2009 Tulane Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 26, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Defense

Tulane Green Wave

Preview 2009 - Defense

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

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Corey Sonnier, 86
Sacks: Logan Kelley, 7
Interceptions: Travis Burks, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DL Reggie Scott
Player that has to step up and become a star
: Junior CB Phillip Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Travis Burks
Best pro prospect: Scott
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

Defensive Line

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 room. 

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 multiple positions.
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.
Rating: 5.5


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 the starter.

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.
Rating: 4.5


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.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

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 lift-off.
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.
Rating: 5


Related Stories
2009 Tulane Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 25, 2009
2009 Tulane Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 25, 2009
2009 CFN Tulane Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 25, 2009

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