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2009 UL Lafayette Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 29, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajun Defense

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Preview 2009
- Defense

- 2009 CFN Louisiana-Lafayette Preview | 2009 ULL Offense
- 2009 ULL Defense | 2009 ULL Depth Chart
- 2008 ULL Preview | 2007 ULL Preview | 2006 ULL Preview 

What you need to know:
After having one of the worst defenses in America in 2007, ULL struggled way too much throughout last year to come up with any sort of production. The line was awful with no pass rush and way too many problems against the run, while the linebacking corps that was expected to be a strength struggled with injuries and had to do too much. Now, with Antwyne Zanders back in the middle of the linebacking corps, and everyone returning healthy, there should be a big improvement, but with just 17 sacks and nine interceptions last season, the defense has to do more to come up with the big play. At least things were better than they were two years ago, and if safeties Gerren Blount and Maurice Rolle and CB Orkeys Auriene can spark a good year from the secondary, there could be night-and-day improvement in the overall production.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Daylon McCoy, Antwyne Zanders, 69
Sacks: Daylon McCoy, 4
Interceptions: Daylon McCoy, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Antwyne Zanders
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Jermaine Rogers
Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Maurice Rolle
Best pro prospect: Zanders
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Zanders, 2) LB Daylon McCoy, 3) DE Hall Davis
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, experience
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line only loses one starter, Lanier Coleman, from the inside. Replacing him will be Derreck Dean, a 5-11, 285-pound sophomore saw a little time in every game last season finishing with 16 tackles. While he’s not much of interior pass rusher, he’s strong and has the potential to grow into one of the team’s best run stoppers over the next few years.

Next to Dean will be Jermaine Rogers, who was part of the rotation last season and finished with 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss despite starting in seven games and seeing plenty of action in the other five. He’s a 6-5, 290-pound junior who needs to start producing more and being more disruptive to hold on to the job.

Senior Hall Davis is a big 6-5, 272-pound end who could slide inside to tackle if needed. He was one of the team’s best pass rushers making 3.5 sacks to go along with five tackles for loss and 24 stops. A smart, strong player with good quickness, he needs to blossom in his last year.

6-5, 260-pound junior Terrell Richardson was a key part of the line moving from being part of a rotation to the full-time starter. However, he didn’t do anything to get into the backfield with no sacks and 20 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up big-time over the last few years and has to show a little bit of the upside and promise he had when he first started out as a true freshman.

Projected Top Reserves: On the way and expected to be a force on the inside from day one is Tyrell Gaddies, a 6-3, 270-pound JUCO transfer who dominated at Coffeyville CC in Kansas. With phenomenal quickness, the one-time star high school hurdler has the athleticism to go along with the size to become an all-star right away.

Expected to grow into a major factor at one end is Jeremy Cook, a 6-6, 250-pound junior who was supposed to be a top pass rusher last year but didn’t come up with a sack and made 21 stops. He has dominated at times in practices and showed the potential to be a special player. Now it has to happen.

Junior Sharrick Moore isn't a big option for the inside, but the 6-2, 267-pound tackle has the quickness to grow into a dangerous interior pass rusher if he gets a little more playing time. He made 11 tackles and a half a sack as part of the rotation, and now he’ll combine forces to work behind Derreck Dean. 

Ready to become more of a playmaker is 6-2, 227-pound senior Chris Lanaux after making 15 tackles and two sacks as a reserve. A smart player with a good burst, he could grow into a situational pass rusher now that he knows what he’s doing.

Working on the inside is LaQuincy Williams, a good 6-3, 292-pound athlete who made 12 tackles. The junior will have to do even more to see playing time with so many new faces in the tackle mix, but with his strength and experience, he has the ability to do more.

Watch Out For ... Gaddies. He’s good enough to be the playmaker the struggling line desperately needs. With his combination of skills, he could become a one-man wrecking crew from the inside.
Strength: Experience. Everyone is back but one starter and there’s experience and options for every spot. There will be several good battles for jobs and there won’t be too much of a problem if injuries strike.
Weakness
:
Stopping the run. The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t stopped the run for years, and last season was a particular problem giving up 213 yards per game. There wasn’t any pass rush, either, finishing 100th in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Outlook: A disappointment in 2007, the line was a disaster last season with no pass rush whatsoever and little production against the run. The defense had to manufacture pressure from other spots to get to the quarterback, and even that didn’t work. This year there’s a ton of returning experience and plenty of size, but there has to be more production from all four spots. For good and bad, there’s little drop-off from the ones to the twos. Now there has to be more from the ones.
Rating: 4.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Senior Antwyne Zanders has been one of the Sun Belt’s best defenders from the last few years making 93 tackles in 2007 and coming up with 69 last year. A 6-2, 226-pound guided missile, he’s great at doing a little of everything well from his spot in the middle. He can get into the backfield, drop into pass coverage, and is strong at dropping into pass coverage. While he’s not big and has had problems in the past with his academic eligibility, he’s the team’s leader, ultra-consistent, and versatile enough to play inside or out.

Starring on the outside will be Daylon McCoy, a strong safety who can play any spot in the corps. After moving over from strong safety last season, he tied for the team lead in tackles and led the way with four sacks with six tackles for loss. Still mobile like a safety with defensive back speed, the 6-0, 220-pound junior also made two interceptions and forced two fumbles.

Junior Grant Fleming is back after struggling through a knee injury that limited him for most of last year. The 6-4, 232-pounder started the first five games before getting knocked out, but on the plus side he bulked up over that time. He earned All-Sun Belt honors as a freshman after making 71 tackles, and he made 34 tackles in his brief time. Fast, tough, and ultra-productive, his health is one of the keys to the defense.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 238-pound Richard Brooks hurt his knee and was out over the second half of the season. Even so, he made 31 tackles and showed off why he’s such an invaluable reserve and spot starter for the inside. The speedy sophomore is being groomed for the job next year once Antwyne Zanders is gone.

Senior Jezreel Washington stepped in and started five times and was a key backup the rest of the time to finish fifth on the team with 45 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. While he’s not big, he’s versatile and can move well at either outside spot.

6-2, 218-pound sophomore Devon Lewis-Buchanan was originally a defensive back who made 12 tackles in his true freshman season. While he was a key reserve early on, he got a start late against Florida Atlantic. He’ll be used at times at both outside spots and he should be steadier now that he knows what he’s doing.

Watch Out For ... the linebacking corps to be better. It was a mish-mash of players being thrown into the mix throughout last year thanks to injuries, but now there are several experienced backups to go along with a good front three that should be healthier.
Strength: Veterans. The three starters return with Zanders, McCoy and Fleming all back and all ready to go after all the problems in last year’s corps. There’s plenty of quickness to go along with all the experience.
Weakness: Health. While there are good backups looking to see more time, maintaining the health of players like Fleming and Brooks will be vital. Zanders has been a rock over the last few years, and he has to stay that way.
Outlook: Injuries and ineffectiveness made this one of the Sun Belt’s most disappointing units. It had the potential to be among the league’s best linebacking corps, but it didn’t happen. There’s too much speed and too much experience to not be better, and having plenty of depth to form a good rotation on the outside around all-star Antwyne Zanders will help. The potential is there for a huge turnaround in production.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Senior free safety Gerren Blount was the only returning starter to the secondary last season, and even that was a question mark due to academic issues. But the 5-11, 188-pounder played the full season was a star making 67 tackles with a sack and three recovered fumbles. While he’s not huge at 5-11 and 188 pounds, he’s steady, has excellent speed, and is a good hitter.   

Taking over for Derik Keyes at strong safety will be Chris Richard, a 6-0, 195-pound sophomore who made eight tackles and a sack in a reserve role. He was in a battle this off-season for the gig, but he showed great range and surprising maturity in the position this spring to take the job going into the fall. He should grow into a defender to work around for the next three years.

Back at one corner spot will be junior Orkeys Auriene after starting half the season. While he’s a rail-thin 175 pounds on a 5-10 frame, he’s a decent tackler making 39 tackles with an interception and a team-leading six broken up passes. He’ll be the No. 1 corner working on the left side.

Dwight Bentley stepped in as a freshman and started in ten games making 45 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. While he struggled too often against the pass, and he didn’t come up with enough broken up passes with just three, he’s a good-looking 5-11, 173-pound prospect who has good potential on the right side.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 193-pound junior Maurice Rolle is a great hitter with the range of a corner, but he was set back thanks to a shoulder problem and only made seven tackles in five games. He came up with a nice first 2007 making 19 tackles as a backup, and now he'll push Blount’s free safety spot. He outplay Blount in spring ball and should be a big-time producer.

Senior Phillip Nevels was supposed to be the starting free safety, or at least a key backup, but he only made seven tackles playing behind Gerren Blount. Now he’ll work more at strong safety where the 5-10, 193-pound former wide receiver has the speed and the experience to work more in the rotation and in nickel and dime packages.   

The fastest of the ULL defensive backs is senior Junior Jean, who has 4.45 speed but hasn’t done anything in his career. He didn’t make any tackles in his three games of work after making four in 2007, but he’s too fast and at 6-0, 190 pounds has too much size to not be more of a factor behind Dwight Bentley.

Watch Out For ... Auriene. He had a good year as the team’s top corner, and even though he has limitations, he should be a stat-sheet filler and cement himself as the best coverman over the next two years.
Strength: Broken up passes. There wasn’t enough overall production, but the secondary played a big part in breaking up 33 passes. There’s plenty of experience, a few good options for all four spots, and good versatility.
Weakness
:
Defending the short pass. The Ragin' Cajuns got picked apart way too easily for the second year in a row allowing opposing passers to complete 64% of their throws (again). Part of that was by design, but the secondary has to be more disruptive and has to pick off more passes after coming up with a mere nine.
Outlook: The gameplan will stay the same as it has over the last few years: give up underneath passes, don't get beaten deep, and try to come up with the one big stop when needed. It hasn’t worked over the last few years, partly because there hasn’t been any pass rush to help out the cause. There are some nice players to get excited about, like FS Gerren Blount and corner Orkeys Auriene. Now the stats have to follow.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Drew Edmiston was one of the nation's better field goal kickers nailing 28-of-37 over the last three years, and now it’ll be an on-going battle between junior Tyler Albrecht and redshirt freshman Brett Baer for the job. They each have nice mid-range legs, but it’ll come down to who’s more consistent late this summer. Albrecht has slightly more range.

The punting game wasn’t bad with junior Spencer Ortego coming off a strong season averaging 39.1 yards per kick and putting 12 inside the 20. He was more consistent as he got used to the ULL funky punting formation, and he should be even better now that he knows what he’s doing.

The punt return game improved by leaps and bounds. CB Orkeys Auriene averaged 9.3 yards per try and Louis Lee averaged 26.7 yards per attempt on his three tries. They’re both back, while Aunene and junior Marlin Miller will try to improve a kickoff return game that averaged just 19.8 yards per attempt.

Watch Out For ... the placekicker battle. Edmiston didn’t have the best range, but he was automatic from close. The coaching staff isn’t going to look for a bomber, but Albrecht and/or Baer have to be consistent.
Strength: The attention. Every coaching staff says it cares about special teams, but Rickey Bustle and his staff actually mean it. Over the last few years when there have been problems, they’ve been fixed.
Weakness
:
Experience at placekicker. While there are two decent prospects, one has to emerge as the main man. Only one ULL game was decided by three points or fewer, but that doesn’t mean a reliable kicker isn’t necessary.
Outlook: The special teams were among the Sun Belt’s worst in 2007, improved in all areas in 2008, and now should be decent, if not spectacular. There’s always a lot of tinkering going on, and it should pay off with a good return game, especially on punts, a solid punting game with Spencer Ortego coming into his own, and in time, decent production from the placekickers.
Rating: 6