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2009 Middle Tennessee Preview - Defense
Middle Tennessee CB Alex Suber
Middle Tennessee CB Alex Suber
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Defense

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Preview 200
9 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Middle Tennessee Preview | 2009 MT Offense
- 2009 MT Defense | 2009 MT Depth Chart
- 2008 MT Preview | 2007 MT Preview | 2006 MT Preview 

What you need to know: While this won’t be the Sun Belt’s best defense, it should finish in the top three. The defense was able to reload on the front to come up with a good getting into the backfield. Now the line will be a strength, while the secondary is loaded up with starters and veterans led by corner Alex Suber and safety Jeremy Kellem. The pass defense will be among the best in the Sun Belt, and there will be plenty of tackles for loss and a good pass rush, but the concern will be at linebacker where new outside defenders are needed to flank star tackler Danny Carmichael in the middle. Power running teams should be able to produce, but spread offense might have problems with the Blue Raider quickness.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Danny Carmichael, 89
Sacks; Danny Carmichael, Chris McCoy, 3
Interceptions: Jeremy Kelle, Alex Suber, 2

Star of the defense: Junior FS Jeremy Kellem
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Antwan Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Gorby Loreus
Best pro prospect: Kellem
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kellem, 2) LB Danny Carmichael, 3) CB Alex Suber
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, experience
Weakness of the defense: Size, experienced outside linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Expected to be a key starter last year, senior Chris McCoy will now be one after spending last year as a backup on the end making 25 tackles, three sacks, and five tackles for loss. He’s a 6-4, 252-pound run stopper with great strength and a decent burst into the backfield. However, he hasn’t been able to put it all together to be a consistent playmaker. That should change now that he’s getting the start on the right side.  

The star of the line will be Dwight Smith, a 6-2, 263-pound junior who came up with 30 tackles, a sack, and 7.5 tackles for loss from his right tackle spot. An emerging interior pass rusher, he’s still getting better after being thrown to the wolves as a freshman and making 15 tackles. He’s not all that big for a tackle, but he’s productive and he plays bigger than his size.

Stepping in to a starting spot at tackle is Brandon Perry, a 6-1, 312-pound senior who was a decent backup making 14 tackles with an interception. Keeping his weight in check is the biggest issue, but he’s a big body who was able to gum up the works. Staying healthy is a must after missing most of 2007 with a broken foot.

Back on the left side is 6-1, 228-pound senior Emmanuel Perez, a speed rusher who started to come on as a good all-around defender with 33 tackles and six tackles for loss. However, for his size, he has to do more to get to the quarterback; he only had one sack. He’s a decent veteran who has the potential to go from good to great if he can do a better job of closing.

Projected Top Reserves: Former JUCO transfer Jamari Lattimore had a nice first season making 22 tackles with 3.5 Sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up to 232 pounds on a 6-3 frame after coming to Middle Tennessee built like a big safety. While he’ll be part of a rotation, he’ll be used as a situational pass rusher and could b used at linebacker if needed.

The coaching staff came up with a major coup getting Omar McLendon, a 6-4, 220-pound speedster who was being heavily courted by several bigger teams at the end of the recruiting process. He might instantly be thrown into the mix to get his athleticism and pass rushing ability on the field.

After having problems with a shoulder injury two years ago, 6-2, 256-pound junior Gary Tucker came back to be a decent reserve in the interior. While he’s undersized, he’s tough and able to hold up surprisingly well. He made nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, and now he’ll play a bigger role in the rotation.

Watch Out For ... even more aggressiveness from the line. There’s a good group of athletes returning with enough veterans to ask them to do more. There’s enough talent to form a good rotation to keep up the pressure.
Strength: Quickness. All four spots will have players who can pin their ears back to get into the backfield. The ends will be camped out behind the line.
Weakness
:
Size. Outside of Perry, there isn’t a lot of beef. There will be problems against the bigger power running teams like there was last year. The run defense has been average overall, but it was third in the Sun Belt. It does fine against quick teams, but struggles against huge lines.
Outlook: One of the league’s best lines when it comes to making big plays, the production should continue with everyone doing what they can to come up with tackles for loss. There will be big plays allowed against the run, but overall, the defensive front will be a strength even if there aren’t many sure-thing all-stars.
Rating: 5.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters: Linebacker is one of the team’s biggest issues, but there’s one star to build around in senior Danny Carmichael. The team’s leading tackler, the 6-0, 246-pounder made 89 stops with three sacks, an interception, and 11.5 tackles for loss as he did a little bit of everything for the defense. The main man in the middle, he has just enough quickness to seamlessly drop back into coverage, but his real worth is as a run stopper.

Senior Cam Robinson has been a career special teamer, but he saw a little more time on defense last year making 10 tackles with a tackle for loss. He has running back quickness and cutting ability, and he’s one of the few linebackers with any appreciable experience. He could back up Danny Carmichael in the middle if he doesn’t get the start on the left side.

Working on the left side will be Antwan Davis, a 6-1, 217-pound junior who saw time in every game as a reserve and made six tackles all on special teams. More like a safety playing linebacker, he has the potential to be a good all-around defender with the ability to get into the backfield with his speed. However, size is going to be an issue.
 
Projected Top Reserves: Considering there’s such a concern about the linebacking corps, there might be a spot sooner than later for Roderic Blunt, one of the team’s top recruits. While he’s only 6-1 and 205 pounds, he’s a big hitting inside presence with cornerback speed. If he doesn’t end up at safety, he could quickly be a part of the linebacker rotation.

Looking to take over for second-leading tackler Ivon Hickmon will be Gordy Loreus, a 5-11, 224-pound sophomore who made nine tackles in a reserve role. Mostly a special teamer so far, he has the potential to put up big numbers with good range and solid toughness.

Bringing more size to the mix is 5-11, 230-pound sophomore Norman Washington, a part-time safety and special teamer who made three tackles. He’ll get a shot at outside linebacker with so much need for help, but he could end up moving back to the defensive backfield if some of the freshmen emerge.

Watch Out For ... the freshmen. There’s such a big need to find starters, much less depth, that the newcomers will be considered right away. Along with Roderic Blunt, corner-sized Jerry Cobb, Craig Allen, Justin Jones, and Stephen Roberts should all bring a shot of athleticism to the mix.
Strength: Quickness. Middle Tennessee tries to get the best athletes available and then hopes for the best. The linebacking corps, in whatever form it takes on, will be able to move.
Weakness
:
Experience. There’s Danny Carmichael and a whole bunch of question marks. It’ll take half the season before the coaching staff is settled on the depth chart on the outside.
Outlook: One of the team’s biggest strengths last season will now be one of the bigger issues. Carmichael is a rock-solid veteran to work around, and there’s good potential in Davis and Loreus on the outside. The key will be the rotation with so many undersized options needing to see action. If nothing else, this group will be able to run.
Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The veteran, solid secondary will be led by all-star Jeremy Kellem at free safety. The 5-10, 185-pound junior was third on the team with 72 tackles with a sack, two interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss. A big hitter for his size, he’s a good all-around playmaker who’s tough to get off the field. It’ll be a shock if he’s not an All-Sun Belt performer.

Also back is Kevin Brown, the 6-1, 203-pound junior strong safety who finished fourth on the team with 68 tackles with three broken up passes, an interception, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. He stepped into the starting role in the third game of the season and never looked back. While he’s good in run support, he needs to show better range and do more against the pass.

Senior Alex Suber does a little of everything well at right corner. He only played in seven games after suffering a broken jaw, but he still finished with 26 tackles, two interceptions and four broken up passes. While he’s only 5-9 and 166 pounds, he’s able to handle himself well against bigger receivers and is fast enough to hang with the speedsters. The former running was able to keep with Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, and now he has earned enough of a good reputation to not be picked on like he was when he took over the job two years ago.

Junior Rod Issac had to step in for all-star Bradley Robinson and did a decent job making 32 tackles with an interception and two broken up passes. At 5-11 and 188 pounds, he’s one of the team’s bigger corners and he’s a good tackler. But now, with his experience, he has to start doing more when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: Seeing a little bit of starting time last year when injuries hit was senior Marcus Udell, a top JUCO transfer who originally signed with Alabama. He has good size at 6-0 and 188 pounds and excellent ball-hawking potential, but he only made four tackles and didn’t do anything against the pass.

Working behind Kellem at free safety will be Derrick Crumpton, a 5-11, 183-pound sophomore who was a key reserve making 20 tackles with two broken up passes in a strong freshman season. He’s a big hitter who can play either safety spot or work as a nickel back.

5-9, 179-pound sophomore Juwan Carson had a good first year as a backup corner making 11 tackles. Originally a running back, he quickly moved over to the defensive backfield and was also used on special teams. He’ll start out behind Alex Suber, but he could play either corner spot.

Watch Out For ...more from the sophomores. Crumpton is a rising safety with enough upside to see more time, while Carson should grow into a role as a key backup corner. He’ll be a starter next year when Suber moves on.
Strength: Experience. Four starters return with good depth waiting in the wings. While this is an undersized group, everyone can tackle and there will be times when the secondary takes over games against mediocre passing teams.
Weakness: Consistency. The secondary will be able to shut down the average teams, but the good ones should be able to come up with 250 to 300 yards without a problem. That’s fine, especially in the Sun Belt, but there needs to be more production when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: With a solid group of veterans returning and decent depth to count on, the secondary should be among the strongest in the Sun Belt. There will be games here and there when there are problems and breakdowns, but for the most part, this will be one of the team’s strengths. Alex Sumer and Rod Issac are solid corners, while Jeremy Kellem is a big-time safety who’ll earn all-star honors.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The special teams were a nightmare last year, but one of the positive areas was Alan Gendreau, a sophomore who hit 10-of-14 field goals. He didn’t show off a lot of range, hitting just 2-of-5 kicks from beyond 40 yards, but he was 8-of-9 inside the 40.

Senior David DeFatta was an elite high school punter who averaged 40.9 yards per kick in each of the last two seasons and put 13 inside the 20. However, he didn’t get much help from his coverage team and he didn’t do enough to produce the hang time to help the cause. His average was fine, but the Blue Raiders netted just 32.22 yards per kick.

Desmond Gee
has the speed and the experience to be a star returner, but it didn’t happen last year averaging just 19.4 yards per try. He’ll take over the punt return job after the Blue Raiders finished 100th in the nation.

Watch Out For ... a major upgrade on the special teams. After the problems of last year, Steve Ellis was brought on to do more and get more production from the return game and the coverage teams. Expect a lot more attention to be paid here.
Strength: The kickers. Gendreau is good enough from mid-range to be relied on, while DeFatta has a big leg and can blast the ball when needed.
Weakness
:
The return game. MT was 104th in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 19.27 yards per try, and 100th in punt returns averaging 6.23 yards per attempt.
Outlook: The special teams were a major disappointment last season, but the kickers were fine. The coaching staff will do far more to spend practice time and attention on improving the coverage teams, but the real issue is the return game. There are several veterans in key spots, so there should be an improvement across the board. Things can’t be much worse.
Rating: 5.5