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2009 Boston College Preview - Defense
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need to know:
Few teams in the country were tougher up
the middle than Boston College in 2008. This year? Not so much.
The Eagles are reeling from the graduations of stud tackles B.J.
Raji and Ron Brace, the loss of ACC Defensive Player of the Year
Mark Herzlich to cancer, and the Achilles injury of middle
linebacker Mike McLaughlin. Unlike a year ago, when Boston
College was No. 7 nationally versus the run, this team will be
vulnerable against basic, north-south running attacks. New
coordinator Bill McGovern is expected to build his defense
around an air-tight, athletic secondary, while saying a few
novenas that McLaughlin can return in time for the opener. Up
front, there is some hope. The same Alex Albright who led the
team in sacks in 2007 is expected back from a neck injury. And
on the inside, Damik Scafe is a hidden gem, with the quickness
and strength to follow Raji and Brace into the NFL in two years.
Tackles: Mike McLaughlin, 89
McLaughllin, Jim Ramella, 4
Interceptions: Marcellus Bowman, 3
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Mike McLaughlin
Player who has to
step up and become a star: Junior DT Damik Scafe
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore CB Donnie Fletcher
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) McLaughlin, 2) Scafe, 3) Junior DE Alex
Strength of the defense:
Defensive end depth, creating turnovers, pass defense
Weakness of the defense:
Holes up the middle, linebacker
No area on the team has been hit harder by graduation than
the defensive line, specifically tackle, where, B.J. Raji
and Ron Brace were two of the ACC’s best. The lone
beneficiary is 6-3, 293-pound junior
Damik Scafe, who’s hoping to turn this opportunity into his own path
to the NFL. He’s quick off the snap and uses his hands well,
fighting through blocks to get into the backfield. After
playing in a dozen games and making 13 tackles, he’s about
to blossom into a very productive interior lineman.
Scafe’s partner on the inside is going to be sophomore
Kaleb Ramsey, who played sparingly in seven games as a rookie and
made six tackles. At only 6-3 and 256 pounds, he’s going to
have problems in tight spaces and will be forced to rely on
his exceptional blend of strength, speed, and athleticism.
In time, he’ll be a playmaker for the Eagles, but unless he
can add significant weight, it might happen at defensive
For now, the program’s steadiest outside rusher
is 6-4, 243-pound senior
Jim Ramella, who
has played a ton of football here since arriving in 2005. A
self-made player and one of the veteran leaders of the unit,
he’ll scrap for every tackle and play from
whistle-to-whistle. He’s coming off his best season as an
Eagle, making 35 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks,
and two forced fumbles.
Topping off the first unit is
another senior, 6-3, 283-pound
Austin Giles, who
started a dozen games in 2008 after an injury forced him off
the bench. A backup for much of his career, he can maintain
his base against larger linemen, yet has good natural
pass-rushing technique. In the most extensive action of his
career, he had 25 tackles, six tackles for loss, and three
Projected Top Reserves: Giles
was the starter coming out of spring, but will he hold that
spot through the summer? Lurking in his rear view mirror is
6-5, 245-pound junior
Alex Albright, arguably the team’s most dynamic edge
rusher. A neck injury limited him to two games in 2008 and
no contact in the spring, but a recent history lesson
reveals his potential. As a sophomore in 2007, he had 38
tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and a team-high 8.5 sacks.
The most seasoned backup defensive tackle is
6-5, 241-pound senior
Brendan Deska, a letterwinner in each of the last two
seasons. A versatile lineman, he can play just about
position up front and has an intimate knowledge of the
system and his role within it.
Albright’s injury opened the door for 6-2, 250-pound senior Brad Newman to enjoy
the most substantial playing time of his career. A nice player
to have coming off the sidelines, he played in a dozen games in
2008, making 22 tackles, three stops for loss, and a pair of
Watch Out For
... incoming freshman DT
Dillon Quinn. One of the top-rated tackles in the country,
he arrives at an ideal time and should quickly scale the depth
chart in the summer. Already physically prepared to compete at
this level, he’s a powerful 6-6, 295-pounder, with a great
future ahead of him.
Experience. While the Eagles may be a little short on
star power now that Raji and Brace, they sure have a lot of
returning veterans up front. On the two-deep, six players are
letter-winning upperclassmen and three have extensive starting
experience, which gives the young kids a bunch of mentors.
Inside depth. Aside from Scafe, who’s ready to bust out, Boston
College has precious little depth or proven talent at defensive
tackle. No one has any starting experience, and freshmen will be
counted on heavily to bolster the second and third teams.
The defensive front won't be the same it was in 2008 when it
dominated the line of scrimmage and finished No. 7 nationally in
run defense. However, the Eagles will still be plenty feisty in
the trenches, especially if Scafe and Quinn develop as expected.
The key is Albright, who’ll provide a huge lift if he can
recapture his 2007 form.
What appeared to be a team strength just a few months ago is now
a major question mark heading into the season. Shockwaves were
sent through the college football world when it was learned that
reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year
Mark Herzlich was
battling cancer and has likely played his last game. His
presence on the field will be missed in ways that extend far
beyond any numbers.
As if the situation at linebacker
couldn’t get worse, 6-0, 252-pound senior
Mike McLaughlin, the
projected starter in the middle, tore his Achilles’ tendon in
the spring, leaving his 2009 season clouded in doubt. He was
supposed to become the physical and emotional leader of the unit
a year after making 89 tackles, a dozen tackles for loss, and
four sacks. If he’s not able to suit up, the concerns about the
middle of the defense grow.
The likely successor to
Herzlich at strongside is 6-2, 200-pound sophomore
Dominick LeGrande. He
was supposed to do an apprenticeship this fall, get a little
bigger and stronger, and then move into the lineup in 2010. That
plan has obviously been changed. A part-time safety a year ago
and former high school quarterback, he’s going to endure a
serious baptism under fire.
The favorite at weakside is
6-3, 217-pound redshirt freshman
Nick Clancy, a
forceful hitter and good wrap-up tackler. A former safety at the
previous level, he covers a lot of ground and has playmaking
tendencies, but his weight and inexperience will be tall hurdles
in his first season of action.
Projected Top Reserves: Whether
or not McLaughlin makes it back on the field, 6-1, 235-pound
sophomore Will Thompson
will have a huge role on the 2009 defense. While he only
appeared in seven games and made 13 tackles, he’s being viewed
as the insurance policy at middle linebacker. He hasn’t played
there since he was a high school freshman, but the staff
believes he has the natural instincts and leadership ability to
eventually adapt to the new assignment.
The Eagles are
excited about the future of 6-3, 222-pound redshirt freshman
who has already moved up to the two-hole at weakside. A fluid
athlete, who has added muscle since arriving, he had the type of
spring that could earn him a letter in the fall.
Watch Out For ... the health of McLaughlin’s
surgically-repaired Achilles. Last year, all eyes were on Brian
Toal’s shoulder. This year, it’s McLaughlin’s foot. The Eagles
absolutely need his presence in the huddle and on the field this
season. He’s an enforcer in run defense and, by far, the most
experienced player left in this corps.
Fresh legs. All of a sudden, the defense will be relying on a
bunch of young athletes, with limited experience. That could be
scary, but it’ll also get some very athletic kids, like Clancy,
Thompson, and LeGrande on the field.
Proven players. No Toal. No Herzlich. And possibly, no
McLaughlin. Boston College is being forced to use way too
players, who weren’t supposed to be under the microscope until
at least the 2010 season.
At this point, everything hinges on the health of McLaughlin. If
he’s at full strength, the Eagles have a prayer at linebacker.
If not, there’s no way this unit can survive without its two
best players. A weakened second line of defense is going to
cripple both the run and pass D.
With just one key contributor gone from last year’s No. 7 pass
efficiency defense, Boston College feels empowered by its
secondary. Junior Wes Davis had a breakout first season as a starter, making 60
tackles, three tackles for loss, two picks, and six pass
breakups. A physical 6-1, 215-pounder, he’s an enforcer and one
of the most aggressive members of the defensive backfield.
At strong safety is 6-2, 217-pound senior
another knockout puncher residing in the secondary. Built like a
linebacker, he’ll lay out receivers and provide ample support in
run defense. With a chance to finally play on a more regular
basis, he delivered 31 tackles and three interceptions,
including an 87-yard touchdown, in 11 appearances.
cornerbacks figure to be both talented and deep. At boundary
corner for the time being is 6-0, 188-pound senior
who’ll be looking to build on a solid 2008 season. The recipient
of six starts, he collected 43 tackles, three tackles for loss,
and a couple of interceptions. A risk-taker, with the catch-up
speed to survive, he has improved his cover skills each year
he’s been on campus.
Over at field corner is one of the
rising stars on defense, 6-1, 186-pound sophomore
Donnie Fletcher. As a
true freshman, he played in all 14 games, starting four and
making 36 tackles and three interceptions. He has terrific size
and the overall athletic package to be an all-leaguer before
very long. Once he tightens up his technique, he’ll have
Projected Top Reserves:
Although he started 10 games last season, 5-11, 174-pound junior
DeLeon Gause is
currently listed as the backup at boundary to Rollins. That is
not, however, written in stone. A bit of an enigma, he has the
hips, footwork, and speed of a next-level corner, he was a bit
of a disappointment last fall. Part of the problem was a nagging
ankle injury, which limited him to just 22 tackles and a pick.
The Eagles are quietly excited about the future of 6-1,
192-pound redshirt freshman
another snot-knocker at safety. The caddy for Davis at this
time, he’s expected to gradually gain some experience on defense
and special teams before expanding his role in 2010.
Watch Out For
... Gause. He’s No. 2 and he’s not at all happy about it. In
truth, he has more upside potential than Rollins and possibly
Fletcher. However, he needs to have a good summer and stay
healthy because that bum ankle just killed his ability to break,
plant, and drive last fall.
Pass defense. Across the board, these guys can flat out cover.
Most of the parts remain in place from a defensive backfield
that picked off 26 passes, allowed just nine touchdowns, and
yielded a mere 5.6 yards per pass attempt. More of the same
results are expected in 2009.
Depth at safety. Okoroha has a bright future, but he’s yet to
play a down, so the inconsistency is essentially pre-packaged.
Over at strong safety, redshirt freshmen
Donte Elliot and
Stephen Atkinson are
equally wet behind the ears.
An area of concern last summer, BC heads into 2009 with a
potentially killer secondary. There may be no All-America
candidates, but the defensive backs play very well together and
make opposing receivers earn every single catch. Beyond an
October stretch of games against Russell Wilson, Jimmy Clausen,
and Dan LeFevour, no one will have much success against this
Although senior Steve Aponavicius
has authored an
interesting story since arriving as a walk-on and borderline
cult figure, he has hardly instilled confidence. He went
14-of-21 on field goal attempts, but was only 7-of-13 outside
the 30 and had a long of just 36 yards. His range is extremely
Sophomore Ryan Quigley will be the punter
for a second year after averaging just under 40 yards in his
debut. A long and lean 6-3, 180-pounder, he has a good leg whip,
which should result in more pop this season.
second straight year, sophomore Montel Harris and senior
Jeff Smith are expected to share the kickoff return
duties. Both averaged around 20 yards a return, which was among
the worst in the ACC. Senior Rich Gunnell provides a
little more flash on punt returns, averaging almost 10 yards a
year ago, and taking one back for a 65-yard touchdown.
Watch Out For ... incoming freshman PK
Aponavicius is ripe for the picking, and Freese might be just
the kid to do the plucking. One of the nation’s top recruits at
the position, he kicked a 52-yarder in high school, which
already means he has more leg strength than anyone on the
Punt coverage. It’s the only area of the special teams
that’s been consistent for Boston College over the last two
seasons. The Eagles ranked 39th nationally, yielding a little
more than seven yards a return.
Leg strength. The punter averaged under 40 yards. The kicker has
hovered around 50% accuracy beyond 30 yards over the last two
years. Yup, there is a serious power outage occurring on the
Boston College special teams unit.
What a disaster. BC is unstable just about everywhere on special
teams, which could cost it a game or two in the fall. The
offense basically has to drive down to the 15-yard line to be in
scoring range, which heaps a ton of pressure on an already shaky