Preview 2008 - UAB Defense
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need to know:
Underclassmen were everywhere last year, which should start to
pay dividends this season. The Blazers got shoved around by
every opponent not named Alcorn State, prompting Callaway to
demand more physicality in the front seven. UAB does return its
best player, all-league S Will Dunbar, who could have left for
the NFL after 2007. A sure-tackling playmaker that paced the
team with 122 stops, he’s the leader of a vulnerable secondary.
The Blazers other building blocks will be ends Bryant Turner and
Joe Happe, linebackers Joe Henderson and Mike Tashman, and CB
Kevin Sanders, all of whom showed flashes of productivity in
2007. The offense better be prepared to score plenty of points
because the program will need them to have a chance at winning
more than two games this fall.
Several with 2
Interceptions: Will Dunbar, 3
Star of the
Senior S Will Dunbar
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DE Bryant Turner
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT D.J. Reese
Best pro prospect: Dunbar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dunbar 2) Henderson 3)
Strength of the defense: Experience of the back seven
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the quarterback, run
defense, pass defense
Projected Starters: The line is bringing back four
players with starting experience, a nice foundation for a unit
that’s determined to get more of a push up front. Big things
are expected from sophomore end Bryant Turner, who
debuted with 31 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and a sack. At
6-2 and 260 pounds, he’s a hard worker with a blend of strength
and speed off the edge that portend a productive future in
Turner will be joined by Richard Carter, a relatively
inexperienced senior that had a career-high 14 tackles last
season. A fluid athlete at 6-6 and 240 pounds, he can increase
his value to the pass rush by adding weight in the summer and
improving his upper body strength.
A pair of sophomores will man the interior of the line for the
Blazers. The tackle with the biggest upside is D.J. Reese,
an active 6-4, 280-pounder that led the defensive linemen with
33 tackles. More than just a physical presence on the sideline,
he flashes the instincts and the make-up to be a solid
run-stuffer over the next three years.
At 6-0 and 265 pounds, Tim Davis lacks the size of a
prototypical tackle, relying on his quickness and technique to
make plays. In his first season out of high school, the nose
guard contributed 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
Projected Top Reserves: While 6-4, 250-pound
junior Joe Happe is running second to Carter at one end
spot, he’s like having another starter in the rotation. In
fact, he spent plenty of time in the lineup last fall, battling
his way to 30 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
Senior Jerrickus Speights is the unit’s most versatile
lineman, a 6-5, 265-pound specimen capable of playing either
tackle or end. Coming off a breakthrough spring, the staff is
hoping to use him more on the outside to capitalize on his
ability to get generate pressure.
Watch Out For … Reese. After finishing last in
the country in run defense, the Blazers are pining for a few
linemen that can clog the lanes and occupy more than one
blocker. Reese has that potential once he packs on a few more
pounds and improves his strength in the weight room.
Strength: Athletic ability. UAB recognizes that
it’s small up front, but is counting on the quickness and
get-off of the defensive linemen to offset their obvious lack of
Weakness: Generating backfield pressure. The
Blazers spent the better part of 2007 getting beat at the point
of attack and pushed off the ball, which explains why they were
119th nationally in run defense and got just 7.5
sacks from defensive linemen.
Outlook: While the unit is a year older, there
still aren’t enough stoppers in Birmingham to snap the recent
trend as one of the nation’s weaker run defenses. Until the
staff has another year or two to recruit linemen, UAB is going
to struggle mightily on the first line of defense.
Projected Starters: An honorable mention
All-Conference USA selection, senior Joe Henderson is
back to lead the Blazer linebackers. A standout at strongside,
he delivered 109 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and a team-high
five sacks. Athletically gifted at 6-2 and 225 pounds, he plays
with terrific range and is an asset in pass defense.
Although weakside linebacker Mike Tashman missed some
time in the spring, he’s expected to regain his starting job
when the Blazers reconvene again in August. Another good
athlete, the 6-0, 210-pound sophomore was a revelation in his
debut, producing 64 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a pair
On the inside, senior Terry Thomas used a solid spring to
nudge into the lead for the starting role. Relatively dormant
throughout his career, the 6-1, 230-pound former walk-on has
earned no less than a prominent role in the Blazer rotation.
Projected Top Reserves: Thomas’ primary
competition is coming from junior B.J. Steed, who began
the spring as the starter before losing a grip on the job. A
high motor guy at 6-1 and 235 pounds, he lettered in 2007 with
31 tackles, 1.5 tackles, and a sack in seven games.
Until a bunch of newcomers arrive in the summer, depth on the
outside will come from 6-1, 235-pound junior Kyle Roget
and 5-11, 205-pound sophomore Keon Harris. Roget made an
immediate impression in his first spring removed from Tyler
(Tex.) Junior College, vying for playing time and impressing the
staff with his quickness and instincts. Harris is built like a
safety, but moves well laterally and has the athletic ability to
be disruptive. His battle with Tashman at weakside is likely to
go deep into the summer.
Watch Out For…a fair amount of blitzing. As long
as the secondary can handle it, UAB would like to turn its
athletic linebackers loose to support a pass rush that’s had
trouble getting a hand on opposing quarterbacks.
Strength: Speed. What they lack in size, the
Blazer linebackers make up for with outstanding range and
closing speed. Their ability to cover so much ground in a hurry
allows the coaching staff to get creative with this unit.
Weakness: Size. UAB isn’t very big at the second
level, making it prone to getting shoved around by more physical
teams. The linebackers will clean up a lot of messes that get
past the defensive line, but those tackles may come eight or
nine yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Outlook: While it’s a scrappy bunch with one
really good defender in Henderson, UAB lacks the punch and
overall talent to elevate the play of the defense. They’ll rack
up plenty of tackles, but the game-changing plays will be in
Projected Starters: Although the Blazer secondary
returns almost virtually intact, it remains to be seen whether
it’ll help a pass defense that’s been no better than 103rd
nationally the last two years. One silver lining is the
presence of senior FS Will Dunbar, the team’s leading
tackler and a First Team All-Conference USA selection. A
physical 6-1, 200-pounder with outstanding ball skills, he
posted 122 stops, five tackles for loss, and a pair of
interceptions. More than any player in green and gold, Dunbar
has a chance to use this season as a launching pad to the NFL.
He’ll be joined for a second straight season by SS Matt
Taylor, a 5-11, 185-pound senior that was third on the team
with 70 tackles. Pedestrian in pass defense, his biggest asset
to the team is as a sure tackler in run defense.
The corner tandem will consist of senior Kevin Sanders
and junior Brandon Carlisle. Although Sanders will get
burned at times, he’s also a ball hawk that had 54 tackles a
season ago and has intercepted three passes in each of the last
two years. At 5-11 and 185 pounds, he has decent size and
catch-up speed when the coverage breaks down. The 5-10,
180-pound Carlisle sat out the spring to recover from an injury,
but is expected to contend for a starting job in the summer. An
aggressive pass defender that’ll jump the route and take plenty
of chances, he had 40 tackles and a program-high six pass
breakups last season.
Projected Top Reserves: While Carlisle was injured in
March and April, redshirt freshman Ugonna Amarikawa held
down the No. 1 spot at cornerback. Very fast and well-sized at
6-0 and 180 pounds, he figures prominently into the UAB
secondary whether or not he wins the starting job.
Sophomore Brock Ferguson is a returning letterwinner and
the most experienced of the Blazer safeties. Dunbar’s backup,
he’s a big-hitting 6-2, 200-pounder that debuted with 10 tackles
Watch Out For… Carlisle’s health. The Blazers
need him to be 100% to have any chance of making strides in pass
defense. He flashed upside as a sophomore, giving UAB two
possible playmakers at cornerback that can help with turnover
Strength: Experience. The two-deep includes four
seniors and a junior that have played a lot of football in
Birmingham. The experience that players, such as Dunbar and
Sanders, bring to the secondary is a plus for a group that’s
forced to overcome plenty of adversity.
Weakness: Preventing the big play. This has been
a persistent problem for a defensive backfield that’s been
victimized on the deep ball way too much over the last two
seasons. The Blazers allowed more than 13 yards a completion in
2007, which was 115th in the country.
Outlook: The UAB pass defense took a step in the
right direction last season. If it can continue in that
direction in 2008 behind the play of Dunbar and Sanders, it has
a chance to downright respectable.
Projected Starters: In senior Swayze Waters,
the Blazers return one of the league’s most reliable kickers, an
all-conference selection and a third-year starter. As the
program’s best offensive weapon a year ago, he hit 22-of-28
field goal attempts, including 11-of-14 beyond 40 yards. The
multi-faceted Waters also averaged a respectable 41.4 yards a
punt and displayed tremendous leg strength on kickoffs. While
he’ll be busy again this fall, redshirt freshman Trey Ragland
showed in the spring that he’s capable of handling both jobs
in case of emergency.
Led by senior Kevin Sanders on punts and sophomore
Frantrell Forrest on kickoffs, UAB welcomes back three of
its top return men from a year ago. Sanders and Forrest both
had special teams touchdowns in 2007, showing good acceleration
in the open field.
Watch Out For…the return game. After finishing
last in the conference, the UAB offense needs all the help it
can get from the special teams units. Sanders, Forrest, and
Rashaud Slaughter have the burst and wiggle to consistently
give the Blazers good field position.
Strength: Swayze. He does it all for the Blazers,
and he does it well. Swayze can connect from 50 yards on field
goals, averages 65 yards on kickoffs, and finished third in the
league in his debut as the punter.
Weakness: The coverage units. As if the young
defense needs another hurdle to clear, the Blazers have been
horrible in kick coverage the last two seasons, finishing 103rd
nationally on punt returns and 115th on kickoffs a
Outlook: As long as Waters is healthy, UAB will
have one of the conference’s better special teams units. His
all-around kicking ability plus a sneaky good return game will
give the Blazers one of their only edges in games this season.