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2009 Boston College Preview - Defense
Boston College FS Wes Davis
Boston College FS Wes Davis
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 13, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Boston College Eagle Defense

Boston College Eagles

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN BC Preview | 2009 BC Offense 
- 2009 BC Defense | 2009 BC Depth Chart
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2008 CFN BC Preview | 2007 CFN BC Preview |
2006 CFN BC Preview 

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike McLaughlin, 89
Sacks: Mike 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: Scafe
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McLaughlin, 2) Scafe, 3) Junior DE Alex Albright
Strength of the defense: Defensive end depth, creating turnovers, pass defense
Weakness of the defense: Holes up the middle, linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 end.

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 sacks.

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 sacks.

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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.  
Outlook
: 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.
Rating
: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: 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 Alexander DiSanzo, 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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness
: 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.

Outlook: 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.
Rating
: 6.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: 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 Marcellus Bowman, 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.

The cornerbacks figure to be both talented and deep. At boundary corner for the time being is 6-0, 188-pound senior Roderick Rollins, 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 lockdown potential.

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 Okechukwu Okoroha, 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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness:
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.
Outlook: 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 unit.
Rating
: 8.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 limited.

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.

For the 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 Nate Freese. 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 roster.
Strength: 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.  
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: 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 attack.
Rating: 5