2009 Ohio Preview - Defense
Ohio LB Noah Keller
Ohio LB Noah Keller
Posted Jun 23, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Ohio Bobcat Defense

Ohio Bobcats

Preview 2009
- Defense

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What you need to know: The defense wasn't a brick wall, but it was solid and it should be even better. The biggest issue is the pass rush; there isn't much of one. The Bobcats generate pressure from various spots, but they don't have any one star pass rusher who can get into the backfield on a regular basis. The linebackers should be tremendous, and possibly the best in the MAC with Noah Keller and Lee Renfro two of the league's better tacklers. Top corner Mark Parson is gone, but the secondary could be even better with a great rotation of corners around Thad Turner, while the safeties, led by Steven Jackson, will be more than fine.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Noah Keller, 104
Sacks: Kris Luchsinger, 3.5
Interceptions: Michael Mitchell, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Noah Keller
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Marcellis Williamson
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Errik Ejike
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Steven Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keller, 2) LB Lee Renfro, 3) Jackson
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: One Proven Pass Rusher, Tackle

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line needs to find tackle to replace Jameson Hartke, who was the star of last year's line. 6-1, 342-pound junior Marcellis Williamson will get the first look after making two tackles in his four games of work. With his bulk and his girth, he's the type of player who gets plugged in the middle and doesn't get moved around. Now he can prove he can actually play at either tackle or on the nose.

Returning to the other tackle spot, after starting for most of last year, is junior Ernie Hodge. The 6-2, 292-pounder made 18 tackles but didn't provide much of a push into the backfield. With all his quickness and at his size, he should be doing more and he should be a strong interior pass rusher. At the very least, he's supposed to be. Now he has to show he can do it after a rocky career lowlighted by a suspension from the team two years ago for underage drinking and driving under the influence.

Senior Kris Luchsinger returns after starting in nine games last year, switching back and forth between sides. He made 21 tackles and was second on the team with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, and now he has to do even more to get to the quarterback. The 6-4, 258-pounder is a proven pass rusher, making five sacks two years ago, but he has to become the type of end that makes offensive coordinators worry. He's not steady enough to be too much of a threat.

6-2, 252-pound junior Curtis Meyers was hurt for a stretch, but he ended up starting in nine games making 29 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. While he's not a pure pass rusher, he's a good all-around end and a strong tackler who holds up well against the run. He's more of a tough end than a quick one.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Conor Reilly is back as a key backup behind Luchsinger after making 21 tackles. While he's a fast 6-3 and 245 pounds, he didn't do enough to be disruptive with just half a sack and three tackles for loss. A great athlete who could be a linebacker if needed, he could grow into a pass rushing specialist.

Senior Corey Moncrief was supposed to come in and be a factor right away after coming in from the JUCO ranks, but he only saw time in two games and
didn't register any stats. At 6-2 and 308 pounds he brings some much needed bulk to the reserve tackles, but he has to produce. He made 130 tackles and seven sacks at Mississippi Delta Community College, and now he'll work behind Williamson at one of the tackle spots.

Watch Out For ... more to be asked for from the tackles. Williams, Moncrief, and Hodge provide excellent size on the interior, and while the line will miss Jameson Hartke, it could be stronger against the run with the bigs the Bobcats have for the interior.
Experience. With three decent starters returning and a good prospect in Williams, the starting four should know what it's doing. Luchsinger and Meyers aren't special ends, but they're solid and should be better against the spread teams.
Pass rush. There isn't a sure-thing pass rusher on the lot and there isn't enough quickness on the interior to hope for a Hartke-like season from one of the tackles. The defense might have to manufacture a pass rush from the linebackers.
Outlook: A disappointment over the last two seasons with little pass rush and not enough done against the run. The starting foursome should be solid, but there's not a lot to rely on among the backups who have been around the program, but haven't produced. Without Hartke, there's no star power whatsoever, but this should be a steady, if unspectacular line.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters
Junior Noah Keller was supposed to start out last year on the strongside but ended up starting most of the year in the middle where he finished the year with a team-leading 104 tackles with a sack, an interception, and five tackles for loss. The 6-1, 236-pound big hitter has bulked up over the last few years and now has the size to be even stronger on the inside. Athletic, he's great at getting in on every play with the ability to play any of the three linebacker spots.

5-10, 210-pound senior Lee Renfro was originally a safety and a star high school running back, but he moved over to linebacker and ended up becoming a major playmaker making 56 tackles two years ago and finishing second on the team last year with 83 tackles with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. While he's a great tackler on the weakside and can burst into the backfield, he needs to do more against the pass.

Former JUCO transfer Errik Ejike was looking like a possible star two years ago before breaking his foot and missing most of the year. He needed a while to return healthy, and now he's finally 100% after making 13 tackles in limited time. The 6-1, 216-pound senior should be a disruptive force now that he's in a full-time role on the strongside.

Projected Top Reserves: Working in a rotation with Ejike on the strongside will be Alphonso Lewis, a good-looking redshirt freshman who's built like a safety and runs like one. He's not huge at 6-1 and 206 pounds, but he's a sure-thing tackler with excellent range and great upside.

Sophomore Brandon Weaver is back after making 21 tackles with 1.5 sacks in a key backup role in the middle. Undersized at 6-1 and 210 pounds, he's fast, has great playmaking potential, and could do a lot more if he was put into a starting role. He's quick enough to lay on the weakside and tough enough to play in the middle or the strongside.

After making ten tackles as a reserve, sophomore Jay Edwards will see more work on the weakside behind Renfro. A great high school running back, he has a good burst and shouldn't have a problem in pass coverage. He'll be the starter next year.

Watch Out For ... Ejike. He was supposed to be a superstar when he arrived in 2007, but it hasn't happened yet. He has the speed and the ability to become a major all-around playmaker on the strongside. It'll be a big disappointment if he's not one of the team's top five tacklers.
Active playmakers. If Ejike plays as expected, the starting threesome should be terrific, and it's not a stretch to call this the team's biggest strength. Keller and Renfro are proven playmakers who make things happen all over the field.
Proven backups. Weaver has seen enough time to be counted on, but Lewis and Edwards haven't done it yet, even though they're expected to shine. Size is also an issue with Keller the only linebacker-sized linebacker.
Outlook: Because of the mediocre defensive front, the linebackers have to be the stars. They will be. Keller and Renfro can tackle, but they'll likely be asked to do more as pass rushers. The key for the defense could be Ejike, who could make a good linebacking corps special if he's good.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Can the Bobcats replace Mark Parson, the team's shutdown corner? The hope is for Julian Posey to be 100% healthy again after having problems with an ankle injury. The 5-11, 188-pound junior made 14 tackles with two broken up passes in his limited time last season. He has decent size and excellent speed, and he's a tough tackler making 54 stops two years ago.

Senior Thad Turner took over a starting corner job early on and turned out to be solid making 37 tackles with an interception and a team-leading six broken up passes. A rail-thin 6-0 and 169 pounder, the former receiver has good speed and knows what he's doing now at the position. He tackles well for his size.

The leading returning tackler in the secondary is Steven Jackson, a talented 6-2, 192-pound senior who made 71 tackles with two interceptions and four broken up passes.  He has to make more big plays against the pass, but he's a sure-thing tackler with nice range and good toughness. He has to stay healthy after suffering a knee injury a few years ago and having problems with a groin injury this offseason.

Taking over for Michael Mitchell, the team's fourth leading tackler, at strong safety is Patrick Tafua. The 6-0, 197-pound senior made 17 tackles in a reserve role coming over from Golden West College, where he made 129 tackles and seven picks. He has the range of a free safety and good hitting ability. He'll be one of the team's top tacklers and he should be a team-leader in forced fumbles.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining forces with Posey at one cornerback spot, if he doesn't win the job outright, will be Iris Lawrence, a smallish 5-8, 174-pound senior who started the first two games of last year before giving way to Turner. He still saw time in every game making 13 tackles, but he didn't do enough against the pass. He's extremely quick, but he has to prove he can pick off a pass, which he hasn't done yet in his career.

Junior Donovan Fletcher was supposed to push hard for the starting free safety job last year but Steven Jackson turned out to be too good. The 6-0, 192-pounder made eight tackles in his limited time but he has the range and the ability to be a bigger part of the scheme.

The team's top nickel and dime back will once again be Travis Carrie, who worked last year at safety but will move to corner where he'll back up Turner. The 6-0, 201-pound sophomore made 35 tackles and an interception in his breakout role, and while he might not have the same stats, he could turn out to be a major factor in the corner rotation.

Watch Out For ... The second corner spot on the other side of Turner. Lawrence and Posey were each supposed to be stars earlier in their respective careers, and now they have the chance to do it. They'll have to battle it out for the job, but the winner should be a strong playmaker.
Cornerback. Even with the loss of Parson this is a major strength. Turner is fantastic, while Lawrence, Posey, and Carrie can all play. This has the potential to be the league's top group of quarterbacks.
Weakness: The defensive line. There likely won't be too much of a pass rush to rely on, so the overall stats might not be truly indicative of how good the secondary really is. If the Bobcat sack total can go from 21 to around 30, and with more consistent pressure, the DBs will look far better.
Outlook: Last year's secondary was excellent, and while there isn't a sure-thing NFL prospect like Parson to rely on, there are several good veterans that could make this year's defensive backfield even better. The corners are deep and good while the safeties can hit.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Redshirt freshman Matt Weller was neck-and-neck with Barrett Way for the kicking job going into last year before Way won it and hit 13-of-19 attempts. Weller redshirted and now has four years to be the main man for the kicking game. He has a bigger leg than Way, but he has to prove he can be as accurate from midrange.

Junior Matt Schulte has had a rough first two seasons averaging 37.6 yards per punt two years ago before averaging 38.2 yards per boot last year. However, he improved on his accuracy last year with 15 kicks put inside the 20. He was more consistent in spring ball and should be far better with a big leg and experience.

LaVon Brazill was fantastic on punt returns averaging 16.5 yards per try with a 66-yarder for a touchdown. Chris Garrett is an elite kick returner 26.9 yards per try after averaging 25.1 yards per attempt two years ago. L.J. Flintall is also a terrific kick returning option averaging 28.3 yards per try on his 13 attempts.

Watch Out For ... Weller to be just fine. He might not be Way right away, but he'll come up with more big kicks. He'll get a few chances from beyond 45 yards and he should be more successful than Way, who hit only two kicks from beyond 40.
The return game. Ohio was second in the MAC and 21st in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 23.6 yards per try and was 25th in the nation in punt returns averaging 11.64 yards per attempt.  
Punt coverage. The Bobcats were great two years ago at punt coverage but gave up a whopping 14.5 yards per punt return, with three touchdowns.
Outlook: If Schulte can get his average to over 40 yards per kick, the special teams should be terrific. The return game will be among the MAC elite while Weller will hit just enough bombs to make up for the short-range misses.
Rating: 6.5