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2008 Tulane Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Defense

Tulane Green Wave

Preview 2008 - Defense

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

What you need to know:
Now that coordinator Thom Kaumeyer is gone, it’s up to O’Neill Gilbert to keep the defensive momentum going from last season. Gilbert inherits seven starters and a stern mandate to improve the pass defense. The Green Wave secondary got toasted for 17 touchdown passes over last year’s final six games in a league that got more pass-happy with the offseason hirings of June Jones, Kevin Sumlin, and Larry Fedora. There are also concerns at defensive tackle, where last year’s top three performers have run out of eligibility. Tulane will try to compensate for its suspect corners with a pass rush that’s fueled by all-league-caliber ends Reggie Scott and Adam Kwentua. At linebacker, last year’s leading tackler Evan Lee will be joined by David Skehan, a veteran making the switch from safety.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Evan Lee, 99
Sacks: Adam Kwentua, Reggie Scott, 4
Interceptions: David Skehan, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB David Skehan
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Phillip Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Adam Kwentua
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Reggie Scott
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Skehan, 2) Scott, 3) Senior LB Evan Lee
Strength of the defense: The ends, the linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, interior of the line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The glass is only half full for the defensive line heading into the season. While a pair of starters return on the outside, the interior of the line has been decimated by graduation. At the end spots, senior Reggie Scott and junior Adam Kwentua are back to try and build on last year. Finally healthy for a full season, Scott showed a glimpse of his sizable potential, making 27 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. At 6-4 and 258 pounds, he plays with a great motor and is a natural pass rusher, hoping to save his best season for his final season.

The 6-3, 259-pound Kwentua is built like a linebacker and moves like one as well. While not especially effective as a run defender, he has a sudden burst off the snap and can beat opposing tackles off the edge to get into the backfield. In the most extensive action of his career, he made 20 tackles, five tackles for loss, and four sacks.

After losing Avery Williams, Antonio Harris, and Frank Morton to graduation, Tulane is facing a crisis situation at defensive tackle. The responsibility of plugging the middle of the line now rests with senior NT Julian Shives-Sams and sophomore Tony Bryant, neither of whom has extensive starting experience. Shives-Sams is a veteran 6-3, 280-pounder with a couple of letters to his name. He had nine tackles and two tackles for loss in 11 games last year, and showed the quickness in the spring needed to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Bryant played sparingly in his first season, but turned the corner in March and April, catching the attention of the coaching staff throughout the spring. Very quick and agile at only 6-3 and 256 pounds, he consistently beat offensive linemen, quietly for now concerns about his size in the trenches.

Projected Top Reserves: Not far behind Kwentua is junior Logan Kelly, a pure speed rusher who’ll be used in specific situations to get pressure on the quarterback. Lightning fast at 6-2 and 245 pounds, he had 17 tackles, five tackles for loss, and three sacks as a part-timer. Kelly’s too disruptive to not have an important role in the rotation at defensive end.

While no threat to Shives-Sams at the nose, sophomore Justin Adams will be on the field a lot this fall. A potential liability at only 5-11 and 255 pounds, he gained valuable experience in his first season, appearing in 11 games and getting in on 14 tackles. Adams has excellent lower body strength, but still needs to beef up in order to handle a more expanded role.

Watch Out For… the Green Wave to have severe problems stopping the run. After leading the conference in run defense a year ago, Tulane is about to take a tumble. The program just doesn’t have enough girth in the middle of the line, something opponents will surely attempt to victimize.
Strength: Speed on the outside. Scott and Kwentua are a couple of quality athletes who’ve flashed an ability to get off the blocks quickly and pressure the quarterback. After combining for eight sacks in 2007, they’re looking to double that number this fall.
Weakness: The interior. The departures of three long-time contributors mean Tulane will be starting a senior that’s been unable to get into the lineup and an untested 256-pound sophomore. The reserves offer no more solace for a unit that could be the downfall of the defense.
Outlook: The Green Wave is going to spend much of the year trying to cover for a middle of the defense that’s going to get pushed around by physical offensive lines. The bright spot is Scott, who’ll make a run for all-league honors if he can remain healthy for a second straight season.
Rating: 5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: A concern just one year ago, the linebackers welcome back seven letterwinners and stands to be the strength of the defense. Even senior Evan Lee, who had a team-high 99 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and two sacks, is getting challenged at middle linebacker, an indication of Tulane’s improving depth. At 6-1 and 224 pounds, Lee is an explosive athlete who can pack a punch and make plays all over the field. He plays with passion and intensity, often traveling from one sideline to the next to make a stop.

Former safety David Skehan, a two-year starter, is making the move to strongside linebacker. The defensive staff wants more athleticism and better pass coverage at the position in a league that depends so heavily on the vertical game. On the cusp of being an all-league player, Skehan had 66 tackles, four tackles for loss, four picks, and 10 passes broken up.

By a narrow margin, the front-runner at weakside is junior Travis Burks, who has used his speed and coverage skills to scale the depth chart. In a part-time role, the 6-0, 208-pound former defensive back collected 20 tackles, a number he could surpass before the end of September.

Projected Top Reserves: Coming off a terrific spring, junior David Kirksey is hot on Lee’s heels, essentially qualifying as a fourth starter on the unit. The two will continue their battle in August in the most closely-watched competition this side of the quarterbacks. The 6-1, 225-pound Kirksey had 27 tackles and two tackles for loss a year ago, displaying the speed and instincts that have him demanding more playing time.

For a third straight year, senior James Dillard will earn plenty of reps at weakside, while trying to bump Burks from the pole position. A 6-2, 226-pound veteran with the range and athleticism of a safety, he’s had 94 tackles the last two seasons, second only to Lee among linebackers.

A top recruit from 2005, senior Jordan Ellis has settled in as a valuable reserve at all three linebacker spots and a member of the special teams unit. Solid in run defense, he’ll back up Skehan a year after collecting 22 tackles and recovering a fumble.

Watch Out For… an improvement in pass defense. Skehan’s move from safety and the challenges being made by Kirksey and Burks for starting jobs are designed at increasing the number of batted balls and picks produced by the linebackers.
Strength: Middle linebacker. Lee and Kirksey are neck-and-neck in the race to man the middle in 2008. Regardless of who actually wins the job, the Green Wave can take solace in the fact that it has multiple players good enough to handle the starting role.
Weakness: Size. Tulane likes its linebackers to be small and active, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a beast that won’t back down from a 290-pound pulling guard that slips through to the second level. Currently, the Green Wave two-deep averages just 6-1 and 220 pounds, numbers more fitting for a safety.
Outlook: The linebackers are a deep and athletic bunch that’s going to benefit from the competition that rages on in the summer. With the concerns that exist up front, Tulane is an ideal candidate to mix in the occasional 3-4 defensive sets.
Rating: 6

Secondary

Projected Starters: Now that Skehan has left the secondary, junior Chinonso Echebelem is ready to become the new leader of the secondary. A sporadic starter since the final month of his true freshman season, he’s slotted in to be the guy at free safety. The most physical of the defensive backs, the 6-1, 208-pound Echebelem was fifth on the team with 61 tackles, adding three for loss and three forced fumbles.

Lining up at strong safety for the Green Wave will be 5-10, 195-pound junior Corey Sonnier, a heavy hitter with cornerback speed. A career backup who had just four tackles a year ago, he’ll be making a substantial step up in weight class by entering the starting lineup.

The starting cornerbacks will consist of senior Josh Lumar and sophomore Phillip Davis. The team’s best cover corner, Lumar quietly did an outstanding job in his season as a regular in the secondary. Despite being just 5-10 and 176 pounds, he wasn’t afraid to get physical, making 73 tackles to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss, two picks, and 12 passes broken up. Lumar makes nice breaks on the balls, and should be even more opportunistic in his second season as the starter.

Davis played extensively in his rookie year, making 32 tackles and breaking up a couple of passes. At just 5-10 and 160 pounds, he’s got the athletic skills of an eventual playmaker, but needs to add some more upper strength in order to handle bigger receivers at the line and when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: At cornerback, 6-3, 171-pound senior Charles Harris has intriguing size and speed, but it hasn’t translated into ample production for the Green Wave defense. A question mark in pass defense, he had 11 tackles in a few cameos last year, and will be Davis’ primary backup.

Sophomore SS Devin Holland is making sure that Sonnier has to work to keep his spot atop the depth chart. A 6-0, 198-pounder, he lettered as a freshman, starting the Houston game, and chipped in with 24 tackles. Holland will continue his pursuit of a starting job in the summer, or at worst, contend to be the team’s nickel back.

Watch Out For… Sophomore defensive back Alex Wacha. Injuries over the last couple of seasons have Wacha playing catch up and buried on the depth chart, but he’s too good of an athlete not to compete now that he’s healthy. Tulane needs more depth chart at cornerback, which Wacha is capable of bolstering.

Strength: Echebelem. Now that he’s no longer fighting for a job, the hard-hitting junior is set to become an all-league type player in the second half of his career. Echebelem gives the Tulane secondary a presence that’s been sorely lacking.
Weakness: Pass defense. The Green Wave is just too soft in pass coverage, allowing a whopping 65% of passes to be completed last year and three times as many touchdowns through the air as interceptions. Lumar will make plays, but Tulane needs two or three more players like him.
Outlook: Don’t expect dramatically different results than 2007, when Tulane was 112th nationally in pass efficiency defense. In a league that’s becoming increasingly wide-open, the program simply doesn’t have enough stoppers that can keep opposing receivers from running wild.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Ross Thevenot shows signs of developing into a reliable kicker a year after converting 13-of-18 field goals and showing improved pop in his leg. He also split time as the Green Wave’s punter, averaging 38.9 yards, but is currently running behind sophomore Darren deRochemont in the competition for the job.

deRochemont did little to distinguish himself a year ago, averaging just 38.7 yards and showing poor hang time on his punts. While he’s the guy for now, he’ll need to make progress in the summer in order to prevent Thevenot from performing double duties. deRochemont will also be the backup kicker and handle kickoffs.

Sophomore Jeremy Williams looked like a natural returning kicks in the spring, and is expected to be the full-time replacement for Ade Tuyo. Tulane is looking to redshirt freshman Dominique Dade to spark a punt return team that ranked among the most futile in the country. He and sophomore Casey Robottom are expected to field the majority of the punts this season.

Watch Out For… deRochemont’s development in his second season on the job. He actually arrived on the Bayou with advanced billing, but failed to live up to expectations in his debut. Although the coaches are giving him another chance to excel, they’ll also have a quick hook if he continues to disappoint.
Strength: Thevenot. In two seasons, the junior has proven to be versatile and steady when attempting field goals inside 50 yards. If Thevenot can make similar strides to last year, he’ll be on the verge of joining Conference USA’s top kickers.
Weakness: The return game. Tulane was 115th nationally in punt returns and 114th on kickoffs, providing no support to the offense. The staff will be trying new returners in both areas in an effort to light a spark on special teams and improve the school’s field position.
Outlook: By every measurement, Tulane ranks among the country’s least effective special teams units. They’re awful in the return game, don’t cover kicks particularly well, and have an issue with the punting game. Thevenot is the long bright spot in an otherwise shaky situation.
Rating: 4