2008 UAB Preview - Defense
UAB LB Joe Henderson
UAB LB Joe Henderson
Posted May 2, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense

UAB Blazers

Preview 2008 - UAB Defense

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What you 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Will Dunbar, 65
Sacks: Several with 2
Interceptions: Will Dunbar, 3

Star of the defense: 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) Reese
Strength of the defense: Experience of the back seven
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the quarterback, run defense, pass defense

Defensive Line

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 Birmingham. 

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 girth.   
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.                    
Rating: 4.5


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 of sacks. 

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 short supply.
: 5


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 last year.

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 margin.    
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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

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 year ago.   
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. 
Rating: 7