Miss Golden Eagles
Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Southern Miss Preview
2008 USM Offense
2008 USM Defense
2008 USM Depth
2007 CFN Southern Miss Preview
2006 CFN Southern
need to know:
The Southern Miss offense isn’t the only unit that’ll be
undergoing some renovations this fall. The Eagle defense must
replace seven starters from a group that had a few too many
lapses a year ago. The weakest link of the crew figures to be
the defensive line, which loses all four starters, two of which
were members of the All-Conference USA First Team. The pressure
rests squarely on inexperienced underclassmen, such as ends
Roshaad Byrd and David Boyce, and tackle Anthony Gray, to soar
past expectations and create a push up front. The lone star on
the Eagle D is LB Gerald McRath, a tackling machine and the
league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Tackles: Gerald McRath,
Gerald McRath, 4.5
Interceptions: Eddie Hicks, 3
of the defense:
Sophomore LB Gerald McRath
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB C.J. Bailey
Best pro prospect: McRath
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McRath 2) Junior FS
Eddie Hicks 3) Senior LB Tokumbo Abanikanda
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: The defensive line
Projected Starters: After losing four starters and
a pair of First Team All-Conference USA performers, Southern
Miss is facing a reclamation project along the defensive line.
The most battle-tested of the linemen is DE Roshaad Byrd,
and he’s only a sophomore with ten games of experience. An
explosive player at 6-3 and 258 pounds, he’s expected to be the
catalyst for the pass rush from the outside.
Joining Byrd at defensive end will be sophomore David Boyce,
a rangy 6-6 and 243-pound athlete who made a couple of brief
cameos as a freshman. Very quick around the edge and much
stronger than when he arrived on campus, he possesses the raw
ingredients to become a fixture on this defense for the next
At the nose, senior Eric Phillips has his best
opportunity to crack the starting lineup after being a
non-factor for three consecutive years. At 6-7 and 280 pounds,
he’ll obstruct the quarterback’s line of sight, but is going to
have leverage issues when matched up with squat, powerful
Although sophomore Anthony Gray missed more than half of
last year with a foot injury, he impressed the coaching staff
when he returned in October and November, picking up seven
tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. A stocky 6-0,
311-pounder, he plays with great pad level and is one of the
strongest members of the team.
Projected Top Reserves: With three redshirt
freshmen expected to play extensive minutes as reserves, depth
is an issue that’ll linger throughout the 2008 season. The most
experienced of the backups is junior DT Rolando Barragan,
a 6-3, 295-pound product of El Camino (Calif.) Community
College. Signed for his quickness and ability to stuff the run,
he wasn’t far behind Gray when spring concluded.
On the outside, Codarro Law and Andrew Burns are a
couple of unheralded redshirt freshmen with an opportunity to
earn a letter. While the 6-2, 230-pound Law is more of a speed
rusher in the body of an outside linebacker, Burns goes 6-4 and
245 pounds and is better equipped to help out on run defense.
Watch Out For… the Eagles to struggle at stopping
the run. Last year’s squad had lapses against better running
teams when Martavius Prince and Sean Merrill were clogging
lanes. Without their veteran presence, Southern Miss is going
to get moved off the ball by the likes of Auburn and Boise
Strength: Athleticism off the edge. While still
very raw, Byrd and Boyce harbor the size and the speed at
defensive end to eventually develop into a nasty combination for
Conference USA quarterbacks. If they can navigate the learning
curve quick enough, everyone behind them is going to benefit.
Weakness: … Proven talent. From top to bottom,
the Eagles don’t have a single defensive lineman with a start on
his résumé, which will be new coordinator Todd Bradford’s
biggest concern throughout the offseason.
Outlook: The drop-off from last season is
inevitable and likely precipitous. If Southern Miss loses too
many battles at the point of attack, it’s going to be felt by
the run defense and the pass defense. While Gray has the
potential to be disruptive inside, a rotation of three or four
ends will be used in order to keep everyone fresh.
Projected Starters: Junior Gerald McRath is
the next in a long line of Southern Miss linebacking assassins.
The reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, he had
a team-high 139 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. At
6-3 and 220 pounds, McRath has the quickness and instincts from
the inside of a high draft choice whenever he’s ready to come
Back for a third year as the starter at weakside is senior
Tokumbo Abanikanda, an undersized defender who relies on his
speed and experience to make plays. The 6-0, 217-pound veteran
had 58 tackles and eight tackles behind the line a year ago and
was also strong in pass coverage.
The lone newcomer to the starting lineup is junior Brandon
Davis, who replaces James Denley at strongside. Used mostly
on special teams the last two seasons, he had 13 tackles as a
backup, gradually preparing for this moment. Yet another
smallish Eagle linebacker, the 6-1, 205-pound Davis moves well
Projected Top Reserves: On an otherwise youthful
second team, Southern Miss is thrilled that 6-1, 224-pound
senior Jerome Lyons was granted another year of
eligibility by the NCAA. The backup to McRath in the middle,
he’s started games in each of the last two seasons, making 26
tackles last year. Finally past his injury problems, Lyons is
an underrated insurance policy for the Eagle D.
On the outside, redshirt freshmen Korey Williams and
Tim Green have worked their way into the two-deep on the
outside. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Williams is one of the team’s
bigger linebackers, and was moved from middle linebacker to take
advantage of his closing speed in the new attacking defense.
Green is a rangy 6-3 and 190 pounds and needs to add weight, but
has the range and explosion that fit what new coordinator Todd
Bradford is trying to do on defense. He’s the type of athlete
that the staff can unleash on the blitz or drop back into
Watch Out For… more blitzing. Bradford envisions
an up-tempo defense that can create chaos and turnovers when the
athletic linebackers are allowed to fly all over the field.
Strength: Range. No group of linebackers in
Conference USA gets from Point A to Point B faster than the one
in Hattiesburg. Led by McRath, the Golden Eagles are a bunch of
predators that’ll make a ton of plays for negative yards.
Weakness: Size. All of that speed and quickness
comes at a price. The Eagle linebackers aren’t very big,
averaging just 6-1 and 215 pounds on the first two units. While
it won’t cause a problem against most opponents, big and
physical offenses are liable to control a Southern Miss front
seven that lacks mass.
Outlook: This could be McRath’s final season as an
amateur, so Golden Eagle fans might want to savor all of his
games in black and gold. He’s a beast who makes everyone around
him more effective.
Projected Starters: Southern Miss will be building
its defensive backfield around a pair of returning starters with
All-Conference USA potential. Sophomore CB C.J. Bailey
sat out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery, but is
expected to be back in time for the opening of summer camp. One
of last year’s breakthrough players, he started 10 games,
turning 40 tackles, two picks, and 10 passes defended into
Freshman All-American recognition. A speedy 5-10, 182-pounder,
he plays more physical than his size might indicate.
Over at boundary corner will be senior Eddie Willingham,
a spot starter throughout his career who’s being asked to
increase his role. Like Bailey, he lacks ideal size at 5-10 and
179 pounds, and needs to prove right away that he can’t prevent
the big play over the top. He had 11 tackles as a junior, 10
below his career high in 2005.
The anchor at free safety is junior Eddie Hicks, who
erupted for 84 tackles, three interceptions, and five passes
defended in his first season as a full-timer. Both big and fast
at 6-2 and 185 pounds, he’s going to attract the attention of
NFL scouts as soon as he tightens up his technique in pass
coverage. On his way to becoming a complete safety, the program
will ask Hicks to be more of a vocal leader.
Sophomore Chico Hunter has used a strong spring
performance to elevate to the top of the depth chart at strong
safety. Pressed into action as a true freshman, the 6-0,
190-pounder responded with 19 tackles, while flashing impressive
speed and a willingness to come up and pack a punch. He has a
bright future that’ll begin crystallizing this fall.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Michael McGee
handled the starting spot at field corner while Bailey was
recuperating in the spring. A two-time letterwinner with good
jets, he made 22 tackles and three tackles for loss, showing
sure tackling skills in the open field. At 5-10 and 181 pounds,
McGee’s biggest concern will be getting bullied by some of the
league’s more physical receivers.
The heir apparent to Hicks at free safety is 5-11, 185-pound
sophomore Justin Wilson. A three-game starter a year ago
and integral cog in the nickel defense, he contributed 43
tackles, two interceptions, and a half-dozen pass breakups. Even
as a reserve, he’ll see the field plenty once again this season.
Watch Out For… Bailey. Provided the repaired
shoulder doesn’t make him a little gun-shy, he’s ready for
take-off after scratching the surface of his potential as a
freshman. He’s poised to become the lockdown corner that the
Golden Eagles are desperately seeking.
Strength: Run defense. While not the biggest
secondary around, the Golden Eagles aren’t shy about pressing up
and whacking opposing backs. All of the defensive backs tackle
fundamentally well, a big assist to the rebuilt defensive line.
Weakness: A reliable complement to Bailey. If
Bailey develops as expected, opposing quarterbacks will quickly
learn to avoid his side of the field. Unfortunately for the
defense, Willingham is vulnerable in pass defense and subject to
being picked on weekly.
Outlook: Although Hicks and Bailey are nice
starting points, Southern Miss needs more help if it’s going to
improve on last year’s mediocre results, including allowing 24
touchdown passes. The secondary may not get much help from the
pass rush, so it better be prepared to blanket receivers for
more than a few seconds.
Projected Starters: After improving in almost
every area as the team’s punter, senior Britt Barefoot is
eying the kicking job as well. Sophomore Justin Estes
handled the duties a year ago, but left the door open by showing
limited range and making just 10-of-17 field goal attempts
outside 30 yards. Barefoot has the much stronger leg, making his
lone try from 51 yards, and was atop the depth chart coming out
of spring. As the punter, he lifted his average almost four
yards to 42.5 yards, which was good enough for Second Team
All-Conference USA honors.
A pair of newcomers from the junior college ranks, Freddie
Parham and Bubba Kirksey are going to share kick
returns. Senior Ed Morgan, who’s capable of getting lost
in the crowd, will be replacing Brandon Sumrall as the Eagles
primary punt returner.
Watch Out For… Barefoot’s progress as the kicker.
Leg strength has never been an issue with the 6-0, 181-pounder,
but he needs to refine his mechanics and prove he can
consistently nail a 35-yarder when drives stall.
Strength: Distance. Barefoot has the big, powerful
leg needed to boom punts, reach from 50 yards on field goals,
and pin opposing kick returners deep in their own territory. He
averaged more than 64 yards on kickoffs, a key reason why
Southern Miss was No. 4 in the league in covering kicks.
Weakness: Kicking. Now that Estes has proven to be
unpredictable beyond chip shots, what will the Eagles get from
Barefoot? He can kick it a mile, but there’s a reason why he
failed to win this job last fall and was only called on for one
Outlook: Barefoot is a weapon that could evolve
into one of the league’s premier special teams players if his
kicking narrows the gap on his punting. The Eagles could use a
few more big plays in the return game after fizzling last year.