Preview 2009 - Defense
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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
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
Strength of the defense: Safety, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, big plays
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.