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2008 Middle Tennessee Preview - Defense
Middle Tennessee DT Trevor Jenkins
Middle Tennessee DT Trevor Jenkins
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Defense

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Preview 200
8 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Middle Tennessee Preview | 2008 MT Offense
- 2008 MT Defense | 20087 MT Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN MT Preview | 2006 CFN MT Preview 

What you need to know:
Considering the talent on the defensive front, the Blue Raider D was a slight disappointment. The biggest issue will be on the ends after losing all-stars Erik Walden and Tavares Jones, but there's good potential with Chris McCoy and rising star Jamari Lattimore looking to keep up the pressure. The back seven should be far better with MLB Danny Carmichael sure to be one of the team's top tacklers, and FS Jeremy Kellem and CB Alex Suber good defensive backs to work around. The key will be the improvement of the tackles and the run defense. Too many ground games were able to produce, and now the linebacking corps and the tackles have to be better.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alex Suber, 59
Sacks: Lonnie Clemons, 3.5
Interceptions: Jeremy Kellen 3

Star of the defense: Sophomore FS Jeremy Kellem
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Brandon Perry
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Jamari Lattimore
Best pro prospect: Kellem
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kellem, 2) LB Danny Carmichael, 3) CB Alex Suber
Strength of the defense: Pass defense, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, defensive tackles

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Losing all-star caliber ends in Tavares Jones and Erik Walden will hurt, but there are decent replacements ready to step in. Junior Chris McCoy is a 6-4, 263-pound run stopper who made 17 tackles in a reserve role, with three midseason starts on the right side, and now needs to become a pass rusher on the left side in place of Jones. He has the potential to become a tremendous pass rusher, and he has the size. Now he has to put it all together.

Moving from tackle to end to replace Walden on the right side will be senior Wes Hofacker, a 6-2, 252-pound plugger who made 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks as one of the main men in the interior. While he's a tough veteran, he needs to show the quickness needed to get into the backfield.

Starting again on the inside will be 6-1, 285-pound senior Trevor Jenkins, one of the team's biggest tackle options. While he didn't have the bust-through season expected, he still managed 33 tackles and a sack with nine tackles for loss. Quick enough to generate consistent pressure into the backfield, now he has to be more of an anchor.

With Hofacker moving to the end, the hope is for 6-1, 327-pound Brandon Perry to get healthy and become a factor. The massive junior made 4 tackles in the first two games before being lost for the season with a broken foot. If he's right, he's the big body needed to gum up the works.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 215-pound sophomore Jamari Lattimore is a JUCO transfer who should pay off immediately. While he's build like a safety, he's a big-time pass rusher who'll be way too fast for any Sun Belt tackle. He won't hold up against the run, but he'll be a hellacious situational pass rusher.

6-1, 265-pound sophomore Dwight Smith will see time at tackle could end up getting the start at one of the tackle spots in place of Perry. Smith is a blossoming presence who was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and made 15 tackles. He's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but he's strong enough to be a good run defender.

A pair of promising sophomores, Gary Tucker and Emmanuel Perez. will be in the hunt for time on the end. The 6-2, 235-pound Perez is a speed rusher who made six stops, but didn't get to the quarterback, in a limited role, while the 6-2, 245-pound Tucker, who's trying to get back healthy from a shoulder injury, made nine stops and a sack. 

6-4, 265-pound senior Jonathan Presley is undersized for a noseguard, but his quickness and toughness make up for it. He was a strong reserve over the last two years making 13 tackles, but he only made two tackles last season as he missed most of the year with an Achilles heel injury.

Watch Out For ... McCoy. The line desperately needs a big-time producer on the end, and McCoy, the most talented option on the roster, could be it.
Strength: Size. If Perry ends up starting, the front four will be among the biggest in the Sun belt. There are smallish options like Lattimore and Perez who'll see time, but the likely starting foursome will be beefy.
Weakness
:
Run defense. The Blue Raiders were gouged for 200 yards per game even with constant pressure in the backfield and the great play from the ends. This was an end dominated team last year that now has to be stronger at tackle.
Outlook: The line was a killer last season when it came to getting into the backfield finishing first in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss, but now with Jones and Walden gone, a new group has to step up on the outside. McCoy is a good one with excellent promise, while Lattimore could be a tremendous specialist. The interior has to be far stronger against the run. Teams that wanted to run on the inside, did. That has to stop early on.
Rating: 5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Junior Danny Carmichael led all linebackers in tackles, but he only made 55 stops with two sacks and five tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 238 pounds, he has good size and can make plenty of stops when they come to him, but he doesn't have big-time range and is more of a plugger on the inside.

Also returning to a starting spot is senior Lonnie Clemons on the weakside. The 6-1, 226-pounder has plenty of experience and the ability and potential to be a top tackler, but he only made 45 tackles and now is coming off a knee injury. When healthy, he's a great pass rusher making 3.5 sacks with seven tackles for loss, but he has to do more against the pass.

The new starter to the mix, at least in a full-time role, will be senior Ivon Hickmon on the strongside. A veteran who made 21 tackles as a key reserve, the 6-1, 213-pounder came over from the JUCO ranks and wasn't bad, but he'll need to be disruptive to hold on to the starting spot after earning it this spring.


Projected Top Reserves: If Clemons' knee isn't 100%, 6-2, 223-pound senior Andrew Harrington will be the starter. At 6-2 and 223 pounds he's not that small compared to the other options, and he's very, very fast. With his speed he should be more of a terror on the outside after making 31 tackles with two sacks and an interception. He could start at either outside spot.

Junior Cam Robinson has mostly been a special teamer, but he has running back quickness and cutting ability with a big hitting punch. He'll work behind Carmichael in the middle after making 13 tackles as a reserve, but he could end up playing on the outside.

Coming in soon from the JUCO ranks is 6-1, 215-pound Jamari Lattimore, a promising outside presence who should push hard for time on the strongside behind Harrington. He has the speed to become a good pass rusher.

Watch Out For ... more tackles. Last year's group was just trying to figure out what was going on. There weren't many big plays made, and now the corps should be in on more stops against the run.
Strength: Options. Last year the linebackers were starting from scratch, but now there are two returning starters and plenty of veterans ready to shine.
Weakness
:
Production. While Carmichael wasn't bad, there weren't enough plays made against the run. Getting into the backfield isn't an issue, but if the decent-sized, for the Sun Belt, corps can't hold up against good ground games, the defense won't be any better.
Outlook: A big problem should turn into a plus going into the year. Outside of Carmichael there aren't any all-stars, but there are several solid options to play around with and some promising talents to rotate in and out of the mix. This should be a better corps than last year's.
Rating: 5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Saety Damon Nickson didn't have the season expected, so his loss isn't a killer. Ready to step in and become a factor at strong safety is senior Anthony Glover, a former linebacker who has 6-2, 213-pound size and excellent range. Able to play either safety spot, he made 46 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, but he didn't do enough against the pass. A big hitter, he'll be an intimidating presence.

Returning at free safety will be Jeremy Kellem, a promising young playmaker who came up with 42 tackles and a team-leading three interceptions as a true freshman. The 5-10, 183-pounder can do a little of everything well able to make plays all over the field, and now he should shine with the full-time job.

Junior Alex Suber, one of the team's top playmakers, returns at right corner where he finished second on the team with 59 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss, an interception and five broken up passes. A great hitter for his 5-9 and 165-pound size, the former running back was tested early and often, and he came through big-time.

Starting on the other side in place of All-Sun Belt start Bradley Robinson will be sophomore Rod Issac, a 5-11, 180-pound sure-tackler who made 31 stops as a true freshman with an interception. He'll have some major competition to deal with from the JUCO transfers, but at the very least he'll be a major factor in the rotation.


Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the starting right corner job will be junior Marcus Udell, a top JUCO transfer who originally signed with Alabama. A ball-hawker with good 6-0, 190-pound size, he'll start out on the left side rotating with Issac, but he'll be s starter sooner than later.

Former JUCO transfer Ted Riley worked behind Suber last year and will be a key nickelback and reserve corner once again. Riley stepped in and made 23 tackles with a tackle for loss, but he has to show he can do more with the ball in the air.

Sophomore Kevin Brown was a decent special teamer and decent reserve making eight tackles, and now the 6-1, 192-pound strong safety is expected to do far more behind Glover. A foot injury kept him from making a bigger impact, but when he's healthy he'll be good.

Watch Out For ...Udell. Listed as a backup coming out of the spring, he could be a quick answer to any concerns at second corner. Issac is a decent option, but Udell has bigger upside.
Strength: Interceptions. Other defensive players helped out, but the secondary was strong at picking off passes as the Blue Raiders finished with 18, with 13 coming in the final five games. 11 different players came up with interceptions; this is a good group at finishing plays.
Weakness
:
Consistency. The secondary will be able to shut down mediocre passing games, but the good ones should be able to come up with 250 to 300 yards without a problem. The production will depend on the pass rush.
Outlook: The secondary will get all the help it can ask for from the defensive front that'll get into the backfield early and often, but if there isn't a lot of pressure, there will be a few problems. Everyone can tackle and there won't be a true weak link to pick on consistently, but outside of possibly Kellum, there isn't a shut-down playmaker. Suber is good, but he can be beaten. Even so, this will be one of the league's best pass defenses.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Freshman Alan Gendreau will try to solve the placekicking woes. Senior Matt King was awful hitting just two of seven tries, and while punter David DeFatta is serviceable from short-range, hitting four of six attempts, Gendreau has to be the main man.

Junior David DeFatta was a top high school punter averaging 42.3 yards per kick and he showed why he was a good recruit last season averaging 40.9 yards per kick with an impressive 28 dropped inside the 20. He has a big leg with good accuracy, but to nitpick, he put seven in the end zone.

Desmond Gee
had a so-so year and has the speed and ability to be far better. He averaged a mere 4.8 yards per punt return and a respectable 20.1 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For ... Gendreau. DeFatta isn't a bad backup plan, but the big-legged Gendreau should be the kicker for the next four years. He won't hit everything, but he'll do enough to get and keep the gig.
Strength: DeFatta pinning teams deep. He can blast the team out of jams and is great at putting the ball inside the 20. He led the Sun Belt with 28, and he should be even better now that he has experience.
Weakness
:
Punt returns. This was supposed to be a strength last season, but more than 7.2 yards per try is a must.
Outlook: The special teams are fine, and they should be better. The placekicking can't be worse with Gendreau, and at least there will be more long attempts. DeFatta is a weapon, and Gee has the skills to become a major factor. The coverage teams are decent, especially on punts.
Rating: 6.5