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2009 Akron Preview - Defense
Akron DT Almondo Sewell
Akron DT Almondo Sewell
Posted May 15, 2009 2009 Preview - Akron Zip Defense

Akron Zips

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Akron Preview | 2008 Akron Offense
- 2008 Akron Defense
| 2008 Akron Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Akron Preview
| 2006 CFN Akron Preview

What you need to know: The quirky 3-3-5 alignment didn't work. In fact, it wasn't even close. The secondary was supposed to be a huge problem, and it was, but now there's a ton of experience returning and the hope is that it translates into more production. The three man defensive front has a star in Almondo Sewell to work around, but it desperately needs tackle Ryan Bain to be healthy. The back eight is woefully undersized and didn't come up with any big plays last year with a mere nine interceptions. On the plus side, everyone can tackle, even if most of the stops come well down the field, and there's enough athleticism to start getting into the backfield more ... at least in theory. Akron was 115th in the nation in sacks and 100th in tackles for loss, and there isn't a sure-thing pass rusher to guarantee a major improvement.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike Thomas, 81
Sacks: Mike Thomas, 2.5
Interceptions: Miguel Graham, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Mike Thomas
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Joe Rash
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Manley Waller
Best pro prospect: Junior DE/DT Almondo Sewell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thomas, 2) Sewell, 3) CB Miguel Graham
Strength of the defense: Line size, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, Production

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters:
The line struggled throughout last year, but it got a good year from junior Almondo Sewell, who turned into a star as a 3-4 end. Now he's even bigger at 280 pounds on his 6-1 frame and he should be even better against the run after making 62 tackles with two sacks and six tackles for loss. The former linebacker is quick for his size and now has the potential to be the second Akron player to earn All-MAC honors three times (former OT Chris Kemme was the other).

If it wasn't for bad luck, senior tackle Ryan Bain wouldn't have any luck at all. The transfer from Iowa was beyond dominant in spring ball before last season, looking like a potential superstar, but he got hurt and didn't play. When right, the 6-2, 290-pounder is quick, experienced, having played two years for the Hawkeyes, and tough, but he has to get over a back problem to be the anchor on the nose.

Taking over the full-time job at end is Joe Rash, who stepped in over the final three games of his freshman season and got his feet wet. While he's not much of a pass rusher, he has the 6-2, 275-pound size that's ideal for a 3-4 end, and now he has a little bit of experience after making 12 tackles with a tackle for loss. With more responsibility, he should be more active and more productive.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 275-pound sophomore Dan Marcoux is a strong inside defender with just enough athleticism to be expected to do more to get into the backfield. Considering Ryan Bain's injury issues on the nose, Marcoux should see plenty of playing time after making 11 tackles as a reserve. He's a winner, leading his New Jersey high school to the state title three years ago.

Trying to add more of a pass rush is Hasan Hazime, a 6-5, 255-pound sophomore who came to school early last year to try to be a part of the mix right away, but he ended up making just three tackles in a limited role. The Canadian has 4.5 speed and tackle-strength for his size, and now he'll work behind Joe Rash.

Working in a rotation with Almondo Sewell, and likely to see time if the defense ever goes to a 4-3, will be Marquinn Davis, a 6-6, 290-pound sophomore who didn't get any work last year. He's very big, very smart, and he could become one of the line's breakout playmakers against the run.

Watch Out For ... Bain ... again. He made 56 tackles for Iowa and wasn't bad, and it can't be stressed enough how good he was in practices for the Zips before the 2008 season. Now he has to get healthy to be the factor he was supposed to be for the front wall.
Size. The Zips have the equivalent of three tackles across the front with Sewell, Bain, and Rash combining to average around 280 pounds. The backups are big, too. With their size, the line should be far, far better than it's been against inside running games.
Pass rushers. The Zips got three sacks out of the defensive line. THREE. It's sort of by design that the line doesn't do too much in the backfield, but the line should come up with tackles for loss and a few sacks from time to time by sheer luck. It didn't happen last year.
Outlook: The job of the Akron front three is to hold its own and allow the linebackers to star, but it struggled way too much against the run when Ryan Bain, who was counted on at the nose, didn't play. Almondo Sewell is a star, but he's it unless Bain can be healthy. Don't expect any plays in the backfield, but by sheer size there should be more production against the run.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: How will the linebacking corps replace leading tackler and all-star Kevin Grant in the middle? It'll be up to Sean Fobbs, who only played in eight games last year and was out this spring hurt. The 6-1, 240-pound junior made ten tackles in his limited roles, but now that he's bigger and stronger, he should be ready to do more. He has the speed to be a pass rusher, but he hasn't done it yet.

One of the keys in the 3-3-5 alignment should be Mike Thomas, a very fast, very strong 5-10, 215-pound junior who finished second on the team with 81 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Working at a hybrid Bandit position, Thomas is good at getting all over the field and is a huge hitter for his size. Very consistent, he's a full-motor, try-hard type who's always giving 100% and is always finding ways to make plays.

Working on the strongside is the potential star of the front six, 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Aaron Williams. While he's undersized, built more like a safety, he has unlimited range and good hitting ability. The big recruit in last year's class, he was a former running back who quickly took to the defensive side and finished with 47 tackles with a sack in a reserve role.

Projected Top Reserves: A decent, veteran reserve, senior Amin Kabir started the final game of last year as a Rover and will now work on the strongside behind Aaron Williams. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he's built like a safety and he moves like one making 12 tackles as a reserve last season.

6-2, 220-pound redshirt freshman Brian Wagner will see time in the middle behind Sean Fobbs, and he could end up starting if Fobbs isn't back healthy. A sure tackler and a great high school running back, when he plays, he'll be a statistical star.

Able to play any of the three positions is 6-0, 245-pound senior Al-Teric Balaam has been a key reserve for the last few seasons. He made 21 tackles and two tackles for loss last year, but despite his combination of size, quickness, and experience, he's going to have to work to see time.

Watch Out For ... Aaron Williams. He showed tremendous promise last year, and with his quickness and burst, he should start to become a key pass rusher for a team that desperately needs one.
Tackling. The linebackers are supposed to be the stars in this defense, and while they didn't make enough big plays last year, they'll come up with a ton of tackles. The starting three can move and they don't miss many stops.
Sacks. If a defense goes with a three man front, it means the linebackers are supposed to get into the backfield. Kevin Grant made four sacks last year, and Mike Thomas made 2.5. That's fine, but this year's group has to do more.
Outlook: On sheer stats, the linebackers should appear to be great. Unlike last year, they have to do more than just fill up the stat-sheet; they have to be difference makers. There's speed, experience, and tackling ability with Aaron Williams, Sean Fobbs, and Mike Thomas all good players who need to be fantastic.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: It's never a positive when a corner is third on the team in tackles, but at least the team knows that Miguel Graham can hit. The 5-9, 170-pound senior not only led the team with three interceptions, but he broke up eight passes and made 70 tackles. Tremendous in the open field, he tied LB Kevin Grant with 50 solo stops. A top JUCO transfer, he showed why right away, and now he should be in the hunt for all-star honors.

Taking over on the other side is Manley Waller, and undersized 5-8, 160-pound sophomore who plays much bigger than his size and is lightning quick. He got a start against Army and ended up playing in every game as a key backup finishing with 18 tackles with an interception. He looked much stronger and much better this offseason and could grow into a special cover-corner.

6-1, 190-pound junior Jalil Carter spent most of last year at free safety, where he started the final seven games, making 48 tackles with an interception and four broken up passes. The one-time star special teamer showed off his excellent Ohio high school track star speed with great range in the secondary. Now he has to do far more against the pass despite being moved over to strong safety.

With Carter switching spots, it'll be up to 6-2, 200-pound senior Wayne Cobham to step in at free safety after spending almost all of last year at the Rover. Despite starting in 11 games at a key position, he didn't do much against the pass and made 63 tackles. Far better against the run than he is against the pass, considering he's a big hitter, he'll have to show right away that he can handle the work at free safety.

Coming out of spring ball, redshirt freshman Troy Gilmer appears ready to handle the Rover spot. A good high school running back, he appears to have been able to handle the transition in a hurry. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's big enough to be used as a linebacker if needed, and he'll occasionally line up as one in the team's quirky alignment.

Projected Top Reserves: More of a linebacker than a safety, 6-1, 235-pound junior Shawn Lemon will do a little big of both as a Rover. He even lined up as an undersized defensive tackle for a five-game stretch and as a DE in a 4-3 alignment against Army. Able to play anywhere but corner or nose, he's the defense's most versatile player and will be moved around where needed after making 34 tackles and five tackles for loss.

A walk-on, 5-11, 190-pound junior Tyler Campbell turned into a key part of the special teams before getting the starting nod in the secondary. He started out the first five games last year at free safety before being replaced, and now he'll work more as a backup strong safety. He made 63 tackles, but he didn't do much against the pass.

Watch Out For ... Waller. Graham is the team's best all-around corner for now, but Waller is a playmaker who'll eventually be the No. 1 corner despite his lack of size.
Tackling. There's no question that everyone in the secondary can hit, even though it's a smallish group. Everyone goes all out as the last line of defense, and they've come through against the run mainly because they had to.
Production. With five defensive backs on the field it's supposed to be hard to dink and dunk. But teams were able to throw on the Zips at will. While the 26 touchdowns allowed were bad, the mere nine picks was worse.
Outlook: The secondary was supposed to be an issue going into last year, and it was a bigger problem than expected. Patched together, the defense took its lumps as the defensive backs gave up yards in chunks and didn't do much to take the ball away or come up with key stops. The jury is still out on the talent level, and there isn't any size, but four starters return and there's more hope and promise for production in all phases. 
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Is junior Igor Iveljic going to be the main man again? He hit 15-of-18 field goals in 2007 but struggled a bit last year making 18-of-28 field goals. He has a good leg, but he'll have to battle with Branko Rogovic, who has a stronger leg and was used on kickoffs. Rogovic is listed as first on the depth chart, but Iveljic will likely be the main man again.

Senior John Stec has struggled over the last two years averaging just 37.1 yards per kick last year after averaging 37.5 yards per try in 2007. He's good at forcing fair catches, forcing 39 in the last two seasons, and he's not awful at putting it inside the 20, but he needs to come up with bigger blasts and he has come up with a bigger boot than just 49 yards, he best of last year.

Dashan Miller
will take over for Bryan Williams, a superstar of a kickoff returner, and he'll have huge shoes to fill. Miller averaged 24.3 yards on his 13 tries, and while he'll be good, Williams was special and forced teams to get the ball to other options.

There will be a fight for the punt returning job with Nate Burney getting a long look to replace Andre Jones, who averaged 6.6 yards per try last year. Jeremy Bruce, who averaged five yards on his two tries, will also get a look.

Watch Out For ... Miller to be fantastic. He might not be Williams and he might not hover around the 30-yard average mark, but he'll bust out a few big returns and he should be a positive.
The return game. It wasn't as good as it was in 2007, but it was solid last year and it's good enough to occasionally break games open. The returners are too good to not do more.
Punting. Stec is a decent directional kicker, and by design it's his job to hang it up in the air and prevent big returns, but it doesn't happen. Teams averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and Akron was 101st in the nation in net punting.
Outlook: The Zip special teams were a nightmare in 2006, phenomenal in 2007, and mediocre and inconsistent in 2008. The kickers are all back, but they have to be better. The punting game has been atrocious and has to find more boom, but the return game should be solid. The coverage teams have been lousy for a few years and could use a big shot of production.
Rating: 6.5