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2009 UCF Preview - Defense
Posted Jul 29, 2009 2009 Preview - UCF Defense

UCF Knights

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN UCF Preview | 2009 UCF Offense
- 2009 UCF Defense | 2009 Depth Chart
- 2008 UCF Preview | 2007 UCF Preview | 2006 UCF Preview

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sha'reff Rashad, 103
Sacks: Derrick Hallman, 3
Interceptions: Joe Burnett, Johnell Neal, 6

Star of the defense: Junior DE Bruce Miller
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

Defensive Line

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 linemen.           
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.              
Rating: 6.5


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 Knights.

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 the team. 

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 special teams.

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.                       
Rating: 6


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 junior.

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.                
Rating: 5

Special Teams

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 teams asset.  

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. 
Rating: 5