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2009 Toledo Preview - Defense
Toled S/LB Barry Church
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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
Several with 1
Interceptions: Barry Church, Myshan Pettis, 3
Star of the defense:
Senior SS/LB Barry Church
Pass rush, Run defense
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
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:
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
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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
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
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
Projected Top Reserves:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.