2008 UCF Preview - Defense
UCF SS Sha'reff Rashad
UCF SS Sha'reff Rashad
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UCF Defense

UCF Knights

Preview 2008 - Defense

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

What you need to know: In light of the problems on the other side of the ball, the defense may have to carry the offense in the early stages of the season. The unit welcomes back nine starters, 10 if you count LB Jordan Richards, who was slated to start before suffering a season-ending injury. The secondary, in particular, is flush with senior talent, led by all-leaguers Joe Burnett and Sha’Reff Rashad. It was those two ball hawks, along with Jason Venson and Johnell Neal that helped UCF lead the conference with two dozen picks a year ago. The defense’s biggest objective will be to find replacements for DE Leger Douzable and DT Keith Shologan, the line’s best pass rusher and run-stuffer, respectively. If they can stay healthy for a change, the Cory Hogue-led linebackers will be deep and disruptive.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sha'reff Rashad, 103
Sacks: Derrick Hallman, 3
Interceptions: Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, 6

Star of the defense: Senior CB Joe Burnett
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Torrell Troup
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Derrick Hallman
Best pro prospect: Burnett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burnett 2) Senior SS Sha’reff Rashad 3) Senior FS Jason Venson
Strength of the defense: The secondary, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Depth on the interior, a true speed rusher off the edge

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: It’ll be a mixed bag for a defensive line that has plenty of talent at defensive end, but depth concerns at defensive tackle. On the outside, the Knights will open with sophomores Bruce Miller and David Williams, a couple of high-motor pass rushers that’ll out work opposing tackles to get to the quarterback. Miller is a 6-2, 249-pound Freshman All-American that fought his way to 38 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and seven sacks. Neither the biggest nor the fastest end in the league, he’s strong up top and always plays to the whistle.

Williams is a Miller clone, built like a linebacker at 6-2 and 234 pounds, yet frenetic and not about to be out worked. After playing sparingly as a freshman, he parlayed a dominant spring into a spot in the regular rotation.

At tackle, juniors Torrell Troup and Travis Timmons are experienced linemen that have lettered in each of the last two seasons. Troup, formerly known as Johnson, has the 6-3, 320-pound frame to command two blockers and clog opposing running lanes. Quicker than he appears and tough to handle one-on-one, he had 19 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks, only scratching the surface of his enormous potential.

The 6-4, 285-pound Timmons gained valuable experience as a regular in the Knight rotation up front, making 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Ready or not, one of the gems of the 2006 recruiting class is about to get a sharp increase in playing time at a position that no longer has an excess of seasoned veterans.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Antonio Wallace played a lot of football for UCF a year ago, his first at defensive end. A former linebacker that’s bulked up to 6-2 and 251 pounds, he used his speed and quickness to contribute 30 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, sophomore Darius Nall is a situational edge rusher that made a successful switch from linebacker to defensive end as a first-year player. Appearing in 13 games, he finished the year with 22 tackles, four tackles behind the line, and a sack.

Depth at tackle will have to come from a trio of untested and undersized walk-ons that’s comprised of Jeremy Green, Marquis Johnson, and Brian Timm.

Watch Out For… DE Jarvis Geathers. A transfer from Feather River (Calif.) Community College, Geathers attracted offers from across the country for his ability to get to the quarterback. Just 6-2 and 215 pounds, he’s a blur around the tackle, which the Knights are lacking on defense.
Strength: The ends. While Miller and Williams are going to wear out opposing tackles for four quarters, Wallace, Nall, and Geathers bring instant speed off the bench.
Weakness: Depth at tackle. Troup and Timmons are a formidable pair on the inside, but if either needs a breather or gets injured, the Knights will be severely hamstrung in run defense.
Outlook: As long as everyone stays healthy, the Knights have the ingredients of one of the league’s more productive defensive lines. If, however, there are any casualties, especially at tackle, teams will be able to run the ball without too much resistance.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: In just over a year, the UCF linebackers have gone from being a major unknown to one of the deepest positions on the roster. The leader of a unit that returns six players with starting experience is 6-1, 228-pound senior Cory Hogue, who’s coming off a lights out spring session. A read and react wiz from the strongside, he had 72 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack, laying the groundwork for what could be an all-league final season.

At weakside, sophomore Derrick Hallman may be just 6-0 and 205 pounds, but is also a big hitter and one of the defense’s best all-around athletes. As an emergency freshman starter, he flew all over the field, making 50 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks.

In the middle, the Knights will again turn to junior Chance Henderson, a second-year starter that had 74 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a sack last season. A stout run defender at 6-1 and 241 pounds, he loves contact and will rarely miss a tackle in the open field.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jordan Richards was scheduled to start a year ago before suffering a season-long injury. Healthy again, he’ll be competing with Hallman for playing time, and at worst, providing veteran depth to the second team. One of the fastest of the linebackers at 6-2 and 226 pounds, he has upside, but has never been able to remain out of the trainer’s room for an extended period of time.

Henderson’s insurance policy inside is junior Alex Thompson, who started a pair of games in 2007, finishing the season with 11 tackles. While little threat to Henderson’s job, his 15 games of experience is a valuable asset to the second unit.

Sophomore Lawrence Young was one of just a handful of freshmen to play extensively as a rookie, collecting 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Like Hallman, he’s safety-sized at 6-0 and 212 pounds, but has tremendous range and sideline-to-sideline speed.

Watch Out For… Hallman. While he doesn’t have prototypical size for the position, he is a playmaker that’ll only get better with more experience. One of the budding stars of the UCF defense, he can wreak havoc on the blitz and cover like a safety.
Strength: Depth. Injuries over the past two seasons have forced the Knights to use a bunch of players a year earlier than they would have liked. Now that everyone is healthy, the program boasts a two-deep that’s experienced and athletic.
Weakness: Size. As players like Hogue and Hallman take on more prominent roles, UCF has become more finesse than physical at the second line of defense. Some of this year’s thicker opponents, such as Boston College and Miami, will present problems for an undersized ensemble that relies so heavily on its quickness.
Outlook: It’s a big “if”, but if the linebackers can finally go the year injury-free, they’ll form a disruptive group that can defend the run and the pass equally well. Depending on who gets the majority of the tackles, Hogue, Hallman, and Henderson all have the potential to deliver all-conference seasons.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The defensive backfield will easily be UCF’s most experienced unit, as all four senior starters are back from a year ago. The star of the quartet is CB Joe Burnett, a 5-11, 185-pound playmaker and one of the best overall athletes on the roster. A risk-taker that’ll get burned every once in a while, he’s a quality cover man with 12 career interceptions, half of which came a year ago. In his best season so far, he had 64 tackles, three tackles for loss, six picks, and a dozen batted balls, en route to being named First Team All-Conference USA.

Burnett will be joined at cornerback by a familiar face, fourth-year starter Johnell Neal, who matched Burnett’s six takeaways to go along with 56 tackles and 10 passes defended. Surprisingly tough for a 5-10, 176-pound defensive back, he’s not shy about pressing up to support the run defense.

At strong safety, Sha’reff Rashad is a do-everything defensive back that can play the run with the same ferocity as the pass. A fundamentally sound tackler at 6-0 and 198 pounds, he led the defense with 103 stops, added eight tackles for loss, and had four picks for a second straight year.

Rashad will be joined by strong safety Jason Venson, who has a knack for always being around the ball. Either first or second on the team in tackles for three years in-a-row, he had a career-high 92 stops to along with five tackles for loss, two picks, and seven pass breakups.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Emery Allen is the most battle-tested of the backup cornerbacks, a two-time letterwinner with starting experience. Just 5-9 and 176 pounds, he has the speed and back-pedal to shut down opposing receivers, provided his limited stature doesn’t become an issue.

While sophomore Darin Baldwin will almost certainly be a starter by 2009, for now, he’ll add depth at corner and provide an option in nickel packages. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he’s shown hints of being outstanding in pass coverage, playing in nine games as a true freshman with 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, and his first interception.

Strong safety Justin Boddie also played well as a freshman, chalking up 20 tackles and picking off a pair of passes. Well-sized at 6-2 and 190 pounds, he’ll take over for Rashad once this season ends.

Watch Out For… the second team to get more reps than a year ago. Well, at least in one-sided games. Since all four starters are seniors, the coaching staff recognizes the need to get the Baldwins and Boddies ready for 2009 without negatively impacting the season at hand.
Strength: Chemistry. You can’t underestimate the importance chemistry has to the performance of a unit. More than just seasoned, this group of defensive backs knows each other’s tendencies inside and out, and has played a ton of football together over the last three years.
Weakness: Pass coverage. Yeah, they’re experienced and athletic, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that UCF has allowed a whopping 48 touchdown passes over the last two seasons, including 26 a year ago. Somehow, the Knights have to figure out a way to limit the big plays and third down conversions through the air.
Outlook: While not quite the 2007 UCF secondary, the similarities are there. The secondary is talented enough to make the other two units more effective, as long as there continues to be enough takeaways to compensate for the inevitable blown coverages.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Topping the list of priorities for special teams coach Brent Key will be to find a replacement for K Michael Torres, who nailed 20-of-24 field goals a year ago. Key is putting a lot of faith in sophomore Jordan Dodds, a transfer from South Carolina that sat out last season. At 5-11 and 210 pounds, he needs to become more consistent to go along with a strong leg. Dodds is being challenged by a couple of redshirt freshmen walk-ons, Salvatore Dimauro and Kyle Iketani. Dimauro had a successful high school career, which he hopes will translate to the college game.

There’s far less uncertainty at punter, where sophomore Blake Clingan is back for his second season as the starter. In his debut, he averaged 40.7 and showed good loft and hang time on his punts. At 6-3 and 221 pounds, Clingan has a big leg, and his fine-tuned his fundamentals in the offseason.

Although shifty kick returner must be replaced, the Knights welcome back Joe Burnett, one of the game’s most dangerous punt returners. In three seasons, he’s taken two back for touchdowns, showing great speed in the open field.

Watch Out For… the situation at kicker. Torres was a quiet hero in last season’s title run. Now it’s up to Dodds to be equally accurate when the offense stalls in opposing territory.
Strength: Burnett. If you give the senior a seam or even a hint of daylight, he’s capable of supercharging the crowd and changing the tempo of a game.
Weakness: The kicking game. Torres raised the bar by missing just four field goals a year ago, heaping pressure on Dodds and the freshmen to deliver clutch kicks late in close games.
Outlook: With the return game and the coverage units clicking, UCF will be among Conference USA’s best special teams units if the new kicker isn’t a glaring liability.
Rating: 6