2009 Ball State Preview - Defense
Ball State S Alex Knipp
Ball State S Alex Knipp
Posted May 6, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Ball State Cardinal Defense

Ball State Cardinals

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 Ball State Preview | 2009 Ball State Offense
- 2009 Ball State Defense | 2009 Ball State Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN BSU Preview | 2007 CFN BSU Preview | 2006 CFN BSU Preview 

What you need to know:
The offense got all the attention last season, but the defense was able to do its part by holding teams to just 20.5 points per game. The D won’t be that strong again, but there are some good pieces to build around with Brandon Crawford leading a veteran line that should do a great job of getting into the backfield on a regular basis. Defensive coordinator Doug Graber likes to use several defensive backs, and he has two good safeties in Sean Baker and Alex Knipp to start with. The corners will be suspect early on and there’s little proven depth. The linebackers are small but they can move.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alex Knipp, 96
Sacks: Robert Eddins, 4
Interceptions: Sean Baker, 6

Star of the defense: Senior DE Brandon Crawford
Player 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
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Crawford, 2) Baker, 3) FS Alex Knipp
Strength of the defense: Line, safeties
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, size

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.

Looking to 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 stops.

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.

Sophomore 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.
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.
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.
Outlook: 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 the inside.
Rating: 5.5


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.

With 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 backup again.
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.
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.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

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 career.

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.

Projected Top 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.

5-11, 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.  
Weakness: 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.  
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

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.

CB 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.
Coverage teams. BSU allowed just 6.2 yards per punt return and 19.8 yards per kickoff return last year.
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 return game.
Rating: 6