2009 Tulane Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Three coordinators in three years. Either they’re all coaching
their way to promotions or unable to remain employed. In the
case of Tulane, it’s the latter. Steve Stanard is the newest assistant being asked to turn around one of the nation’s
worst defenses. After a surprising start in 2008, the defense came apart at the
seams, yielding at least 40 points in six of the final eight games. Vulnerable
through the air and, particularly, on the ground, the Green Wave simply lacks
the talent and depth to stifle even modest offensive attacks. More of the same
is expected this fall from a group with no evident star power or likely
next-level athletes. Although potential exists on the defensive line, with
Reggie Scott, Adam Kwentua, and Logan Kelley, it won’t be enough to counter a
flimsy and beatable back seven.
Star of the defense: Senior DL Reggie
Corey Sonnier, 86
Interceptions: Travis Burks, 2
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Phillip Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Scott, 2) Senior DE Logan Kelley, 3) Burks
Strength of the defense:
The defensive line, preventing the big pass play
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, red zone defense, third down defense, creating turnovers
Projected Starters: The Green
Wave D got a big lift when its best linemen, 6-4, 272-pound
Reggie Scott, was granted a sixth
year of eligibility by the NCAA. An honorable mention All-Conference USA
selection the last two years, he’s a tackle with the moves and agility of an
end. His career numbers, which include 16.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and
three forced fumbles, are testament to his ability to get penetration.
His partner on the inside will be 6-2, 305-pound junior
Oscar Ponce de Leon, who’s spent time on both sides of the ball his
career. He’s found a permanent home on defense, starting a pair of games a year
ago and making 14 tackles. Not the kind of player who’ll bust through gaps to
make stops, he relies on his upper body strength to win battles.
The Green Wave is in great shape on the outside, welcoming back a pair of
productive senior edge rushers. Considering he started just a single game, 6-2,
246-pound Logan Kelley was extremely
productive as a situational player, making 28 tackles, a team-high seven sacks,
and three forced fumbles. In fact, over the last two years, he’s had a dozen
stops behind the line. A speed rusher, with a great motor, he’ll finally have
the snaps to really crank out the individual numbers.
On the opposite side is 6-3, 251-pound
Adam Kwentua, who’s more of a strongside, every-down end. A starter for all
dozen games last fall, he stepped it up in run defense, leading all linemen with
48 tackles, four of which were for minus yards. However, he had just 1.5 sacks,
a level of production that needs to rise in his final year of eligibility.
Projected Top Reserves: Depth
on the interior is not going to be a problem for a defense that returns seven
letter-winning tackles. Chief among those reserves is 6-2, 288-pound sophomore
Cedric Wilson and 6-2, 291-pound
Chris Asumnu, who exited spring as
members of the two-deep. Wilson played in eight games as a rookie, even earning
four starts down the stretch, and finished with 13 tackles. A former tight end
and basketball player, he’s bulked up since arriving, yet remains very agile.
Asumnu also played extensively in his first year, appearing in nine games and
starting five. He chipped in with 14 tackles, and really began getting
comfortable with his role in November. A powerful, low-leverage lineman, he’ll
be tough to move off the ball, especially as he spends more time in the weight
Watch Out For… Scott to be a
bit of a hybrid. Yeah, he came out of spring as a starting defensive tackle, but
with the depth at that position, he could conceivably shift outside and bolster
the ends. He gives the coaching staff flexibility with his ability to excel at
Strength: Getting penetration.
Scott, Kwentua, and Kelley combine to give Tulane three athletic defensive
linemen, who are capable of zipping through blockers and making stops for minus
yards. For the first time, all three will be on the field at the same time,
which will present problems for plodding offensive lines.
Weakness: Depth at defensive
end. Brooks Cunningham?
Casey Blum? Although they’ve got
exactly one game of college experience between them, these two underclassmen are
currently slated to be the first two ends off the bench.
Outlook: Yeah, they’ve got to
do a much better job of stopping the run than a year ago, but Tulane actually
has the makings of a pretty disruptive front line. If the starting front four
remains healthy throughout the season, the Green Wave has a chance to win more
battles in the trenches this fall than it loses.
Projected Starters: Now that
Evan Lee and Devin Holland are no longer around, 6-0, 215-pound senior
Travis Burks is poised to be the
playmaker of this unit. A bullet from the weakside, he’s a former defensive
back, who can cover a lot of range and is the group’s best pass defender. In the
most extensive action of his career, he had 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss,
two sacks, and a pair of picks. How athletic is he? He’s the rare linebacker,
who also returns kicks.
The early favorite to bookend Burks at strongside is 6-0, 220-pound sophomore
Kristofar Rhymes. Mainly a special
teams performer in his first year, he lettered in 2008 and had 15 tackles.
Projected as a safety coming out of high school, he’s added weight and proven
tough enough to land a starting assignment at linebacker.
In the middle will be 6-1, 225-pound senior
David Kirksey, a key reserve and two-game starter a year ago. He was
in on 41 tackles and flashed good instincts, but failed to make many big plays
or distinguish himself. With only inexperienced kids behind him, he’ll have his
best chance yet to really make an impact on the defense.
Projected Top Reserves: In an
effort to boost the sagging depth at the position, 6-2, 226-pound sophomore
Nathan Austin was moved from running
back. He was actually the team’s second-leading rusher in 2008, going for 292
yards and a pair of scores on 93 carries. A quality athlete, he brings some
much-needed size to the unit, and will compete with Rhymes at strongside.
The most seasoned reserve will be 6-1, 230-pound senior
James McMurchy, a journeyman who appeared in eight games last year
and had a couple of tackles. While no threat to Burks at weakside, he’ll
continue to provide support on special teams and prepare as if he’s going to be
Watch Out For… more blitzing if
the pass defense allows it. The staff would like to turn these linebackers loose
when it’s warranted, but it doesn’t want to carelessly leave the secondary naked
too often. If the opportunity is there, Tulane won’t hesitate to give the green
light, especially to the outside guys, Burks and Rhymes.
Strength: Range. What happens
when your linebackers are built like safeties? Typically, they’re also going to
move like safeties as well. All three starters move well laterally and have the
closing speed to be effective pass rushers and pass defenders.
Weakness: Size. Sure, Tulane
likes its linebackers to be small and hyperactive, but it wouldn’t hurt to have
someone thick enough to stand down the occasional pulling guard that slips
through to the second level.
Currently, the players on the two-deep average just 6-1 and 225 pounds, which
causes particular problems on running plays.
Outlook: Although the
linebackers are an athletic bunch, they’re sorely lacking in top-shelf talent
and quality backups. Burks is the one player who could emerge into a borderline
all-star, but he’s the exception in an otherwise pedestrian set of defenders.
Projected Starters: After
improving a year ago, the Tulane pass defense is hoping to keep the momentum
with the return of five part-time or full-time starters. The veteran of the
group is 6-1, 208-pound Chinonso
Echebelem, the long-time starter at strong safety. The most physical of the
Green Wave defensive backs, he had 47 tackles a year ago, but can be a liability
as a pass defender.
The big surprise coming out of spring was the emergence of 6-0, 179-pound
redshirt freshman Alex Lauricella,
who has risen to the top of the depth chart at free safety. A terrific
all-around athlete, he displayed the catch up speed and coverage skills in the
spring to have a long and successful career in New Orleans.
With one more year left, 6-3, 190-pound senior
Charles Harris is poised to become the team’s top cover corner. An
interesting blend of size, speed, and jumping ability, he brings athleticism and
good balls skills to the defensive backfield. While still somewhat lanky and
unpolished, he had 45 tackles, a pick, and a team-high nine pass breakups in the
most extensive action of his career.
After starting three games and making 21 tackles in 2008, 5-10, 173-pound
Phillip Davis is eyeing a more
expanded role in his junior season. He’s got the right mix of speed and
athleticism to keep pace with most of the league’s quicker receivers. However,
when matched with bigger players or forced to step up in run defense, he’s
liable to get exposed.
Projected Top Reserves:
Although he easily led the team with 86 tackles, 5-10, 190-pound senior
Corey Sonnier is currently losing the
battle at free safety to Lauricella. He’ll certainly have a role, even if he
doesn’t win the job back, but he’ll be stunted if his ability to cover doesn’t
catch up to his ability to punish.
The best of the backup cornerbacks is 6-0, 186-pound junior
Alex Wacha, a terrific athlete, who’s
just beginning to hit his stride. He overcame an injury-plagued start to his
career to play in a dozen games in 2008, starting four and making 19 tackles.
He’ll contend for the nickel job this fall before succeeding Harris in 2010.
Watch Out For… the summer
competition between Lauricella and Sonnier. In a classic battle between the
upstart and the incumbent, Lauricella made plenty of supporters on the staff in
April. We’re going to find out if the coaches were just sending a message or if
there’s a changing of the guard at safety.
Strength: Limiting the big
play. Last year, the Green Wave consistently did a nice job of keeping the play
in front of them, leading the league in pass defense and finishing second to
East Carolina in yards per completion.
Weakness: Third down and red
zone defense. The Green Wave may not yield big plays, but that’s partly due to
how soft it plays in coverage. The secondary was inefficient when it mattered
most, allowing 18 touchdown passes and rarely batting away passes on third down.
Outlook: The Green Wave will
continue to play it safe in pass defense, preferring to employ a quasi-prevent
rather than risk getting exposed on deep routes. The bend-don’t-break approach
will have value if the secondary can stiffen deep in its own territory and
increase its number of takeaways.
Projected Starters: The return
of senior Ross Thevenot gives Tulane
both cause for concern and excitement about the special teams unit. As a punter,
he’s among the best at his position in the league, averaging almost 46 yards,
which was No. 2 nationally, and earning a spot on the All-Conference USA second
team. As the placekicker, however, he was a wreck, hitting just 9-of-20 field
goal attempts and having five blocked. While leg strength has never been a
concern, his accuracy leaves plenty to be desired.
Although senior Jeremy Williams and
junior Casey Robottom are slated to
return kicks and punts, respectively, redshirt freshman
Alex Lauricella is trying to apply pressure on both players.
Considering how poorly the Green Wave did in both areas last season, there’s an
opening for potential playmakers.
Watch Out For… for the incoming
freshmen to get an opportunity to contribute on special teams. The return game,
in particular, has been a target for improvement, and the Green Wave landed
enough speed players capable of giving this area a lift.
Strength: Thevenot the punter.
The defense’s best friend a year ago, he routinely booted the team out of
trouble with booming punts. Now that SMU’s Thomas Morstead is trying his hand at
an NFL career, Thevenot is the most celebrated punter in Conference USA.
Weakness: The kicking game.
When you’re Tulane, you’ve got to be able to put points on the board in enemy
territory. Thevenot connected on less than half of his field goal attempts, and
was a complete crapshoot beyond 40 yards, showing an inability to get much
Outlook: It’s a good thing for
Thevenot, or else this unit would be void of any positive aspects. The Green
Wave doesn’t cover kicks especially well and hasn’t had a dangerous return man
in years. It’ll qualify as progress if Thevenot can become a little more
consistent as a placekicker.