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2009 Kent State Preview - Defense
Kent State S Brian Lainhart
Kent State S Brian Lainhart
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 29, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Kent State Golden Flash Defense

Kent State Golden Flashes

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 Kent State Preview | 2009 Kent State Offense
- 2009 Kent State Defense | 2009 Kent State Depth Chart
- 2008 KSU Preview | 2007 KSU Preview | 2006 KSU Preview 

What you need to know: The D was a major disappointment allowing close to 400 yards a game and not doing any one thing well. There could be a major turnaround in a big hurry with seven returning starters and some new faces to the mix, particularly CB Josh Pleasant and DE Zach Williams, that could become stars. Safety should be the team's strength, led by all-star Brian Lainhart, but there needs to be more from the corners that didn't do nearly enough when the ball was in the air. To be fair, there wasn't enough help from a pass rush, and the call has gone out for more consistency from DE Kevin Hogan and the rest of the line to produce. While there's good size in the linebacking corps, it could be the team's biggest question mark needing some career backups to come through.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brian Lainhart, 106
Sacks: Kevin Hogan, 5
Interceptions: Brian Lainhart, 6

Star of the defense: Junior FS Brian Lainhart
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LB Anthony Mirando
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Josh Pleasant
Best pro prospect: Pleasant
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lainhart, 2) LB Cobrani Mixon, 3) DE Kevin Hogan
Strength of the defense: Experience, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Linebackers, Proven production

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line needs more from the pass rush, and the call has gone out from the coaching staff to Kevin Hogan to be more of a playmaker. the 6-3, 228-pound senior started every game but the opener at the Buck position, a hybrid of end and linebacker, and while he led the way with five sacks with 43 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, he has the speed and potential to do far more. He's solid against the run, but his job will be to generate pressure.

Back on the nose is Sam Frist, a 6-4, 281-pound senior who made 38 tackles with a team-leading 10.5 tackles for loss. While he's a bit tall for a nose tackle, he's a good athlete with good quickness. He bulked up after suffering a knee injury a few years ago, and the hope is that he'll be stronger against the run.

Senior Aaron Hull spent some time on the nose early in his career and was an every-game starter at the other tackle spot last year. At 6-0 and 291 pounds, he's built like a nose tackle and isn't bad against the run making 34 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. While he was fine, he has to do more against the better teams.

6-3, 255-pound junior Zach Williams is the new starter on the line, but he might turn out to be the best after a fantastic spring. A potentially strong pass rusher, he came over from Citrus College in Los Angeles last year and did a whole bunch of nothing making just three tackles, but the light has gone on and he should be a major threat in the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: While Kevin Hogan will likely regain his starting spot at the Buck position, junior Monte Simmons is the No. 1 on the depth chart after spring ball. He got a starting call against Akron last year and was a key backup making 34 tackles with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. The 6-3, 233-pounder is a pure speed rusher with All-MAC upside, but he has to be stronger against the run.

When the line needs more size on the inside it'll go with Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, a 6-3, 301-pound sophomore who made 17 tackles with a tackle for loss in his work as a backup. He's a pure run stuffer who won't do too much to get into the backfield, but he has excellent upside working behind Hull at tackle.

Looking to be a part of the rotation right away on the end is Ryan Jude, a linebacker-sized 6-2 and 255-pound pass rusher who's active and dangerous behind Williams. He's a good hitter with a nice first step, and he should turn into a reliable backup as the season goes on.

Watch Out For ... Williams. The line needs someone to emerge as the type of pass rusher who makes defensive coordinators worry, and Williams could be it. He didn't do anything last year, but he has the makeup and the potential to be exactly what the line needs.
Strength: Potential to make plays in the the backfield. The defense was tremendous two years ago when it came to making things happen behind the line leading the league in tackles for loss. The production tailed off a bit last year, but it should pick back up with a renewed emphasis and being disruptive. 
Weakness
:
Run defense. This group wasn't even close last year giving up more than 200 yards in every game but three. While no one gouged the KSU run D, most teams were able to do what they wanted.
Outlook: A disappointment last year, the Golden Flash line could take a major step forward with three returning starters and a good looking end in Williams. There are decent backups, lots of quickness, and decent size inside. It's all there, and now everyone has to produce.
Rating: 5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Leading tackler Derek Burrell is gone from the weakside after leading the team with 119 tackles. In steps Dorian Wood, a 6-1, 232-pound junior who was a good backup last year making 20 tackles with most of his production coming in garbage time against Miami University. He's a good open field tackler with excellent quickness and good size. He should shine with the new responsibility.

Michigan transfer Cobrani Mixon will get the start once again in the middle after started nine times last year and finishing third on the team with 73 tackles and two sacks. The 6-1, 230-pound junior redshirted at Michigan after he tried to come back from a torn ACL, and then came over to Kent State where he sat out a year before coming up with a big year that was hampered by a broken foot. If he can stay healthy, he'll be the team's leading tackler.

6-2, 235-pound senior Anthony Mirando will take over the full-time job on the strongside after getting three starts in the middle of last year and finishing with 27 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He's a good hitter who finds ways to get around the ball and make plays, with two recovered fumbles, and now he gets to use his athleticism and experience in a bigger role. He could play on the weakside if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Will Johnson will move over from safety where he only made five tackles as a little used back. He came up with a nice freshman year making 27 tackles highlighted by a ten-stop day against Northern Illinois, and now he'll move over to strongside linebacker where the 6-0, 198-pounder will be an undersized, fast option.

Is Byron Tyson about to breakout and shine on the weakside? The 5-11, 207-pound sophomore was a key special teamer last year, finishing with five tackles, but he's a do-it-all prospect with the wheels to get into the backfield and tough hitting ability. He'll be on the special teams again, but he could turn into a major factor.

Watch Out For ... Mixon to come up with a big year. He hasn't always been healthy throughout his career, with redshirt seasons and a knee injury the problem before last season, when he had foot issues. If he can stay healthy, he'll clean up everything and upgrade the run defense in a big way.
Strength: Size. This is a good-sized group that averages over 230 pounds per starter. This might not be the most athletic corps in the MAC, but it should be able to hold up against the power running teams. 
Weakness
: Talent. It's not like there haven't been openings in the past for players to step up and see time, but most of the key new factors to the mix have been career backups. Is Mirando ready to produce? Is Mixon really as good as his prep hype? There's a lot of proving to do.
Outlook: This is the team's biggest area of rebuilding from a group that didn't do enough last year with a veteran group that should've been a rock. While this won't be a weakness, it's not a sure-thing unit and it'll have to show it can do something at a high level. The tackling and effort will be there, and the big plays have to follow.
Rating: 4.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The one new starter to the mix, sophomore Josh Pleasant, could be the team's best defensive back. A major recruit for the program and an absolute steal, the 5-10, 178-pounder had a decent true freshman season making 22 tackles with an interception, and he was used a bit as a kick returner. Extremely quick and a tremendous all-around athlete, he had a great offseason and should be an All-MAC star sooner than later.

Starting at the other corner spot once again will be Danny Sadler, a 5-10, 190-pound senior who has been a serviceable corner throughout his career, but he hasn't been special. He made 43 tackles, but he didn't do much against the pass with just two broken up passes. The speed and experience are there, but he could quickly be a reserve again, like he was through most of the second half of last year, if he doesn't come up big early on.

Junior Brian Lainhart was on his way to a huge 2007, but he had problems with neck and shoulder injuries. He was healthy last year and finished second on the team with 106 tackles with a team-leading six interceptions and five broken up passes. At 6-1 and 207 pounds, he's a decent-sized free safety who's always all over the field and he's a huge hitter. A second-team All-MAC pick last year, he'll be the leader and star in the defensive back seven.

6-2, 205-pound junior strong safety Dan Hartman is back after starting for most of the second half of last year and finishing with 42 tackles. Mostly part of a rotation so far, he should play a bigger role now to utilize his good athleticism and big hitting ability. While he needs to be more consistent and he has to do more against the pass, he's versatile and he could do far more now that he's experienced.


Projected Top Reserves: Senior Kirk Belgrave was a spot starter last year at both corner spots making 40 tackles with an interception. He had problems with a shoulder injury and was out this spring recovering, but he's expected to be back and healthy by the start of the year and should push for a starting spot and be used as a nickel and dime back. At 6-1 and 197 pounds he's big, and he's a tremendous athlete who'll be all over the field.

Chris Gilbert spent his first year as a backup wide receiver and special teamer, and now he'll move over to corner where he should make an easy transition. One of the team's fastest players, staying with the faster receivers won't be a problem, and at 6-0 and 198 pounds, he has decent size.

The team's best backup safety will once again be senior Adam Richey. A major hitter, the 5-11, 191-pound senior came up with 38 stops last season with an interception. The former Kentucky transfer was a star special teamer in two years for the Wildcats, and now he'll do more for the KSU defensive backfield.


Watch Out For ... Pleasant. Lainhart is the signature star of the secondary, but that could quickly change as Pleasant has the shut-down ability to quickly become an All-MAC corner.
Strength: Experience. Three starters are back and Pleasant should be an upgrade at the fourth spot. There are good backup prospects and lots of different options to play around with.
Weakness
:
Proven playmaking corners. Interceptions have been a problem for the last few years, especially at corner. KSU came up with ten last season with Lainhart, a safety, making six. The corners have to find ways to come up with big plays.
Outlook: There wasn't much of a pass rush and the secondary suffered. However, it's not like the DBs came up big when they had chances, getting picked apart by anyone who could throw a forward pass. That should all change this year as more experience should translate into more production, but there need to be more interceptions and more stops on third downs.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Nate Reed was a major weapon two years ago, hitting 18-of-24 field goals, but he struggled a bit last year connecting on 8-of-13 attempts missing two inside the 30. While he'll be pushed for the job this year, when it comes down to crunch time, he'll be the main option.

Needing to improve the punting game is sophomore Matt Rinehart who averaged 40 yards per kick and put 18 inside the 20, but the team netted just 33.75 yards per try. He doesn't have a deep leg and he could use more help from the coverage team, but he also has to start hanging it up a bit more.

Watch Out For ... Freddy Cortez. The true freshman was a Florida high school all-star with a huge leg, but he wasn't consistent on field goals hitting just 13-of-22. Even so, he's expected to come in and provide a push for Reed.
Strength: Rinehart. KSU might not have netted yards on punts, but Rinehart was good at pinning it deep and didn't dip under the 40-yard average.
Weakness
:
The return game. It was a disaster. KSU was 115th in the nation in punt returns averaging a mere 4.1 yards per try and was 116th in kickoff returns averaging 18.1 yards per attempt. This is a major emphasis this offseason.
Outlook: The kicking game isn't as awful as it's made out to be, but it could stand to be better. Everything else needs a major upgrade with bad coverage teams, worse return games, and not enough overall production. KSU isn't good enough to lose the special teams battles.
Rating: 4.5