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2009 Eastern Michigan Preview - Defense
Eastern Michigan LB Andre Hatchett
Eastern Michigan LB Andre Hatchett
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 9, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagle Defense

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 Eastern Michigan Preview | 2009 EMU Offense
- 2009 EMU Defense | 2009 EMU Depth Chart
- 2008 EMU Preview | 2007 EMU Preview | 2006 EMU Preview 

What you need to know: Defensive coordinator Eric Lewis has to find something the defense can do well. It was designed originally to be fast and athletic, which was fine, but there wasn't any production in the backfield and there weren't enough big plays made. The line has the potential to be the strength with the addition of JUCO transfers Ryan Leonard and Delano Johnson to provide some bulk, and Brad Ohrman a productive veteran to do a little bit of everything. The linebacking corps will desperately miss tackling-machine Daniel Holtzclaw and will need to play much bigger than the safety-sized group it is. While there's speed and experience in the secondary, someone has to help out Ryan Downard and come up with an interception here and there.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jermaine Jenkins, 64
Sacks: Brad Ohrman, 6
Interceptions: Ryan Downard, Jermaine Jenkins, 2

Star of the defense:
Sophomore DE/DT Brad Ohrman
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Marcus English
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Javon Reese
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Ryan Leonard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ohrman, 2) SS Ryan Downard, 3) Leonard

Strength of the defense: Experience, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Size, Interceptions

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The defense desperately needs to find some semblance of a pass rush, and it needs senior Brandon Downs to do more. The 6-1, 246-pounder is smallish, looking more like a linebacker, but he has to use his speed and quickness to do something in the backfield. He was good against the run, making 30 tackles, but he only came up with 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks.

Working partly as an end and partly as a tackle is Brad Ohrman, a 6-4, 244-pound sophomore who might be woefully undersized on the inside, but he'll be a part of a rotation trying to become an interior pass rusher. He was the team's most productive player in the backfield by far, making six sacks with 11 tackles for loss to go along with 42 tackles, and he'll be moved around where needed. He was one of the team's top recruits a few years ago and will always be part of the mix.

6-4, 265-pound junior Tyler Palsrok is one of the team's bigger prospect for the inside, but he has to get healthy and he has to be better after starting the first two games of the season and barely seeing the light of day the rest of the way. He made four tackles with a sack, and while has a little bit of experience, he'll have to battle to see regular playing time.

Sophomore Javon Reese is a promising prospect with good quickness and the burst to potentially be a closer when he gets a bead on a quarterback. At 6-2 and 230 pounds he's not all that big, but he should make up for it with his range after making 14 tackles with a sack in limited time last year

Projected Top Reserves: Expected to make an instant impact providing size and pass rushing ability is Delano Johnson, a 6-4, 275-pound JUCO transfer who made ten tackles for loss and 65 tackles for College of the Sequoias JC. He's big, quick, and good enough to be a starter right away.

Bringing desperately needed size inside will be JUCO transfer Ryan Leonard, a 6-0, 290-pound junior who should serve as an anchor. He, like Johnson, was from College of the Sequoias making 65 tackles with eight sacks last year. He was a JUCO all-star who will be counted on to shine right away.

Watch Out For ... the JUCO transfers. Leonard and Johnson have to be starters, or at least key contributors, to bring size to the equation. If Leonard is great, that would allow Ohrman to move to a more natural spot on the outside.
Strength: Young prospects. EMU paid special attention to the defensive line in the last few recruiting classes, and it should pay off with several promising players ready to shine. That was the strength going into last year, and it still applies. The athleticism has to translate into production.
Weakness
:
Proven production and size. This is a woefully undersized line that will get shoved around by any O line that's seen a weight room. Considering all the athleticism and all the quickness, there's no excuse for EMU to be 104th in the nation in tackles for loss and 100th in sacks again.
Outlook: The pass rushers have to come through after a nightmare of a season. The run defense didn't do anything, allowing close to 200 yards per game, and it didn't do anything to get into the backfield. There are several decent prospects, and some ready-made JUCO players joining the mix. Now the line has to improve by leaps and bounds for the team to have any real shot at improving.
Rating: 4.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters: Step one will be to replace tackling-machine Daniel Holtzclaw in the middle. Sophomore Marcus English will get the first look, and while he's not nearly as big as Holtzclaw, he's a lot faster. While he's more like a safety than a linebacker, but he's a big hitter who should be great now that he'll make a ton of plays now that he's the main man in the middle after making just three tackles.

Senior Andre Hatchett was a question mark going into last year after spending the offseason working on his studies, but he ended up being solid on the strongside making 51 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. Only 5-11 and 221 pounds, he has quickness and range, but he didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield. He has to use his wheels to be a threat as a pass rusher and he as to do something against the pass now that he's working on the weakside.

Taking over on the strongside will be junior Tim Fort, a 6-0, 214-pounder who started the final three games of last year and ended up with 22 tackles. He's always working and has a great motor, and now he's going to have to prove he can hold up against the run on a full-time basis and he'll have to make plenty of plays on sheer want-to.  

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jermaine Jenkins will likely end up back at a starting spot sooner than later after getting working all of last year on the weakside and finishing third on the team with 64 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss. He's only 6-2 and 207 pounds and would be better as a strong safety, but he'll work in a rotation on the strongside.

Sophomore Steve Brown will find a spot somewhere on the field. The true sophomore made three tackles in his little time of work, but the former star high school safety, who made 181 tackles in two years while leading his team to a Virginia state high school title, has excellent range and good toughness for the weakside.


Watch Out For ... a lot of rotating. Write the depth chart in pencil because the coaching staff will try to find the three best players and stick them on the field. They're all relatively interchangeable for the various spots.
Strength: Quickness. By design, the linebacking corps is full of safety-sized players who can all move and can all hit. This is a group of strong safeties playing linebacker.
Weakness
:
Size. This wasn't that big a deal because there was a big backer in the middle to hold up against things funneled his way. Now that Holtzclaw is gone, this becomes a way-too-small group.

Outlook: The line needs to do its job of this group is going to get killed. This is a very quick, very active linebacking corps that's going to have a hard time holding up against anyone. It'll be vital to start making more plays behind the line and creating more turnovers to make up for the lack of size.
Rating: 4


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: In the attempt to replace second-leading tackler, Jacob Wyatt, free safety Ryan Downard will move to strong safety after making 28 tackles and two interceptions in eight games. The 6-1, 201-pound junior is a ball-hawker, he led the team two years ago with six picks, and was a favorite of the former coaching staff. He'll be a key piece to the puzzle in the secondary.

With Downard moving, sophomore Marty Cardwell will get a long look at the free safety spot. The 5-10, 198-pounder didn't see any time last year but has impressive range and excellent speed. He'll likely spend most of his time as a nickel or dime back, but he has the inside track on the starting job going into the fall.

5-10, 170-pound junior Arrington Hicks started eight times last year making 17 tackles with a team-leading seven broken up passes. One of the team's fastest players, he needs to show better range and tougher tackling ability. He also has to stay healthy. However, when he's on the field, the former Florida high school track star, who was one of the state's best hurdlers, he'll have no problem staying with any receiver.

Working on the other side will be Mark Mitchell, a long-time reserve who spent most of his time on special teams making two tackles. The 5-11, 179-pound junior has the speed and he'll be a willing tackler, but he'll have to hold up when teams pick on him. Most passing games will try to stay away from Hicks.


Projected Top Reserves: Junior Kevin Long spent most of last year at corner, starting ten times, making 25 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. At 6-1 and 196 pounds he has excellent size and good enough speed to get by, but he didn't do enough to make big plays and he wasn't nearly consistent enough.

Senior Chris May was a solid backup in every game making 25 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. However, he didn't have any interceptions and he didn't break up any passes. The 5-10, 200-pounder tackles like an extra linebacker at free safety, but he has to

5-11, 182-pound junior Derrick Hunter is a speedster who has been a key part of the secondary in the past, making 49 tackles two years ago, but he didn't do enough against the pass. He's a speedster and he has decent tackling ability, but he has to come back healthy after missing all of last year.


Watch Out For ... Downard to become a bigger playmaker. He had a decent year as a strong safety when he was healthy, and now he should be all over the field as a free safety and he should lead the team in picks.
Strength: A combination of skills. There's good speed and nice size all across the secondary with the experience to go along with it. With the right coaching, this group should be able to do far more.
Weakness
:
Interceptions. This has been a big problem for the last few years. Last season, the secondary came up just five picks, the linebackers came up with the other three, and there were only 27 broken up passes as a team. 
Outlook: The secondary had an awful year with no consistency and too many big passes allowed. The pass efficiency defense was last in the MAC and 116th in the nation. There's plenty of speed and plenty of potential, but someone has to step up and become a defender to be worried about.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Zach Johnson was a fantastic punter two years ago averaging 42.1 yards per kick, but he was hurt last season and ended up averaging just 36.2 yards per try while splitting duties. He's healthy again and will be more than fine. He also turned into a nice placekicker two seasons ago, but he gave up the duties and will just be a punter.

Junior Joe Carithers hit 10-of-14 field goals but didn't show much range topping out at 43 yards. Johnson has a bigger leg and could handle the longer kicks, but Carithers will be the man for everything 40 yards and in.

Sophomore RB Corey Welch will handle the kickoff return duties after averaging 21.6 yards per try while splitting time. He'll be the main man, while receiver Marvon Sanders will take over the punt return job full-time after averaging 9.2 yards per try on his four attempts.

Watch Out For ... Johnson to be back to form. The leg injuries should be all healed up and he should be in the mix to be among the MAC's best punters if he can get some help from the coverage teams.
Strength: Experience. Everyone is back, and now there should be more production from the return game with Welch and Sanders getting more work.
Weakness
:
Coverage teams. The kickoff coverage was bad, allowing 22.4 yards per try, but the punt coverage team was worse giving up 13.9 yards per attempt.
Outlook: Experience alone should make the special teams better after a down year, but there has to be more consistency to the punting game, more pop on field goals, and far, far better coverage on returns.
Rating: 6