2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The defense was special last season as it kept the team in game
after game, came up with the big plays needed and the right
times, and set up the offense to pull off a few wins. While it
would’ve been nice to have D.J. Moore back for another year at
corner, the cupboard is hardly bare with everyone returning on
the front seven and CB Myron Lewis and S Ryan Hamilton back for
the secondary. The pass rush will be fantastic with speed and
quickness all across the board, but the one concern could be
bulk. It wasn’t a problem last year, but the run defense
struggled at times. This year’s D won’t make as many big plays
as last year’s, but it could be better overall.
Patrick Benoist, 109
Myron Lewis, Steven Stone, 5
Interceptions: Myron Lewis, 5
Star of the defense: Senior CB Myron Lewis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Chris Marve
Best pro prospect: Lewis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) LB Patrick
Benoist, 3) Marve
Strength of the defense: Experience, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Size on the front seven, Second
Projected Starters: The only returning starter to
last season’s line was
Steven Stone, a 6-5, 272-pound senior
who has been good against the run and has emerged as a
strong pass rusher. With excellent size, he doesn’t have much of
a problem holding his own against more physical lines, and he
has been a steady force into the backfield with five sacks and
7.5 tackles for loss, to go along with 42 tackles, after making
four sacks and eight tackles for loss two years ago.
Emerging on the other side of Stone is senior
Broderick Stewart, a 6-5, 230-pound pass rusher who flies into the
backfield and has grown into the full-time job after serving as
a specialist earlier in his career. He came up with five sacks
and 9.5 tackles for loss, along with 29 tackles, in 11 games
before suffering a foot injury that knocked him out of the final
two games. He’s a playmaker, forcing three fumbles, batting down
two passes, and making quarterbacks adjust for him. Out for
spring ball, he’ll be back and health by the fall.
6-4, 287-pound senior
Greg Billinger isn’t that huge, but he’s ultra-productive,
extremely tough, and is a force on the inside. He needed to come
through with a big season with all the personnel losses on the
line, and he did making 47 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles
for loss. An indispensable cog who plugs things up in the
middle, he has the talent, the motor, and the experience to be
Junior Adam Smotherman
doesn’t put up big stats, he only made 16 tackles with two
sacks, but he’s a 6-4, 290-pound block on the inside who allows
others to work around him. Leg injuries kept him in check early
in his career, and last year he was able to start in 11 games as
a very tough, very strong player. Very strong. While he still
has some growing to do to be more consistent and make more big
plays, he’ll be a key to the run defense.
Projected Top Reserves: With Broderick Stewart out
this off-season, and at the end of last year,
Teriall Brannon, a
6-3, 242-pound junior, started in the Music City Bowl. While he
was a regular in the rotation, he only finished the year with
four tackles and a broken up pass. A good athlete with excellent
upside, he’s expected to be used more as a pass rusher.
Combining with Brannon in the rotation will be 6-4, 250-pound
Theron Kadri. The
junior got a start late last year against Wake Forest, but he
suffered an ankle injury and was limited in the bowl game. Even
so, he finished the year with 19 tackles and will be a key
reserve again. With good athleticism and quickness off the ball,
he needs to become more of a pass rusher.
6-4, 250-pound sophomore
Tim Fugger was a great recruit for the program a few years
ago, and while he hasn’t done much as a pass rusher, partly due
to injuries, he has the potential to be a statistical star. One
of the fastest players on the defensive front seven, running a
10.8 100 in high school, he'll get his chance as a situational
pass rusher. He made 14 tackles last year.
Sophomore T.J. Greenstone
has a great motor and turned into an active factor in the
rotation on the inside with 33 tackles and six tackles for loss.
The SEC All-Freshman star-in-the-making isn’t a space-eater at
6-3 and 278 pounds, but he’s extremely quick off the ball and
finds ways to get into the backfield.
Watch Out For ... more of a rotation at end. There
are enough good pass rushers to get more involved and to provide
fresher options in key spots. Steven Stone and Broderick Stewart
don’t have to do it all.
Strength: Pass rush. All four spots have
quickness, experience, and enough talent to get into the
backfield on a regular basis. There weren’t quite enough tackles
for loss, but those will come. This group will be great at
getting to the quarterback.
Weakness: Bulk. This isn’t a thin line, and there isn’t
a major problem with size, but there aren’t many beefeaters. The
line revolves more around quickness than weight, so if Adam
Smotherman and Greg Billinger go down, power teams could run
Outlook: The line did a great job of rebuilding
after losing three starters, and now there’s a wealth of
experience and production returning at all four spots. The
tackles are active and good at holding up against the run, and
there are options on the outside to form a veteran rotation.
With plenty of quickness, a good pass rush, and proven
production, this might quietly be one of the league’s best
Projected Starters: Senior
stepped in for Jonathan Goff and came up with a terrific year,
leading the team with 109 tackles to go along with two sacks and
6.5 tackles for loss. While he’s only 6-0 and 220 pounds, his
quickness makes him productive in pass coverage, breaking up six
passes, and makes him good at getting into the backfield. Tough
as nails, he took the SEC pounding last year and survived, but
he was injured early in his career with a foot problem. He’ll
start again on the weakside.
Thrown into the middle from day one, sophomore
Chris Marve produced like a veteran finishing second on the team
with 105 tackles with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He
dominated on the scout team two years ago as a true freshman
before he got his chance to step in and shine. A big hitter, he
also forced four fumbles and showed better toughness than his
6-0, 228-pound size might indicate. His speed makes him a
standout all-around playmaker.
Back on the strongside will be
John Stokes, a 6-5,
228-pound speedster who mostly served as the team’s long snapper
before making 31 tackles and four tackles for loss last season.
With his combination of quickness, athleticism, and size, he has
the potential to put up big numbers, but first he has to get
healthy after missing most of the off-season to let an injured
shoulder heal up.
Projected Top Reserves: There’s not much chance
for work behind Patrick Benoist on the weakside, but junior
Nate Campbell has to be ready. Benoist isn’t all that big, and if he
has problems with injuries, Campbell will be a major producer
after making eight tackles for the second year in a row. Mostly
a special teamer, he’ll see more time.
Brent Trice came up
with a nice season as a reserve making 22 tackles with 2.5 sacks
and 3.5 tackles for loss as a safety-like strongside linebacker.
Only 6-3 and 210 pounds, he moved over from safety and found a
role as a dangerous playmaker when turned loose. He can be a
situational pass rusher, but he can also produce against the
run. Don’t be shocked if he moves back to safety at some point.
The Commodores will go with the redshirt freshman combination of
Tristan Strong and
DeAndre Jones to back up Chris Marve in the middle. They’re both 6-1
and 225 pounds, and they can both hit. While Strong is the
better athlete, Jones is the bigger hitter and the more polished
Watch Out For ... more from the backups. The
linebacking corps isn’t big enough to hold up for a second
straight season. It’ll be tempting to keep the starting
threesome on the field as much as possible, but the team needs
more time from the reserves.
Strength: Quickness and experience. There was a
huge concern last year that the new starters would struggle a
bit to produce at a high level. The starting trio not only
exceeded expectations, but surpassed them. The linebackers can
all run and they’re all physical.
Weakness: Size. The starters held up well, but there
isn’t a lot of bulk. Benoist, Marve, and Stokes are all under
Outlook: After losing some key players last year,
the linebacking corps reloaded in a big way. Benoist and Marve
turned into ultra-productive tacklers who did a little of
everything well, while Stokes and Trice combined to do a good
job on the strongside. This is a sideline-to-sideline, active
corps that’ll put up big numbers and should be asked to do even
more to get into the backfield.
Projected Starters: Last year,
Myron Lewis spent the year as the No. 2 corner with everyone staying
away from superstar D.J. Moore, who took off early for the NFL.
This year it’ll be Lewis who’s the main man and the big-time
upside. At 6-3 and 205 pounds he has tremendous size, excellent
athleticism, and three years of experience. He finished fourth
on the team with 76 tackles and took advantage of teams that
tried to pick on him with five interceptions and six broken up
passes. With great timing, he’s fantastic at getting to the
quarterback with five sacks and seven tackles for loss last
Trying to replace Moore on the other side will be sophomore
Jamie Graham, a wide
receiver who finished third on the team with 17 catches for 125
yards and three touchdowns. He moved over to the secondary this
off-season to use his speed and quickness as a second corner. At
6-0 and 192 pounds he has good size and tremendous versatility
being used as a running back and quarterback as well. Extremely
fast, he should shine in the role with a little bit of work.
Ready to emerge as one of the SEC’s more heralded stars is
Ryan Hamilton, a 6-2, 208-pound veteran who finished third on the
team with 104 tackles with four interceptions, three recovered
fumbles, and 4.5 tackles for loss. Known mostly for his
three-interception game against Ole Miss, the free safety was
steady throughout the year and will be one of the leaders the
secondary works around. While not a huge hitter, he provides a
big pop at either safety spot.
Gone is big-hitting strong safety Reshard Langford and in comes
Sean Richardson, a
good looking sophomore who made his biggest impact on special
teams. A speedy 6-2 and 198 pounder, he made 11 tackles as a
reserve and scored the team’s only touchdown in the win over
Boston College by recovering a fumbled punt return for a score.
Tremendously athletic, he can play either safety position. While
he’s better suited for free safety, he’ll start out at strong
Projected Top Reserves: In the mix to replace D.J.
Moore is Casey Hayward,
a 6-0, 180-pound sophomore who got some good work as a true
freshman, mostly as a nickelback, making eight tackles with
three broken up passes and a forced fumble with his biggest game
coming in the bowl win over Boston College. He also turned into
a strong special teamer, but now his job will be to come through
when picked on.
Junior Alan Strong
will work both as a backup corner and as a nickelback after
making four tackles in a limited role. Even though he’s only
5-10 and 175 pounds he’s a devastating hitter and is one of the
team’s best all-around athletes. He can be used in a variety of
6-1, 192-pound Joel
Caldwell has been a good backup as safety over the last few
years after starting out his career at corner. He made 42
tackles as a freshman and can be moved back to corner if needed,
but with his size and strength he’s better suited for safety. He
made 11 tackles last season at free safety getting most of his
work early on. While he has decent speed and quickness, he
struggled against the faster receivers as a corner and hasn’t
done much against the pass as a safety.
Watch Out For ... Graham. There’s no replacing
D.J. Moore, but Graham has the type of potential to become a
major-league corner. As well as he played at times last year on
the offensive side, he’s more needed in the secondary.
Strength: Producers. It hurts to lose Moore and
Reshard Langford, but Hamilton and Lewis are good veterans to
work around while the rest of the secondary fills in the gaps.
The new starters have enough potential to have big seasons.
Weakness: Sure-thing second corner. Lewis is a rock on
one side, but if Graham doesn’t turn out to be above-average on
the other side, or if Strong and Hayward struggle, the pass
defense will take a big turn south.
Outlook: The secondary was among the best in the
country last year, and it was certainly among the most
opportunistic. This year’s defensive backfield will undergo some
growing pains, but with the help of a good pass rush and with
Hamilton and Lewis already in place, the production will be
fine. However, it won’t be enough just to be decent against the
pass. If there aren’t plenty of interceptions, there were 20
last year, the defense will take a big hit.
Bryant Hahnfeldt gone,
now it’ll be up to redshirt freshman Ryan Fowler to take
over the placekicking duties. While Fowler is a good talent with
excellent upside, he’ll have to prove he can be as clutch. He’s
not all that huge, but he has a good leg and should be strong on
Senior Brett Upson is back for his fourth season as the
starter after averaging 40.1 yards per kick and placing 21
inside the 20. With a good leg and the experience of three years
in the SEC, he should be on the verge of all-star honors if he
can continue to be consistent.
is a former receiver who’s being moved over
to corner. He’ll also step in for D.J. Moore as the team’s main
return man after averaging just 4.9 yards per punt return. He
has excellent speed and quickness and he should be decent, but
it’s asking a lot for him to be Moore, who averaged 14.4 yards
per punt return and 19.4 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For ... Fowler to be fine. If he
struggles at all, it’ll be up to walk-on John Laughrey to show
he can handle the work. Fowler might be inexperienced, but he
has the leg to be a decent placekicker.
Strength: Punting and punt coverage. The coverage
team stepped up after a disastrous 2007 by allowing just 4.2
yards per punt. Upson averaged 40.1 yards per kick and should be
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Even with D.J. Moore the
Commodores averaged a mere 19.6 yards per try. Graham and Gaston
Miller will try to add more pop.
Outlook: The special teams didn’t do enough to
help out the mediocre offense. The return game struggled at
times and the punting game was good, but nothing special. The
big key will be the kicking of Fowler, who’ll have to be the
difference maker in at least three games. Four Vandy games were
decided by three points or fewer.