Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know: All
things considered, last year’s defense was a major
disappointment with 11 starters returning to a D that was the
best in the MAC. After finishing 81st in the nation
last year, the defense has work to do to be more productive in
all areas. Nine starters are back, along with a ton of backup
experience, led a rock-solid middle with Andre Neblett on the
nose, Alex Joseph at middle linebacker, and the safety
combination of Dominique Harris and Jaiquawn Jarrett all
possible all-stars. The corners are suspect, but there are
plenty of options to choose from. More is needed from the pass
rush with Adiran Robinson, Brian Sanford and Junior Galette all
needing to crank things up a bit.
Star of the defense:
Senior DT Andre Neblitt
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Anthony
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Adrian Robinson
Best pro prospect: Neblitt
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Neblitt, 2) LB Alex Joseph, 3)
FS Jaiquawn Jarrett
Strength of the defense: Experience, defensive line
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, production
Projected Starters: The anchor of the veteran defense will
once again be 6-2, 295-pound senior Andre Neblett, an All-MAC star who made 36 tackles, a sack, and 7.5 tackles for loss on
the nose. A good interior pass rusher, he was double and triple teamed
throughout last season after coming up with 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles
for loss in 2007. He’s the consistent rock in the middle who
started every game until the season finale when he was out hurt.
Stepping in to the starting tackle role vacated by Terrance Knighton
will be Elisha Joseph, a 6-3,
275-pound spot starter who saw time on special teams and move around
between both tackle spots. He finished with 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles
for loss, and while he’s not huge, he can handle himself well on the
Senior Brian Sanford is the only player on the defensive front
who started every game, making 31 tackles, two sacks, and 4.5 tackles
for loss. The former high school hurdler started out his career as an
outside linebacker and bulked up to 279 pounds on his 6-2 frame. Now has
to be more effective at getting into the backfield.
Adrian Robinson started the
last three games of the season at right end and will return to the
starting spot. The 6-2, 248-pound sophomore finished with 20 tackles but
only came up with half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. One of the
team’s top prospects last year, the true sophomore should be on the
verge of blowing up.
Projected Top Reserves: Part of a consistent rotation on
one end will be senior Junior Galette, the team's best pass
rusher who came up with 7.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss and 46 tackles
in just eight games before missing the final four games of the year for
undisclosed reasons. When he’s on, he’s a difference making terror who
can change games by himself.
Sophomore Morris Blueford was
expected to shine after making 21 tackles and two interceptions as a
true freshman, but he redshirted last season and was a star on the scout
team. At 6-4 and 255 pounds he has decent size and great athleticism.
Used as an outside linebacker early on, he’ll be a true defensive end
6-6, 261-pound Morkeith Brown
is a good-sized end with decent quickness playing behind Brian Sanford
at one end. He spent most of his time on special teams and finished with
eight tackles with a tackle for loss. The 24-year-old sophomore joined
the army out of high school.
Adding size on the inside will be 6-5, 290-pound
Muhammad Wilkerson, a big
presence who saw a little bit of time but didn’t make a tackle in his
true freshman season. He’s a good athlete for his size and will be a bit
part of the rotation at tackle behind Elisha Joseph.
Watch Out For ... more being done in the backfield. The
line was improved over past seasons, but it still wasn’t nearly strong
enough considering the returning experience. Now, there should be more
of a pass rush from all four spots.
Strength: Experience and depth. This was a veteran group
going into last year, and now it’s a truly experienced line with only
one spot needing to be filled. There are decent backup options at all
Weakness: Production. This is a good-sized line that gets shoved
around way too often against the run. Considering there’s so much
experience returning, finishing 89th in the nation in sacks and 87th
against the run isn’t going to cut it.
Outlook: The defensive line didn’t play up to its talent
level or experience last season, but it was still an improved front from
past seasons. Andre Neblett is a big-time talent to build around, while
the pass rush is an issue now that Junior Galette, the team's top pass
rusher, is out of the mix for undisclosed reasons. There’s experience
and size, but now there has to be more production.
Projected Starters: Senior
Alex Joseph is on the verge
of becoming an All-MAC star after following up a 66 tackle 2007 with an
87 stop 2008 with 3.5 tackle for loss and four broken up passes. He
bulked up over the last year to get up to 243 pounds, and now he should
be even tougher in the middle. Speed isn’t an issue and he’s great at
getting to the ball. Now he has to be an even bigger playmaker as the
leader of the defensive back seven.
Junior Amara Kamara started every game as a true freshman making
71 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss and held down the outside job again
last year making 67 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss. He has
hit the weights hard and has gotten up to 232 pounds on his 6-2 frame,
and now he’s not just a bulked up safety. He runs a 4.58 40 and can hit.
John Haley only started in
three games, but he finished fourth on the team with 68 tackles, three
sacks and four tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 227 pounds he’s not all that
big, but the cousin of former NFL star Charles Haley is an excellent
athlete and a good factor in the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: While
Elijah Joseph will technically be a backup behind John Haley on the
outside, he can be considered another starter after making 54 tackles
and 2.5 tackles for loss in nine starts last season. The 6-1,
235-pounder can play either outside position and will move in and out of
the rotation on a regular basis.
6-3, 230-pound junior Jordan
Martin has been a reliable backup on the weakside and will now
return to the middle to play behind Alex Joseph. Martin made 11 tackles
in his limited work, but he has the potential to do far more as a pass
rusher if he’s moved back outside. The transfer from Valparaiso has the
quickness to play any of the three linebacker spots.
Watch Out For ... A good rotation on the outside. Elijah
Joseph can start if needed while sophomore
Quinten White is a 210-pound
speedster who could be used as a pass rushing specialist. Kamara and
Haley should have strong years in the starting spots.
Strength: Options. Like most places on the Temple team,
there’s depth and experience to spare. The starting threesome is solid
and there are several decent prospects waiting in the wings.
Weakness: Pass rush. There's speed and quickness at all three
spots, but it hasn’t transferred into big plays over the last few years.
There needs to be a more disruptive element to the linebacking corps
after being merely adequate last season.
Outlook: The young corps of a few years ago should be
through the growing pains and could turn out to be the team’s biggest
strength. Alex Joseph, Amara Kamara and John Haley have all bulked up
and should form one of the MAC’s most productive trios. Elijah Joseph is
as experienced a backup linebacker as there is in the league.
Projected Starters: Leading the strong secondary is free
safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, a
playmaking junior who has held down the starting spot for the last two
seasons. He made 61 tackles as a true freshman and followed it up by
leading the team with 88 stops, three interceptions, and three recovered
fumbles. While he’s only 6-2 and 195 pounds, he can move.
Also back is senior strong safety Dominique Harris, the team’s leading tackler two years ago. He made 66 stops with three
interceptions last year and will be the leader of the secondary with his
tone-setting play and experience. At 6-3 and 215 pounds he has good size
and the speed to play either safety spot.
The team's top corner will be senior Anthony Ferla if he can be
healthy. The 5-10, 190-pounder plays bigger than his size and is a good
tackler making 45 stops in 2007. However, he was out all of last year
and saw time on the scout team. With excellent speed, he can stay with
most MAC receivers. Now he has to start coming up with more big plays.
On the other side will be sophomore
Marlin Terrell, a 5-10,
187-pound rising prospect who made seven tackles as a true freshman.
He’ll need a while to grow into the starting job, but he could quickly
become the team’s best all-around corner with his quickness and
open-field tackling ability.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 188-pound junior Jamal
Schulters started every game at corner last year and will get a long
look at a nickelback and again as a corner. He finished third on the
team with 71 tackles to go along with a team-leading seven broken up
passes and three interceptions. After originally signing with Kansas
State two years ago, Schulters switched over to Temple and was an
instant producer. Now he has to work his way back into the starting
Brinson hadn’t done much over his career and then he turned into a
key backup and spot starter at corner making 28 tackles and breaking up
a pass. Mostly a special teamer, he has the 6-0, 199-pound size and the
experience to see more time in a rotation with Jaiquan Jarrett at free
safety and the speed to play corner again.
Originally considered as a top receiver prospect, junior Marquise
Liverpool moved to running back and finished third on the team with
126 yards and a touchdown. The 5-11, 190-pound athlete will now switch
to defensive back where he’ll use his tremendous speed in some capacity.
Originally a Boston College Eagle, the 23-year-old was a big get for
Temple after spending time in the Seattle Mariner farm system. Now the
team has to find a spot for him.
Watch Out For ... more picks. The pass rush should be
better and the secondary shouldn’t have to spend so much time tackling.
After coming up with 11 interceptions last year, the secondary should
get far more considering the experience and the help from the defensive
Strength: Safety. Jaiquawn Jarrett and Dominique Harris
will form one of the MAC’s best safety tandems. With Wilbert Brinson
able to step in and Kevin Kroboth
a special teams star who picked off a key pass last year, the Owls
should be set here.
Weakness: Corners. There are plenty of players to rotate in and
out, but the Owls need more production from the outside. The hope will
be for Anthony Ferla to be ready to roll as a No. 1 corner, but someone
has to start scaring opposing receivers.
Outlook: The MAC's best pass defense of two years ago fell
off the map last year having problems giving up yards in bits and
pieces. There weren’t too many big plays allowed, one Hail Mary from
Buffalo aside, but teams were able to pick apart the corners on short to
midrange passes. There’s plenty of experience and lots of good players
returning to hope for an improvement.
Projected Starters: The Owls led the nation in kickoff
returns last year, but Travis Shelton and his 31.3-yard average is gone.
RB Kee-are Griffin and
James Nixon ill get the first
shot to replace him. Nixon averaged 26 yards on his two tries last
season. Sophomore Joe Jones
will handle the punt return duties, taking over for Delano Green, after
getting two tries last year and gaining 13 yards.
Junior Jeff Wathne is back as
the punter, but he needs help from the coverage teams. He averaged 40.4
yards per kick and put 19 inside the 20, but the team struggled in
coverage allowing 11.2 yards per return. He has a big leg and needs to
air it out even more.
Senior PK Jake Brownell has
been fine, but nothing special hitting 8-of-14 kicks after nailing
13-of-21 two years ago. He doesn’t have a consistently big leg and tops
out at around 45 yards out. He’ll be pushed a bit by
Brandon McManus, but it’ll
take a lot to knock out the veteran.
Watch Out For ... Brownell to be pushed a little bit for
the placekicker job. McManus has a bigger leg and might be used for the
bombs. However, he has to be more consistent from midrange.
Strength: The coaching staff. Head coach Al Golden has
made special teams his priority, and it showed last year as there was a
night-and-day improvement. These won’t be the best special teams in the
MAC, but they won’t be bad.
Weakness: Punt coverage. This has been a problem over the last
several years. Punter Jeff Wathne wasn't great, but it wasn't like he
got a lot of help. The Owls gave up a whopping 11.2 yards per punt
return and two scores two years ago and allowed 11.2 yards per return
again, but without any scores, last year.
Outlook: The special teams should be solid with two
decent, but unspectacular kickers in place and the potential for a good
return game. The kickoff coverage team is fine, but there needs to be a
major improvement with the punt return coverage.