Preview 2009 -
2009 CFN Central
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2009 CMU Offense
2009 CMU Defense |
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What you need to know:
If it's ever going to
happen for the CMU defense, this will be the year. Abysmal over
the years, even when the program became a MAC powerhouse, the
defense has the potential to at least be average with ten
starters returning and developed depth all across the board.
While health is an issue, and there's a wee bit of a size
problem in the linebacking corps, there are positives to work
around. The end tandem of Frank Zombo and Sam Williams might be
the best in the MAC leading the league's best pass rush, while
the tackle pair of Sean Murnane and John Williams are solid. The
issue is the secondary that stunk, finishing 118th in the nation
against the pass, even though the pass rush was tremendous. For
all the problems, the defense won't be last in the MAC in total
Tackles: Nick Bellore,
Frank Zombo, 9
Interceptions: Eric Fraser, 2
Star of the defense:
Senior DE Frank Zombo
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Dannie Bolden
Best pro prospect: Zombo
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Zombo, 2) LB Nick
Bellore, 3) DT Sean Murnane
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Health
The line stepped up in a huge way last year when it
came to generating pressure, after a miserable 2007, and the star of the
show was senior Frank Zombo, a 6-4, 269-pound senior
who followed up a 7.5-sack season with nine sacks, 15.5 tackles for
loss, and 51 stops. While he's a nice run stopper and showed the
quickness to get in on play after play, his job is to get to the
quarterback and make big plays. The first-team All-MAC performer will be
able to do that on a consistent basis and will be job one for every
opposing offensive line do worry about.
With all the attention paid to Zombo, veteran Sam Williams
has to clean up on the other side. The 6-3, 238-pound senior
started out his career as a linebacker, moved to tight end, and last
year grew into a whale of a pass-rushing terror with 6.5 sacks and nine
tackles for loss to go along with 43 tackles. While he's not all that
big, he has a great burst into the backfield and is more athletic than
Zombo. He should be a killer now that he knows what he's doing.
Junior Sean Murnane is the veteran star up front after
starting every game at tackle and finishing fourth on the team with 57
stops with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 266 pounds
he's a bit undersized, but he's able to use his quickness and his motor
to make things happen. While he might be more natural on the end, and
would flourish as a 3-4 end, he's a proven playmaker on the inside
earning third-team All-MAC honors.
The biggest question mark up front will be Casey Droscha's replacement
on the nose. While sophomore John Williams might not
have Droscha's experience, at 275 pounds he's a much bigger option, and
at 5-10 is made with perfect built-in leverage to handle the position.
He saw time in a few games last year and made five tackles with a sack
and a forced fumble, and now the Miami native should be a star up front
and a possible anchor for the next three years. He could've gone to
Miami or Tennessee, but he should be great for the CMU front line.
Projected Top Reserves:
6-3, 248-pound senior Larry Knight
got over a knee injury and turned in a nice
season as a pass rushing specialist. A backup who got three starts,
Knight finished with 19 tackles with four sacks and seven tackles for
loss. While he hasn't been able to put it all together to become a star,
he has defensive back speed, decent size, and 86 career tackles and 11
Expected to blossom into a major playmaker is sophomore Kashawn
Fraser, a 6-2, 222-pound flash of lightning who blew up the CMU
offense in the spring game with three sacks. He saw time in ten games
last year and finished with three tackles and 1.5 sacks, and while he's
a bit small for the position, he'll be great at getting into the
6-1, 262-pound redshirt freshman Steve Winston will be
the main backup at both tackle spots. Originally considered a defensive
end, he'll be moved to the inside to provide some semblance of depth
with his decent size and good strength. He's not a nose guard, but
that's what he'll have to be from time to time.
Watch Out For ... Fraser. CMU
was great at getting to the quarterback last year, and with the expected
emergence of Fraser in a bigger role, the line could be unstoppable no
matter who's seeing time in the rotation.
Pass rushing. CMU was 11th in the MAC in sacks and
10th in tackles for loss in 2007. A more aggressive approach, and better
play from the line, led the way to the lead league in sacks while
finishing fourth in tackles for loss last year. Expect even more with
Zombo, Williams, Fraser and Knight all fantastic speed rushers.
Tackle depth. Uh oh. Murname and John Williams have
to be iron men until other tackles can help out Winston. The depth,
thanks to injuries, is non-existent.
The line was solid after a rough year helping the
defense finish first in the MAC in sacks, fourth in tackles for loss,
and first against the run. Zombo, Murnane, and Sam Williams are
near-locks for all-star honors, while John Williams is a great-looking
prospect on the nose. Everyone has to stay healthy and some backups at
tackle have to quickly develop.
Junior Nick Bellore was a
nice surprise two years ago with 102 tackles, and followed it up
with a team-leading 148 stops and first-team All-MAC
recognition. At 6-1 and 232 pounds he has nice side for the
outside, but he's a rock in the middle where he makes every play
that comes his way. Great at getting into the backfield, he has
12.5 career tackles for loss and is great in pass coverage when
needed. As good as he was in the middle, he'll see some time on
the weakside going into the fall. He's the leader of the veteran
If Bellore really does stay on the
outside, then it'll be up to Matt Berning to
show he can produce at the same level in the middle. The team's
third leading tackler, making 70 stops from the weakside, the
foreign exchange student from Germany now knows what he's doing
and he could be a good on. Very smart and very tough, he picked
the sport up playing for the Dusseldorf Panthers and played for
the German National team two years ago. The 6-1, 235-pound
junior has good range and big hitting ability.
189-pound senior Tommy Mama has mostly been a
corner, playing in 11 games and making 25 tackles last year with
a broken up pass. Now he'll bring that speed to linebacker where
he'll step in on the strongside to try to generate even more of
a pass rush. Mediocre in pass coverage as a corner, the coaching
staff will try to use his speed and athleticism in other ways.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Mike
Petrucci made 16 tackles as a decent reserve, but he
can do far more. He beefed up in a big way to get to 230 pounds
on his 6-2 frame, and with his speed and range he has the tools
to be a good one on the weakside or in the middle. He's always
been a great practice player, and now it has to translate more
to the field.
6-0, 195-pound senior Tim Brazzel
has to get healthy, but when he's right he's one of the
team's key defenders starting 12 times last year on the
strongside making 53 tackles highlighted by a ten-stop game
against Eastern Michigan. While he's undersized, he's a good
hitter and is willing to do whatever is needed to get to the
Watch Out For ... Berning. He has had the raw
skills and he's a tough player, but he has needed time to
sharpen up the instincts. Now he should be great after a year
under his belt and he should hover around 100 tackles.
Strength: The starting three. Bellore and Berning are a
sure-thing twosome, while either Mama or Brazzel can step
in and shine on the strongside. There will be lots of tackles
from the starting threesome, but ...
Weakness: Depth. If everyone is healthy, the depth is fine. But
at the moment it's Petrucci and ... Petrucci. It'll be disaster
time in Bellore or Berning gets hurt.
Outlook: As long as Bellore and Berning are fine,
the Chippewa run defense will be solid. But the lack of healthy
depth and the lack of size on the strongside could be a problem
as the season goes on.
The Chippewa defense needs more out of the
corners, and that starts with Josh Gordy. The
5-11, 192-pound senior is the team's best coverman making 47
tackles last season, but he only made one pick and broke up six
passes. He has decent size and is tremendously strong, but he
has to be better on an island and he has to be far more
consistent. If he can make a few big plays early on,
quarterbacks will stay away from him.
Working on the
other side will be Taylor Bradley, a 6-0,
187-pound junior who made 17 tackles with an interception. He
got two starts in the final games of the year and was a key
backup the rest of the way. He's a smart, athletic defender who
started to show signs of being a good one late in the season,
but he'll be tested.
After a terrific offseason, 5-11,
191-pound sophomore will get the starting look at strong safety.
A great tackler, at least in practices, with tremendous range,
he should be a big-time playmaker are spending most of last year
on special teams making five tackles. He's not huge, and he's
not a blow-'em-up hitter, but he's physical and he's all over
Senior Eric Fraser started
eight games last year at free safety making 36 tackles with a
team-leading two interceptions. While he didn't make enough
tackles after an 80-stop sophomore season, he has the
experience, with 150 career stops, to be a steady factor and to
be good against the run from either safety spot. Now he has to
do more to help out the corners.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Bobby Seay
started 12 games last year a at free safety and
finished second on the team in tackles with 90. A big-time
prospect who could've gone to some much bigger programs, he
became one of the team's breakout stars with tremendous range
and speed. At 5-11 and 184 pounds, he has enough size to be
effective, but he has to be more consistent and he has to do
more against the pass after making a pick with six broken up
Senior Kirkston Edwards started
the second half of last year at corner on the other side of
Gordy and Bradley and finished with 48 tackles with a pick
and six broken up passes. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he's a big
corner with good range. He's not a blazer, but he's decent on
the move and is physical.
Sophomore LaVarus Williams
appears to be a near-lock to be a big producer in nickel and
dime packages. the 5-11, 205-pounder made 13 tackles last season
in four games before getting knocked out. One of the team's
fastest players, he'll work behind Bradley at one corner spot
and will see time in a variety of ways.
Watch Out For ... Williams. He could end up
becoming a key starter at one corner sooner than later, but at
the very least he should be one of the team's biggest playmakers
when he's on the field as a fifth DB.
Strength: Options. There's a ton of experience and a ton of
depth coming back to provide several options to play around with
if things go into the tank like they did last year.
Weakness: Production and health. Could anyone in the secondary
stay healthy? Despite getting good help from a tremendous pass
rush that finished 14th in the nation in sacks, the secondary
gave up 287 yards per game and 25 scores.
Outlook: The CMU secondary hasn't stopped anyone
in years. With so many veterans and so much speed and
athleticism the pass defense can't help but be a little bit
better. It's not going to be a rock, but if can just be mediocre
it'll do a world of good for a team strong enough to win the MAC
Senior Andrew Aguila hit 16-of-21 field
goals earning third-team All-MAC honors. He missed a few makeable short
range kicks, but he has a good leg and can trusted from 45 yards and a
bit deeper. Not just experienced, he's also clutch.
220-pound junior Brett Hartmann has a huge leg and had
a nice first season averaging 40 yards per kick with 16 put inside the
20 and with 13 forced fair catches. He's great at bailing the team out
of bad situations and has the leg to be used on kickoffs.
Antonio Brown is one of the nation's elite kickoff
returners averaging 20.8 yards per try after averaging 26.2 yards per
boot two years ago. He went from good to unbelievable as a punt returner
averaging 10.9 yards per try two years ago and then coming up with 20.5
yards per try with a 75-yarder for a touchdown. He's one of the nation's
Watch Out For ... Hartmann to be even better. If
nothing else, he can always blast the ball whenever he needs to. If he
can be a bit more consistent and can be helped out by a coverage team
that struggled, he has All-MAC potential.
Strength: Brown. He has gotten to the point to where teams will
avoid him at all costs. They have to. He's too dangerous with the ball
in his hands.
Weakness: Punt coverage. After allowing 11.1 yards per return
with a different punter in 2007, CMU gave up 11 per try last year.
Outlook: The special teams could be the best in
the MAC, with the exception of the coverage teams. Brown is devastating
while the kicking game is rock-solid.