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2009 Miami Univ. Preview - Defense
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What you need to know:
A stunning, shocking disaster, MU
was supposed to have the MAC's top defense, or was at least
supposed to be among the best in the conference, but it was
among the worst in America in almost every phase. The biggest
issue was the line that failed to generate any pressure and was
shoved all over the place against the run. Now the front seven
is starting from near-scratch with DT Martin Channels the lone
holdover from last year's front four and Caleb Bostic the one
returning starter from last season's all-star linebacking corps.
The secondary gets everyone back except for top safety Robbie
Wilson, but playmaking safety Jordan Gafford is back after
missing most of last year. New defensive coordinator Carl Reese
can't get less production than last year's defense, and there's
just enough overall athleticism to hope for a quick improvement
if there's any semblance of a pass rush. However, from all
indications, the defense won't do anything crazy to try to
Caleb Bostin, 40
Joe Coniglio, 4
Interceptions: Ben Bennett, 1
Star of the defense: Senior
LB Caleb Bostic
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt
freshman DE Mike Johns
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jerrell Wedge
Best pro prospect: Bostic
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bostic, 2) S Jordan
Gafford, 3) S Ben Bennett
Strength of the defense: Overall experience, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, picking off passes
One of the few decent producers on the
defensive front last year was senior Martin Channels, a
6-0, 325-pound bowling ball who started every game but one on the nose.
Now he'll play more of a true tackle role working on the left side, and
while he's built to clog things up, he's decent at getting into the
backfield making eight tackles for loss along with 20 tackles.
Taking over at right tackle will be
Jordain Brown, a 6-0, 294-pound junior who's built like
a nose tackle but has the potential to be an interior pass
rusher because of his quickness. A key backup last year, he made
12 tackles but didn't make any plays in the backfield.
Joe Coniglio was the only player to start every game last year
on the line, working at right end, and now it'll be up to
Morris Council, a 6-2, 259-pound junior, to
take over. Coniglio was the team's leading sacker, even though
he came up with just four, while Council made 23 tackles, 2.5
sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss as a backup. He started the
final two games of the year, and now he should add more speed to
the position as the full-time end.
redshirt freshman Mike Johns is more like a 3-4
end than a pass rusher in a 4-3, and he could end up seeing time
at tackle. Extremely quick for his size, he'll work his way into
the backfield to get the occasional sack, but he'll really excel
as an interior pass rusher if he ever steps in at tackle.
Projected Top Reserves: If and when Johns moves
inside, junior Jordan Stevens will take over at
left end after making 14 tackles and a sack as a backup. At 6-4
and 262 pounds he has good size and the athleticism to become a
decent pass rusher, but he has to do more when he gets his
Senior Mark Paun worked behind
Channels last year on the nose, and now he'll be a backup at
left tackle. The 6-3, 277-pounder made nine tackles in his
limited role and he hasn't done much to get into the backfield
despite his quickness on the inside.
junior D.J. Svabik has beefed up over the last
year and should be a bigger factor on the inside rotation with
Brown. He has seen time on the end in the past, but he's better
suited to a tackle spot where he made 13 stops as a reserve.
Watch Out For ... new defensive line coach Antoine
Smith to do everything possible to figure out how to generate
pressure. The line has to do something right after last year,
and job one will be to come up with ways to get to the
Strength: Size. The projected starting ends go 270
(Johns) and 259 (Council), while the tackles are big and strong.
Bulk isn't going to be an issue.
Weakness: Playing football. In a disastrous 2008 season for the
underachieving RedHawks, the line was the biggest
disappointment. It did nothing. Absolutely nothing. MU came up
with a mere 13 sacks, just 58 tackles for loss, and was last in
the MAC, and 106th in the nation, against the run.
Outlook: Maybe it's an even-year thing. MU's line
was a stunning disappointment in 2006, but came back with a nice
2007. It was a shocking flop last year, when the pieces were
there to become the best line in the MAC, and now there has to
be hope for a rebound under the new coaching staff. After doing
nothing, the line has to find one thing it can do reasonably
well, and it needs one player it can build around. That might be
Channels, but a fearsome pass rushing end would be a huge help.
One of the most productive
linebacking trios in MAC history only gets one piece back, but
he's a good one. 6-3, 232-pound senior Caleb Bostic
missed three games last season and had an underwhelming
40 tackles with 1.5 sacks. More like a weakside linebacker
playing on the strong side, he's great at stuffing the run and
is strong enough to handle any blocking tight end. He should
break out and have a big final year, or at least be back to his
103-tackle sophomore form, after having problems with a foot
injury last year. When he's right, he's all over the field
making plays and he's a great threat in the backfield.
Looking to take over for Joey Hudson, who led the team with 109
tackles, in the middle is Jerrell Wedge, a 5-9,
227-pound tackling machine who should put up huge numbers now
that he finally gets his chance. The sophomore made six tackles
as a reserve but could hover around the 100-stop mark if he's
not part of a rotation.
Clayton Mullins was the 2007 MAC
Defensive Player of the Year and followed up his 143-tackle
season by making 105 stops. David Davis will
get the first shot at taking over for the perennial all-star on
the weakside. The 6-1, 223-pound junior made just one stop last
year, but the special teamer has bulked up and has the speed to
make a big impact.
Projected Top Reserves: Combining with Davis on
the weakside will be DeAndre Gilmore, a 6-1,
227-pound junior who made two tackles as a special teamer.
Ultra-athletic for a linebacker, he's a former defensive back
who could be used in a variety of ways on the outside.
Working in a rotation with Wedge in the middle, and getting
every shot at the starting job, is 6-1, 224-pound junior
Ryan Kennedy. He was a key reserve last year making 27
tackles. Able to play inside or out, he's one of the team's most
versatile linebackers and is a strong tackler.
Watch Out For ... a steady rotation in the middle and
the weakside. Bostic is a given, but the jobs are wide open for
the other two spots. Gilmore and Kennedy are neck-and-neck for
the starting gigs.
Strength: Bostic. When healthy, he's one of the
MAC's elite defensive players and a possible Defensive Player of
the Year playmaker. The rest of the linebacking corps isn't as
bad as it might appear considering Mullins and Hudson are gone.
Weakness: Overall experience. All the new players in the mix
have seen a little bit of time either as reserves or on special
teams, but it's going to take a while to get everyone up to
speed. Bostic will help.
Outlook: It was an awful year overall for the
defense, and while it might hurt to lose Hudson and Mullins and
their 214 tackles and 18 tackles for loss, it's not like the D
did anything with them. A healthy Bostic could make all the
difference, and while the new faces in the rotation might need a
bit to figure out what they're doing, they're athletic and
they'll put up numbers.
While the secondary returns
plenty of experience and a few starters, the one loss, strong
safety Robbie Wilson, is a big one. 5-11, 195-pound junior
Ben Bennett started most of last year at free
safety and will now move over to take over Wilson's old spot. He
made 30 tackles with an interception, and now he should be a
statistical star in his new spot. While he might not be all that
big a hitter to be a strong safety, but he has 4.43 speed.
With Bennett moving over, 6-0, 206-pound junior
Jordan Gafford will take over the full-time weak safety
job. He finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2007 with 89,
but he missed most of last year hurt with a shin problem after
making six tackles. A huge hitter, he also has great range and
the potential to instantly upgrade the secondary.
Brandon Stephens was a spot starter at one corner last
year, but he turned out to be one of the best tacklers in the
secondary making 30 stops with two broken up passes. He didn't
do enough when the ball was in the air, but he has the speed and
the 5-10, 200-pound size to become a strong playmaker now that
he has two years of playing time.
Starting at the right
corner job will be Jeff Thompson after making
22 tackles with four broken up passes. The 5-10, 196-pound
senior isn't the flashiest defender, but he's a sound, strong
tackler who can do a little bit of everything on the outside.
He'll get beaten too often on deep balls, but he doesn't miss
any open field stops.
Projected Top Reserves:
Senior Wendell Brunson
took over a starting corner job late last year, starting three
of the final four games, and finished with 18 tackles with four
broken up passes. A good veteran, he knows what he's doing and
can be used as a nickel or dime back and will be a key backup at
both corner jobs.
6-1, 200-pound junior Peris
Edwards is a speedy sophomore who can play either
safety spot. Working as a reserve in every game, he made 16
tackles after making 17 stops as a freshman. He'll start out
behind Gafford at weak safety, but he'll see time in a variety
Watch Out For ... the return of Gafford. An
all-around playmaker, he appeared to be ready to come up with a
huge season before the injury problems. Now that he's back and
healthy, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
Strength: Experience. With Gafford back, the
secondary gets back enough talent and veterans to be steadier.
Losing Wilson is painful, but the upgrade at the other spots, at
least the hopeful upgrade, should make up for it.
Weakness: Making plays. The RedHawks only came up with six
interceptions last year with one coming from a linebacker, one
from a defensive lineman, and three from Wilson. That means only
one interception came from the rest of the veteran secondary.
Outlook: Over the last few years, the pass defense
numbers have been solid because everyone spent so much time
running the ball. When teams wanted to throw on MU, they did.
The RedHawks finished third in the MAC, and 28th in the nation,
in pass defense, but was 12th in the league and 109th in the
country in pass efficiency defense. The experience has to count
Can Trevor Cook be a
factor again? He gave way to Nate Parseghian, who hit 20-of-23 field
goals last year, but he has handle the kickoffs and and has been great
on onside kicks. He sat last year and will be back after an interesting
first two years. While he has a big leg, he followed up a 10-of-13
freshman season with a shaky 5-of-10 sophomore campaign. It's his gig
Gone is Jake Richardson, one of the nation's elite punters, and his
45.4-yard average, but senior Chris DiCesare isn't a
bad fill-in. He doesn't have any experience, but he has a good leg and
is expected to be decent.
WR Eugene Harris is a solid punt returner averaging 9.1
yards per try last year, with two touchdowns, after averaging 9.3 yards
per try in 2007. Dustin Woods will handle the kickoff
return duties after averaging 25.6 yards per try last year.
Watch Out For ... the kickers to not be all that bad.
There will be a drop-off after losing Parseghian and Richardson, but
Cook and DiCesare should be serviceable.
Strength: The return game. Woods is more of a
gamebreaker as a kickoff returner than he has been as a receiver. Harris
was bottled up a bit too often as a punt returner, but he also came up
with two big scores.
Weakness: Coverage teams. This is a big area of concern.
The RedHawks, even with a great directional punter in Richardson,
struggled allowing 13.1 yards per punt return. The kick coverage team
gave up 21.1 yards per try.
Outlook: If the kickers can just be average, the
special teams will be fine. The coverage teams have to do far more, but
the return game should be among the best in the MAC.