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2009 Toledo Preview - Defense
Toled S/LB Barry Church
Toled S/LB Barry Church
Posted May 7, 2009 2009 Preview - Toledo Rocket Defense

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Toledo Preview | 2009 Toledo Offense
- 2009 Toledo Defense | 2009 Toledo Depth Chart
- 2008 Toledo Preview | 2007 Toledo Preview | 2006 Toledo Preview 

What you need to know: After a disastrous 2007 season, the Rockets were a little better last year with the production better than the numbers. The big problem over the last few years has been the lack of pass rush with the line struggling in a huge way. The Rockets finished last in the MAC in both sacks and tackles for loss, but it's not a lock that things will change right away considering head coach Tim Beckman, the former defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, struggled to get his Cowboys to the quarterback. This year, Toledo is loaded with veterans led by a back seven that'll add a third linebacker to the mix, at least in theory, with star safety Barry Church moving to a Star position. The safeties might be the strength of the team with Lester Richmond, Mark Singer, and true freshman Jermaine Robinson all with all-star potential, while Archie Donald, Daris Quinn and Beau Brudzinski leading a good linebacking corps. But it all comes down to the line that's been awful over the last few years. It's an undersized athletic group that needs to be far, far more productive.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Lester Richmond, 97
Sacks: Several with 1
Interceptions: Barry Church, Myshan Pettis, 3

Star of the defense: Senior SS/LB Barry Church
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Douglass Westbrook
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman FS Jermaine Robinson
Best pro prospect: Church
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Church, 2) LB Archie Donald, 3) S Lester Richmond
Strength of the defense: Safeties, Linebacker Quickness
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, Run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The new coaching staff is demanding more pressure into the backfield with the spotlight being put on 6-3, 233-pound junior Douglas Westbrook. A pass rushing terror in high school, he missed almost all of 2007 with a knee injury and spent most of last year trying to regain his form. He made 20 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss as a reserve, but he has the speed and quickness to do far more. One of the team's most athletic linemen, he has the ability to be an instant shot in the arm for the pass rush.

While more like a linebacker playing end, the pressure will also be on Alex Johnson, a 6-2, 244-pound junior who has been a decent reserve and now has to become a dangerous end. He only made eight tackles with a tackle for loss, but he has the potential to be a pass rushing specialist with good quickness and a burst that should mean more plays into the backfield.

Returning to the inside is Derrick Summers, a 6-2, 258-pound nose tackle who plays bigger than his size. The senior is built like a strongside linebacker, which he was in 2007, but he has the toughness to take on the run and the quickness, at least in theory, to make things happen behind the line. He made 32 tackles with a sack, four tackles for loss, and a 54-yard fumble return against Eastern Michigan.

While there's plenty of returning experience at tackle, sophomore Malcolm Riley might have cracked the starting lineup. A nice recruit out of Indiana, he's a bit smallish at 6-3 and 267 pounds but he's quick off the line. He made 15 tackles with a  sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in his limited time, and now he should break out and be one of the team's most disruptive linemen.

Projected Top Reserves: With Derrick Summers checking in at just 258 pounds, 6-4, 285-pound senior Skylaar Constant adds some much-needed size on the nose. He moved inside to add more interior pressure, and while he didn't do much behind the line with just a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, he made 56 stops. He'll start out on the nose but could play either tackle spot.

6-2, 286-pound senior Maurice Hill started the last five games of the year at tackle and will bring the beef again in a rotation. He only made 14 tackles with four tackles for loss, but he's good at occupying blockers and is solid at taking up space. While he's quick, he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

With experience, decent size, and 4.66 speed, sophomore Hank Keighley needs to be a major factor on the outside. He came up with 17 tackles and a sack, but he needs to develop into a big-time pass rusher to see more time at the Leo, or the pass rushing end spot.

Watch Out For ... Westbrook. He has it. With the flash, the speed, and the experience, he has all the makings of a superior pass rusher. Now the light has to go on and he has to become the playmaker the defense so desperately needs.
Strength: Tackle experience. Summers, Constant and Hill have all seen enough starting time to be solid, while Riley is a good-looking newcomer who should be a major presence once he gets more time and more live reps.
Pass rush. At least there was a little bit of improvement. Toledo was dead-last in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2007. Last year, the Rockets were second-to-last in sacks, generating just ten, and were 112th in the nation in tackles for loss. There's too much quickness and athleticism up front to be this bad again.
Outlook: Toledo has had the least productive defensive line in America over the last two years. Injuries were a problem in 2007, but last year this group was just flat-out bad. the tackles should be fine with a nice combination of small athletes and big run-pluggers, but the focus will be on the outside where Douglas Westbrook and Alex Johnson must get into the backfield on a regular basis.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The Rockets will now use three linebackers, but the No. 3 defender will be an awful lot like an strong safety. That's where Barry Church comes in. One of the nation's best strong safeties, he'll play a Star linebacker role where he'll do a little bit of everything. The one-time star recruit has lived up to the hype, and then some, and he'll do whatever the team needs to win. He was second on the team last season with 93 tackles with an interception, six broken up passes, and 5.5 tackles for loss, and now he'll get more room to roam. At 6-2 and 219 pounds, he has good size, next-level range, and the potential to have a monster season, even by his high standards, with even more room to roam and make plays.

While there are bigger stars on the team, Archie Donald is quickly showing that he deserves time in the spotlight. The 6-2, 235-pound junior led the team with 119 tackles with two interceptions and five tackles for loss from the weakside. He missed all of 2007 with academic problems and came back fresh and ready to seek and destroy. He beefed up from a safety-sized 215 pounds in 2006 but didn't lose his athleticism. Now he should be an All-MAC lock.

6-1, 228-pound senior Beau Brudzinski has spent most of his career as a reserve, but he's getting a long look in the middle after a strong spring. He made 36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss off the bench, but with his cut-on-a-dime quickness and experience he has the potential to be a bigger playmaker.

Projected Top Reserves:
Daris Quinn came in from the JUCO ranks and made an instant impact finishing fourth on the team with 77 tackles. He started every game, and will likely take back his job come summer, but he's listed as the backup in the middle coming out of spring ball. That will change quickly as the former high school running back is a 6-1, 226-pound athlete who has the upside to potentially be the team's best linebacker as the season goes on.

More of a strong safety than a true linebacker, 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Isaiah Ballard will work behind Barry Church in the Star linebacker role. He made eight tackles in his true freshman season, but with excellent speed, he was a good running back in high school, and big-time hitting ability for his size, he should be a good understudy before taking over next year.

6-1, 204-pound Terrell Anderson will work on the weakside behind Archie Donald after making just one tackle in limited work (burning his redshirt year in the process). The sophomore is a good pass rushing prospect with decent range, but he'll have to prove himself in pass coverage.

Watch Out For ... the third linebacker. The scheme isn't changing up that much from the 4-2-5 alignment of the past with the Rover being used as a third option a bit closer to the line. However, with Church filling the role, the defense all of a sudden has a major playmaker in the position.
Strength: Speed. With the lighter corps comes athleticism. Three aren't any big defenders, outside of Archie, but everyone can move and everyone can get to the ball. However ...
Weakness: Production. There are plenty of tackles but little to nothing has been getting done behind the line, while the run defense has been lacking, to say the least. This group needs to be a strength.
Outlook: If there's one area on the team that could see a monster improvement right away, it's this one. Merely adding Barry Church as a third linebacker automatically takes things up a notch, but the experience of Archie Donald and Daris Quinn will also help. This group will be more active in the past and it should be far more disruptive.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There's a gaping hole with the loss of free safety Tyrell Herbert, but Mark Singer is a decent veteran who stepped in and was solid late last year. The 6-1, 195-pound sophomore was a strong special teamer throughout last year and ended up starting the final four games and finished the year with 21 tackles with an interception. He'll do whatever is needed and is great at coming up with the big pop, but he'll have to prove he can be Herbert when it comes to making plays on the ball.

With Barry Church moving from strong safety to a linebacking role, former Rover Lester Richmond will step in and be the leader of the secondary. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he's not huge, but he's a sure tackler with 60 tackles and two tackles for loss last season after making a team-leading 97 stops in 2007. He plays much, much bigger than his size providing a huge pop, and he has the speed and quickness to always be around the ball.

6-0, 180-pound sophomore Kenny Veal got a little bit of starting work last season but spent most of his team moving around where needed making 24 tackles with an interception. While he's still a bit green and still needs work after his good true freshman season, he's the No. 1 cover corner now and he has to take on the role and run with it. It's not a stretch to call him the key to the secondary.

Walter Atkins is a 6-1, 191-pound senior looking to turn around his career with a final big year. After finishing fourth on the team with 70 tackles in 2007, he was rarely used last year seeing time in just four games and making one tackle. He'll have to prove himself worthy of a starting spot early on to hold off several good options, but with his size, speed, and experience, he should see plenty of time.

Projected Top Reserves:
Just when it seemed like junior Desmond Marrow was growing into a key playmaker for the secondary, he hurt his leg and was limited to just seven games of work. He's still working to come back and hopes to be ready by this summer to take back his starting corner job. At 6-3 and 202 pounds he's huge for the position with excellent tackling ability and nice speed. Before getting hurt, he was the team's lockdown cover-corner with a huge future ahead. He'll get back to his former self, but it might be a while.

The future star of the show might be Jermaine Robinson, a 6-3, 195-pound freshman who's one of the team's best athletes and is ready to step in and play right now. A four-star caliber recruit, he's good enough to have gone to a much bigger program. Fortunately for Toledo, he'll push hard for the starting free safety spot and he should be an All-MAC producer sooner than later.

Senior Joe Shuler is one of the team's most versatile defensive backs able to play any spot. His experience has mostly been at free safety, but he'll work at strong safety behind Lester Richmond where he should be in for a big year after getting bigger and in even better shape. He's 6-2 and 183 pounds with tremendous speed and all the measurables, but he hasn't been too much of a producer making 14 tackles in 2007 and not seeing any time last year after working on his studies. 

Watch Out For ... Robinson. The Rockets are more than set with experience at safety, but Robinson is an upgrade. He's too good not to be starting from day one.
Strength: The safeties. How deep are the UT safeties? Barry Church was allowed to move to linebacker. Richmond and Singer are good veterans who know what they're doing, but the backups Shuler and Robinson, are more talented.
Interceptions. Call this a running issue for the Rockets over the last several seasons. Simply put, the corners don't come up with picks. For the second straight season, UT came up with a paltry ten interceptions with Tyrell Herbert getting four and linebacker Archie Donald taking away two. 
Outlook: The secondary was better, and it was certainly among the most talented in the MAC, but the production wasn't there thanks to a lack of pass rush. With quarterbacks getting ten days to throw, the Rockets were dinked and dunked on to death. This year, they're loaded at safety but need strong play out of the still-improving corners. This should be a good group that could be great if someone could hit a quarterback.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Alex Steigerwald is one of the team's best weapons, even though he had a down year hitting 16-of-21 field goal attempts after nailing 20-of-21 in his first two seasons. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's solid from 48 yards and in. After missing three from 27 yards and in last year, he needs to make sure his focus is back. He'll be fine. 

The Rockets lost the 46.1-yard average of Brett Kern and struggled with sophomore Bill Claus stepping in. The net results were fine wit Claus dropping 15 inside the 20 and forcing 12 fair catches, but he only averaged 38.8 yards per kick and didn't blast it too often. Even so, he's good enough to rely on for another three seasons.

The return game has been a nightmare for the last two seasons, and now it'll be up to Adonis Thomas to give it a shot on kickoff returns in place of Greg Harris, who averaged a decent 21.5 yards per try. Kenny Veal will replace Nick Moore, who only averaged 6.2 yards per punt return.

Watch Out For ... a major improvement. Tim Beckman has stated that one of the goals right away was to not stink anymore on special teams. The kicking game is fine, but the returns and coverage need a lot of work.
Strength: Stiegerwald. Despite the bizarre misses on the chippies, he was good last year and should be an All-MAC performer this season.
Kickoff coverage and kick and punt returns .. again. The Rockets were 91st in the nation in punt returns and 104th in kickoff returns in 2007. Last year they were 101st in punt returns and 77th on kickoffs. Making things worse was a coverage team that allowed 22.2 yards per kickoff return in 2007 and a ridiculous 25.4 yards per try last year.
Outlook: Special teams used to be Toledo's calling card (along with the running game), but they hit the skids the last two years, at least when it came to coverage teams and the return game. The coaching staff is making a big commitment to change that up this year. The kickers are in place and there's talent to be good in all phases, there just needs to be some work done.
Rating: 5.5