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2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
Vanderbilt LB Chris Marve
Posted Jul 16, 2009 2009 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2009 - Defense

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

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Patrick Benoist, 109
Sacks: 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 Jamie Graham
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 corner

Defensive Line

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 an all-star.

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.
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 well.
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 lines.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: Senior Patrick Benoist 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 player.

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.
Size. The starters held up well, but there isn’t a lot of bulk. Benoist, Marve, and Stokes are all under 230 pounds.
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.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

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 season.

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 safety.

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 ways.

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.
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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: With 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 kickoffs.

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.

Jamie Graham 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 steady again.
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.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2009 Vanderbilt Preview – Depth Chart
 -by  Jul 16, 2009
2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Offense
 -by  Jul 16, 2009
2009 CFN Vanderbilt Preview
 -by  Jul 16, 2009

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