2009 UAB Preview - Defense
UAB DE Bryant Turner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense
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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.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Bryant
Tackles: Chase Daniel, 47
Interceptions: Brandon Carlisle, 2
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:
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
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.
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
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
Outlook: If it was only only Henderson
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.
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
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.
Outlook: 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
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
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.
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