2010 Tulane Preview - Defense
Tulane FS Shakiel Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Few units in America are greater coach killers than the Tulane D. It's gone through three coordinators in the last four years, and second-year assistant Steve Stanard is living on borrowed time if he can't initiate something positive. To be fair, he's had little talent to work with, inheriting a team that's had no players earn a spot on either of the last two All-Conference USA teams. The Green Wave couldn't be feebler than a year ago, ranking no higher than 109th nationally in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and takeaways. Stanard is making a shift in alignment, adding a nickel back at the expense of a linebacker in order to bolster that leaky secondary. He's also banking on a pair of transfers, DE Dezman Moses and LB Trent Mackey, who began their careers at Iowa and Duke, respectively.
Star of the defense: Sophomore FS Shakiel Smith
Tackles: Alex Wacha, 77
Sacks: Justin Adams, 2.5
Interceptions: Phillip Davis, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Dezman Moses
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Alex Lauricella
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Senior CB Phillip Davis, 3) Moses
Strength of the defense: Depth at tackle, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, run defense, red zone defense, third down defense, creating turnovers
Projected Starters: The staff is putting out a help wanted sign, particularly at defensive end, where three of last season's top producers are gone. A solution on one side could come from 6-2, 249-pound junior Dezman Moses, who began his career at Iowa. He played two seasons with the Hawkeyes before getting arrested and eventually deciding to seek playing time elsewhere. Unless they're Saints, Big Ten caliber linemen don't usually play in New Orleans, so Tulane is excited about his potential to rush the quarterback.
On the opposite end, 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Austen Jacks appears to have locked down a starting assignment. Obviously undersized by defensive lineman standards, he uses a great work ethic and a quick first step out of the blocks to avoid getting tied up by bigger and stronger players. He showed flashes as a reserve in his first season, making 25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
At one defensive tackle spot, 6-2, 305-pound senior Oscar Ponce de Leon is looking to bounce back after missing more than half of the 2009 season with a broken ankle. After playing on both sides of the ball, he's found a permanent home on defense, starting three games and making 16 tackles a year ago. The best pure run-stuffer on the team, he takes up a lot of space and can occupy more than one blocker.
Seeking a promotion on the inside is senior Justin Adams, a spot starter in 2009. At 5-11 and 273 pounds, he's strong at the point of attack and very difficult to move off his base. Showing great quickness and a knack for fighting through traffic, he had 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks, numbers he's sure to exceed this season.
Projected Top Reserves: The Green Wave is blessed with uncommon depth on the inside this season. Both 6-2, 288-pound junior Cedric Wilson and 6-2, 291-pound junior Chris Asumnu have lettered the last two seasons and started games in 2009, the lone benefit to Ponce de Leon's injury. An athletic former tight end and basketball player, Wilson had 14 tackles when his opportunity to play came.
Asumnu brings a little more power and run-stopping ability to the second team. He operates with good pad level and has a strong base, allowing him to get up underneath blockers and hold his ground. A starter for the final six games of the 2009 season, he made a career-best 17 tackles.
Watch Out For .... Moses. He clearly has as much natural ability as any Tulane lineman, but does he have the focus and the drive to really capitalize on this opportunity? If he does, in a league without a ton of terrific pass blockers, he's capable of quickly making a name for himself.
Strength: Depth at tackle. The program will enjoy a rare amount of depth on the inside this season, bringing back four different players that started at least a pair of games in 2009. The rotation is flush with veterans, helping ensure that no one is gassed late in the fourth quarter.
Weakness: Winning the line of scrimmage. Too often in recent years, Tulane has gotten dominated and stood up at the point of attack. It's the main reason why the Green Wave was 109th nationally at stopping the run and 106th in sacks.
Outlook: Defense always begins up front, a big reason why Tulane has struggled so badly for years on this side of the ball. At best, the Green Wave has marginal talent that will again have problems getting a push or generating pressure. Moses and Jacks do form an intriguing tandem that could give lumbering tackles fits.
Projected Starters: Despite employing just a pair of linebackers, Tulane is still worried about its depth and talent at the position. With no full-timers back, the defense is going to lean heavily on 5-11, 220-pound sophomore Trent Mackey, the choice in the middle. A transfer from Duke, who sat out last year, he's expected to bring range, physicality, and vocal leadership to the position.
At weakside, the favorite coming out of spring was 5-11, 228-pound sophomore Darryl Farley . Despite struggling with injuries in his first season, he still managed to play in all 12 games, start three, and make 31 tackles. Back at full strength, he has the sideline-to-sideline speed and range to clean up a lot of messes this season.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Farley at weakside is 6-0, 220-pound junior Kristofar Rhymes. Mostly a special teams performer in his first two years, he lettered again in 2009, but had just eight tackles in eight games. A safety coming out of high school, he's added weight and is tough enough to be the first linebacker off the bench.
In order to build some depth here, the Green Wave has switched former fullback Jordan Stephany to this side of the ball. A 6-0, 252-pound senior, with three letters behind him, he's done a fair amount of hitting on special teams and as a lead blocker, bringing a physical mindset to his new home.
Watch Out For .... freshmen to get every opportunity to avoid a redshirt year. The Green Wave recruited six rookie linebackers knowing full well that some are going to play immediately out of necessity. Oh, and not just on special teams, but on defense as well.
Strength: Range. When your linebackers are built more like strong safeties, it could mean a couple things, but mainly that they can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. By design, this group is undersized, athletic, and able to perform multiple functions, such as covering tight ends and letting loose on the blitz.
Weakness: Defending the run. Yes, the Green Wave prefers its linebackers to be small and hyper, but it wouldn't hurt to have someone thick enough to stand down the occasional pulling guard slipping to the second level. This group does few favors for the run defense, too often getting trucked by stronger plays and allowing yards after contact.
Outlook: When it was veteran-laden, the Green Wave was no better than average on the second line of defense. Facing turnover, the situation will be even murkier this year. The availability of Mackey will help, but not enough to overcome a general dearth of depth and top-flight talent at linebacker.
Projected Starters: Tulane is undergoing a slight modification in the defensive backfield, trading a linebacker for a nickel back in an attempt to stop the bleeding in pass defense. One player, in particular, who knows his place on the defense is 6-0, 185-pound sophomore FS Shakiel Smith. An instant impact player in his first season on campus, he finished fourth on the team with 71 tackles, adding 5.5 tackles for loss. An aggressive defender and outstanding open-field tackler, he plays the game fast and with keen instincts.
At strong safety, Tulane has another quality in-space tackler, 6-0, 186-pound senior Alex Wacha. A cornerback when he first arrived, he's an outstanding athlete with three letters of experience behind him. Giving glimpses of his potential when health isn't an issue, he was third on the team with 77 tackles, often dishing out some punishment.
The favorite to fill the nickel opening is 5-11, 160-pound sophomore Ryan Travis , who lettered and had 19 tackles in his debut. A heady, fluid athlete, he's going to need more muscle in order to thrive at a position described as a hybrid between a cornerback and outside linebacker. He's being asked to be versatile, which includes stepping up and supporting the run.
The defense's best cover corner is 5-10, 173-pound senior Phillip Davis , a letterman in each of the last three years and 12-game starter last season. With a good mix of speed and agility, he's able to keep pace with the league's quicker receivers when not getting caught peaking. He had 41 tackles as a junior, adding a team-high two interceptions and five pass breakups.
Well-traveled sophomore Alex Lauricella has found a home at the other cornerback spot. After bouncing around at different positions, the 6-0, 186-pounder had a terrific offseason, showcasing his overall athleticism and catch up speed. If he can stay healthy and become a more physical tackler, he'll have a bright future in New Orleans.
Projected Top Reserves: Travis' spot atop the depth chart is not secure because of the presence of 6-3, 184-pound junior Taylor Echols. A versatile all-around athlete, with good range and elevation, he played a lot of football a year ago, making 31 tackles to earn his second letter.
The role of Kendrell Washington is going to be substantial, despite the fact that he's only a redshirt freshman. The 5-9, 160-pounder is listed as the top backup cornerback behind both Davis and Lauricella. An explosive athlete, with great hips, his biggest concerns will be overcoming a lack of experience and prototypical size.
Watch Out For .... Smith to become a household name in Conference USA circles. Playing for Tulane and one of the nation's worst defenses makes for an uphill climb, but the second-year player has the total package of skills to give the Green Wave its first non-honorable mention all-stars in years.
Strength: Athletes. The requisite core skills, such as speed and vertical ability, are in place for the Green Wave defensive backs. Now all they have to do is learn to translate those raw talents into more deflected balls and fewer third down conversions.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. Tulane allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete more than 67% of passes a year ago, second worst to only lowly Western Kentucky. The Green Wave is easy picking for those passers, also tying for the fewest interceptions in the country along with Florida Atlantic, UNLV, and Illinois.
Outlook: Unless Tulane can somehow generate a much better pass rush, it's going to continue having serious problems in pass defense. It can continue to employ somewhat of a prevent D, but will get picked apart on the intermediate stuff and have problems creating the takeaways that the entire program sorely needs.
Projected Starters: Now that long-time regular Ross Thevenot has exhausted his eligibility, Tulane is turning its punting and kicking over to redshirt freshman Ryan Rome . Heralded coming out of high school, he didn't disappoint in the spring, showing good range and accuracy on field goals. He's less known as a punter, and at 5-9 and 166 pounds, doesn't get a lot of leg drive and extension.
Sophomore D.J. Banks will play a prominent role in the return game, especially since Jeremy Williams has graduated. Look for the shifty Banks to handle the majority of kickoffs, while lending support to senior Casey Robottom on punts.
Watch Out For… the maturation of Rome. He's the new special teams sheriff in New Orleans, and might be for the next four years. The early returns have been on his skills as placekicker, but he still has a lot to prove as a punter, which the defense will be monitoring closely.
Strength: Rome the placekicker. Sure, he has to do it in game settings, but so far, he looks to have the tools of a four-year starter, with a strong leg on kickoffs. Plus, he has the luxury of kicking indoors for half the season, which will provide another boost to success rate.
Weakness: The coverage units. The Green Wave put up little fight in either area, but was especially dreadful covering punts. It ranked 118th in the country, yielding a touchdown and a whopping 17.6 yards a return.
Outlook: Rome appears to be the best thing going for Tulane's special teams unit. He has yet to play a down at this level, which speaks volumes about the shape of this group. He'll be the new punter and placekicker, and the return game and cover teams are sub-standard.
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