2009 Tulsa Preview - Defense
Tulsa LB Mike Bryan
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane 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.
Tackles: Mike Bryan,
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
pro prospect: Senior LB Mike
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The bandit, another safety, will be 5-11,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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