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2009 ULM Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 29, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - ULM Warhawk Defense

ULM Warhawks

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 ULM Preview | 2009 ULM Offense 
- 2009 ULM Defense | 2009 ULM Depth Chart
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2008 ULM Preview | 2007 ULM Preview | 2006 ULM Preview 


What you need to know:
The defense had the potential to be one of the best in the Sun Belt last year, but it was a complete and utter disaster. Gone are co-defensive coordinators Phil Elmassian and Manny Michel and out with them will be the 4-2-5 alignment. Now the defense will go to a 3-3-5 set to highlight one of the team’s strength, the linebackers. Cardia Jackson is among the best in the Sun Belt, while Theo Smith and Josh Thomas are solid playmakers on the outside. The secondary is all about getting the stars back. While Darius Prelow is a rising star, Josh Thompson needs to get a sixth year from the NCAA, James Truxillo needs to get healthy after suffering a knee injury, and Greg James has to get back in the mix after being suspended. The key to the entire defense will be the pass rush, which has been non-existent over the last few years. Aaron Morgan is a great pass rusher, but he’s it. Overall, there’s enough experience and enough talent to be better than 109th in the country again, but it’ll take some work.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Cardia Jackson, 127
Sacks: Aaron Morgan, 6
Interceptions: Greg James, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Cardia Jackson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior NT Aaron Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Darius Prelow
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) S Greg James, 3) S Josh Thompson
Strength of the defense: Safety, linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, big plays

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The star of the front three should be Aaron Morgan, a 6-5, 220-pound senior who has earned all-conference honors in each of the last two seasons. A strong pass rusher, he was the only one who did anything to get to the quarterback with six of the team’s 13 sacks, to go along with 13 tackles for loss and 45 tackles. While he looks like a large wide receiver, he’s a tough, physical player who has grown into the one player on the defensive front everyone has to worry about.

Senior Jameson Jordan goes from being a spot starter and a regular in the lineup to the full-time starter at one of the end spots … for now. The 6-5, 235-pound senior made 16 tackles after making just 39 in his first two seasons, but he’s not a regular into the backfield with no sacks and now tackles for loss. He looks like a pass rusher, and he has a decent burst off the line, but he hasn’t been able to break through and become a factor.

The anchor on the nose in the new alignment will be Aaron Williams, a decent 6-0, 296-pound bowling ball who came in from the JUCO ranks and made 29 tackles. While he wasn’t a threat into the backfield, making just one sack and three tackles for loss, that wasn’t his job. He’s the one who needs to be the brick wall against the run and use his size to clog things up.
 
Projected Top Reserves: Ready to provide more of a burst for the line that struggled with the pass rush is Quantez Hunter, a 6-4, 242-pound JUCO transfer from City College of San Francisco. He started out his career at Grambling before leaving to become an all-around playmaker at the JUCO ranks, He’ll push for time at both end spots.

Good tackle play will be at a premium, meaning junior Aaron Moore needs to come up with a big season. The 5-10, 284-pounder made ten tackles and a sack, and now he’ll have to play a big part in the rotation in the middle behind Aaron Williams.

6-1, 243-pound sophomore Troy Evans started in four games and made 19 tackles with a tackle for loss. While he didn’t get into the backfield enough, he improved as the season went on and was strong in the season finale against FIU. He’ll start out behind Jameson Jordan, but he can play either spot.

Redshirt freshman Michael Autwell is an athlete who should be a decent situational pass rusher. The 6-3, 230-pounder is quick off the ball and has the potential to be a disruptive force on a limited basis behind Aaron Morgan.

Watch Out For ... even less of a pass rush from the front three. The change in alignment will make the linebackers more open to run into the backfield, but the defensive front will have to hold up against the run. Morgan could end up being more of a hybrid outside linebacker.
Strength: Tackle … now that only one is needed. It was a good move by the coaching staff to change up the style considering there weren’t many true tackles who could handle the inside. Now that only a nose is necessary, there’s a good pair in Williams and Moore to rotate.
Weakness
:
Sacks. Outside of Morgan, the defensive front did nothing, nothing to get to the quarterback. It’s not like things are going to change now that the ends have more responsibility against the run.
Outlook: There hasn't been a pass rush in years, but there’s a good one in Aaron Morgan to provide a little bit of a threat. However, in the new 3-3-5 alignment, there will be a steady rotation of players in the three spots and more will be needed from the ends against the run. This will be a problem considering there’s little to no size outside of 296-pound tackle Aaron Williams and 283-pound tackle Aaron Moore. However, those two aren’t going to be on the field at the same time all that often.
Rating: 4

Linebackers


Projected Starters: The star of the team is Cardia Jackson, a star playmaker from day one with 264 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his three seasons. He has become more of a pass rusher with four of his sacks coming last year, along with a team-leading 127 tackles, and now he’ll have even more to do as the main man on the inside in the new alignment. At 6-2 and 240 pound he has good size, after bulking up in the last year, and he’s a guided missile when he gets on the move. The senior doesn’t miss a tackle and has gotten better in pass coverage.

Back at one of the linebacker spots, playing on the inside, will be Josh Thomas, a 6-2, 223-pound senior who hit the weights over the last year and doesn’t look like a safety playing linebacker. The former walk-on followed up a 61-tackle season by finishing fourth on the team, for the second year in a row, with 67 stops and three tackles for loss. While he’s not a great open field tackler, he has the range to get in on every play.

Junior Theo Smith was one of the team’s best recruits three years ago and he started to show why last year. While he didn’t get any starts, mainly because the defense only used two linebackers, he still came up with 49 tackles and five tackles for loss. Only 5-11 and 204 pounds, he makes plays with his excellent speed. He has the potential to be one of the team’s best all-around defenders now that he’ll get more work. 

Projected Top Reserves: The potential is there for true freshman Antonio Hoskins to see time right away. While he’s only 6-0 and 208 pounds, he has 4.54 speed and he’s a devastating tackler with 191 stops in his junior year of high school. Originally a Mississippi State Bulldog in 2008, getting him this year was a big coup for the program.

Mostly a special teamer last year, sophomore Jason Edwards shows signs of potentially being a key factor in the front six with 11 tackles. The 5-11, 237-pound sophomore has good size playing behind Josh Thomas and is ready to play a much bigger role on the outside.

6-3, 224-pound redshirt freshman DaCorris Ford spend the last year in the weight room, and now he’s ready to be a factor … someday. He’ll be the understudy behind Cardia Jackson in the middle and should be the main man next year. A physical player for his size, he made 197 tackles in two years of high school ball and will be used in some way this season.

Watch Out For ... the linebackers to make even more plays. With only three defensive linemen, the linebackers will have to do more to clean up the mess. That’ll be fine with a good trio of starters to handle the work.
Strength: Cardia Jackson. He might be the best linebacker in the Sun Belt, and at the very least, he’s one of the best defensive players in the conference. Funnel everything his way and he’ll take care of the stop.
Weakness
:
Production at the point of attack. There are far too many plays made down the field after big gains. There isn’t much done against the pass from the linebackers, and there are too many problems against the better running teams since the line has a hard time doing its job.
Outlook: This might be the team’s biggest strength. Cardia Jackson is a special all-around defender who could finish his career with over 400 tackles. He’s the veteran leader of a good corps that welcomes back a possible all-star in Josh Thomas and Theo Smith, a great backup who’ll get the start now in the 3-3-5 alignment.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The team needs Greg James to be back and out of the doghouse after being suspended for the spring. The 6-1, 210-pound senior finished second on the team in 2007 with 77 tackles and was fifth last year with 61 stops to go along with a team-leading three interceptions. With the speed of the corner and his good size, he’s an effective all-around safety with great range and tackling ability.

Hoping to catch a break and get a sixth year with a medical redshirt is Josh Thompson, the team’s second leading tackler last year who has had problems throughout his career with a shoulder problem and a pectoral injury. The 6-2, 215-pound Rover made 108 tackles and broke up eight passes in his all-star season, and if he’s back, he’ll be pushing for first team All-Sun Belt honors. A big-time hitter who’ll be all over the field, and occasionally into the backfield, he’ll be the leader of the secondary if he’s back.

ULM uses a third safety with James Truxillo back at his starting spot after getting knocked out early. Elected a captain before the season after making 68 tackles two years ago, he came out, made four tackles in a game-and-a-half, and was out for the year with a knee injury. The 6-2, 209-pound senior is a former wide receiver who will be a major factor if he’s healthy.

Nate Brown stepped in at corner and turned in a great first season finishing third on the team with 70 tackles with three broken up passes and a sack. However, he didn’t pick off a pass and struggled too much when the ball was in the air. The 5-10, 175-pound sophomore is a former wide receiver with excellent speed and good potential. While he took his lumps last year, he should improve with more time.

There will be an on-going battle at corner, but 5-10, 175-pound redshirt freshman Nate Brown appears to be a lock at one spot. The former wide receiver has has the speed and he should be able to come up with his share of picks, but it might take a while before he can prove to be a lock-down No. 1 cover corner.

Senior Otis Stamps took over the starting corner job right away and was decent, if not spectacular, making 39 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. The 5-10, 181-pound veteran came over from the JUCO ranks where he was an all-star at Hinds CC. A great ball-hawker before getting to ULM, he has to start making more big plays.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 197-pound sophomore Darius Prelow came up with a nice true freshman season making 19 tackles in just six games of action. A factor over the second half of the season, with two starts, he has the potential to be the team’s new star safety depending on what happens with all the drama throughout the secondary. While he has good speed and range, his worth will be as a tackler.

Is this the year when junior Troy Giddens finally becomes a star? The 6-0, 207-pound safety has next-level speed, good all-around talent, and a little bit of experience, but he hasn’t been able to do too much making four tackles before suffering a knee injury. Originally an LSU Tiger, he could've gone anywhere but ended up having to go the JUCO route before joining ULM. He has 4.32 speed and good open-field tackling ability.
 
Junior Alex Ibe is a 6-3, 206-pound hitter who made 13 tackles in his limited time on defense and on special teams. A terrific athlete, he was a two-time Texas high school triple jump champion and is just now starting to show off his skills in the secondary. He’ll be penciled in a starting spot early on, but he’ll mostly be a key reserve.

Watch Out For ... new faces. While James, Thompson and Truxillo might be the regular stars of the secondary, they can’t be counted on. Ibe is too good an athlete to keep off the field, while Prelow could be special with a little more time.
Strength: Safeties. The Warhawks are loaded with talented safeties and will have to find a way to get them all on the field if everyone is back in the mix. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to try to rotate all the talent into the three spots.
Weakness
:
Defending the pass. The Warhawk secondary didn’t get any help from a pass rush, but it didn’t do itself any favors with just seven interceptions while allowing 232 yards per game. There’s speed in the secondary, but there will be problems against the better passing teams again.
Outlook: It’ll be an interesting year for the secondary with so many things happening among the stars. From the suspension of Greg James to Josh Thompson needing the NCAA to give him another year of eligibility to James Truxillo’s knee problem, the secondary could take on a very different look if all the breaks don’t go ULM’s way. Even if everyone is back there needs to be a vast improvement after giving up yards in chunks all season long. Everyone can tackle, but they need to cover.
Rating: 5


Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Scott Love has been an all-star, but he needs to get his sophomore year production back. He averaged 42.1 yards per kick and put a whopping 23 inside the 20 in 2007, but last year he only averaged 39.6 yards per boot with 13 put inside the 20. He has a big leg and can be accurate, but he has to revert back to his old form.

Sophomore Radi Jabour took over the placekicking duties and struggled, hitting just 6-of-12 field goals with three missed coming in the 24-21 loss to Middle Tennessee. He has a huge leg, but his biggest kick was from 48 yards out. Consistency will be his key.  

The return game needs Darrell McNeal back to handle punt returns, but he only averaged 6.4 yards per try. RB Luther Ambrose will likely be the key kickoff returner early on after averaging 22.7 yards on is 23 returns.   

Watch Out For ... Love to return to form. He didn’t get a whole bunch of help from his coverage team, but he wasn’t great compared to his sophomore season.
Strength: Love. He has a big leg, can be accurate, and will bail the team out from time to time. He’s a weapon.
Weakness
:
Everything other than Love. Nothing worked last year with no kicking game, nothing from the punt coverage team, mediocre punt returns and not enough from the kickoff returners.
Outlook:  The special teams have to find something that works. The punting game will be fine with Love, but something else has to work. Radi Jabour has to be a more consistent short-range placekicker, someone, possibly Darrell McNeal again, has to add more pop to the punt return game, and the coverage teams need to be better.
Rating: 4.5