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2008 Toledo Preview - Defense
Toledo S Barry Church
Toledo S Barry Church
Posted May 9, 2008 2008 Preview - Toledo Rocket Defense

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2008 - Defense

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

What you need to know: Things can't be any worse. Thanks to a slew of key injuries, the defense went into the tank finishing 102nd in the nation allowing 444 yards per came and was 116th in the country, and dead last in the MAC, in scoring defense giving up 39 points per game. Nothing worked. There wasn't any run defense, the secondary struggled, and worst of all, there wasn't any pass rush or burst into the backfield finishing tied for dead last in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. Expect a big improvement with FS Tyrrell Herbert and ends Sean Williamson and Douglas Westbrook returning from injury and LB Archie Donald back from academic probation. The safeties, helped by Barry Church and Lester Richmond, are special, but there's a lack of size up front and the 4-2-5 alignment isn't going to help the run defense too much. Compared to last year, though, things are going to be far better.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Lester Richmond, 97
Sacks: Several with 1
Interceptions: Barry Church, Myshan Pettis, 3

Star of the defense: Junior SS Barry Church
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Sean Williamson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Archie Donald
Best pro prospect: Church
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Church, 2) FS Tyrrell Herbert, 3) S Lester Richmond
Strength of the defense: Safeties, experience
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The biggest problem on last year's woeful defense was the play on the line. That should immediately be taken care of with the return of senior Sean Williamson after missing all of last season with a leg problem. The 6-1, 254-pounder might not be a terror of a pass rusher, but he's an all-star caliber defender who was one of the team's best all-around players before getting hurt. Strong against the run and athletic enough to drop into linebacker from time to time, he can do a little of everything well. He'll be counted on to become a more explosive and be a steady force in the backfield; something he wasn't in 2006.

6-2, 233-pound junior Derrick Summers has been a factor since his true freshman season and finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles last season. Ideally a strongside linebacker in a traditional 4-3, he
moved up to the line this spring to add some speed and quickness to the outside. For a team in a desperate need of a pass rush, Summers might provide it.

Junior Skylaar Constant returns to his spot on the inside after making 33 tackles and a sack. At 6-4 and 270 pounds he's more of a big end playing tackle, and he started out on the outside last spring, but he beefed up just enough to be a regular on the interior. He has the experience and he has the toughness, but he didn't get into the backfield at all and he was shoved all over the place against the run.

Adding some desperately needed beef on the inside is junior Maurice Hill, who made 27 tackles and three tackles for loss. The 282 pounder isn't the team's biggest tackle option, but he might turn out to become the most important against the stronger running teams. While he's quick, he's not going to get in the backfield on a regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 228-pound sophomore Douglas Westbrook is back after missing almost all of last year with a knee injury. He made five tackles in just over two games before getting hurt, and now he's expected to be the pass rushing terror the line's been desperately missing. More of a safety playing on the line, he beefed up a bit and should be able to handle the job a little better while growing into a dangerous pass rusher. He has an explosive step that should be too much for most MAC tackles.

Considering the Rockets were next-to-last in America when it came to getting to the quarterback, there should be a place right away for sophomore JUCO transfer Albertson Alexandre. At 6-5 and 250 pounds he's a big presence on the outside, and he's exactly what the team needs after making 2
5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in his freshman season at Foothill C.C.

Pushing for time behind Douglas Westbrook will be sophomore Alex Johnson, who started the last eight games of last year and was sixth on the team with 51 tackles to go along with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. While he's not as good as a healthy Westbrook, he's a great reserve to add to the mix; he should be much fresher and much more productive as a specialist.

6-5, 262-pound Alfred Martin isn't the typical nose tackle, but he's active and he is physical for his size. What the senior hasn't been is all that productive making nine tackles and two tackles for loss in a reserve role, and he'll need to play big from day one to provide more depth on the inside.

Watch Out For ... Alexandre. Toledo has a specific need, and the JUCO transfer should be able to fill it. Even in a reserve role he could get more sacks than the nine the entire team generated.
Strength: End depth. A disaster last season, now there's a slew of options to play around with thanks to the return of Douglas Westbrook and Sean Williamson from injury and the movement of Terrell Willis from linebacker to end. Alex Johnson and Alexandre aren't bad backup options.
Pass rush and size. Everyone is quick and the ends look the part, but the Rockets were tied for dead-last in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. If that wasn't enough, the run defense was miserable partly because there's no size in the middle.
Outlook: Blaming injuries is easy, but that's no excuse for being the worst defensive line in America. This group didn't do anything right last season, but now there's hope with Sean Williamson and Douglas Westbrook returning from injury and the addition of JUCO transfer Alexandre. The tackles have to be better with Skylaar Constant needing to hold up.

Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The Rockets only use two linebackers and get a big boost with the return of sophomore Archie Donald, who missed all of last year with academic problems. A rising star who was expected to explode last year after making 43 tackles in 2006, now he'll be an active playmaker who should be all over the field. He's only 6-2 and 215 pounds, but he's physical.

Returning to his starting spot for the third straight season is senior Keith Forestal, a 6-3, 245-pound hitter who made 45 tackles. He didn't do nearly enough against the run and was a disappointment as a disruptive defender. With his size and experience, just being serviceable isn't going to get it done; he needs to be a more intimidating force.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Beau Brudzinski had a nice year as a reserve making 39 tackles and three tackles for loss, helped by getting three starts. Now he'll play behind Archie Donald using his quickness and athleticism in the rotation. At 6-1 and 217 pounds, he's not that big, but he can move extremely well; he cuts on a dime.

Coming in to help right away will be JUCO transfer Daris Quinn, a 220-pound athlete who was a good high school running back and now will immediately push for starting time. He could turn out to be the team's best linebacker from the moment he arrives on campus this fall.

6-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman Uriah Akinmoju is more of a safety than a linebacker, but he was thrown into the mix early on this off-season and now will play behind Donald. He might not be big, but he can move.

Watch Out For ... there to be plenty of movement in the scheme. Toledo likes to mix up the 4-3 with a 4-2-5 meaning ends like Sean Williamson and Derrick Summers will spend plenty of time at outside linebacker. Forestal and Donald will start out inside but could move outside at times.
Strength: Speed and quickness. Donald and Forestal can move. They'll have to do even more to get into the backfield to help out the ends and the line after a lousy year.
Size. Forestal is 245 pounds, but the other three top linebackers average around 210 pounds per man. Bigger, tougher teams should be able to do some shoving around.
Outlook: Considering the Rockets only use two linebackers in the 4-2-5 alignment, there's more than enough depth to create plenty of options. The return of Donald from missing all of last year with academic issues should be a big plus, while the addition of JUCO transfer Daris Quinn should pay immediate dividends. Everyone has to be better against the run and everyone has to do more to be disruptive.

Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Senior Tyrell Herbert is back after missing almost all of last year with a hamstring injury, and his presence should make a night-and-day difference. The free safety led the team with 74 stops two years ago and will instantly add more pop to the run defense. Like a strong safety when it comes to providing the big pop, he can do a little of everything and is the vocal leader who controls the secondary.

Also returning is junior Barry Church, who's one of the nation's best strong safeties and the team's best pro prospect. He made 92 tackles, three interceptions and six tackles for loss having to do everything by himself at times, like against Iowa State when he made 19 stops and three tackles for loss. A good-sized 6-2 and 212 pounds with tremendous athleticism, he has lived up to his billing as a top recruit, and then some.

The Rockets use a fifth defensive back, a Rover, which will once again be manned by Lester Richmond after he spent last year at free safety. The corner-sized 6-1, 195-pound junior led the team with 97 tackles with three broken up passes and two forced fumbles. He plays much, much bigger than his size providing a huge pop, and he has the speed and quickness to always be around the ball. While he was fantastic last season, he'll be better with even more room to move.

Sophomore Myshan Pettis went from walk-on to starter as he stepped in early on to make 41 tackles and tie for the team lead with three interceptions. While he's not that big compared to the other Rocket top corners, he's quick and experienced. No, he's not a star in the making, but he can certainly play.

6-3, 186-pound sophomore Desmond Marrow was great at as a freshman making 19 tackles, but he missed all of last year. With his size and speed, he has the potential to be the team's lockdown corner for the next three years as long as he can stay healthy. The talent is there to be an all-star, but he'll have to prove it with most teams staying away from Walter Atkins early on.

Projected Top Reserves:
Back in the mix at one corner is 6-1, 189-pound junior Walter Atkins after finishing fourth on the team with 70 tackles including 14 in the win over Iowa State. While he didn't pick off any passes, he led the team with seven broken up passes and recovered two fumbles. With good size and excellent speed, he's growing into a top cover corner despite being more like a safety.

Sophomore Greg Harris had a nice season as a backup and a spot starter making 26 tackles and an interception in nine games of work. While he's not the fastest corner, he has decent 6-0, 192-pound size and is physical. He could be used at safety if needed.

Junior Joe Shuler can play either corner or safety, and while he has experience at free safety, he'll play behind Lester Richmond at the Rover. Very fast and with 6-2, 183-pound size, he has the measurables along with a little experience, making 14 tackles last year, but he hasn't done much when the ball was in the air.

Watch Out For ... a major improvement. The secondary didn't get any help from the pass rush, and that should change, but the biggest boost will come from the return of Tyrrell Herbert and Desmond Marrow after missing most of last year.
Strength: The safeties. Herbert and Barry Church have NFL potential, while Lester Richmond is one of the MAC's best all-around playmakers. With plenty of good talent, and more on its way from the recruiting class, this should now be a positive.
Interceptions. This has been a huge problem for the last few years. The corners simply don't take the ball away. The team ended up taking away a mere ten picks with Church getting three of them.
Outlook: One of the MAC's biggest disappointments, the secondary went into the tank along with the rest of the defense. There's no excuse for this to happen again with the safety combination of Church, Herbert and Richmond, while the corners should be better. After allowing 229 yards per game and 31 touchdowns, the overall production can't help but be better. There's too much talent to be so bad again.

Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Alex Steigerwald has been a major weapon over the last two years hitting 7-of-8 field goals as a freshman and 13-of-13 as a sophomore. While he doesn't have a huge leg, he connected on a 44-yarder in the season opener against Purdue and a 40-yarder against Ohio. That was about it as far as being tested with everything else coming 35 yards and in. Even so, he's a sure thing as long as the offense moves the ball deep.

Replacing the 46.1-yard punting average of Brett Kern, who led Toledo to the nation's second best net punting average, will be next to impossible. Redshirt freshman Bill Claus will give it a try. He'll have to fight this fall to hold on to the job, but he has a decent enough leg to grow into the job. Just being consistent will be enough.

The return game was abysmal last season and needs kickoff returner DaJuane Collins, who averaged 15.4 yards per try, and Nick Moore, who averaged a mere 6.9 yards per return, will give it a shot. To be fair to Moore and the punt return game, it's not like there were a bunch of attempts; there were a mere 13.

Watch Out For ... Stiegerwald to get more room to boot. The offense was simply too effective to give its star kicker too many chances to bomb away. He might not have deep range, but when you miss one kick in two years, you get deserve to get more chances.
Strength: Stiegerwald. See above.
Kickoff coverage and kick and punt returns. The Rockets were 91st in the nation in punt returns and 104th in kickoff returns. Making things worse was a coverage team that allowed 22.2 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: Toledo always has strong special teams, but the return game and kickoff coverage team hit the skids last year. The kicking game will be fine, mostly because Alex Steigerwald is a special placekicker, but losing punter Brett Kern hurts. Bill Claus will have to battle to keep the punting job.

Rating: 6