2008 Miami Preview - Defense
Miami LB Colin McCarthy
Miami LB Colin McCarthy

Posted May 2, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Miami Hurricane Defense

Miami Hurricanes

Preview 2008 - Defense

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

What you need to know: You’re not in Kansas anymore, Bill Young.  Young was lured away from the Jayhawks to coordinate a defense that allowed an un-Miami-like 120 points over last year’s final three games.  A master of the zone blitz, the new coordinator will be working with more talent than he’s ever had at his disposal.  While you certainly don’t get better by losing DE Calais Campbell and S Kenny Phillips, the ‘Canes have stocked the cupboard deep enough in the last two winters to rebound in a hurry.  LB Colin McCarthy has the right makeup to evolve into the anchor of the defense.  If, as he’s declared, S Anthony Reddick is ready to go after suffering a serious knee injury, Phillips’ departure is a little easier to digest.  DT Marcus Forston and LB Arthur Brown, a couple of recruiting coups, are destined to be special.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Colin McCarthy, 74
Sacks: Eric Moncur, 6
Interceptions: Randy Phillips, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Colin McCarthy
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Antonio Dixon
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Allen Bailey
Best pro prospect: McCarthy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McCarthy, 2) Senior DE Eric Moncur, 3) Dixon
Strength of the defense: Veteran depth, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, lack of a shutdown corner

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Miami’s biggest concern heading into the season will be to find an adequate replacement for pass rusher Calais Campbell, who left early for the NFL Draft.  A fixture on one side is senior Eric Moncur, a speedy and powerful edge rusher that can shed tackles effortlessly.  The 6-2, 250-pounder had his breakout season as a sophomore, collecting 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks, and is expected to grow into something special. 

Pushing to fill the void on the right side is sophomore Allen Bailey, a converted linebacker who bulked up to 6-4 and 287 pounds and is a freakishly explosive athlete.  Coming off a fantastic spring, he’s an explosive rusher with scary closing speed.  Blessed with a rare combination of power and quickness, Bailey has the opportunity and the skills to deliver a breakthrough season for the Canes.

While senior Antonio Dixon is expected to handle one tackle spot, the other opening probably won’t be filled until August.  Miami is still waiting for that breakthrough season from Dixon, a 6-3, 328-pound wide-body that’s had trouble staying on the field for an entire season and keeping his weight in check.  A classic space-eater that moves well for his size, he started four games as a junior, making 21 tackles for 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. 

Junior Joe Joseph and senior Dwayne Hendricks both started games a year ago, but haven’t turned enough heads to guarantee anything more than a spot in the rotation.  At 6-3 and 304 pounds, Joseph is a penetrator that chipped in 25 tackles, two tackles for loss, and quarterback hurries in the first action of his career.  Hendricks is a little smaller at 6-4 and 298 pounds with the lateral speed and footwork to make plays down the line.  In an injury-riddled season, he played in just six games, making 13 tackles and a couple of tackles for loss.       

Projected Top Reserves
: If the tackles don’t have their acts together, true freshman Marcus Forston is liable to pass them on his way to the first team.  Already a spring participant, the nation’s top-rated prep tackle showed some of the burst and quickness that’s creating comparisons to a young Warren Sapp.  At 6-2 and 309 pounds, he’ll be too disruptive to keep off the field this fall. 

Competition at end will come from 6-3, 267-pound junior Courtney Harris and redshirt freshman Adewale Ojomo.  While Harris has an edge in experience, Ojomo is a 6-3, 244-pound blur around the corner and the reigning Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year.   

Watch Out For ... Dixon to make a salary run in his final year of eligibility. Athletic, 330-pound run stuffers from the state of Florida make NFL scouts drool.  That should be enough for Dixon to stay in shape, and finally put together a complete season for the Canes.   
Strength: Edge rushers.  Yeah, you don’t get better by losing Campbell, but Moncur is taking the baton and Bailey looks like the real deal on the other side.  Plus, Harris is a solid veteran on the second team and Ojomo has a chance to be a disruptive situational pass rusher.
Weakness: Run defense.  The ‘Canes were surprisingly soft inside last year, a situational that’s being muddled by the uncertainty at tackle.  Mr. Forston, opportunity is on line one.
Outlook: The line will be good, but to become great it’s going to need regular appearances from someone other than just Moncur.  For starters, it’s a must that Bailey’s not just a spring sensation and Dixon can evolve into a beast on the inside.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: While leading tackler Tavares Gooden will be missed, Miami believes it can make up the difference with a couple of blue-chip recruits and the return of senior Glenn Cook, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility.  Cook missed all of last season with a foot injury, but was a starter in 2006, and had the best spring of his career.  At 6-0 and 235 pounds, he’s versatile enough to play any of the three positions. 

At strongside, speedy junior Colin McCarthy has evolved into the headliner of this group.  An athletic 6-3, 230-pounder, he displayed keen instincts in his first season as a starter, making 74 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.  As much as any player on the defense, McCarthy is on the verge of a breakthrough season that ends with All-ACC honors. 

Junior Darryl Sharpton may be only 5-11, 232 pounds, but he plays with great explosion, leverage, and sideline-to-sideline speed.  Although he made 57 tackles and six tackles for loss as a part-time starter, even more production is expected from one of the unit’s most athletic defenders.

Projected Top Reserves: Squaty senior Spencer Adkins has limitations, especially in pass defense, but there's nothing wrong with a three-time letterwinner on the second team.  A hard working 5-11 and 230 pounder, he had 52 tackles and three tackles for loss with five starts on the weak side. 

Heralded true freshmen Arthur Brown and Sean Spence are the future at linebacker in Miami.  Scrap that.  The way they played in the spring, the pair may be the present on defense.  Spence, in particular, was a revelation making plays all over the field with his quickness and instincts.  Although just 6-0 and 202 pounds, he reads and reacts like a veteran, blowing up plays before they can develop. 

Rated by many as the country’s top linebacker, Brown had a team-high eight tackles in the spring game, showing no unnecessary respect to his elders.  An explosive playmaker, he closes in an instant and buries opposing ballcarriers. 

Watch Out For ... Spence and Brown to contribute immediately.  Sure, they’ll make rookie mistakes, but both are too athletic and disruptive to be caged up on the sidelines for a season.  Plus, besides McCarthy, this is not a vintage ‘Cane linebacker unit that’ll force a talented freshman into a redshirt year or a season on special teams.    
Strength: Tomorrow.  The linebackers will be good this season, but if all goes as planned, they’ll among the best in the ACC by 2009.  McCarthy and Sharpton are juniors and Spence and Brown haven’t even left the starters’ block.
Size. It’s not as if the Miami linebackers will get pushed around, but this is an undersized ensemble that could have trouble against physical offensive lines that get to the second level.  The ‘Canes also aren’t very tall, which presents problems when trying to cover tight ends on passing routes.
Outlook: There’s plenty of upside for a group that has a star to revolve around, a veteran supporting cast, and the next generation waiting in the wings.  If nothing else, Brown and Spence are going to force their teammates to keep getting better or get out of the way.    
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Miami is mortal in the secondary for the first time in years, a microcosm for the program’s recent decline.  The big loss is All-America S Kenny Phillips, who coaches hope can be replaced by oft-injured senior Anthony Reddick.  Seemingly headed to becoming the next great Cane safety, he has played in just seven games in two years suffering ACL tears in 2005 and 2007.  Declaring himself at full strength in the spring, Reddick is a 6-0, 208-pound wild-card capable of softening the blow of losing Phillips. 

Reddick will likely be joined by fellow senior Lovon Ponder, a spot starter and three-time letterwinner who has seen plenty of time in nickel and dime packages.  At 6-0 and 219 pounds, he’s sound in run support, but like so many of the defensive backs, needs to keep the play in front of him.  

While it’s a fluid process, the front-runners at cornerback heading into the summer are sophomore DeMarcus Van Dyke and senior Bruce Johnson.  Van Dyke received some on the job training as a true freshman, starting eight games and making 14 tackles to go along with a bunch of predictable rookie mistakes.  A rangy 6-1, 174-pounder with blazing speed and an explosive burst out of his stance, he’s got a high ceiling once he tightens his coverage and improves his tackling. 

The 5-11, 172-pound Johnson is a veteran of 30 career games and eight starts from last season.  While not the consistent lockdown corner that the ‘Canes are craving, he brings experience and savvy to a position that’s still green at this time.  In his most extensive playing time, Johnson had 28 tackles and broke up six passes a season ago. 

Projected Top Reserves: One of the big surprises of the spring was junior CB Chavez Grant, who played as if he plans to challenge for a starting assignment in the summer.  A year after playing the nickel and making 26 tackles in six starts, he’s positioned for an expanded role. At 5-11 and 180 pounds, Grant makes nice breaks on passes and shows good ball skills. 

Adding more veteran depth at cornerback is senior Carlos Armour, the biggest defensive back at 6-3 and 206 pounds and a player that can jump out of the building.  He started four games in 2007, making 30 tackles and breaking up four passes, while proving to be an occasional liability in coverage.

After failing to handle life as a corner, senior Randy Phillips will provide some much-needed depth at safety.  A 6-0, 208-pounder who hits like a linebacker, he made four starts last season, chipping in 34 tackles, two forced fumbles, and a pair of interceptions. 

A number of underclassmen will be battling for a spot on the second team, the best of which could be 6-1, 200-pound sophomore JoJo Nicholas.  He used an outstanding spring session to create space between himself and Damien Berry and Jared Campbell.  

Watch Out For ... the secondary to struggle again versus better passing teams.  As tough as this is to process, Miami doesn’t have a single defensive back that’s a lock for postseason honors or a corner that can shut out top receivers on the schedule, such as Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, or Greg Carr.
Strength: Experience.  Hey, it might not be the most air-tight secondary in school history, but it sure does have a lot of familiar faces.  A whopping seven defensive backs have started at least one game in their ‘Cane careers.
Weakness: Cover skills.  While you still don’t want to cross over the middle on the Miami defensive backs, going deep on the them has become a safe haven.  Van Dyke certainly has upside, but collectively, this is not a premier group of pass defenders.   
Outlook: If Reddick can turn back the clock and a couple of the cornerbacks overachieve, Miami will make 2007 look like an aberration.  More likely, however, the ‘Canes will be the ‘Canes against weak passers, but get exposed by the ACC’s more developed attacks.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Noticing that there’s a glaring need for a placekicker, Jake Wieclaw left high school early, and has already participated in his first spring camp.  One of the top high school kickers in the Midwest, he’s 6-2 and 180 pounds, with good pop and accuracy. 

Junior walk-on Alex Uribe is in the picture, but Wieclaw’s stiffest competition will come from 6-0, 195-pound sophomore Matt Bosher, who averaged 40.2 yards as the punter a year ago.  One of the premier kickers of 2006, he has the leg strength and mechanics to handle double-duties this fall.    

Watch Out For ... Bosher.  As he goes, so goes the Miami special teams in 2008.  By making a quantum leap from his freshman year, he’s capable of quelling the Hurricanes’ concerns at punter and kicker.  Remember, Bosher was one of the most coveted kicking recruits two years ago, so he’s capable of being the answer for coach Joe Pannunzio.
Strength: Coverage units.  Until the young kickers prove their mettle, there’s not a lot to brag about on special teams.  The coverage units typically do a solid job, limiting the big play and not allowing a touchdown last season.
The return game.  Sophomore Graig Cooper and junior Ryan Hill did little to spark a return game that’s lacked electricity the last two seasons.  There’s way too much breakaway speed on this roster for the ‘Canes to be so docile on special teams. 
Outlook: After going just 13-of-21 on field goal attempts a year ago, Miami is pining for more consistency in the kicking game.  While Bosher should get better in his second season as the punter, it’s incumbent on either he or Wieclaw to give the ‘Canes a kicker that doesn’t make the home crowd wince when he trots on the field.  
Rating: 6.5


Related Stories
2008 Miami Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 2, 2008
2008 Miami Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 2, 2008
2008 Miami Hurricane Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 2, 2008

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