2009 Western Kentucky Preview – Defense
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Posted Jul 13, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Western Kentucky Hilltopper Defense

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN WKU Preview | 2009 WKU Offense
- 2009 WKU Defense | 2009 WKU Depth Chart 

What you need to know: There are plenty of decent athletes and a lot of interesting prospects coming in from the recruiting class, but it could be another year of trying to find something that works. The 3-4 alignment will occasionally be a 3-3-5 with several decent corners, but there has to be more production. It's not like the Hilltoppers played a who's who of passing teams, but they still got lit up. The pass rush has to come from the outside linebackers, but they should be the weak link on the D with no depth whatsoever. On the plus side, there are enough inside linebackers to form a great rotation, while the corners are extremely deep. The front three will rely on at least seven underclassmen to be part of the mix, and they need to use their athleticism to make up for the mistakes. This will be a stepping-stone season before becoming strong in 2010.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mark Santoro, 60
Sacks: Ryan Beard, 1
Interceptions: Ryan Beard, 3

Star of the defense: Sophomore FS Mark Santoro
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT Nick Hartnett
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Tyran Golden
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Dexter Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Santoro, 2) SS Ryan Beard, 3) LB Darvis McBride
Strength of the defense: Inside Linebacker, Young Corners
Weakness of the defense: Production, Outside Linebacker Depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line needs will undergo an overhaul, but Jared Clendenin should be a solid starters at right end. The 6-3, 230-pound sophomore had a nice first season as a key backup making 18 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. While he doesn't have ideal size for a 3-4 end, he's tough and should hold up reasonably well as long as he's part of a regular rotation.

Trying to hold up on the nose to be an anchor against the run will be Nick Hartnett, a 6-0, 290-pound junior who has the size and the makeup to handle the job, but he doesn't have a lot of experience making just four tackle in limited action. He's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

Sophomore Bo Adebayo is a 6-3, 240-pound sophomore who should get bigger and should grow into a nice factor on the left side. The end got a limited amount of work last year and didn't do anything, but he has good quickness off the ball and should grow into a nice pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: The coaching staff isn't shy about talking about using the great recruiting class right away, and the crown jewel for the line is Tevin Holliman, a 6-2, 230-pound end who has the speed to become an instant pass rusher on both sides and could even see time at outside linebacker if needed. He upgrades the talent level in a big way.

6-4, 272-pound Galatian King would work best as an end in the 3-4, but he could end up seeing time at tackle right away. He could've gone to several BCS schools, but he should grow into a role in some spot on the defensive front with mature size and toughness for a true freshman.

6-0, 265-pound redshirt freshman Jamarcus Allen was a nice recruit last year and almost took the redshirt off, but he ended up sitting out the year, improved by leaps and bounds, and now will be a vital part of the tackle rotation. He might not be all that big, but he provides the interior pass rushing ability missing from Hartnett.

Redshirt freshman Brandon Whitty could've gone to Michigan State or Mississippi State, but he chose WKU and should become a solid pass rusher on the right side behind Clendenin. The 6-2, 250-pounder was a star weightlifter in high school and was an active playmaker for a good St. Augustine high school team in Florida.

Watch Out For ... the new guys. If Cole Tischer ends up playing end instead of linebacker, there's an outside chance that the front three will feature all true freshmen at some point. Holliman is too good to keep off the field, while King might be needed to bring some help at tackle.
Strength: The future. This group will undergo some major growing pains with no returning starters and at least seven underclassmen likely to play key roles. However, the talent has been upgraded and should be turned loose as everyone tries to make up for mistakes with speed and hustle.
Weakness: Proven production. There isn't any. Clendenin is about it as far as players the line can count on with any appreciable experience. While that's not necessarily a bad thing considering that last year's line was hardly a rock, the line is starting from scratch.
Outlook: Is 2010 here yet? The coaching staff is preaching patience about what the front three can do, but at the same time there's talk of using all the true freshmen to help the overall production. The key will be to find one thing the front three can do well. There might not be too much of a pass rush, so holding up against the run needs to be this group's thing. That's probably not going to happen right away.
Rating: 3.5


Projected Starters: The only returning starter in the foursome is Darvis McBride, a 5-10, 225-pound senior who made 50 tackles with an interception and four broken up passes on the inside. A nice all-around defender, he needs to be more active and even more of a playmaker in the backfield as the key veteran in the back eight.

Next to McBride on the inside will be senior Taurean Smith, a safety-like former JUCO transfer who made 49 tackles as a spot starter after spending the first two years of his career at Minnesota State C.C. where he made 220 tackles. He beefed up over the last few years and is up to 230 pounds on his 6-1 frame. He should be able to handle himself well against the run.

Junior Mike Gothard was a decent backup making nine tackles with a sack in his limited action. He's a sure-hitter who has been strong in practices, but to stick as a starter, the 6-1, 225-pounder has to be a disruptive force who gets to the quarterback and makes things happen behind the line.

On the other outside spot will be 6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman Tyran Golden. He was fine in practice in his first year, but nothing special, and then he came up with a strong spring and will hold down the gig. While he'll rotate in and out depending on the alignment, he has the range and the upside to become too good to keep off the field.

Projected Top Reserves: At 6-0 and 230 pounds, junior Chris Bullard is one of the team's bigger linebackers and he needs to be a factor against the run. He made 20 tackles as a key reserve last season and made 35 as a freshman. Decent enough to start if needed, he'll be a regular in the rotation.

Senior L.J. Harbison isn't all that big at 5-11 and 220 pounds, but he's scrappy and smart. He produces whenever he's in making 49 stops with a sack and four tackles for loss as a starter through most of the second half of last year. He's a good tackler who won't make many mistakes no matter where he plays on the inside.

Star recruit Cole Tischer is projected to pay on the end but could start out at linebacker just to get him on the field. He was a big-time recruit who was courted by several bigger schools and will be a key factor somewhere in the front seven right away either at inside linebacker or on the end.

True freshman Chuck Franks is the main backup on the outside after getting to school early on. Now the 6-2, 210-pounder will work in a rotation behind Gothard bringing good speed and big hitting ability. Very athletic and very promising, he'll get his chances to shine right away.

Watch Out For ... a lot of movement. The corps has to fill four spots and doesn't have any real depth on the outside while Harbison and Bullard are good enough to start somewhere. The depth chart will change up in a variety of ways to find the right combination.
Strength: Inside linebackers. Smith, McBride, Harbison, and Bullard form the deepest area of the team and they're all going to find time somehow. That's a good thing considering ...
Weakness: Outside linebacker. When a true freshman is the only backup of note, there's a problem. The outside linebackers are supposed to be the big producers in the WKU defense, but Gothard and Golden have to prove they can make things happen.
Outlook: The numbers should be there just because everything will funnel to the inside. If the defense is going to come up with a big turnaround, this is going to have to be a major area of improvement if the team as a whole is going to be better. Even though there's only one starter returning and not a lot of depth in key spots, this should be one of the team's strengths.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The biggest question in the secondary is the status of Ryan Beard, a promising sophomore who made 41 tackles with a team-leading three interceptions, but was suspended from the team this spring after issues with a DUI and other off-the-field problems. He's expected to be back and one of the team's top playmakers. At 6-1 and 180 pounds he's not all that big, but he knows how to get around the ball and he's a great hitter.

The biggest loss is at free safety where Travis Walters and his team-leading 73 tackles is gone. Fortunately, sophomore Mark Santoro appears to be a good one after a strong spring. The 6-0, 195-pounder made 60 tackles with two interceptions after being used in a variety of ways, mostly as a fifth defensive back late in the year, and now he should be one of the team's leading tacklers. Not only will he be strong against the run, he might lead the team in picks, too.

Getting a look at one of the starting corner jobs will be senior Jihad Morris, a 6-0, 175-pound senior who made 14 tackles with a tackle for loss. He started out his career at Hudson Valley C.C. where he was a top open field tackler, and now, after finally getting a shot at a starting job, he should shine against speed receivers. He's not the team's fastest player, but he's speedy enough to have been in the Penn Relays.

5-10, 185-pound junior Dexter Taylor ran for 200 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, highlighted by a 96-yard day against Virginia Tech. He was also a backup quarterback completing 7-of-10 passes for 53 yards with an interception. Indiana's Mr. Football in 2005 with 2,116 yards and 29 touchdowns, he started out his career as a running back at Tulsa before transferring to WKU and now he'll be used as a starting corner. He can cut on a dime and has great all-around athleticism, but he has to prove he can be consistent as a defender.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore John Garrett was originally supposed to be a wide receiver, but he switched over to safety and made one tackle in a reserve role. The 6-0, 190-pounder isn't a huge strong safety, but he has tremendous range, showed off big-hitting ability in spring ball, and should be one of the defense's most productive backups.

Sophomore Trent Calhoun is a promising corner who came up with a nice first season making 26 tackles with a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception and four broken up passes. He got four starts including the final three games of last year, and while he wasn't always a rock, he was productive.

Vince Williams isn't all that big at 5-9 and 165 pounds, but the star recruit is a tough tackler and can fly. He was a good receiver in high school ant made 67 tackles over the last two years, but his real talent is in coverage. He might not start right away, but he'll push hard for time and could be a major factor in nickel and dime packages.

Another true freshman, Darryl Williams, is a 5-9, 165-pounder out of Miami who could've gone to almost any of the non-powerhouse Florida schools. He could be used as a wide receiver if needed, but he's too much of a ball-hawker to not be a top corner option.

With the new prospects coming in, junior Erik Jones has to step up and shine as a backup corner and in dime packages. He started in six games last year but didn't do much against the pass with just two broken up passes and no picks. While the 5-9, 175-pounder made 18 tackles and will fight for a starting spot throughout the fall.

Watch Out For ... a fascinating battle for the corner jobs. With the additions from the recruiting class, there are at least three prospects for each spot. While Taylor and Morris have the inside track, they'll be pushed and pushed hard.
Strength: Options. There are so many promising defensive backs that it'll be hard to not go to a 3-3-5 alignment more often than not. It might take a while to find the right starting foursome, but there are plenty of prospects to choose from.
Weakness: Production. Yes, there are plenty of speed players and lots of athletic prospects with tremendous upside, but the Hilltoppers allowed 213 yards per game and didn't improve as the season went on. There have to be more picks, more third down stops, and more big plays.
Outlook: The best position fights on the team will be at quarterback and corner. The safeties are solid, with the one question mark being the status of Beard, but the corner jobs are wide open. Whoever takes over the jobs will have to be tighter after struggling mightily last year despite not facing many teams that could throw. It's going to take a little while, but there are plenty of players for the coaching staff to play around with.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Casey Tinius will get the first shot at the starting placekicker job, taking over for Tanner Siewert who nailed 11-of-16 field goals. While he'll also be in the mix as a punter, his job will be as placekicker where he has a steady leg with just enough range to be tried out from around 45 yards and in.

Senior Jeremy Moore is back after struggling mightily averaging 36.9 yards per kick. He's a seasoned veteran who has had his moments, he averaged 41.7 yards pre try two years ago, but he needs to do more to blast the team out of trouble. He forced 16 fair catches and put 16 inside the 20, but his longest kick was just 55 yards.

Running back Bobby Rainey is one of the nation's elite kickoff returners averaging 30.6 yards per try on 19 attempts. He had two monster games in back-to-back weeks against Murray State and Kentucky and did all his work in a six-game stretch.

Wide receiver Jake Gaebler didn't do much as a punt returner averaging just 7.4 yards per try. While he's extremely quick, he needs to come up with a few big pops to provide more of a threat. His longest return was just 16 yards. 

Watch Out For ... the placekickers. Tinius should be automatic from inside the 35, but does he have enough range to consistently produce from deep? Tanner Stewert was 2-of-3 on his short-range kicks and hit 7-of-8 extra points.
Strength: Rainey. He didn't start returning kicks until game three and missed the final few games of the year, but for a six-game stretch he was devastating. Teams will avoid him at all costs.
Weakness: All things around the punting game. Gaebler struggled, Moore didn't come up with enough big kicks, and the coverage team allowed a whopping 11.9 yards per return.
Outlook: There are plenty of veterans all across the board and plenty of speedy options for the coverage teams, but there has to be more overall production. Rainey is a star, and now everyone else has to step up and do more.
Rating: 6.5


Related Stories
2009 Western Kentucky Preview – Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2009
2009 Western Kentucky Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2009
2009 Western Kentucky Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 13, 2009

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