Preview 2008 - Defense
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2006 CFN Vanderbilt
What you need to know: The defense struggled at times giving
up points, but it turned out to be one of the best in the nation
in total yards allowed. Seven starters return led by a secondary
that could be among the most productive in the nation. Corners
D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis form a dangerous lock-down tandem,
while safeties Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton hare
productive, huge-hitting veterans. Even with three starters gone
off the line, the pass rush should be fantastic with Broderick
Stewart taking on a bigger role on the other side of Steven
Stone. The linebacking corps isn't a mess, but it'll be a work
in progress trying to make all the pieces fit.
Tackles: D.J. Moore, 83
Broderick Stewart, 6
Interceptions: D.J. Moore, 6
Star of the defense: Junior CB D.J. Moore
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Greg Billinger
Best pro prospect: Moore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moore, 2) DE Steven
SS Reshard Langford
Strength of the defense: Secondary, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, proven depth on the front seven
Projected Starters: The only returner to a strong
line is Steven Stone, a 6-5, 260-pound junior who came up with a
nice year on the end making 45 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for
loss. With good size, he's been strong against the run for the last few
seasons, but his real worth is as a pass rusher. He'll be the focal
point up front job one for every opposing offensive line to keep in
check, even if he isn't the team's best backfield threat.
On the other side will be junior Broderick Stewart as he takes
over for Curtis Gatewood. The 6-5, 228-pound Stewart might be built more
like a power forward than a true end, but he has the height to bat down
passes and the speed to be a blur off the edge when he gets a step.
After making five sacks in a limited role as a freshman, he became a
pure third down sack artist leading the team with six to go along with
30 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Now he has the full-time job and
needs to prove he can be an every down player.
The ends will be fine, but the tackles will be an issue losing Gabe Hall
and Theo Horrocks. 6-2, 290-pound junior Greg Billinger will be
the biggest plugger on the inside after making six tackles as a reserve.
Expected to be a top producer last year, he got pushed aside by Hall and
never got much of a role to play. With the size, the talent, and the
experience in the system, he's expected to become a major factor.
Sophomore Adam Smotherman is expected to take over the
other inside spot, but first he has to stay healthy. The 6-4,
280-pounder was supposed to be a key part of the rotation last
season, but he suffered leg injuries and was limited to just one
tackle in five games. Extremely tough and very strong, he could
grow into a star over the next three years.
Projected Top Reserves: While Stewart
needs to shine as a starter at one end, there's still a place
for 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Theron Kadri and his size. A
bigger option than Stewart, and with a little bit of experience
making six tackles, he also is one of the best athletes on the
line. If he starts to turn into a steady pass rusher he'll be a
threat to start.
6-4, 250-pound redshirt freshman Tim Fugger came to Vandy
with all the talent, and now he's stronger and tougher after
spending a year in the weight room. One of the fastest players
on the defensive front seven, running a 10.8 100 in high school,
he'll get his chance as a situational pass rusher.
Looking to see time inside in the
rotation will will be redshirt freshman T.J. Greenstone,
a high energy 6-2, 275-pound prospect who's expected to be more
of an interior pass rusher than a run stopper. He'll start out
behind Adam Smotherman, but he'll see time at both tackle spots.
Junior Derrius Dowell has been around the system for a
while, but the 6-2, 285-pounder hasn't been able to grow into a
job. While he has the size and he has the potential, he hasn't
seen the field. The line needs him this year.
Watch Out For ... Stewart. The team's best pass
rusher over the last two seasons, he needs to be a factor
against the run and he can't just pin his ears back and get to
the quarterback. Of course, if he's on, that'll only continue to
open things up for everyone else.
Strength: Pass rush. All four spots should be able
to get into the backfield, especially if Stewart and Stone are
the threats they're expected to be.
Weakness: Proven depth. The starting four should be fine, but
the Commodores are relying on a lot of ifs among the backups.
For the defense to work, there has to be a steady rotation up
front and while the ends should be fine, the tackles could be a
Outlook: The line was a bit of a surprise last
year as it turned into a brick wall against the run and was
fantastic at getting into the backfield. Three starters are
gone, but Stone is a strong end to build around and Stewart
could be a superstar now that he has more responsibility. The
tackles will be the early concern with Billinger and Smotherman
needing to play up to the bar set last year by Horrocks and Hall.
Projected Starters: How do you replace Jonathan
Goff? He could've left early for the NFL, but he came back to
make 113 tackles as the star of the defense. It'll be a work in
progress all off-season to solidify Goff's former spot in the
middle with veteran Patrick Benoist likely to get the
first look. While he's not that big at only 6-0 and 218 pounds,
the junior is tough as nails with enough experience to be a
leader making 32 tackles and four sacks. Can he hold up against
the run? He's already had injury problems suffering a foot
injury as a freshman, and now he has to prove he can take the
SEC pounding while still being able to produce.
Stepping in on the weakside, while also being an option for the
inside, is junior Brandon Bryant after making 30 tackles.
A starter at the beginning of last year, he got hurt and ended
up only playing eight games. From an arm injury to start the
season to a foot problem midway through, he was never right. At
6-1 and 230 pounds, he has the size to play any of the three
linebacking spots, and just enough quickness to be a factor
against the pass.
On the strongside will be 6-5, 238-pound sophomore John
Stokes as he takes over for Buggs and his 76 tackles.
Mostly known as a long snapper so far for the punt team, he also
made seven tackles on defense. With excellent quickness and good
size, he should grow into a statistical machine over the next
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the starting
job on the weakside will be sophomore Nate Campbell, who
made eight tackles as a key special teamer and part-time
defender. At 6-3 and 228 pounds, he's a good-sized player who
needs to prove he can get into the backfield and be effective
against the pass on a regular basis.
Along with Benoist, junior Chris Johnson and
redshirt freshman Chris Marve will battle for the middle
linebacker job. Both bring more size than Benoist, who could
move to a more natural outside spot if someone else steps up.
The 6-1, 235-pound Johnson has been a tremendous special teamer
so far, but he hasn't been able to crack the regular defensive
lineup. With three years in the system and 14 tackles, he's
ready to start doing more.
The 6-0, 238-pound Marve is a pure middle linebacker who
dominated at times on the scout team. With great speed and
excellent size, he has the potential to be the next big-time
Pushing for a spot on the strongside is 6-4, 215-pound sophomore
Austin Newton, while he's built like a big safety and has
only seen time on special teams, he has the speed to potentially
be a dangerous defender. If nothing else, he has the wheels to
become a terror in opposing backfields when turned loose as a
Watch Out For ... a steady change in the lineup all
season long. It's almost like the pieces are in the wrong spots
as the coaching staff has to put Benoist in the middle
because of his experience, but that's not the spot for him.
Expect plenty of juggling.
Strength: Size on the outside. There might not be
much in the way of experience, but the outside linebackers at
least have plenty of size to hold up against the run. Everyone
is around 230 or more and there's plenty of athleticism.
Weakness: Proven players. Stokes, Newton, Johnson, Marve and
Campbell will be getting their feet wet early on, while Bryant has to get over injuries
to prove he can last a full season.
Outlook: The fantastic linebacking corps of last
year loses Goff and Buggs, and now there will be a drop-off;
possibly a major one. Benoist has the
potential to be a major playmaker, but he's undersized if he
spends any time in the middle. The outside options have size,
but there's not enough experience to expect miracles right away.
On the plus side, there's a lot of room to grow. It might take a
year, but this could be one of the team's strengths going into
Projected Starters: The
star of the defense, and the entire team, is junior corner
D.J. Moore, a safety-like hitter, a tremendous cover-corner,
and the most dangerous offensive weapon. All he did was finish
second on the team in tackles with 83, to go along with six
interceptions, ten broken up passes, and a sack. Only 5-10 and
182 pounds, he's a tough run stopper and plays bigger than his
size against the larger receivers. Offensively he ran six
times for 78 yards, and was one of the nation's better kickoff
returners averaging 25.7 yards per try. He's a next-level
athlete who'll be in a year-long salary drive.
On the other side, and certain to get picked on with teams
staying away from Moore, will be junior Myron Lewis, a
6-2, 202-pound veteran who beats up receivers and is solid in
pass coverage with a team-leading 12 broken up passes to go
along with 49 tackles and an interception. While he's not in
Moore's class, he's a fantastic athlete who should be in for an
All-SEC caliber season.
Big-hitting senior Reshard Langford returns to strong
safety for what seems like his 14th season. A three-year starter
so far, he has 170 career tackles and eight interceptions as the
6-2, 210-pound tone-setter for the strong secondary. He played
through a leg injury in 2006, and while he didn't come up with a
phenomenal junior campaign, making 65 tackles and two
interceptions, he was hardly bad. The unquestioned leader will
patrol an NFL secondary next season.
Also back is junior free safety Ryan Hamilton, a 6-1,
208-pound emerging playmaker who over came a wildly inconsistent
first year, even though he made 43 tackles with a foot injury,
to make 68 tackles and break up five passes. While not the
monster hitter like Langford, Hamilton can pop and is a major
asset against the run. Now he needs to do even more against the
Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere on the field
will be junior Darlron Spread, a nickelback by trade and
a corner worthy of more playing time. Great when the ball is in
the air, he didn't make enough plays last year compared to his
freshman season, mostly because of a knee injury, but he'll get
plenty of chances. While he's not going to knock out Moore
or Lewis from a starting spot, he'll see action on the
Senior Josh Allen has been an excellent backup with just
enough starting experience to step in if needed. He'll start out
behind Moore again after breaking up three passes and
picking off a pass in a limited role, but he'll see more playing
time. Even though he only made five stops, he's a good tackler.
On the other side behind Lewis will be senior Jared Fagan,
who made nine tackles as a good backup and special teamer. With
phenomenal speed, he was the Maryland state high school
100-meter champion, and three years of backup experience, he's a
near perfect backup corner.
6-1, 195-pound Joel Caldwell is still getting used to
safety after making 14 tackles in a reserve role. He started out
his career as a corner, making 42 stops as a freshman, and can
move over if needed, but he's more productive, and more
physical, at strong safety. While he has decent speed and
quickness, he struggled against the faster receivers as a corner
and is now trying to find his way behind Langford.
The top backup safety could end
up being junior Brent Trice, a 6-3, 215-pound veteran who
made 18 tackles. With the athleticism of a corner, he can play
either safety spot and should be able to do even more in the
rotation. He'll start out behind Hamilton, but he'll be in
the mix for the starting strong safety gig next year.
Watch Out For ... this to be the best secondary in
the SEC. Really? Well, maybe not statistically, but with all
four starters returning and a slew of veteran reserves from the
nation's 18th best pass defense, and with a good pass rush to
help out, it's possible.
Strength: Corner. The safeties can pop, but the
stars are on the outside with Moore and Lewis forming
one of the nation's best tandems. Seniors Allen and Strong are good enough to step in and produce at any time.
Weakness: Plays against the pass from the free safety. This is
nitpicking in a big way considering Hamilton is improving
and could turnout to be special, but there needs to be more
picks and more broken up passes. Again, nitpicking.
Outlook: Yup, the secondary really should be that
good considering all four starters are pro prospects. Moore
should start to get recognition as one of the nation's best
all-around corners, while Lewis is a big corner who can
handle himself well. The safety tandem of Langford and Hamilton can hit like a ton of bricks and should be even
more effective against the pass. The depth is there at all four
Bryant Hahnfeldt is back after hitting 13 of 20 field goals and 33
of 64 for his career. Coming back from a bad sophomore season, mostly
due to a knee injury, he didn't have any range. He wasn't healthy last
year, either, and had another off season missing six of 11 chances from
beyond 50 yards. On the plus side, he's been clutch and when
everything's right, he has the leg to bomb away. Getting and staying
healthy is job one. He'll also push for time as the punter.
Also returning is junior punter Brett Upson who averaged a
mediocre 39.2 yards per kick. While that was an upgrade after a lousy
freshman season, he still needs to get more blast on his kicks. He's
gotten better with his accuracy putting 22 inside the 20 and forcing
nine fair catches.
Star corner D.J. Moore is
one of the nation's best kickoff returners averaging 25.7 yards
per try and coming up with six returns of 40 yards or longer. WR
Alex Washington has to do more on punt returns after
averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt.
Watch Out For ... Hahnfeldt to be better. There's a
chance for the placekicking to go mediocre to fantastic now that
Hahnfeldt is healthy.
Strength: Moore. Earl Bennett was one of the
nation's most dangerous punt returners, but he was too important
as a receiver to be used on special teams. The same might be
true for Moore as a kickoff returner. It would help if Alex
Washington became more explosive.
Weakness: The coverage units. A major strength in 2006 was a
disaster last season allowing 14.7 yards per punt return and
24.8 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: The kick return game was good and the
punt return game was mediocre, and they were both far, far
better than two years ago. Upson and Hahnfeldt are both back, but Hahnfeldt needs to get healthy and
be better from any appreciable distance, and Upson, after
starting the last few years, has to get the average up over 40
yards per attempt. The potential is there to be far better in