2008 Western Michigan Preview - Defense
Western Michigan LB Boston McCornell
Western Michigan LB Boston McCornell
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Western Michigan Bronco Defense

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2008 WMU Offense
- 2008 WMU Defense | 2008 WMU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Western Michigan Preview | 2006 CFN Western Michigan Preview 

What you need to know: Everyone is back on a D that was one of the MAC's best at getting into the backfield and was sensational against the pass. The team is loaded in the secondary with All-MAC talents across the board led by corner Londen Fryar and the safety tandem of Louis Delmas and C.J. Wilson. The line needs to be stronger against the run, but tackle Nick Varcadipane is a great anchor to work around and Zach Davidson and Greg Marshall are excellent pass rushing ends. The linebacking corps wasn't bad, but it needs to be more disruptive with Boston McCornell needing to become a more dangerous pass rusher, to go along with his run stopping ability, while the return of Austin Pritchard on the outside from a knee injury will be a major plus.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Boston McCornell, 99
Sacks: Zach Davidson, Greg Marshall, 6.5
Interceptions: Several at 1

Star of the defense: Senior CB Londen Fryar
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Boston McCornell (as a pass rusher)
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Mario Armstrong
Best pro prospect: Fryar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fryar, 2) FS Louis Delmas, 3) McCornell
Strength of the defense: Experience, pass defense
Weakness of the defense:
Veteran backups, run defense

Defensive Line
Projected Starters: The line will once against revolve around senior Nick Varcadipane in the middle. The senior made 31 tackles as the anchor up front, and while he didn't provide the interior pass rush he did earlier in his career, he has the quickness to get into the backfield on a regular basis. The 6-2, 285-pounder started eight games last year as part of the inside rotation, but he's the one lineman the Broncos can't afford to lose.

Next to Varcadipane will be junior Cody Cielenski, who's coming off a strong 31 tackle, 3.5 sack season on the nose. Originally considered a decent backup, he grew into a regular on the nose starting six times and getting plenty of work throughout. While not huge at 6-2 and 280 pounds, he can hold his own.

6-2, 239-pound senior Zach Davidson is back on the right side for the third year after making 14.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. More of a big outside linebacker than a true end, he's an excellent pass rusher who's active against the run with 51 tackles last season, despite missing a game hurt, and 47 two years ago. With his experience, and the good tackles to work around, he's a threat for double-digit sacks.

On the left side will be senior Greg Marshall after thriving on the other side of Davidson. The 6-0, 245-pounder is quick off the ball and was great against the run making 40 tackles and 6.5 sacks with 11 tackle for loss. The former linebacker has found a home on the outside, and while he might not be a natural pass rusher, he's good enough to be disruptive.

Projected Top Reserves: Varcadipane and Cielenski rotate on the inside with 6-4, 276-pound senior Cory Flom, who started in eight games before breaking his arm. Tremendously quick on the nose, Flom came up with 24 tackles and four tackles for loss and has been great over the years at blocking kicks. Considering him a starter on the inside.

While he'll have a hard time cracking the three-man tackle rotation, 6-2, 260-pound senior Grant Nemeth has enough experience to step in from time to time behind Varcadipane. Nemeth is a quick inside defender  making ten tackles and a sack in his limited appearances.

6-4, 234-pound junior Justin Braska is a nice reserve end serving as the understudy behind Davidson. With a non-stop motor and good want-to when it comes to getting to the quarterback, he made two sacks and four tackles for loss, along with 19 tackles, in a reserve role on the right side.

Originally recruited as a wide receiver and potentially a free safety, 6-3, 221-pound senior Farnand Kashama switched to defensive end last season and made ten tackles on the year with a sack against Temple. While he's not going to be a run stopper of any kind, he has the speed to make more of an impact in the backfield if he gets a chance behind Greg Marshall.

Watch Out For ... the line to play like it was supposed to last season. The defensive front was supposed to be loaded after a big 2006, but the production wasn't quite there. This season, all the veteran juniors are now savvy seniors.
Experience. All four spots are manned by long-time starters who have seen it all in MAC play. Even most of the backups have gotten a little bit of work in.
Bulk size. This isn't a small line, and the rotation at tackle helps keep everyone fresh, but there aren't the 300-pound blocks of granite to stuff the run on a regular basis. This group struggled last year against the power running teams.
Outlook: Expectations are tempered a bit for a line that was supposed to blow up last year and was merely average. Even so, tackles Varcadipane, Cielenski and Flom, and ends Davidson and Marshall, form one of the most experienced front fours in the MAC. With all the experience and all the returning production, there's no reason not to be the league's dominant line. The key will be to stop the run. Making plays behind the line isn't an issue, but holding up against good ground games was a problem.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The weakside linebacker is usually the big stat producer on the WMU defense, and senior Boston McCornell came through after having the inevitable task of replacing All-American Ameer Ismail. The 6-1, 233-pounder led the team with 99 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss, and while he was nowhere near the pass rusher Ismail was, but he's better against the run. With good size and decent quickness, he can do a little of everything well and now he should be in for another All-MAC season.

Also returning in the middle will be senior Dustin Duclo after finishing third on the team with 74 tackles and a sack with seven tackles for loss. While he's not all that big at just 5-10 and 225 pounds, he's a tough rock in the heart of the defense with 185 stops in three years. He's not going to make too many big plays, but he's always around the ball and he doesn't miss tackles.

Junior Austin Pritchard was expected to come up with a big season blowing up for 11 tackles in the season opener against West Virginia, but he hurt his knee and was knocked out for the year. Very fast with 6-4, 233-pound size, he has all the skills to be an all-around defensive star. First he'll have to get back to 100% and needs to show the burst that made him such a promising pass rusher.

All Ismail did was make 183 tackles, 25 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss over the last two years from the weakside. 6-2, 210-pound junior Cornelius Robinson can't possible live up to those standards, but he's very fast and very promising. He saw a little bit of time in every game making ten tackles and a sack, and while he won't be the backfield terror Ismail was, he'll be a good pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves
6-0, 220-pound sophomore Harrison Porter turned into a nice reserve as last season went on making 22 stops as a true freshman. He got hurt late in the year missing the final three games, but he's expected to be back as a key backup behind McCornell on the weakside.

With Pritchard still getting over a knee injury, 6-0, 223-pound walk-on Scott Gajos has to be ready to play more. He got his feet wet last year making six tackles with half a sack on the strongside.

6-0, 215-pound sophomore Matt Pickens is an undersized inside prospect making four tackles in a limited role. A good recruit for the program, Pickens has the speed and range to grow into one of the team's top producers, but he'll have to wait his turn until next year to take over in the middle.

Watch Out For ... more of a pass rush. The WMU defense is all about generating pressure, and last year's linebacking corps didn't do enough of it. With all the experience returning to the corps, the outside linebackers need to be more dangerous.
The starting three. With Austin Pritchard coming back from a knee injury joining Duclo and McCornell to form one of the MAC's strongest corps. The three should combine for over 250 stops.
Proven backups. The second-teamers all have a little bit of experience, but it's not like they've seen enough time to be counted on if a rash of injuries hits. There's a big drop-off from the first to second teamers on the outside.
Outlook: Last year was about replacing an irreplaceable group of linebackers, and now the starting threesome should shine with speed, experience and talent. Duclo is the veteran who's been around for three years and has seen it all, McCornell is a second-team All-MAC performer who appears ready for a higher profile with more sacks, and Austin Pritchard should be a tackling machine now that he's healthy. The backups need more work, but they aren't starting from scratch.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The secondary is loaded with all four starters returning for the second year in a row. The star of the show will once again be 5-11, 192-pound senior Londen Fryar, the fast, active, and tough son of former NFL star, Irving. Fryar will once again be one of the MAC's premier corners after making 63 stops with an interception and 16 broken up passes. He's a true No. 1 cover-corner who can erase any MAC receiver.

On the other side will once again be 6-0, 180-pound senior E.J. Biggers, one of the team's fastest players and a top open-field tackler. He only came up with one interception after making four two years ago, but he broke up seven passes and was a better all-around player. While he might not be Fryar, he's not far off.

Senior free safety Louis Delmas is a sure-thing All-MAC performer with 4.5 speed and a nose for the ball when it's in the air. More like a corner playing safety, the 5-11, 196-pounder has eight career picks and made one last year to go along with 63 tackles. Even though he's not huge, he can hit.

The biggest popper in the WMU secondary is senior strong safety C.J. Wilson, the team's fourth leading tackler last season with 66 stops to go along with an interception and eight broken up passes. At 6-2 and 206 pounds, he's an intimidating force with great range and excellent break on the ball. He doesn't get enough attention with the other defensive backs shining in the limelight, but he's an All-MAC caliber performer. He'll likely be moved to a fifth defensive back role at times, a nickelback, and will be allowed to roam more.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 188-pound sophomore Mario Armstrong got a start and was a nice reserve as a true freshman making 20 tackles and coming up with a pick vs. Akron showing flashes of why he's going to be the team's next big thing at safety. He might not be big, but he has speed and good hitting ability. With Wilson's role changing, Armstrong is expected to step in and see plenty of time at strong safety.

Delmas isn't going to give up much time at free safety, but 6-0, 194-pound junior Andy Dorcely will find a place in the rotation. Able to play corner or free safety, the speedster was a good high school receiver who made eight tackles in a limited role last season, but he's good enough to step in and shine if needed.

True sophomore David Lewis got six games of action and made one tackle, but he's expected to be the team's new star corner next year. One of the team's fastest players, the 5-10, 170-pounder will see more work behind Biggers to get ready for next year. He'll be a good one.

Watch Out For ... the backups. Of course the veteran starting foursome will be fantastic, but the Broncos have good backups waiting for their turn at bat. Armstrong and Lewis need to see the field soon.
The starters. Corners Fryar and Biggers, and safeties Wilson and  Delmas are all All-MAC talents who should form the MAC's best secondaries.
Interceptions. The overall numbers are there because the starting foursome have been around forever, but they need a pass rush to be effective at the highest level. After taking away every pass in sight two years ago, the Broncos only came up with ten picks last year.
Outlook: This group will be really, really good. Thrown to the wolves as freshmen and taking their lumps as sophomores, the Bronco defensive backs stepped up as juniors and formed one of the MAC's best pass defenses. Now the starting foursome should be dominant. The reserves are good and ready to shine when given the chance.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Chris Kelly should be ready to take over the placekicking job in a full-time role after hitting two of thee shots last year including a clutch 30-yarder against Iowa, but he's going to need to hold off John Potter, a big-legged option who needs to show consistency. The walk-on might not have a ton of range, but he's expected to be decent from 40 yards and in. He'll be pushed by Maryland transfer Caleb Morris, who has the leg to hit more deep shots.

Former punter Jim Laney had a strong year averaging 43.9 yards per kick putting 15 inside the 20, and now he'll need to be replace by untested redshirt freshman Ben Armer. He has a good leg and should be able to blast a few here and there, but he has to prove he can be consistent and he has to show he can put the ball inside the 20 on a regular basis.

Starting running back Brandon West is a tremendous kickoff returner averaging 25.9 yards per try with a touchdown as he led the MAC's second best kickoff return team to a 23.71-yard average. WR Schneider Julien has the speed and the slipperiness to be a top punt returner, but he hasn't done it yet averaging just 8.1 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... the kicking game to prove costly at some point. WMU played four games decided by four points or fewer and were on the wrong side of three of them. Kelly and Potter are unproven and need to come through big.
Kickoff returns. Whether it's West or Delmas, the Broncos will get plenty of production from the kickoff returners.
Experienced legs. The immediate development of the kickers could be the difference between a good year and an MAC title.
Outlook: The return game will be solid, if not excellent, the coverage units are fine, but if the new kickers don't shine early, the special teams could be the team's Achilles heel. The placekickers could be fine from close and Armer will blast a couple of bombs.
Rating: 6


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