Preview 2008 - Defense
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2008 UNLV Defense
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What you need to know:
New defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell will try to get
his defense to sell out against the run after yet another tough
season against good ground games. He has the tackles in Malo
Taumua and Jacob Hales to revolve around, but the smallish, yet
potentially good linebacking corps should be quick enough to
clean up plenty of messes. The big problem could be in the
overall fit. There are plenty of good athletes, like UNLV always
has, and there's more talented depth than usual, but there
aren't a lot of stars and the size of the back seven could be a
big problem. Getting into the backfield on a regular basis is a
must after finishing 117th in the nation in tackles for loss,
and JUCO transfer Heivaha Mafi could be just the tonic.
Tackles: Daryl Forte, 94
Sacks: Jacob Hales, Malo Taumua, 3
Interceptions: Quinton Porter, 2
Star of the defense: Junior LB Starr Fuimaono
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Heivaha Mafi
Best pro prospect: Mafi
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fuimaono, 2) S Daryl
Forte, 3) Mafi
Strength of the defense: Safety, tackle
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, back seven size
With Jeremy Geathers jumping early to the NFL, the Rebels needed instant
help at one end,and got it with JUCO transfer Heivaha Mafi, a
6-1, 255-pound junior who's more like a linebacker playing end than a
true defensive lineman. He's a speed rusher who'll be turned loose from
the word go to try to help a defense that did nothing behind the line.
Any production against the run will be a bonus.
Ready to start on the other side is senior Thor Pili, a former
Oregon Duck who was a decent reserve making 12 tackles, but he didn't
get into the backfield and rarely generated a pass rush. At 6-3 and 275
pounds he needs to be like a third tackle against the run, and he has to
be just enough of a threat to get to the quarterback to take the heat of
Heivaha Mafi on the other side.
The tackles might be the strength of the defense. Former Southern Utah
transfer Jacob Hales is the anchor up front making 36 tackles and
three sacks, but stats don't tell what he's worth. He needs to occupy
several blockers and let everyone else produce, and if he can use his
quickness to get into the backfield, fine. He's 6-5, 290-pounds, very
strong, and very old. Having served on an LDS church mission and being
out for a few years, he'll be
26 this season. The big question will be his commitment. Extremely close
to quitting football, he stayed in shape and decided to keep playing.
6-0, 295-pound Malo Taumua was going to be an instant factor on
the line as a freshman before suffering a knee injury. The sophomore was
fine last year and ended up starting 11 games as the team's most
consistent run stopper making 36 tackles, three sacks, and 5.5 tackles
for loss. His improvement and development could be the key to the team's
Projected Top Reserves: Ready to step in at end in
the rotation with Thor Pili is sophomore Preston Brooks, a
transfer from Washington State who dominated at times on the scout team
last season. While he's not as big as Pili, he's a big 6-2 and 260
pounds with good pass rushing skills.
Combining with Heivaha Mafi at one end spot will be sophomore Daniel
Mareko, a good 6-2, 230-pound prospect who's extremely raw but
extremely athletic. He was supposed to be a pass rusher from day one,
but he suffered a broken leg and was out for the year. If nothing else,
he'll be a key playmaker in the rotation.
6-3, 300-pound Isaako Aaitui is the biggest lineman in the
regular mix. The sophomore got a little time making ten tackles and two
tackles for loss, but he's just scratching the surface. Quick enough to
play end, he's more needed at tackle.
Watch Out For ... Heivaha Mafi. A high-energy,
long-haired defender who can make offensive coordinators worry is just
the ticket to help a UNLV defense that never made plays behind the line.
Strength: Tackles. Jacob Hales and Malo Taumua are
rocks, and Isaako Aaitui and Perry Eppenger are good-sized, backups. The
Rebels can't help but be better against the stronger inside running
Weakness: Getting into the backfield. The Rebels should
be better as coming up with tackles for loss, but they were the third
worst team in the country at coming up with plays behind the line with a
mere 53. That has to change.
Outlook: There are several issues which should be
solved, at least improved, with more experience at tackle and some good
newcomers at end. Step one will be stopping the run. The line wasn't
awful at it, but it could be better. The sack production should increase
with more athleticism on the outside, but the big key will be to make
more big plays. This line should be able to do it.
So how does UNLV possibly replace Beau Bell,
the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year? Getting back junior
Starr Fuimaono will ease the pain after he finished second on the team
with 68 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He's not big for a strongside
defender at 5-11 and 215 pounds, but he's a tough hitter who's all over
the field. He was having a monster season before missing the final few
games with a shoulder injury, and that's going to be the problem. Can he
hold up over the course of an entire season? Part safety and part
linebacker, he'll have to be even more physical as a
As part of a combination in the middle, Mississippi State transfer
Jimmy Miller will get a look bringing his 230-pound size and great
potential to the inside of the Rebel D. A major recruit for MSU, turning
down places like Penn State, Florida State and Alabama, he saw a little
bit of time as a true freshman before sitting out a year to join the
Rebels. He has the talent to be one of the team's leading tacklers, but
he'll have to shake off the rust.
6-3, 215--pound junior Jason Beauchamp will start on the weakside
after making 43 tackles and a sack as a spot starter in the middle and
backup on the outside. A steady tackler over the past few season, he'll
go from being a key fill-in to a full-timer and he should be able to use
his athleticism and experience to put up huge numbers. He'll be all over
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the starting
job in the middle is sophomore Ronnie Paulo, a Las Vegas product
with 6-1, 230-pound size and fantastic tackling ability. A big, physical
presence who saw a little bit of time as a true freshman making seven
tackles. While he doesn't have the upside of Jimmy Miller, he'll grow
into a top run stopper over the next few years.
One of the team's brightest new stars is true freshman Nate Carter,
a grayshirt who'll push Jason Beauchamp for time on the weakside. A
great practice player who has been all over the place, he got bigger in
his year off to get up to 230 pounds, and he should grow into a role
over the year as a top backup and a spot starter.
6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman Bryce Saldi came to UNLV from
the monster Southlake Carroll High in Texas as a top defensive end
prospect. While undersized, he has tremendous speed and is a pure pass
rusher. He'll have to be a top strongside backup behind Starr Fuimaono,
and he plays more physical than his size.
Watch Out For ... The backups. The reserves might
be more talented than the starters, but they need time. Nate Carter,
David Blair, Travis Trickey, Ronnie Paulo and Bryce Saldi form a nice
young nucleus for the future.
Strength: Talent. Even with the loss of Beau Bell the
Rebel linebacking corps should be great if the backups emerge as viable
options early on. There are several good talents and good prospects
working around Starr Fuimaono.
Weakness: Proven all-around production. The defense all
but went into the tank when Fuimaono suffered a dislocated shoulder, and
there isn't a lot to count on right away if there are any big injury
problems. This will be a good overall corps, but it'll take time.
Outlook: There are some good talents, like Miller
and Fuimaono, and there's a good veteran on the outside in
Beauchamp, but everyone is sort of in a holding pattern until all
the great young prospects are ready to shine and provide viable options
in a rotation. More needs to be done against the run and there need to
be more disruptive plays, but the corps should turn out to be good.
Last year the secondary had to replace Eric Wright, and Mil'Von James
stepped up and broke up 19 passes and came up with a pick. Now it'll be
up to Geoffrey Howard to be the regular defender and a difference
maker, and he has the potential to do it. The senior is the leader of
the secondary, but he needs to do more when the ball is in the air after
making just one interceptions and breaking up four passes, with 27
tackles, as a spot starter. While he's not huge at 5-10 and 195 pounds,
he hits like a much bitter player.
5-9, 185-pound sophomore Quinton Pointer hits like a safety, but
his size makes him a corner. He had a decent year starting for most of
the season before giving way to Geoffrey Howard late, but he still
finished with 50 tackles and two interceptions. Incredibly fast and very
physical, he has the skills. Now he has to be a consistent cover-corner
and not just a big tackler.
Safety Daryl Forte is coming off a huge season finishing second
on the team with 94 tackles with a sack, an interception, and two
tackles for loss. The junior has been productive from day one with great
hitting ability and nice range, and now he'll have to be more of a
leader. While not big at 5-11 and 185 pounds, he plays much bigger and
he doesn't miss and stops.
Sophomore Rico Thomas will take over for Tony Cade at safety
after making three tackles as a reserve. He needs to use his tremendous
speed and all-around athleticism to be all over the field and he needs
to use his talent to be a steady starter. He'll have to fight to earn on
to the spot, but he has too much upside to be on the bench for long.
Projected Top Reserves: It'll be a combination of
options to push Geoffrey Howard for playing time at one corner spot.
former wide receiver Lorenzo Bursey Jr. isn't big at only 5-8 and
175 pounds, and he isn't going to hit anyone, but he's fast. Redshirt
freshman Will Chandler is a promising speedster who was a top
receiver in high school and should be used from time to time as a kick
At 5-11 and 210 pounds, junior Michael Johnson is one of the
team's biggest safeties. He doesn't have any real experience, making
just two tackles last season, but the former high school linebacker and
wide receiver is a pure athlete who should be fast enough and physical
enough to become a presence in the defensive backfield.
Watch Out For ... the corners to come up with a
great year. If Geoffrey Howard is ready to take a step up in his overall
development, he'll combine with Quinton Pointer to form one of the
Mountain West's better corner tandems.
Strength: Tackling. Everyone, including the corners, is
able to hit and able to provide a nice pop when needed. This group,
overall, will be a strong last line of defense against the run and won't
miss many stops in the open field.
Weakness: Size. It would be nice to have one 6-1, 210
pound intimidator, but there isn't. This is a secondary of 5-10,
190-pound players who can move, but will have problems with the bigger
Outlook: The secondary improved last season giving
up just 203 passing yards per game, and it was even stronger against the
efficient passers. However, it's not like the Rebels played a who's who
of passing teams. Colt Brennan and Hawaii did whatever they wanted to,
and BYU was too busy running the ball to start bombing. This is a good
secondary, but it's hardly one of the Mountain West's best, and it needs
a steady pass rush to be effective.
Sergio Aguayo was an all-star last year hitting 17 of 22 field goal
attempts while Brian Pacheco had a nice year averaging 42.1 yards per
kick and putting 20 inside the 20. Junior Kyle Watson will get
the first look at both kicking jobs. The walk-on transferred from Texas
Southern and while he has a decent leg, he doesn't have a big one. He'll
get pushed by sophomore Ben Jaekle, who hit two of four short
field goals when thrown to the wolves as a sophomore, for the
placekicking gig, while JUCO transfer Zach Davis and quarterback
Dack Ishii will be in the hunt for the starting punting job. The
issue might not be settled until early fall.
Star receiver Casey Flair will once again be the main punt
returner after averaging a mediocre 8.4 yards per try. CB Quinton
Pointer will handle more of the kickoff returns to add more of a
burst after Lorenzo Bursey averaged just 19.6 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For ... a big, big problem. The team was
spoiled by Sergio Aguayo for the last few years and the punting of Brian
Pacheco was more than solid. It's going to be a long task to find the
Strength: The potential of the return game. Flair is a
veteran punt returner who should do more, while the speed of Porter
should add more flash to the kickoff returns.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The kicking game is going to be
an issue, but the Rebels' biggest problem is covering kicks average
allowing 26.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.1 yards per punt return.
Outlook: A major plus could quickly turn into a
mega-weakness if the punting and kicking situations aren't settled early
on. The return game will be serviceable, but not special, while the
coverage teams have to improve after a disastrous 2007.