2009 UCF Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UCF Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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need to know:
There is nothing secondary about the defensive backfield this
season. It’ll be the primary concern of the Knight defense right
through the opener with Samford. UCF
will be looking to replace all four starters, who combined for a whopping 183
career starts. That level of production is going to be impossible to replace.
The good news is that the front seven will provide plenty of support, stuffing
the run and giving opposing quarterbacks minimal time to locate receivers. DE
Bruce Miller and DT Torrell Troup form a menacing tandem up front and the
veteran linebackers do a great job of filling lanes and making plays.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Bruce
Derrick Hallman, 3
Interceptions: Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, 6
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Emery Allen
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior LB Lawrence Young
Best pro prospect:
Senior DT Torrell Troup
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Miller 2) Troup 3) Young
Strength of the defense:
Creating pressure, the front seven
Weakness of the defense:
Inexperience in the secondary
Projected Starters: With junior
Bruce Miller on the outside and
senior Torrell Troup on the interior,
UCF has the foundation for one of Conference USA’s best defensive lines. Miller
defies all logic. Neither the fastest nor the biggest at 6-2 and 258 pounds, he
was nearly unblockable as a sophomore, collecting 17 tackles for loss and seven
sacks. A high-motor, blue-collar type, he’s quick in space and tireless, wearing
down his opponents in the second half.
Despite attracting double-teams all year, Troup managed to make 52 stops, 12.5
tackles for loss, and a couple of sacks, en route to the all-league second team.
Much quicker now that he’s trimmed down to 6-3 and 315 pounds, he moves well
laterally and is very tough to handle one-on-one. If he keeps his weight down
and continues to dominate, he’ll have a chance to play in the NFL.
Troup’s partner on the inside is 6-4, 288-pound senior
Travis Timmons, a seven-game starter in 2008. One of the gems of the
2006 recruiting class, he needs to do much more with Troup garnering so much
attention from opposing blockers. In 11 games last year, he managed only 14
tackles and two tackles for loss, modest numbers considering the circumstances.
Miller’s bookend on the other side will be junior
David Williams, another frenetic, try-hard pass rusher who plays to
the whistle. While only 6-2 and 212 pounds, he uses his speed and get-off to zip
around the edge. As a six-game starter last fall, he had 20 tackles and no
sacks, which just isn’t going to cut it this fall.
Projected Top Reserves: If
Williams doesn’t step it up in a hurry, he’ll head to the bench in favor of 6-2,
234-pound senior Jarvis Geathers, who
started the final five games. In his debut out of Feather River (Calif.)
Community College, he flashed an ability to get to the quarterback, posting 35
tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. He needs to be on the field more
often, even if it means as a situational rusher.
True freshman Chris Martin is already
on campus with an eye toward solidifying UCF’s depth at defensive tackle. At a
thick 6-5 and 279 pounds, he already appears physically capable of contributing
at this level. An SEC-type prospect playing in Conference USA, like Martin, is
always a recipe for a bright future.
Watch Out For…: sophomore DE
Darius Nall. Nall is an inspiration
to his teammates, having spent all of last year beating cancer. He’s also a
pretty potent pass rusher, blending a 6-3, 253-pound frame with the burst to
create havoc off the edge.
Strength: Getting penetration.
All of the key parts are back from a front wall that helped the Knights finish
No. 3 nationally in tackles for loss and second in the league in sacks. Miller
and Troup both need to be doubled, which will free things up for the rest of the
Weakness: Depth at tackle. This
is the same issue that plagued the program a year ago. The Knights are solid
with Troup and Timmons, but if either needs a break or gets hurt, UCF will be
forced to rely on newcomers to plug holes in run defense.
Outlook: When a non-BCS team
has two productive linemen, like Troup and Miller, the rest of the defense is
going to benefit. The two all-stars will make their share of big stops behind
the line, while eating up blocks, so the rest of the front seven can flourish
with less resistance.
Projected Starters: By
Conference USA standards, UCF is loaded at linebacker with both depth and
talent. When injuries struck the position in 2008, junior
Lawrence Young stepped to the forefront and played like a veteran,
making 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. While
safety-sized at 6-0 and 205 pounds, he has outstanding lateral quickness and
straight-line speed, and will play much bigger than his size.
Last season’s injuries will end up being this season’s gain. Senior middle
linebacker Cory Hogue appeared headed
for an all-star campaign before blood flow problems in his legs put him on the
shelf after just three games. An instinctive, 6-1, 224-pound run stopper, he had
72 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in his last full year with the
If he can finally stay healthy for an entire year, 6-2, 222-pound senior
Jordan Richards is the favorite to
join Young at the other outside linebacker spot. A starter as a true freshman,
he’s missed all or most of the last three seasons with various ailments. When
available, he’s a playmaker with a great motor and some of the best wheels on
Projected Top Reserves: Behind
Hogue, 6-1, 240-pound Chance Henderson
brings a ton of experience to the defense. A three-time letterwinner, he got
the start in 11 games a year ago, making 57 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and
3.5 sacks. Tough in run defense and a solid open-field tackler, he’s a luxury to
have on the second unit.
Although Alex Thompson doesn’t have
the same resume as Henderson, he’s another senior on the B team, who’s played
plenty of football in Orlando. One of the biggest linebackers at 6-2 and 229
pounds, he had a dozen tackles in 2008, contributing off the bench and on
Watch Out For…: true freshman
Jonathan Davis. Yeah, there’s not a
ton of room for playing time, but Davis might be good enough to be an exception.
At worst, the 5-8, 210-pound missile is going to push his elders and make it
difficult to bury him on the scout team for an entire season.
Strength: Depth. How deep is
UCF now that Hogue and Richards are on the mend? Deep enough to move one of last
year’s top performers, Derrick Hallman, back a level to free safety. Four
players on the roster have started games at times in their careers.
Weakness: Durability. Injuries
have been a regular problem over the last few seasons for this group. It’s an
undersized collection of players, who have struggled to handle the rigors and
contact of a 12-game season. Outlook:
It’s a sizable “if”, but if the linebackers, specifically Richards and Hogue,
can finally go a year injury-free, they’ll form a disruptive group that defends
the run and the pass equally well. This is arguably the league’s top unit when
everyone is out of the trainer’s room.
Projected Starters: The program
is about to enter a new—and uncertain—era on defense, as the familiar quartet of
Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, Sha’reff Rashad, and Jason Venson has all graduated.
One answer for the Knights was to move 6-0, 213-pound junior
Derrick Hallman from linebacker to
free safety, a better fit for his size and skill set. As a nine-game starter a
year ago, he had 57 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and six pass breakups.
Now that he’ll have more space to roam around, his athleticism will really
be on full display.
Junior Reggie Weams is expected to
make the move from two-year reserve to starting strong safety. The 6-0,
191-pounder played in every game last year, making 11 tackles and earning a
letter. Now, it’s time for him to come of age. He’s a little undersized for the
position, leaning on his speed and quickness to make plays.
The difficult task of taking over at cornerback belongs to junior
Darin Baldwin and senior
Emery Allen. Baldwin has lettered in
each of his first two seasons, making a dozen tackles in a reserve role. A
physical 5-11, 200-pounder, he’s tough in bump-and-run and will make opposing
receivers work for every reception.
Allen is the smaller of the two corners, going just 5-9 and 177 pounds, but he’s
got the best cover skills among the defensive backs and plays with a tenacity
that belies his size. He’s learned a lot as a three-time letterwinner, showing
good speed and back-pedal on passing downs. As the first cornerback off the
bench last year, he made 18 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks as a
Projected Top Reserves: At
worst, junior Justin Boddie is going
to be the first cornerback off the bench and a valuable player in nickel
packages. Long and lean at 6-2 and 184 pounds, he’s an outstanding athlete who
can pack a punch like a safety. In a backup role last year, he chipped in 10
tackles in nine games.
While just a redshirt freshman, 6-0, 189-pound
Vance King is already in the mix to get playing time behind Hallman
at free safety. The early playing time speaks to his explosiveness and
athleticism, and the dearth of veterans in the UCF defensive backfield.
Watch Out For ... the first-year
players. The Knights aren’t just open to true freshmen playing right away;
they’re counting on it. In an effort to capitalize on a flashing opportunity,
rookie CB Josh Robinson and SS
Jarrett Swaby have already
matriculated and taken part in spring ball. Redshirting kids like this is not
even an option.
Strength: Athleticism. Heck,
this program is located in Florida, which means it has access to a deep pool of
talent close to home and in neighboring Georgia. All of these defensive backs
are terrific athletes, who can go stride-for-stride with any group of receivers
in Conference USA.
Weakness: Proven players. The
downside of all of the stability enjoyed by UCF in recent years is that it would
eventually end. And it also kept the young players from getting on the field.
The Knights have one collective game of starting experience in the secondary,
and the reserves will be extremely green.
Outlook: The Knights are losing
a ton of key players to graduation, but the situation isn’t as dire as it might
seem. The next wave of regulars had some pretty good defensive backs to learn
under, and the relentless UCF pass rush ensures that these guys won’t have to
maintain coverage all day.
Projected Starters: The
Knights’ quest to find a kicker last year produced mixed results. Sophomore
Nick Cattoi wound up being the most
consistent option, nailing 4-of-6 field goal attempts, and should run
uncontested this fall. Unusually large for a placekicker at 6-5 and 209 pounds,
he has great pop in his leg and a bright future with the program.
At punter, 6-3, 228-pound junior Blake
Clingan is back for his third year as the starter. For the second straight
season, he averaged just slightly over 40 yards a punt, while dropping 27-of-88
chances inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. While he may never be a boomer, he’s
got the right mix of fundamentals, hang time, and experience to be a special
Watch Out For… the return game.
All-American Joe Burnett has graduated, leaving a massive hole in the return
game. One player to keep an eye on will be junior
Khymest Williams, who’s next in line on kickoffs and punt returns.
He averaged more than 24 yards on kickoffs last year, and had a 99-yard
touchdown return in 2007.
Strength: Coverage teams. UCF
has the depth and athleticism to stifle the opposition on special teams. Last
year, it allowed just four yards a punt return, also a credit to Clingan, and
was in the upper half of Conference USA in kickoff coverage.
Weakness: Uncertainty in the
return game. Even if Williams is up to the challenge, he’s going to be a sharp
decline from Burnett, one of the country’s best special teams weapons over the
last few seasons. Particularly on this feeble offense, the Knights need as much
help as they can get with field position.
Outlook: Losing Burnett is a
dagger, but all in all, UCF can’t feel too bad about its special teams
situation. Clingan is a steady performer, Cattoi is a riser, and Williams has
shown flashes that he’s ready to make big plays in the return game.