the defense: Senior DE Brandon Crawford
who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Koreen Burch
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman LB Travis Freeman
Best pro prospect: Sophomore SS Sean Baker
three all-star candidates: 1) Crawford, 2) Baker, 3) FS Alex
Strength of the defense: Line, safeties
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, size
The star of the veteran
defensive front will once again be
Brandon Crawford, a
former Marine who has become a whale of a pass rusher. The 6-3,
260-pound senior earned second-team All-MAC honors with 31
tackles, four sacks, and eight tackles for loss, and while his
numbers weren’t as strong as his eight sack season of 2007, he
was still the main force for a good line. Originally projected
to be an outside linebacker, he has a tremendous first step and
is great at closing on the quarterback.
Returning on the other side is 6-3, 224-pound
junior Robert Eddins
coming off a 45-tackle, four sack, 6.5 tackle for loss season.
Even though he’s not all that big, he held up well against the
run and became too good over the course of the season to take
off the field. Used as a pass rushing specialist early on, he
grew into a starting role at the rush end.
stuff things up on the inside is senior Drew Duffin,
a good starter over the last few years with excellent quickness
and a great motor. While he didn’t do enough to get into the
backfield with only 2.5 tackles for loss, he held up in the
rotation making 28 tackles. Woefully undersized for the
inside at 6-3 and 255 pounds, he’s not going to be an anchor or
any sort of a space-eater against the run. However, he’s a
strong, reliable run defender.
Adding a bit more beef
next to Duffin will once again be
Rene Perry, a 5-11, 271-pound junior who was a spot starter as a
freshman and became a regular on the nose last year. He has the
strength and is a good block of granite for the middle of the
line, even though he’s not huge, and he can get into the
backfield with five tackles for loss to go along with his 20
Projected Top Reserves: Trying to
get back in the mix after suffering a torn ACL is
Justin Woodard, a
6-3, 222-pound junior who made four tackles, a sack, and two
tackles for loss in four games before getting knocked out for
the year. He’s a linebacker working on the end to take advantage
of his speed, but he needs to get back healthy first.
6-3, 254-pound sophomore
Andrew Puthoff emerged as a good reserve after dominating on
the scout team in 2007. With decent size on the outside, the
former high school running back and linebacker has a good mix of
bulk and athleticism. He only made 16 tackles, but he came up
with 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Adam Morris has yet
to get on the field, but that will change early on because of
his sheer bulk. The 6-0, 305-pound bowling ball will work behind
Rene Perry to clog things up on the inside in running
situations. He has the potential to be a pass rusher from the
inside, but he’s not going to fly into the backfield.
Watch Out For ... the front four to be on the field
more. Last year there was plenty of shifting around in the
alignment, especially against quirky running teams, to get an
extra defensive back on the field. This year, with all four
starters returning, the line should be counted on more often.
Strength: Crawford. The 32-year-old Marine had a bit of
a down year coming off a tremendous 2007, but he still earned
all-star honors. Now the rest of the line will require more
attention from opposing offenses meaning Crawford should have
more room to roam free.
Weakness: Run defense.
The lack of bulk on the inside is a problem, but it’s not a
killer. Overall, the front seven has had issues against the run
over the last few years, and while the experience should help
after allowing 4.6 yards per carry and 2,282 yards on the
ground, this isn’t going to be a brick wall.
With all four starters returning, the line will be one of
the team’s biggest strengths early on. Getting into the
backfield isn’t a problem with quick ends, but there’s little to
no pass rush from the interior even though the tackles are
undersized. Brandon Crawford will be an All-MAC selection once
again and Robert Eddins should put up big numbers, but the key
will be for veterans Drew Duffin and Rene Perry to do more on
Projected Starters: The
linebacking corps only returns one player, but he’s a good one.
6-1, 200-pound Davyd Jones was a star of the 2008 off-season and he came through on
the field once he got his chance making 85 tackles, two sacks,
and 12 tackles for loss in the middle. While he’s not big, he’s
tough and he can really, really move making him far better
suited for the weakside in play of Bryant Haines.
Jones moving from the inside out, 5-11, 212-pound senior
Spain Cosby will get
the first look in the middle. A decent veteran with plenty of
experience, he made 23 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in his
limited action. While he’s not big and is better suited for the
outside, he’s a presence in the middle with good range.
Taking over for Kenny Meeks on the strongside
will be Sam Woodworth,
a safety-sized 6-2, 202-pound senior who has been a special
teamer and part-time defender who grew into the role as the
team’s top backup linebacker. After playing sparingly his first
two seasons, the former walk-on made 53 tackles, a sack, and 3.5
tackles for loss.
Projected Top Reserves:
In a major recruiting coup, Ball State was able to land
Travis Freeman, a
6-0, 212-pound hitting machine who played for Ted Ginn in
Cleveland. While size was an issue for the bigger schools,
everything else is in place with the smarts to be able to step
in and shine right away and the speed to play any of the three
spots. He made 97 tackles and two sacks as a senior.
6-0, 221-pound sophomore
Lorren Womack was almost going to play as a true freshman,
redshirted, and then became a top backup last season making 41
tackles. A tremendous hitter on the weakside, he could step into
the starting role if Davyd Jones ends up moving back to the
middle. One of the stars of the 2007 recruiting class, he’ll be
involved more this year.
Watch Out For
... the backups. Freeman might be the team’s best linebacker
from the moment he hits campus, and Womack is too good to be a
Strength: Speed. Ball State has a
group of safeties playing linebacker. Everyone can run and can
get into the backfield. Swarming to the ball isn’t a problem.
Weakness: The thumper. The defensive line is undersized
making it a problem for the small linebackers against the
stronger running teams. There isn’t a 255-pound defender to
funnel plays to.
Outlook: Even though only one
starter returns this will be a good group if Travis Freeman and
Lorren Womack can take on big roles right away. Davyd Jones will
almost certainly be an All-MAC selection, while Spain Cosby and
Sam Woodworth will be solid, if not spectacular.
Projected Starters: The
secondary boasts one of the MAC’s best safety tandems led by
senior free safety Alex
Knipp, the team’s leading tackler last season with 96 stops,
3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and six sacks. The
former strong safety, and former high school running back,
changed back and forth between safety spots last year and will
settle in a free safety this season. Even though he’s only 6-0
and 196 pounds, he’s a good hitter.
Working again at
strong safety will be MAC Freshman of the Year
Sean Baker, a 6-1,
204-pound ball-hawker who led the team with six interceptions
and ten broken up passes. The sophomore was second on the team
with 94 tackles highlighted by a 12-stop day in the win over
Eastern Michigan. His biggest game came in the win over Akron
with nine tackles, a broken up pass, three interception, and a
fumble return for a touchdown.
Both starting cornerbacks have to be replaced.
5-9, 162-pound junior
Koreen Burch saw a little bit of time and made three
tackles, but he has starting experience. A phenomenal athlete,
he was moved around seeing time as a running back early in his
Starting on the other side will be
Torieal Gibson, a
good 5-9, 165-pound prospect who has good quickness and cutting
ability. He saw a little time on the field on defense but his
main use was as a kick returner leading the team with a
21.5-yard average. He can move.
Reserves: Junior Derrick Henry was originally
scheduled to take over one of the safety jobs, but instead he
spent the season as a key backup and in a nickel role making 42
tackles. At 6-1 and 189 pounds, he has good size and is
physical, but he hasn’t done anything in pass coverage over the
last few years.
6-1, 190-pound sophomore
Joshua Howard will
play corner but has the tackling ability of a safety. Very smart
and very quick, he’ll start out working behind Koreen Burch
after making 11 tackles in a reserve role.
183-pound junior Brandon Carnegie has the athleticism and
he has the potential, but he hasn’t been able to do much for the
defense over the last few years making just seven tackles last
year as a backup corner. He's the cousin of former Biletnikoff
winner and former Pitt Panther, Antonio Bryant.
Watch Out For ... lots of defensive backs going in
and out of the rotation. Defensive coordinator Doug Graber likes
to go with plenty of players in the secondary throughout games,
and he’ll change up the alignment early and often with five DBs
on the field more often than not.
Interceptions. The Cardinals have been able to come up with 35
picks over the last few years with different players stepping up
and producing. Last year it was safety Sean Baker, but everyone
will have a hand in the aggressive pass coverage.
Sure-thing corners. The Cardinals aren’t starting from
scratch here, but it isn’t a plus to lose B.J. Hill and Trey
Buice after they started every game in 2008. Burch, Gibson, and
Howard should be fine with more responsibility, but they have to
prove they can handle the work.
Teams were able to run the ball so easily on the Cardinal
front seven over the last few years that they haven’t needed to
throw too often, but when they did, they had success. This
year’s secondary will be strong up the middle and will tackle
well. The big question will be at corner where there needs to be
steady play from the start with the new starters certain to be
tested early on.
Projected Starters: Good luck replacing Chris
Miller, an All-America punter who averaged 43.5 yards per kick
last season in what was considered a down year. Redshirt
freshman Scott Kovanda
will step in, and if nothing else, he’ll be a blaster. He
won’t have the touch of Miller, but he should hover around 40
yards per kick.
Ian McGarvey won the placekicking job last year and hit 16-of-21
shots, but he’s gone meaning it’ll be up to junior
Jake Hogue will take
over again after connecting on 11-of-19 field goals two years
ago. He’s not a bad veteran, but he has limited range.
Torieal Gibson is a fantastic kickoff returner averaging
21.5 yards per try. The punt return game was among the best in
America last season averaging 15.47 yards per attempt thanks to
B.J. Hill. Now it’ll be an open tryout with WR
Briggs Orsbon the
only Cardinal with any experience.
Watch Out For
... Kovanda to be fine. He’s not going to be Miller, but the
punting game will be good enough to not be a liability.
Strength: Coverage teams. BSU allowed just 6.2 yards
per punt return and 19.8 yards per kickoff return last year.
Weakness: Experience. Hogue was the placekicker
two years ago and Gibson will shine on kickoff returns, but the
Cardinals have to find a punt returner and need Kovanda to have
a big year.
Outlook: The special teams were
among the best in the country last season, and while they won’t
likely be as strong again, they won’t be a negative even with
the new starting kickers and the question mark with the punt