2009 Miami Preview - Defense
Miami DE Eric Moncur
Miami DE Eric Moncur
Posted Jul 15, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Miami Hurricane Defense

Miami Hurricanes

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Miami Preview | 2009 Miami Offense Preview
2009 Miami Defense Preview | 2009 Miami Depth Chart
- 2008 Miami Preview | 2007 Miami Preview | 2006 Miami Preview 

What you need to know: Bill Young’s departure back to Big 12 country has Miami breaking in a new defensive coordinator for a second straight year. John Lovett, most recently the special teams coordinator at North Carolina, inherits a defense that has a nice mixture of veterans and young players. This is not, however, a vintage Hurricane defense. The ‘Canes had trouble stopping the run and creating takeaways in 2008, both of which Lovett hopes to address. His front seven has depth and talent, including budding stars in DT Marcus Forston, DE Marcus Robinson, and LB Sean Spence. The biggest concern rests with a mediocre secondary that was painfully short on big plays a year ago.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sean Spence, 65
Sacks: Allen Bailey, 5
Interceptions: Multiple players, 1

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Sean Spence
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Brandon Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Marcus Forston
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Allen Bailey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spence, 2) Bailey, 3) Senior DE Eric Moncur
Strength of the defense: Depth up front, preventing big plays, getting to the passer
Weakness of the defense: Creating turnovers, run defense, inexperience in the secondary

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Depth will not be a concern for this group. Keeping everyone involved? Now, that is going to be a challenge for the staff. A ton of lettermen return to the front, headed by junior Allen Bailey, one of the most freakishly explosive athletes on the roster, if not the entire state. An uncommon blend of speed and burst in a 6-4, 285-pound frame, he has the quicks to play end, but is more likely to line up on the inside. Despite being slowed by a torn pectoral muscle and starting just four games, he still collected 36 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and five sacks. He has an enormous ceiling that could be reached in 2009.

Lining up next to Bailey will be 6-2, 308-pound sophomore Marcus Forston, a Freshman All-American in 2008 and one of the gems of last year’s star-studded recruiting class. In a short period of time, he’s already shown the quickness and disruptive tendencies that could someday land him on other All-American squads. In his debut, he had 25 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks, despite starting just one game.

The ‘Canes got great news when senior DE Eric Moncur was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA. The team’s best pass rusher heading into 2008, he suffered an injury and was limited to just four games. A speedy, powerful player coming off the edge, he showed flashes in 2007, making 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks. He’s hoping to be at full strength by the start of the season.

Whether he’s in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, sophomore Marcus Robinson is going to find a way on to the field. A classic speed rusher, he started five games as a rookie, making 35 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. Three of those sacks came against Virginia Tech in a microcosm of his potential to simply blow past dumbfounded tackles. At only 6-1 and 242 pounds, he needs to prove he can hold up against the run and is more than just a situational player on obvious passing downs.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior DT Joe Joseph has started 14 games over the last two seasons, and has hardly stopped competing for a top job heading into his final year. At 6-3 and 302 pounds, he moves well laterally and has the quickness to beat his man into the backfield. In his most productive season on campus, he finished 2008 with 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.

Also providing depth on the inside is 6-2, 321-pound sophomore Micanor Regis, a space-eater capable of helping the defense in run defense. Coming off the bench in his first year, he had 16 tackles, flashing the raw power and leg drive that sometimes makes it difficult for one blocker to handle him.

When pure speed is needed off the bench, Miami can look to sophomore Adewale Ojomo, a 6-3, 248-pound end with the explosiveness and agility of an outside linebacker. He plays in all 13 games as a first-year player, earning three starts and making 17 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks.

Ojomo and 6-3, 255-pound senior
Courtney Harris will be working to keep Robinson out of the starting lineup this summer. Harris was actually making a push up the depth chart a year before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire season. While he has just one career sack in 19 appearances, he has good enough size to be a factor against the run.

Watch Out For ... a very fluid depth chart. Miami has so many equal parts at end and tackle that the competition for playing time will be as hot as the South Florida sun this summer. Even the coaching staff has no idea what the two-deep will look like in September, especially with a couple of players still working back from injury.
Strength: Depth. Miami likes to rotate its linemen liberally, which will not be a problem this fall. The Hurricanes are flush with an immense amount of depth inside and especially outside. An unheard of 10 linemen have lettered at this level, allowing one of last year’s starters, DE Steven Wesley, to moonlight at tight end during the spring.
Weakness: Run defense. It’s been two straight years now that Miami has been pushed around in run defense. Last year’s group finished last in the ACC in that department, getting exposed over the final three-quarters of the year.    
Although Miami doesn’t boast any shoe-in all-star along the defensive line, it has as much depth and overall talent as any unit in the ACC. Now, it has to back it up, especially against the run. With Moncur returning and players, such as Bailey, Forston, and Robinson, ready for take off, the Hurricanes should be markedly better at the point of attack than a year ago.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: Three of last year’s key contributors are gone, included steady Glenn Cook, putting more pressure than ever on the underclassmen to chip in. One of those youngsters, sophomore Sean Spence, has already proven in one season that he’s on the verge of stardom. As a highly-touted true freshman, he parlayed 82 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks into being named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Don’t be fooled by his 6-0, 211-pound frame. He’s a guided missile and one of the hardest hitting players in the conference.

The veteran of the unit is 5-11, 235-pound senior Darrryl Sharpton, a fifth-year player and a veteran of 39 games and 20 starts. Tough in run defense and explosive in all direction, he’s gotten progressively better as his career has developed. Seeing his most extensive action as a Hurricane, he was fourth on the team with 66 tackles, adding six tackles for loss and a handful of quarterback hurries. 

The key to this group in 2009 will be the health of senior Colin McCarthy, who missed the last couple of months of 2008 with a season-ending shoulder injury. A year earlier, he had the look of a budding star, displaying great speed and instincts, while racking up 74 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and two sacks. Very athletic for a 6-3, 235-pounder, Miami needs his playmaking ability on the field.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Arthur Brown, not Spence, was the headliner of the 2008 recruiting class. Yet, Brown never quite got comfortable in the system and wound up spending most of the year on special teams. His talent, however, remains exceptional. An outstanding all-around athlete at 6-2 and 223 pounds, he reads and reacts well, exploding on impact when reaching his target.

Less heralded from that 2008 class, 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Jordan Futch will get a chance for considerable playing time on the outside. He was adapting nicely to the speed of the game in September before an injury limited him to just five games. After playing well in the spring and showing he was healthy, he’s ready for an increase in reps.

Watch Out For ...
Brown’s development. There’s been an overreaction to the fact that Spence was better out of the starting blocks. Brown is no less of a blue-chip athlete than when he was considered the No. 1 prep linebacker in America. It’ll be worth monitoring how far he’s come along from his first season on campus. Miami didn’t need him a year ago, but it does now.
Strength: Spence. He’s just one of those unique young players, who’s capable of wreaking havoc all over the field with his athletic ability. In many ways, he looks like a throwback Miami linebaceker of the 1980s and 1990s, who weren’t very big, but had great lateral speed and intensity.
Proven depth. Losing Cook, Spencer Adkins, and Romeo Davis means the ‘Canes will lean heavily on unproven players on the second team. If Brown and Futch happen to not be ready for primetime, there really aren’t many other options for the coaching staff.
Outlook: While the potential exists for this to be a terrific group, the linebackers still have plenty to prove. In particular, McCarthy needs to show that his shoulder won’t be a problem and Brown and Futch have to perform as if they’re ready to enter the huddle at a moment’s notice.
: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Certainly by the program’s usual standards, this is a very ordinary Miami secondary. There have been some losses due to graduation, and none of the returners have an all-star pedigree. Fortunately, 6-0, 208-pound senior Randy Phillips was granted a medical hardship after missing all but two games with an injury in 2008. The veteran of this crew, he’s played in 34 career games, earning 13 starts along the way. While he never panned out as a corner, he’s a solid run defender and an intimidating presence to unsuspecting receivers.

One of the pleasant surprises in March was 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Vaughn Telemaque, who really emerged from the pack at safety. Following a disappointing, injury-filled first year, he arrived a little bigger and stronger and a lot closer to a starting assignment. He has a special set of physical gifts, drawing comparisons to a young Ed Reed, but needs to dedicate himself, particularly in the film room.

Much like at safety, the competition at cornerback figures to be intense throughout the summer. Sophomore Brandon Harris laid a nice foundation in his first season on campus, starting six games and getting in on 26 tackles. One of the top cornerback prospect in the country in 2008, the 5-10, 190-pounder has great hips and instincts, but needs to tighten up his fundamentals and overall technique in pass coverage. That ought to come with more experience.

An ever so slight lead at the other corner spot belongs to 6-1, 177-pound
DeMarcus Van Dyke, a spot starter during each of his two seasons. Although he’s yet to fulfill all of his potential as a lockdown pass defender, the frame and the speed are still there for him to begin blossoming. He had 16 tackles and just one pass breakup, making 2009 a crossroads year for the junior.

Projected Top Reserves: Bucking for playing time at safety will be 6-1, 197-pound junior JoJo Nicholas, an eight-game starter in 2008. He contributed 31 tackles and a couple of pass breakups, rarely standing out or delivering a big play. He’s a quality all-around athlete and heady player, providing an edge in a tight race for reps.

Senior Ryan Hill is another one of the experienced safeties vying for playing time in 2009. A former wide receiver with 19 career receptions, he made the full-time switch to defense last fall, starting five games and making 34 tackles. Still learning the position, the 5-11, 203-pounder needs to get a little more physical if he’s going to make it back into the lineup.

The ‘Canes most experienced corner out of the reserves is 5-11, 180-pound senior Chavez Grant, a veteran of 37 games and 17 starts. An active pass defender with good ball skills, he had 25 tackles and a team-high seven pass breakups a year ago. At worst, he’ll play nickel back and have an integral role on passing downs.

Watch Out For ...
senior Sam Shields. Didn’t he used to be the next big thing at wide receiver? Yup, but sensing a need, the Hurricanes are trying one of their best athletes at cornerback this offseason. A smooth 6-0, 186-pounder with legitimate 4.3 speed, if he shows any ability to cover, he’ll get a chance to contribute this fall.
Strength: Keeping the ball in front of them. For all of the griping and hand-wringing, the ‘Canes didn’t give up many big plays last fall, while allowing just 165 yards a game through the air. Plus, opposing quarterbacks completed just over 51% of their passes in 2008, second nationally to only Florida State.
Weakness: Turnovers. Playing in a league short on top-notch quarterbacks, it’s borderline criminal that Miami picked off just four passes all year and only one in the final eight games. This group needs to produce more big plays, turning some of those batted balls into drive-ending turnovers. 
Outlook: While last year’s numbers were very solid, part of the results were due to playing in the passer-poor ACC. Miami needs to be more dynamic in pass defense. And it knows it. Any potential star power in the defensive backfield is inexperienced, meaning Harris and Telemaque will be asked to mature and excel in a hurry.
: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: While not your typical dual-threat, junior Matt Bosher was every bit as valuable for the Hurricanes in 2008. In fact, he was named the team’s MVP, a testament to his skills as a punter and a placekicker. A member of the All-ACC second team at both positions, he nailed 18-of-20 field goal attempts and was among the league leaders in net punting. More than just accurate, he has terrific leg strength, connecting on a 52-yarder against Wake Forest last fall.

While Bosher sat out spring with a shoulder injury, redshirt freshman Jake Wieclaw got a chance to stretch out his leg and show the staff that he’s ready to handle kickoffs. Ideally, the ‘Canes would prefer that Bosher get a rest once in a while, provided Wieclaw is up to the challenge.

Watch Out For ... sophomore Travis Benjamin. In Benjamin, Miami is cautiously optimistic that it has the second-coming of Roscoe Parrish. A dynamite all-around athlete with electrifying speed, he should be better in his second season as the primary return guy. While he led the ACC in punt returns a year ago, he was just ordinary on kickoffs.   
Strength: Coverage units. Beyond Bosher, the obvious hero of this group, the coverage teams consistently do an outstanding job of shutting down lanes. On punts, in particular, Miami was No. 2 in the country, allowing under 17 yards a return. 
Weakness: Mistakes in the punt game. Most programs go an entire season without having a punt blocked. The Hurricanes have allowed two in each of the last two seasons. Bosher shares some of the blame along with the snappers, who haven’t always been on target.
Outlook: Thanks in large part to the leg of Bosher, Miami will contend for the ACC’s best all-around special teams unit. If Benjamin begins to fulfill all of his potential, the ‘Canes won’t have many serious challengers in this category.
: 9


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