensive
linemen had just 13 sacks a year, and only four from the ends.
If the line is going to support a flimsy secondary, it has to
make life a lot more uncomfortable for opposing
Outlook: Although the defensive line has a ton of
experience and nine players that have lettered, it doesn’t have
the size or the playmaking ability to make life much easier for
the seven defenders in the rear. Run defense will continue to
be a problem against physical lines that commit to the ground
Projected Starters: The Memphis linebackers are
being bolstered by the returns from injury of junior Greg
Jackson and sophomore Winston Bowens. Jackson was
all set to follow up on a solid sophomore campaign, but went
down with a knee injury in Week 2. Undersized at 6-2 and 205
pounds, he moves well from sideline-to-sideline and can be used
on the blitz from his outside position. In the offseason,
Jackson cranked out a career-best 4.3 in the 40, a testament to
his straight-line speed.
The strongest of the linebackers, Bowens is the favorite to man
the middle, much the way he did before also suffering a knee
injury at the mid-point of the year. At 6-0 and 250 pounds, he
flashed good instincts and a nose for the ball, making 39
tackles, including nine in his Tiger debut against Ole Miss.
A 12-game starter at defensive end, junior Josh Weaver is
moving to outside linebacker in order to get his speed and
athleticism out in space. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he had 32
tackles and two sacks, but will now be in a better position to
make far more plays provided he returns from a spring shoulder
injury in time for the opener.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jeremy Rockette
has as much athletic ability as any Memphis linebacker,
which meshes well with coordinator Tim Walton’s desire to attack
from all angles. A sure tackler at 6-3 and 220 pounds, he
filled in nicely when injuries hit the corps, starting the final
three games and finishing the year with 37 tackles. Rockette is
the guy on the outside if Weaver is unable to make it back from
At inside linebacker, 6-3, 245-pound senior Tommy Phelps
is going to mount a challenge for Bowens’ starting job. A heavy
hitter with a hot motor, he had 31 tackles and three tackles for
loss in his first year out of Butler (Kan.) Community College.
Phelps had his best game in the New Orleans, which Tiger coaches
hope will be a springboard into this season.
Watch Out For ...Weaver. He was too good of an
athlete at 210 pounds to be doing hand-to-hand combat with
offensive tackles. At one of the outside linebacker positions,
he’s capable of flourishing in a new system that encourages
defensive players to roam the field and make plays.
Strength: Depth. The bright side of last year’s
plethora of injuries is that it forced backups, like Rockette
and Phelps, into the starting lineup. Now that Jackson and
Bowens are healthy, the Tigers have five players that can step
on the field and not be lost.
Weakness: Size on the outside. Jackson and Weaver are
built like rangy safeties, which is going to become noticeable
when either is forced to cover tight ends downfield or take on
guards that get loose on running downs.
Outlook: Assuming they side-step the injury bug,
the Tigers will have a nice collection of athletes for Walton to
turn loose. The combination of Jackson and Weaver on the
outside has the potential to goose a pass rush that’s been
dormant for too long.
The rebuilt staff’s biggest challenge in the offseason will be
to get more from a secondary that’s been abysmal the past couple
of seasons. First, the good news. Seniors Brandon Patterson
and Tony Bell will form a capable pair of safeties
that can fill lanes and support in run defense. The 6-1,
195-pound Patterson had 77 tackles and a team-high three picks,
showing off the ball skills and athleticism of a former
At strong safety, Bell is a 6-2, 215-pound thumper that patrols
the secondary like an enforcer and moves with cornerback
quickness. After scratching the surface of his potential with
40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two picks, the one-time
Auburn Tiger is on the verge of a breakthrough season in his
final year of eligibility.
Now, the troubling news. Memphis is a mess at cornerback, rarely
having the athletes to match up with some of the league’s better
wide receivers. Senior LeRico Mathis was the best of a
weak group a year ago, his first out of junior college. At 6-1
and 185 pounds, he’s a nice blend of size and speed that began
his Tiger career with 48 tackles and a team-best three
Competing for the other starting job will be a pair of juniors,
Deante’ Lamar and Alton Starr. Lamar is a 5-9,
180-pound speedster that’s played sparingly up until now, but is
coming off the best spring of his career and has the slight
edge. While bigger at 6-0 and 195 pounds, Starr lacks Lamar’s
agility and catch up speed. He is more experienced, however,
making 58 tackles and breaking up seven passes, and has
tremendous leg explosion.
Projected Top Reserves: Not to be forgotten at
cornerback is sophomore Darius Davis, one of a select
group of Tigers to play as a true freshman. While mostly a
special teams contributor, Memphis believes he has a bright
future in the secondary.
Backing up Bell at strong safety is sophomore Malcolm Jones,
a 6-2, 210-pounder that can deliver the payload. He played in
all 13 games a year ago, making 14 tackles and taking the first
step toward being the starter in 2009.
Watch Out For … little improvement from the Tiger
secondary. Not much has changed about the cast that allowed
opposing quarterbacks to throw 25 touchdown passes and complete
63% of their passes, so why should the results be any different?
The safeties. Patterson and Bell stand out in a secondary that
lacks star power. While Patterson is a borderline all-leaguer,
Bell is good enough to attract the attention of NFL scouts.
Both can separate a receiver from the ball with one sudden
Weakness: Pass coverage. The Tiger corners made
modest improvement a year ago, but still allow way too many long
gainers downfield. They’re risk-takers that rarely reap the
rewards of game-changing picks or timely batted balls.
Outlook: The more that Conference USA evolves into
a passing league, the grayer Tommy West’s hair becomes. Unless
the front seven suddenly gets ornery, it’s going to be another
rough year for the Memphis pass defense.
Projected Starters: The Tigers welcome back both
of last year’s specialists, junior K Matt Reagan and
senior P Brent Sutherland. Reagan had an uneven sophomore
season, missing just one chip shot, while going 7-of-13 beyond
30 yards and topping out at just 38 yards. Until proven
otherwise, he’ll be considered a liability from long distance.
Sutherland averaged just 40.7 yards and had three of his punts
blocked, giving way occasionally to QB Matt Malouf on pooch
punts. While it wasn’t all his fault, he shares the blame for
Memphis finishing 115th nationally in net punting.
After leading Conference USA in kickoff returns as a sophomore,
junior Michael Grandberry was a disappointment, averaging
a mere 21.8 yards and failing to break off a return longer than
50 yards. He’s being counted on to ignite a return game that
tailed off in 2007.
Watch Out For ... Tommy West to take a lot of
chances on fourth-and-short in opposing territory. Beyond 40
yards, Reagan is just 3-of-9 for his career, so the Tigers
probably have better odds of converting a fourth down and
continuing a drive.
Strength: Grandberry. While it wasn’t evident last
season, Grandberry is still an explosive returner that can
change the momentum of a game when he gets a timely block or a
seam to exploit.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Special teams coach
Garret Chachere might be out of a job if the Tigers continue to
cover kicks the way they did a year ago. Memphis was 117th
nationally on punts and 63rd on kicks, allowing a
couple to be taken back for touchdowns.
Outlook: For a program that’ll need to do the
little things well to win the East Division, special teams is
going to be a nagging problem that won’t go away quickly.
Anything from a missed field goal to a blocked punt is going to
cost Memphis at least one game in 2008.