Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN WKU Preview |
2009 WKU Offense
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.
Tackles: Mark Santoro, 60
Interceptions: Ryan Beard, 3
Star of the defense: Sophomore
FS Mark Santoro
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Tyran
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.