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2009 Central Michigan Preview - Defense
Central Michigan DE Frank Zombo
Central Michigan DE Frank Zombo
Posted Jun 26, 2009 2009 Preview - Central Michigan Chippewa Defense

Central Michigan Chippewas

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Central Michigan Preview | 2009 CMU Offense 
- 2009 CMU Defense | 2009 CMU Depth Chart 
- 2008 CMU Preview | 2007 CMU Preview | 2006 CMU Preview  

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 D again.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Nick Bellore, 148
Sacks: 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 Taylor Bradley
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 sacks. 

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 backfield.

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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: 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 defense. 

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.

5-10, 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 ball.

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.
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 ...
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.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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 the field.

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 passes.

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.
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.
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 title.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.

6-4, 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 elite weapons.

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 8