2009 UAB Preview - Defense
UAB DE Bryant Turner
UAB DE Bryant Turner
Posted Jul 21, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense

UAB Blazers

Preview 2009 - Defense

2009 CFN UAB Preview | 2009 UAB Offense Preview
- 2009 UAB Defense Preview
| 2009 UAB Depth Chart
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What you need to know: Drilling down on UAB’s four straight losing seasons reveals a lack of depth and talent on defense, even by Conference USA standards. You can expect more of the same from this unit in 2009. Yeah, the Blazers played their best ball over the final three games of 2008, but it’ll be tough to maintain that momentum without LB Joe Henderson and CB Kevin Sanders, a pair of rare all-league first teamers. On defense, there’s a complete lack of star power or next-level potential on the two-deep. The line struggles to get much of a push, the linebackers should be wearing name tags for fans and coaches, and the rebuilt secondary has been a sieve for years. It all adds up to an increase in pressure for an offense that’ll need to out gun many opponents in order to come out on top.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chase Daniel, 47
Sacks: Bryant Turner, 4
Interceptions: Brandon Carlisle, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Bryant Turner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior NT David Decordova
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Terrell Springs
Best pro prospect: Turner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Turner 2) Junior DT D.J. Reese 3) Springs
Strength of the defense: Front four depth, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Sacks, stopping the run, pass defense, turnover at linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Blazers have no shortage of depth and experience up front, which the staff hopes can be parlayed into better results and more pressure. The leader of the defensive line will once again be 6-2, 260-pound junior Bryant Turner, a high-motor guy and the teams best pass rusher. A regular in opposing backfields the last two seasons, he had 20 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a team-best four sacks last fall.

Flanking Turner will be 6-3, 255-pound senior Anthony Barnes, a pleasant surprise in his first season out of
Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College. Fueled by a good first step off the snap, he wound up starting the final eight games of the season, making 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. With Turner getting more attention, he’ll be asked to get to the quarterback more often in 2009.

The anchor inside will once again be 6-4, 280-pound junior D.J. Reese, a third-year starter and the Blazers’ nastiest run stuffer. Tough at the point of attack and able to fight through blockers, he led the UAB linemen a year ago with 31 tackles, adding 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage. With two years of experience behind him, he could be inching closer to all-league recognition.

Senior David Decordova was supposed to be in the regular rotation last fall, but his debut out of El Camino (Calif.) College was cut short by an injury after just three games and four tackles. A 6-2, 280-pounder, with tremendous upper body strength, he’s being slotted in at nose tackle and given an opportunity for plenty of reps.

Projected Top Reserves: The best asset of 6-0, 275-pound junior Tim Davis is his versatility. A two-time letterwinner, he’s shown an ability to chip in at defensive end or defensive tackle. He was on the inside last year, making nine stops in nine games, but spent time on the outside in the spring when injuries popped up.

Although 6-4, 260-pound senior Joe Happe is running behind the starters at defensive end, he’s like having another starter in the rotation. In fact, he’s started 14 games over the last two seasons, making 15 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. While not a playmaker who can be counted on to get to the quarterback regularly, his experience is a real bonus for this group.

At 6-4 and 245 pounds, sophomore Elliott Henigan is not your traditional defensive tackle, but that couldn’t keep him out of the rotation as a true freshman. Once Decordova went down, he moved into a more prominent role, finishing the season with 26 tackles, an unexpected letter and a bunch of valuable reps.

Watch Out For… junior-college transfer Derek Slaughter. More than anyone else, the 6-2, 245-pound product of Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College drew praise from the coaching staff in the spring for his athleticism and playmaking skills. He has a high ceiling and a certain spot in the rotation.
Strength: Athletic ability. Yeah, the Blazers are small up front, but that’s expected when the regions wide-bodies sign with either Alabama or Auburn. UAB compensates with quicker linemen, who can get around the edge and slice through gaps between blockers.
Weakness: Finishing. Yeah, the Blazers will generate pressure, but they rarely reach the quarterback, a perennial problem for the program. A year after getting just 7.5 sacks from defensive linemen, UAB finished last in Conference USA with only 15 sacks.
Outlook: The good news is that the defensive line is a year older and the depth continues to improve through recruiting. However, the Blazers need to be far more productive here or else the back seven is going to suffer. It’s not all their fault, but when the linemen can’t generate a push, the defense will struggle to stop anyone.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: More than any other position, graduation and transfers have really taken a bite out of the UAB linebackers. Not only is All-Conference USA first teamer gone, but so are other seniors who’d provided depth. Taking over at weakside will be 5-11, 205-pound junior Keon Harris, a safety playing the role of a linebacker.  A two-time letterwinner, with good lateral quickness, he started seven games a year ago, making 47 stops and three tackles for loss.

At least for the time being, the tall order of playing middle linebacker belongs to 6-2, 220-pound true freshman Daniel White. One of the best combinations of size and speed at linebacker, he originally signed with the Blazers in 2008, but spent last fall working on his grades at Hargrave Military Academy. The competition will get a little tougher in the summer, as he tries to hold on to the starting job.

The staff really likes the potential of 6-3, 195-pound sophomore Drew Luker, especially when he’s able to add some weight and muscle to his lanky frame. A good all-around athlete, he got his feet as a true freshman, starting three games and making 24 tackles. He has a chance to be a fixture in the lineup, though at strongside, he’s going to lose a fair amount of battles this fall.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Lamanski Ware is one of the few reserves who saw the field and lettered a season ago. He started five games at weakside, making 23 tackles and contributing on special teams. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he’s big enough to support the run and quick enough to be used as a blitzing pass rusher.

Although he’s been slowed an offseason surgery and only appeared in five games in 2008, 6-0, 235-pound sophomore Katrell Watters is more than capable of winning the job in the middle that’s currently occupied by White. In those five appearances, he had 15 tackles, showing nice instincts and tackling ability for such a young player.

Watch Out For… plenty of shuffling between now and the opener. The depth chart is hardly set in stone, especially since so many linebackers missed all or part of spring with injuries. Once players, like JUCO transfer Darrion Wilson, are cleared for action, the competition will really heat up in the summer.
Strength: Range. What they lack in girth, the UAB linebackers make up for with outstanding range and closing speed. Their ability to cover so much ground in pass coverage and on blitzes allows the coaching staff to get creative with this group.                
Weakness: Proven talent. The weakest link in the UAB chain, the linebackers are perilously thin in talent and depth. Harris is a serviceable player, but the fact that he’ll be the most accomplished linebacker heading into the season is a sobering thought for the unit. 
Outlook: If it was only only Henderson who graduated the situation here might not be so dire. However, the linebackers were almost cleaned out in the offseason, leaving a bunch of undersized, inexperienced players in their wake. A few playmakers will emerge, but if too many plays are allowed to get past the first line of defense, the entire D is going to be in trouble.
Rating: 4


Projected Starters: UAB employed a handful of young players in the secondary last season. The program hopes their ready because they’re suddenly the leaders of the defensive backfield. The lone veteran from a group that lost three starters is 5-10, 185-pound senior Brandon Carlisle, who’s back for his third season as a starting cornerback. More physical than his size might indicate, he had 46 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two picks in his return from an injury.

Joining Carlisle at corner is 5-9, 175-pound sophomore Terrell Springs, arguably the most exciting young player on defense for the program. Thrust into the action as a rookie, he performed beyond expectations, earning starts in seven games and making 32 tackles and four pass breakups. While a bit undersized and prone to getting bullied, the coaches feel he has lockdown and all-star potential.

At strong safety will be 6-3, 190-pound sophomore Chase Daniel, who is about to become a fixture in this secondary. He still plays a little too high and needs to add more weight, but his debut in Birmingham portends good things over the next three years. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman, starting six and finishing with 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two picks, and five pass breakups. A multi-faceted athlete, he showed a knack for rarely being too far from the ball.

The biggest question mark is at free safety, where 6-0, 200-pound junior Hiram Atwater held an edge coming out of spring. A first-year transfer out of Garden City (Kans.) Community College, he’s a heavy hitter and experienced player, who’s expected to contribute shortly after getting off the bus.

Projected Top Reserves: The understudy to Carlisle at one cornerback spot is 5-9, 170-pound sophomore Andre Hicks, who gradually saw more playing time in his first season with the program. He has the good catch-up speed and improving cover skills to make a run at the spot opposite Springs in 2010.

Also in the mix for a job next year and increased playing time this fall will be 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Marquis Coleman. He has much better size than Hicks and more relevant reps, having played in all 12 games and made 14 tackles. If he continues to improve, he’ll have a shot of being the nickel back, when the Blazers insert an extra defensive back.

Watch Out For…the evolution of the kids. Yeah, there are still going to be plenty of growing pains, but it’s still hard for the staff to contain its excitement about the sophomores. Springs, Daniel, Coleman, and Hicks broke their maiden in 2008, and should be much improved this season. If they keep learning and growing together, the future looks fantastic in 2010 and 2011.
Strength: Tackling. When the first two lines of defense allow a lot of traffic to pass through, you pretty much learn to wrap up out of necessity. The safeties and the corners are skilled at sniffing out the run, filling the lanes, and delivering a blow like a linebacker.
Weakness: Yielding the long ball. This has been a persistent and perennial problem for a defensive backfield that’s been victimized on the deep ball way too much over the last few seasons. The Blazers yielded just under 14 yards a completion, which ranked them 115th or lower for the second consecutive year.
: Although you can see the potential through the haze, the results of the secondary remain a grave concern for defensive coordinator Eric Schumann. UAB lost its two best defensive backs from a unit that was 110th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Expect the trend of porous pass defense to continue in 2009.
Rating: 4

Special Teams

Projected Starters: It’s going to get overlooked because of the positions he played, but the graduation of Swayze Waters leaves UAB with a massive hole at placekicker and punter. Now a member of the Detroit Lions, he was all-conference at both positions last year. Waiting in the wings is sophomore Trey Ragland, who is slated to pull double-duty as well. Although he lacks practical experience, he has learned from one of the best over the last two seasons, and has shown good accuracy on field goals in practice. He’s got a bigger learning curve at punter, a position he never handled in high school.

In the return game, senior Jim Mitchell is expected to take over on punts, while junior Frantrell Forrest is back to field kickoffs. Forrest had a 90-yard touchdown return in 2008, but was otherwise quiet, finishing near the bottom of the conference.

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Josh Zahn. Someone has to push Ragland in the summer, right? That someone will be Zahn, a late signee from Arizona, who’ll get an opportunity to compete as soon as he arrives.
Strength: Coverage teams. For the first time in years, the Blazers were competent covering punts and kickoffs in 2008. Does it continue now that Swayze is gone? The program remains hopeful he wasn’t the only reason for the improvement.
Weakness: The return game. The Blazers were among the nation’s most feeble return units in 2008, finishing 113th and 103rd on punt returns and kickoff returns, respectively. The cast of characters hasn’t changed, so improvements will be tough to come by.   
Outlook: Wow, have things changed over the course of a year. A team strength in 2008, the Blazer special teams could be a major issue this fall. Naturally, the key will be Ragland. If he can’t take ownership of this unit, UAB’s postseason quest becomes a little more of a struggle.
Rating: 4.5


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