2009 UNLV Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UNLV Rebel Defense

UNLV Rebels

Preview 2009
- Defense

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What you need to know:
The defense was a disaster last season allowing 40 points or more six times and giving up 32.58 points per game. After years of having problems getting into the backfield, the Rebels could have another tough season without a pure pass rusher to count on. While they finished 115th in the nation in sacks, 116th in tackles for loss, and 110th against the run, there’s hope for a big improvement with a veteran front seven returning led by a very good, very athletic linebacking corps. If Starr Fuimaono returns 100% from a knee injury, he’ll combine with Jason Beauchamp and Ronnie Paulo to form a tremendous trio. The secondary is the biggest concern with three JUCO transfers needing to play big roles right away and a few returning veterans needing to go from good to great.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jason Beauchamp, 127
Sacks: Jason Beauchamp, 2
Interceptions: Quinton Porter, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jason Beauchamp
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Isaako Aaitui
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Ronnie Paulo
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Malo Taumua
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Beauchamp, 2) LB Starr Fuimaono, 3) Taumua
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, size on the line
Weakness of the defense: Defensive back, production

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: There’s talent in the middle, but there has to be more production starting with senior Martin Tevaseu. The former Arizona State Sun Devil is a massive 6-2 and 340-pound wall on the inside, but he didn’t do enough to plug up holes even though he came up with 20 tackles. The senior is still getting his feet wet and should be a far improved player as the season goes on. If nothing else, he’s impossible to shove around.

Tevaseu might be the anchor because of his bulk, but Malo Taumua is the star. The 6-1, 270-pound junior is a big-time playmaking tackle with 27 tackles, a sack, and 6.5 tackles for loss to go along with a very big blocked field goal to beat Arizona. He had problems with a knee injury in the past, but it doesn’t appear to be an issue now.

Working on one end again will be Isaako Aaitui, a 6-3, 300-pound tackle playing on the outside. While he made 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss, he hasn’t been much of a pass rusher with just two sacks last season. Even so, he has a great combination of size and quickness that just needs to be put together in a more consistent package.

Taking over for Thor Pili at the other end spot is Matt Kravetz, a 6-1, 245-pound sophomore who worked his tail off this offseason and now should be more of a factor on the field after not getting in any work. While he’s not all that big, he has a great burst and he could be the answer to the team’s pass rushing woes.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Preston Brooks, a former transfer from Washington State, dominated at times on the scout team, but it hasn’t translated on the field with just ten tackles last season. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he has decent size and is a strong pass rusher in practice. .

Combining with Matt Kravetz at one end spot will be junior Daniel Mareko, a good-looking 6-3, 245-pound prospect who might turn out to be the best all-around athlete on the line. He was supposed to be a pass rusher from day one, but he suffered a broken leg and was out for the 2007 season. After not doing anything last year, he should finally be ready to make an impact.

Redshirt freshman Bennielee Shelby went from a raw 260-pound recruit to a stronger, tough 275-pound option at tackle. A tremendous blocker in high school, he was moved to the defensive front full-time when he came to Vegas and should be a factor in time. He’s tremendously strong, but he’s still raw.

Watch Out For ... Matt Kravetz. The walk-on linebacker has worked his way into the top spot on the depth chart at end. Now he has to make all the hard work pay off by using his athleticism as a pass rusher.
Size. Beef isn’t an issue for a line that has a 340-pound tackle, a 300-pound end, and a 270-pound tackle. The backups even have good size. There won’t be too many teams that should be able to line up and power away, however ...
Production. The defensive front was a disaster against the run and for yet another year was a nightmare when it came to getting to the quarterback. With so much size, experience, and depth returning, the Rebels need more from the front four.
Outlook: The hope was for the defensive front to improve with experience and with a few newcomers being thrown into the mix last year. Instead, the Rebels finished 115th in the nation in sacks, 116th in tackles for loss, and 110th in run defense. There’s plenty of size and plenty of hope, especially at tackle where Malo Taumua and Martin Tevaseu have all-star potential, but there has to be some semblance of production.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: The biggest key to the linebacking corps, and possibly the defense, is the knee of Starr Fuimaono, a certain all-star when he’s healthy. The 6-0, 210-pound junior made 14 tackles in two games before blowing out his knee. Out this offseason, he’s expected to be ready to roll by the start of the year on the strongside. However, he has to prove he can stay healthy. A huge hitter, he missed time a few years ago with a shoulder injury and will have to show he can hold up at linebacker.

Working again at weakside linebacker is Jason Beauchamp, a 6-3, 235-pound senior who led the team with 127 tackles with two sacks and six tackles for loss. Tough enough to play in the middle if needed, he blew up on the outside using his tremendous speed to do a little bit of everything. He could stand to be even more of a playmaker and he needs to shine a bit more against the pass, but he has All-Mountain West ability with great tackling ability and good experience.

Back in the middle will be Ronnie Paulo after a strong first season as the starter. The 6-1, 240-pound junior finished second on the team with 90 tackles with two tackles for loss providing big hitting ability and great size. While he’s not going to be an all-over-the-field playmaker, he’ll be a steady producer on the inside.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Starr Fuimaono is 100% back from his knee injury, 6-1, 205-pound Beau Orth will be the main man on the strongside. He was solid in his time as a true freshman making 11 tackles with a tackle for loss, and he has the speed to be far more disruptive. While he’s built like a safety, he hits like a much bigger linebacker.

One of the team's brightest new stars is true sophomore Nate Carter, a grayshirt who was expected to push for time on the weakside last year and ended up making 49 tackles as a key reserve. A great practice player, he’s an active 6-0, 230-pound athlete who does things all over the field. He could step into either outside spot.

Trying to find time somewhere on the outside is Wiselet Rouzard, an undersized 5-9, 215-pound senior who has been a nice fill-in on the strongside. He made 19 tackles and will be used here and there in the rotation to give Beau Orth and Starr Fuimaono a break.

Watch Out For ... Ronnie Paulo to make over 100 tackles. While he doesn’t have all-star talent and he’s not going to do too much to get into the backfield, he’ll stuff up everything that comes his way.
The starters. There’s a chance this could be the best linebacking corps in the Mountain West if Starr Fuimaono can come back healthy. With Fuimaono combining with Jason Beauchamp and Paulo, the Rebels have an active group that should combine for 300 stops.
Big plays in the backfield. This was a team-wide issue as the Rebels did nothing to disrupt anyone’s offense. The linebackers have the athleticism, but now they have to do more with it.
Outlook: There’s a chance that this could be the team’s biggest strength by a long shot. The backups are decent, but it’s the starting trio of Jason Beauchamp, Ronnie Paulo and Starr Fuimaono that will make or break the Rebel defense. There needs to be more production on a defense that didn’t do much of anything and there has to be more big plays, but there’s a lot to be fired up about.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There aren’t many players from last year’s team who’ll be comfortable in their spots with all the newcomers looking to play right away, but one returning starter who’s almost certain to hold down a job will be corner Quinton Pointer. The 5-10, 185-pound junior made 44 tackles, broke up six passes, and came up with two interceptions. For good and bad, he hits like a safety from his corner spot, but he covers like one at times. Out this off-season with a shoulder injury, he’ll be back to use his tremendous speed and excellent tackling ability to be the steady leader of a defensive backfield that has to be much, much better.

The other corner spot will see an interesting battle with the most intriguing new starter likely to be Deante Purvis. The 5-10, 185-pound sophomore isn’t all that big and he only made four tackles as a special teamer, but he’s the team’s fastest player, cranking out a 4.31 in the 40, and he’ll have no problems staying with any receiver.

Sophomore Chris Jones will get the first look at strong safety after making 22 tackles in a reserve role. He made starts against BYU and Wyoming and showed he could handle himself well having quickly turned into a nice defender after starting out his career at quarterback. At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he has decent size and is a good athlete.

Travis Dixon started out as a quarterback, getting the starting nod for a few games and being in the mix for the job last offseason, but he moved over to safety and he showed flashes of being a decent defender making five tackles. Now that he has had a full year to learn the job, the 6-0, 190-pound junior could turn into a stat-sheet filling free safety.

Projected Top Reserves: Out of the three newcomers expected to play right away, Kenny Brown could make the biggest impact. The brother of former BYU running back Curtis Brown is a 5-10, 160-pound sophomore with tremendous speed and ball skills. He’s not going to pop anyone, but he could be one of the team’s top cover-corners from day one.

6-1, 190-pound Alex De Giacomo will see time at one of the safety spots early on. He’ll start out fighting with Chris Jones for the strong safety job, but he’ll find a spot somewhere after starring for El Camino Junior College last year. He’s a good athlete and a big tackler who needs to become a steady playmaker with the ball in the air to see starting time.

Pushing for one of the corner jobs will be Warren Zeigler, a tough man cover-corner can cut on a dime and can be physical. While he’s not huge at 6-0 and 170 pounds, he doesn’t back down from bigger receivers and is great at breaking up passes.  

Watch Out For ... the newcomers. Don’t get comfortable with the depth chart. Three JUCO transfers and a few true freshmen should see time right away. There’s a good chance Kenny Brown, Alex De Giacomo and Warren Zeigler will all be starting.
Speed. There isn’t a lot of size and there’s little experience, but everyone can run. There are plenty of good athletes who can stay with the fastest of Mountain West receivers.
Proven production. The only returning player with any semblance of real experience is Quinton Pointer, and he’s hurt. This was one of the worst secondaries in the nation last year and it needs the instant jolt to work.
Outlook: Welcome to the UNLV version of the stimulus package. The secondary gave up 210 yards per game last year and got picked apart by big play after big play, and now it has to replace just about everyone. The coaching staff is counting on three key JUCO transfers and a few true freshmen to provide help to a group of fast, but uncertain starters. The team needs playmakers and needs to come up with more interceptions.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: There’s a nice combination of short and long placekickers with Kyle Watson and Ben Jaekle combining forces. Watson hit seven of his eight short kicks while Jaekle was the bomber with three shots from beyond 50 yards. Watson, a transfer from Texas Southern, will handle the extra points while Jaekle will just be a specialist.

The punting game was fine last year with QB Dack Ishii turning into a key kicker averaging 39.7 yards per kick while putting 16 inside the 20 and forcing 16 fair catches. Watson and Jaekle will each get looks as the starter, but former JUCO transfer Brandon Lamers might have the inside track after putting two inside the 20 and forcing two fair catches on his four punts.

Michael Johnson will take over the punt return duties from Casey Flair, who averaged 9.9 yards per try. However, Johnson, even with all his speed, averaged just 2.8 yards per try on his six returns. Johnson and lightning fast corner Deante Purvis will combine to handle the kickoff returns after a tremendous season. Johnson averaged 23.1 yards per try and Purvis averaged 23.4 yards.

Watch Out For ... Johnson to earn all-star honors in some way. He’s a better kickoff returner than a punt returner, but he should shine as the main man for both duties.
The placekickers. The combination of Watson and Jaekle worked well, and it should be fine again. Watson is all but automatic from in close, while Jaekle is a good bomber.
Sure-thing punter. Lamers couldn’t take over the job last year even though he was brought in to be the man. Now he needs to show he can average around 40 yards per kick or else Watson and Jaekle will have to emerge.
Outlook: Special teams have almost always been decent in the Mike Sanford era. These won’t be the best special teams in the Mountain West, but they certainly won’t be down with good veterans returning for the return game and at placekicker. The big question marks will be at punter and with the kickoff coverage team, but the team won’t be too bad there.
Rating: 6.5