Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Memphis Preview
2009 Memphis Depth
2008 Memphis Preview
2007 Memphis Preview
What you need to know: The
Memphis defense suffered an unexpected body blow in February,
when defensive coordinator Tim Walton bolted for the Detroit
Lions after one year on the job. He brought a fresh energy and
an extensive resume coaching up defensive backs. In his place
steps assistant Kenny Ingram, who was promoted from linebackers
coach. Ingram’s linebackers, a deep and talented crew, won’t be
a problem in his first year on the job. The coach’s bigger
concerns will be to generate a more consistent pass rush, reduce
the number of big gainers, and get a slew of newcomers
acclimated into the system.
Tackles: Alton Starr, 90
Interceptions: Multiple Players, 1
SStar of the defense: Senior LB Greg Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Justin Thompson
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior LB Jeremy Longstreet
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Jackson, 2) Senior SS Alton Starr, 3) Junior CB D.A. Griffin
Strength of the defense:
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, the pass rush, poor tackling
While the line welcomes back a lot of familiar faces in 2009, it needs those
mugs to be a little more visible throughout the season. By far, the biggest loss
on the line will be All-Conference USA DT Clinton McDonald, who’ll be supplanted
by senior Steven Turner, a starter in
at least one game for the last three years. Quicker than he is powerful at 6-3
and 270 pounds, he’s played some end and knows how to get penetration. In a
reserve role last year, he had 20 tackles and a team-high three fumble
Battling to line up next to Turner at the nose is 6-6, 300-pound junior
Charlie Bryant. A little-used backup
and special teamer up to this point, he’s the biggest of the defensive linemen
and a candidate to clog lanes and occupy more than one blocker. He lettered in
2008, but registered no tackles.
Creating pressure from the outside will be a couple of battle-tested senior
ends, Greg Terrell and
Jada Brown. After logging starts in
his first two years, Terrell got bumped to the second team in 2008, making just
13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Much more is expected from the 6-4,
255-pounder, who quickly raised expectations with five sacks as a freshmen.
The 6-2, 265-pound Brown is a returning 12-game starter and a better overall
athlete than Terrell. He’s quick off the snap, uses his hands well, and has an
extremely powerful base. He had 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of
sacks last year, but needs to do much more as a senior.
Projected Top Reserves: The program is ecstatic about the arrival
of DT Justin Thompson from El Camino
(Calif.) Junior College. The rare five-star gem to make his way to Memphis, he
originally signed with Oregon, and should be in the starting lineup before very
long. At 6-4 and 290 pounds, he has the strength and explosiveness to be a
success right out of the gate.
Last year’s JUCO prize, DE
Demetrius Culpepper, is hoping to explode in his final year of eligibility
after opening with a quiet debut. He’s a 6-5, 245-pounder with the speed and
overall athleticism to be a force coming around the edge.
Although senior Josh Weaver started
five games at outside linebacker last year, Memphis likes to use him as a
situational speed rusher at defensive end. Also built like a linebacker at 6-3
and 220 pounds, he has a good burst off the snap and the hops to obstruct the
passer’s line of sight. A veteran of 38 games and three letters, he had 25
tackles and just a half-sack as a junior.
Watch Out For ... Thompson. If he’s ready to work and learn the
system, Thompson is a unique talent with tremendous upside. Players from
California with his blend of size, speed, and strength usually wind up in the
Pac-10, which is why the staff is so giddy about getting his signature.
Strength: Experience. The two-deep is likely to consist of eight
upperclassmen, who’ve played plenty of football over the last few years. Turner,
Terrell, Brown, and Weaver have all started games in Memphis, which will benefit
Weakness: Getting to the
passer. Now that McDonald is gone, the rest of the linemen have to get more
pressure on the quarterback. No Tiger defensive end had more than two sacks in
2008, which is inexcusable.
Outlook: The Tiger
defensive line is long on potential and short on rock-solid production. The keys
to 2009 are being held by the ex-JUCO linemen, Thompson and Culpepper. If they
can’t deliver, this is an ordinary unit that’s prone to being controlled by the
league’s better fronts.
Projected Starters: All
three starters and some exciting newcomers will fill out the depth chart, giving
Memphis a deep corps of linebackers. Senior
Greg Jackson is the team’s reining defensive player of the year,
making 52 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in 10 games. While
undersized at 6-2 and 212 pounds, he moves well laterally and has the explosive
speed to make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, especially on
Flanking Jackson on the outside will be 6-1, 205-pound junior
Jeremy Longstreet, one of last year’s
pleasant surprises on defense. A starter for the first time in his brief career,
he finished second on the team with 80 tackles, adding 5.5 tackles behind the
line and a couple of forced fumbles. He plays bigger than his size and possesses
the athletic ability of some of the Tiger skill position players.
Back in the middle for a third straight year is junior
Winston Bowens, who chipped in with 55 tackles, 5.5 tackles for
loss, and a couple of sacks. While not the fastest of the Memphis linebackers,
at 6-0 and 250 pounds, he’s tremendously strong in the lower body, plays with
good pad level, and is difficult to move off his base.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Bowens in the middle is the veteran
of the B team, 6-3, 225-pound senior
Jeremy Rockette. A terrific all-around athlete when he gets on the
field, he had 11 stops in 13 games a year ago, contributing to the defense and
the special teams.
Challenging the starters and bolstering the depth at the position are a pair of
SEC imports, 6-2, 202-pound sophomore
Derrick Odom and 6-0, 230-pound junior
Jamon Hughes. Odom began his career
at LSU, and was a top recruit from the class of 2006. In a similar mold as
Jackson, he’s got great closing speed and overall agility. He had off-field
problems in Baton Rouge, which leave little room for poor decisions in Memphis.
Hughes was a little less heralded from that recruiting class, but was still a
coveted prospect when he signed with Mississippi State. While he’s not in Odom’s
league athletically, he plays aggressively and has the upper body strength to
miss very few tackles. Both transfers have sat out the mandatory season, making
them eligible for 2009.
Watch Out For ...the new guys. Odom and Hughes have the skills
to take a good set of linebackers and help make it the most dangerous in
Conference USA. Odom, in particular, is a cut above athletically, and, at worst,
will push his teammates to make them better.
The Tigers are now in the enviable position of going at least six-deep with
linebackers who can start, including 6-2, 235-pound sophomore
Lester Lawson, who isn’t even on the
two-deep. The program has long favored using plenty of players and keeping
everyone fresh. This group won’t make them pay for that strategy.
Weakness: Size. Memphis
doesn’t mind occasionally trading girth for speed in order to get as many
special athletes on the field at one time. It will, however, catch up with them
at times, especially when facing physical offensive lines and rangy receivers.
there’s a strength on a so-so Memphis D, this is it. The Tigers have depth,
speed, and experience at linebacker, which will allow the coaches to employ a
few different wrinkles. While they don’t
need Odom and Hughes to be great, it sure wouldn’t hurt if they perform like
former SEC players.
The inability to halt quality passers is a recurring theme in Memphis that just
won’t go away. Hope can be found in a handful of returning lettermen and a
couple of transfers. One of the unit’s most important pieces, senior SS
Alton Starr, missed spring practice
recovering from knee surgery, but is expected back for the opener. He led the
team with 90 tackles, adding six tackles for loss and five passes defended.
While just 6-0 and 195 pounds, he’s one of the strongest defensive backs and a
solid open-field tackler.
At least for now, 6-3, 190-pound junior
Curtis Echols is in line to win the job at free safety. A former wide
receiver, he played in nine games a year ago, mostly on special teams, and made
five tackles. As one of the most athletic players on the roster, there’s hope he
can parlay his size, speed, quickness, and leaping ability into big plays on
Battling for another starting engagement at cornerback will be 5-9, 180-pound
senior Deante’ Lamar and 5-11,
185-pound junior D.A. Griffin. In his
first season out of junior college, Griffin turned 64 tackles, 2.5 tackles for
loss, and four passes defended into All-Conference USA honorable mention
recognition. He’s a physical, bump-and-run type corner, who needs to improve his
Although Lamar is a burner, too often he’s using those jets to track down a
receiver. Because of his diminutive size, he can also struggle to shut down
taller receivers. In his first year as a starter in 2008, he was in on 35
tackles and broke up seven passes.
Projected Top Reserves: If Starr has any issues getting back on
the field, 6-0, 190-pound junior Darius
Davis is ready to slide into the vacancy. He played in all 13 games last
year, starting versus SMU in the nickel, and collected 15 tackles. He has the
athleticism of the corners, yet can still pack a wallop.
Also pushing for playing time at safety are a pair of transfers, 6-3, 210-pound
sophomore DeRon Furr from Auburn and
6-0, 200-pound sophomore Tremaine
McKenzie from College of Siskiyous. A blue-chip quarterback recruit of the
Tigers in 2007, he has a ton of physical ability and a starting assignment
waiting for him when he’s ready.
McKenzie joins his brother Jermaine, a receiver, in Memphis, where he’ll be
looking to climb the crowded depth chart at strong safety. Lightly-recruited out
of high school, he has safety size, yet can also play some cornerback.
The most experienced backup cornerback is 5-10, 185-pound
Lavaris Edwards, who lettered and played in eight games as a true
freshman. While he needs to spend more time getting bigger and faster, the
potential is there to make an even bigger contribution in 2009.
Watch Out For … plenty of changes in the depth chart as we get
closer to the season. The two-deep is hardly set in stone as the Tigers exit
spring, meaning the battles at safety and cornerback are sure to rage on right
through the summer.
Strength: The safeties. Starr and Echols bring a level of
experience and athleticism that’ll benefit the beleaguered secondary. Plus, if
either Furr or McKenzie develops, quality depth will not be a problem this
Weakness: Pass coverage. New year, same story.
The corners made some improvement a year ago, but are still too soft in
coverage and allow way too many long
gainers downfield. They’re risk-takers that rarely reap the rewards of
game-changing picks, intercepting just balls a year ago.
Outlook: The more
that Conference USA evolves into a passing league, the grayer Tommy West’s hair
becomes. Although the Tigers have some decent athletes and better depth than in
the past, they’re still going to be vulnerable against quality quarterbacks and
Assuming he can hold off the competition, senior
Matt Reagan will be wearing two hats
at the team’s placekicker and punter. Entering his third year as the regular
kicker, he’s money on the chip shots, but highly inconsistent from longer range.
A year ago, he nailed 8-of-11 attempts, but only 3-of-6 from 30 yards and
longer. That kind of inconsistency opened the door for sophomore young
Vinny Zaccario, who showed better leg
strength and hit on 6-of-8 tries.
Until someone says otherwise, Reagan is also the top candidate to do the punting
now that Brent Sutherland has graduated. Sophomore
John Booker is also on the roster, and
Will Hudgens is applying for a sixth year of eligibility. Better
known as a quarterback, he also averaged 47.6 yards a year ago, while pinning
four of his seven punts inside the opponents’ 20.
Watch Out For ... KR D.A.
Griffin. The Tigers need a spark in the return game, which Griffin is
bucking to provide. He shared time with—and was better than—Michael Grandberry
last fall, but still needs to do a lot better than just 21 yards a return.
Strength: Coverage teams. The Tigers did an about-face on
special teams last year, reversing some awful results from 2007. Memphis was
third in Conference USA in punt coverage, allowing just 5.6 yards a return, and
in the upper half of the league in kickoff coverage.
Weakness: The return game. For the last two seasons, Memphis has
lacked a returner who can bust through a seam and go the distance. It still
might be searching for that guy after finishing 79th nationally in
punt returns and last in the league in kickoff returns.
Outlook: For a school
that’ll need to do the little things well to win the East Division, special
teams is going to be a nagging problem that won’t go away quickly. Anything from
missed field goals or blocked punts to a weak return game could cost the Tigers
at least one game in 2009.