2009 Tulsa Preview - Defense
Tulsa LB Mike Bryan
Tulsa LB Mike Bryan
Posted May 9, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Defense

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2009 - Defense

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What you need to know: While the Hurricane D made strides in 2008, it certainly wasn’t enough to satisfy Todd Graham and the coaching staff. Tulsa still showed cracks against the better opponents and was downright hideous in pass defense, finishing near the bottom of the nation. The program will continue to utilize a 3-3-5 formation that gets as many good athletes on the field at one time, and requires them to play hard and fast. That philosophy accepts that big plays will be yielded as long as it nets even more sacks and takeaways. The strength of the defense is at the second level, where Mike Bryan is poised for another big season and more notoriety. The front seven, in general, will have to be extraordinary to compensate for that vulnerable secondary.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike Bryan, 119
Sacks: James Lockett, 8.5
Interceptions: DeAundre Brown, Charles Davis, 2

Star of the defense: Senior S James Lockett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Odrick Ray
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Tanner Antle
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Mike Bryan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lockett 2) Bryan 3) Senior NG Wilson Garrison
Strength of the defense: Run defense, creating backfield pressure, the linebackers
Weakness of the defense
: Pass defense, red zone defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Two-thirds of the Tulsa front has graduated, making this a pressing need heading into the season. The line will be built around 6-4, 283-pound senior NG Wilson Garrison, coming off an honorable mention All-Conference USA season. A former JUCO star and the team’s most versatile lineman, he actually started nine games on the outside, finishing with 53 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Junior Odrick Ray appears to have locked down one of the vacated jobs on the outside. A letterwinner in each of the last two seasons, he’s been literally building up to this point, bulking up to 6-3 and 261 pounds without sacrificing much burst. He played in 13 games a year ago, making 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack.

While 6-3, 245-pound senior Un’Tavius Scott has an edge in experience, he’s getting a stiff challenge for the opening at the other defensive end spot. He showed a good nose for the backfield in his debut season out of junior-college, collecting 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks.

Projected Top Reserves: Going toe-to-toe with Scott at defensive end is redshirt freshman Cory Dorris. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he’s more of a strongside option, which means he’ll be better prepared to stop the run. One of the fastest rising defensive players, his offseason hasn’t gone unnoticed, earning him no worse than a spot in the rotation.

Another redshirt freshman, 6-0, 285-pound Wayne Thompson, came out of spring as the first man off the bench at nose guard. Playing with a solid base and a low center of gravity, the hope is that he can eventually develop into a capable run stuffer.

Watch Out For… Dorris. Scott is the Hurricane’s top returning sacker, yet he’s been unable to shake Dorris. What does that tell you about the redshirt freshman’s trajectory? Many close to the program believe it’s only a matter of time before Dorris secures the job and kick-starts a promising career.   
Strength: Clogging running lanes. Yes, they received a helping hand from the second and third lines of defense, but the linemen did their part to propel Tulsa to a No. 2 ranking in run defense in Conference USA. Moving Garrison inside should help keep the program stout against the run.
Weakness: Pass rush. Although Tulsa led the league in sacks a year ago, that wouldn’t have been the case without the linebackers and safeties. The linemen? They were barely a factor, producing less than a sack a game. Without Moton Hopkins, one of the ends will need to step up and create consistent pressure. 
Outlook: After exceeding expectations a year ago, the Hurricane defensive line is in store for a decline. Replacing Hopkins and massive NG Terrel Nemons is no small task, especially with a set of successors that lacks star power or a slam dunk playmaker.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: With three prominent figures back on the unit, the Hurricane appears to be in good shape at linebacker. The leading man will once again be 6-3, 226-pound senior inside man Mike Bryan, who led the defense with 119 stops, 10.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. He has tremendous instincts for the position, especially as a run defender, and will not miss a tackle once he closes in on his target. A year after receiving honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition, he’s one of the league’s top returning linebackers.

Clinging to the job at weakside is 6-4, 225-pound junior Tanner Antle, a starter a year ago. A rangy and agile athlete, he’s added some muscle without losing the range and lateral quickness that are his trademarks. In the most extensive action of his career, he responded with 63 tackles, 7.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks, and four pass break ups.

The favorite to fill the role at strongside is 6-0, 238-pound senior George Clinkscale, who played out of position at defensive end in 2008. Although he was able to contribute 53 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries, the staff believes he’ll be much more productive in space and blitzing off the perimeter. In anticipation of the new position, he’s dropped some weight and gotten in great shape.  

Projected Top Reserves: The first linebacker off the sidelines will be 6-1, 230-pound sophomore Curnelius Arnick. In fact, he’s putting up a good fight for both of the outside positions. A high-motor guy, he can cover a lot of ground, making him valuable in pass defense and on blitzes. As a first-year reserve, he chipped in with 28 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.

There’s a heated battle taking place for the No. 2 job behind Bryan at middle linebacker. The logjam includes6-0, 210-pound junior Kenny R. Sims, 5-10, 203-pound sophomore Alan Dock, and 6-1, 225-pound senior Kaipo Sarkissian, all of whom earned letters and contributed on special teams last season.

Watch Out For… lots of blitzing. The Hurricane wants to bring pressure from multiple angles, and has the right mix of talent and quickness to get it done. The Mustangs aren’t likely to get a ton of pressure the old-fashioned way, forcing the linebackers to wear more than one hat.
Strength: Experience. All three of this year’s starters were also starters in 2008, a stark contrast to the situation at this time last season. Going further, a whopping nine linebackers on the roster have earned letters in their careers. 
Weakness: Outside depth. In the middle, Tulsa is loaded. On the outside? Not so much. Beyond Arnick, who’s like having another starter on the field, the program is thin at the position. There’s hope that Cody Wilson can come in and avoid a redshirt in his first season. 
Outlook: A year after losing Nelson Coleman, Chris Chamberlain, and Alain Karatepeyan, Tulsa has done a nice job of regrouping by developing its home-grown talent. While this group isn’t nearly as good as the 2007 edition, it does have playmakers, who’ll defend the run and make stops behind the line. On a sketchy defense, the strength rests on the second level.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: In Tulsa’s version of the 3-3-5, that fifth defensive back is a do-everything hybrid known as the spur position. Playing that role for the Hurricane is 5-11, 203-pound senior James Lockett, who’s coming off a monster All-Conference USA season. After playing sparingly in his first three years, he erupted into one of the defensive stars, making 82 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles. A freelancer, who plays bigger than his size, he’ll light up unsuspecting opponents and create takeaways.

The bandit, another safety, will be 5-11, 195-pound sophomore DeAundre Brown, one of the program’s top recruits from 2008. He played right away as a freshman, making 56 tackles, a couple of tackles for loss, and two picks. He has a very bright future, but needs to become more consistent when the ball is in the air.

At free safety is 5-9, 180-pound senior Charles Davis, the veteran of the defensive backfield and a three-time letterwinner. Entering his third season as the starter, he’s never shied away from contact, finishing last fall with 78 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He’s a former cornerback, so there’s an element of versatility in his game.

The cornerbacks are slated to be a couple of seniors, 5-11, 197-pound Kenny D. Sims and 6-0, 195-pound Jon Destin. Sims is a former safety, who has started games in each of the last two seasons. In his most extensive action, he had 41 tackles and eight pass break ups a year ago. Considering how many chances he gets, he has to do better than just three picks over the last two seasons.

Destin has a nice combination of speed and pop, but needs to put it all together in this final season on campus. While he moves well and packs a punch, he remains vulnerable in pass coverage. A backup for much of his career, he appeared in all 14 games in 2008, making 26 tackles and forcing three fumbles.

Projected Top Reserves: Depth at cornerback will come from 5-10, 170-pound sophomore John Flanders, a five-game starter in his first year on campus. He got exposed on occasion, as expected, but battled and grew as the year progressed, finishing with 37 tackles and five pass breakups. He has tremendous speed and the leaping ability to stay with taller receivers.

The heir apparent to Lockett at spur is 6-0, 195-pound Brian Moore, who redshirted his first season in order to get a little bigger, stronger, and wiser. A linebacker in high school and one of the sharpest kids on the roster, he had the type of spring that portends a bright future in Tulsa, especially after Lockett graduates.

Watch Out For… big plays. Tulsa is going to make them…and alone them. This is a high-risk, high-reward defense that’s willing to take chances as long as there’s a pay-off in terms of turnovers and stops for minus yards.                          
Strength: Tackling. The upside to plays drifting beyond the first and second levels is that the defensive backs have been forced to become ace tacklers. The safeties react like linebackers, and the corners like safeties.
Weakness: Pass defense. Tulsa keeps allowing way too many big plays through the air, and there aren’t enough lockdown pass defenders in the secondary capable of altering that trend. The Hurricane gave up 32 touchdown passes, while picking off just nine to finish 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense.         
Outlook: This area has been a major issue at Tulsa for the past few seasons. Playing in a league that favors the pass, there are no next-level defensive backs to stick to receivers and bat away passes. Lockett is a Conference USA star, but he does most of his work going forward rather than peddling back. Even if the pass rush is feisty, this will be a vulnerable group, week-in and week-out.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The main objective for the Hurricane special teams unit in the offseason will be to develop a new placekicker to supplant Jarod Tracy. Now, Tulsa kickers spend most of their time nailing chip-shot extra points, but that doesn’t mean sophomores Matt Hulse and Kevin Fitzpatrick won’t have to make a clutch field goal at some point during the season. Although Fitzpatrick is the one with game experience, mostly as a kickoff specialist, Hulse had the edge coming out of spring.

The situation at punter is far less unsettled, as junior Michael Such, a Nebraska transfer, is back for his third season as the starter. After a slow start as a freshman, he cranked up his leg in 2008, averaging 43 yards on those rare occasions when he had to punt.         

Watch Out For… sophomore Damaris Johnson. The electrifying 5-8, 170-pounder did a little bit of everything for Tulsa last season, including return a kick for a touchdown and fuel a No. 8 national ranking in the category. With a little more help from his blockers, he might take two or three back this year.
Strength: The return game. Both Johnsons, Damaris and junior Trae Johnson, are slippery in space, and capable of popping off game-changing returns with even a sliver of daylight.              
Weakness: Coverage units. In what’s becoming a trend in Tulsa, the Hurricane was atrocious at covering punts and kicks. It allowed 12 yards a punt return, and permitted three kickoff returns for touchdowns for the second consecutive season.       
Outlook: The Hurricane has a marginal special teams unit that’ll help the team on one series and kill it on the next. Tulsa has the improving Such at punter, but the new placekicker is a complete unknown. The Johnsons have game-breaking tendencies as returners, but the coverage teams are liable to give their big plays right back. It’ll be a hit-or-miss group throughout the year.  
Rating: 5