2008 Tulsa Preview - Defense
Tulsa DE Moton Hopkins
Tulsa DE Moton Hopkins
Posted May 2, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2008 - Defense

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What you need to know: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers you’ve never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.   

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Charles Davis, 73
Sacks: Moton Hopkins, 3
Interceptions: Roy Roberts, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Moton Hopkins
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior NG Terrel Nemons
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Mike Bryan
Best pro prospect: Hopkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hopkins 2) Senior S Roy Roberts 3) Bryan
Strength of the defense: The safeties
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, creating turnovers, preventing big plays

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Tulsa’s three-man front will feature a pair of all-league contenders in DE Moton Hopkins and NG Terrel Nemons.  Hopkins was a revelation as a junior, emerging into a top run stopper and an occasional pass rusher.  Selected to the All-Conference USA Second Team, the 6-3, 270-pounder had 71 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and three sacks, numbers indicative of his lateral quickness and instincts for the position. 

Nemons, on the other hand, has been an enigma for the Hurricane.  While the senior has the experience and the 6-4, 330-pound frame to be a prototypical space-eater in run defense, it hasn’t translated into production on the field.  After making just 15 tackles and taking a backseat to the smaller Brandon Jones, Nemons has one more season to put it all together and pique the interest of NFL scouts. 

At 6-3 and 220 pounds, sophomore Odrick Ray is the type of explosive athlete the staff feels it can transform into a disruptive edge rusher.  As a freshman, he earned valuable experience as a reserve, making 11 tackles in 13 appearances.   

Projected Top Reserves: Behind Nemons on the inside is 6-4, 284-pound junior Wilson Garrison, who played very well as a backup in his first year out of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.  A surprise starter in three games, he collected 16 tackles and a couple of sacks, he plays with good burst and will keep Nemons from getting complacent. 

Coming out of spring, the top reserve ends were redshirt freshman Rashad Robinson and sophomore Tyler Scarbrough.  An end in an outside linebacker’s body, the 6-1, 230-pound Robinson accelerates quickly, but his size will prohibit him from being a major factor in run defense.  Scarbrough is a much bigger option at 6-3 and 268 pounds, and has the experience of playing in 14 games on defense and special teams last season.            

Watch Out For ... junior college transfer Un’tavius Scott.  At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he’s a mature, aggressive pass rusher capable of providing competition to Ray and support opposite Hopkins.                                    
Strength: Hopkins.  The senior has gotten better with each passing season, and is now prepared to become the new defensive catalyst on a unit that’s looking for a leader.         
Weakness: Pass rush.  The Hurricane continues having problems generating pressure with the front three.  Linemen accounted for just eight sacks in 2007, a trend that’ll continue unless Hopkins gets more help from the opposite end.        
Outlook: Although Hopkins may be headed back to the all-conference team, he won’t solve the Hurricane’s defensive woes by himself.  Unless players like Nemons and a couple of the young ends elevate their play, Tulsa will again be vulnerable in run defense and minimal help to the back seven.         
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: No unit was hit harder by graduation than linebacker, which loses last year’s top three tacklers and a pair of First Team All-Conference USA performers.  A lot is expected of junior Mike Bryan, who’ll be supplanting Nelson Coleman in the middle.  No stranger to the field, he’s lettered in each of the last two seasons, making 25 tackles and contributing on special teams a year ago.  At 6-3 and 216 pounds, he’s tough in run defense and has terrific instincts for the position, building blocks for what could be an all-league debut. 

Flanking Bryan will be sophomore Tanner Antle at weakside and junior George Clinkscale at strongside.  Antle is a terrific all-around athlete and competitor, needing to add more girth to his 6-4, 210-pound frame.  He played in 14 games as a freshman, mostly on passing downs, making 38 tackles and laying the foundation for what should be a breakthrough season as a starter. 

Clinkscale started seven games at defensive end, but was ineffective and often overmatched, prompting a switch to the second level.  After chipping in a modest 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack, the 6-0, 241-pounder should be in a better position to contribute as a linebacker.     

Projected Top Reserves: A couple of newcomers are going to play integral roles on the second team.  Junior college transfer Kaipo Sarkissian is battling Clinkscale for playing time at strongside.  At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he has good range and was recruited to play right away at the Hurricane’s biggest need area. 

Redshirt freshman Curnelius Arnick was one of the big surprises of the summer, demanding playing time at weakside when the season begins.  A 6-1, 213-pounder, he plays with a lot of intensity and can cover a huge chunk of the field, which makes him an asset in pass coverage and an option on blitzes.

Watch Out For…Bryan to rack up 100 tackles and become one of the defensive leaders in his first season as a starter.  He’s been a well-kept secret the past two seasons, but that’ll change in a hurry this fall.                         
Strength: Athleticism.  While not a particularly physical or sizable group, the next wave of Tulsa linebackers gives away little in the areas of athletic ability and desire.  Once they get some reps and understand where they belong on the field, the tackles, sacks, and batted balls will follow.             
Weakness: Experience.  It might take half a season before this group is truly comfortable being starters on a defense that demands so much out of its linebackers.  On the entire roster, only Antle has started a game in his career.
Outlook: In two seasons, Tulsa has lost Coleman, Chris Chamberlain, Alain Karatepeyan, and Nick Bunting, a quartet of all-league players.  The drop-off is inevitable and likely steep.  Still, the Hurricane feels good about its young linebackers, and Bryan and Antle have the skills to eventually develop into all-stars as well.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Senior Roy Roberts is the leader of a beleaguered secondary that returns three starters.  A former cornerback with underrated cover skills, he moved to bandit in the spring.  A 5-11, 205-pounder with good tackling skills, he had 45 stops a year ago, three interceptions, and a team-high 12 pass breakups. 

Like Roberts, junior Charles Davis is a former cornerback that’s moving to a safety spot.  While he’s a terrific all-around athlete, at 5-9 and 170 pounds, he’ll be challenged to get more physical as a run defender.  In his first season as a starter, Davis delivered 73 tackles, three tackles for loss, and eight pass breakups. 

Playing spur will be newcomer Ade’ Manga, a transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.  Built like a linebacker at 6-2 and 210 pounds, he’ll be counted on to be one of the enforcers of the secondary.         

Until the freshmen arrive, the cornerbacks are going to be junior Kenny D. Sims and senior John Destin, neither of whom has exhibited lockdown potential.  A former safety, the 5-11, 192-pound Sims has played a lot of football in two seasons, starting seven games last year while making 49 tackles and picking off two passes. 

A career backup, Destin is getting his best chance to date to be a regular.  A 6-0, 185-pound speedster that had 19 tackles in 2007, he needs to elevate his pass coverage skills.

Projected Top Reserves: Whether or not he starts, senior Ty Page will see the field a lot this fall.  A three-time letterwinner and a 6-2, 220-pound thumper, he’s currently behind Roberts on the depth chart at bandit.  An outstanding all-around athlete, he played in 13 games on defense and special teams, making a dozen tackles. 

Senior Nick Henderson is the most experienced of the backup cornerbacks and a competition for Destin.  A winner of two letters, the 6-0, 177-pounder played in a dozen games last season, predominantly on special teams.

Watch Out For… junior college transfer Kollin Hancock.  At 6-0 and 185 pounds, he proved capable at the JUCO level of playing safety or cornerback.  Either way, he’s a ball hawk that’s going to play in a secondary that’s pining for playmakers.
Strength: The safeties.  With Roberts and Davis making the switch from cornerback, the safeties add experience to a position that was ravaged by graduation.        
Weakness: Pass defense.  The Hurricane allowed way too many big plays through the air a year ago, and there aren’t enough stoppers in the defensive backfield capable of altering that trend.        
Outlook: Even when the defensive backfield was littered with seasoned veterans last year, it still struggled to slow down opposing quarterbacks, yielding 28 touchdown passes and picking off just 11.  Things could get even worse this season, especially if the line doesn’t generate more pressure.    
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Jarod Tracy returns for his third season as the Hurricane placekicker.  Underutilized in an offense that rarely attempts field goals, he went 7-of-12 on three-pointers, taking a step backwards from his sophomore year.  He was inconsistent beyond 30 yards, and a lack of leg strength became an issue.  If Tracy continues having problems, redshirt Matt Hulse will be next in line. 

Sophomore P Michael Such, a Nebraska transfer, beat out senior Paul Jurado a year ago, and has yet to relinquish the starting job.  In his first season, the 6-2, 205-pounder averaged just 38.9 yards to finish near the bottom of Conference USA.  Jurado has enough experience to win this spot if Such leaves an opening in the summer.   

Senior Roy Roberts returns as one of the league’s top kickoff returners after averaging almost 25 yards and taking one back for a touchdown in the win over Tulane.

Watch Out For … Tracy to continue getting limited opportunities to show off his leg on anything but extra points.  In this program, fourth down is just another chance to get a first down, so Tulsa will regularly pass on a shot for three, especially with its troubles in the kicking game.           
Strength: Roberts.  As if the Hurricane needed any extra assistance, he often gave the offense great field position, while showing a penchant for breaking long runs when the wedge did its job up front.             
Weakness: Coverage units.  Tulsa dipped considerably covering kicks, falling to 105th nationally in punt return defense and allowing three kicks to be taken back for touchdowns.  The problems at punter played a big part in the unit’s sudden freefall.
: The Hurricane better hope for plenty of blowouts because the special teams unit could be an Achilles’ heel in close games.  In particular, Such needs to make strides in his second season to support a defense that can’t afford any additional obstacles.         
Rating: 4.5