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2010 UNLV Preview - Defense
UNLV LB Ronnie Paulo
UNLV LB Ronnie Paulo
Posted Jun 15, 2010 2010 Preview - UNLV Rebel Defense

UNLV Rebels

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The Rebel defense gave up 40 points or more ten times over the last two seasons and struggled against anyone with a decent offense. The new coaching staff is preaching the idea of being more physical and far tougher at all spots, but first the front seven has to do far more at getting into the backfield. After finishing 115th in the nation in sacks in 2008, the Rebels improved … they were 106th. With no pressure on the quarterback and little production against the run, the secondary was way too taxed. Defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson has a ton of veterans to work with and plenty of athletes and options to play around with the combinations, but the defense needs playmakers to emerge.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Quinton Porter, 72
Sacks: Quinton Porter, 2
Interceptions: Mike Grant, Terrance Lee, 1

Star of the defense: Senior CB Quinton Pointer
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Daniel Mareko
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Calvin Randleman
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Isaako Aaitui
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pointer, 2) LB Ronnie Paulo, 3) SS Alex De Giacomo
Strength of the defense: Veterans, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Run Defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The front four has to find a pass rush from somewhere, and 6-3, 245-pound senior Daniel Mareko needs to be the main man. Expected to be a key reserve last year, the 6-3, 245-pounder only made one tackle and has to still prove he can get through a season healthy. He missed 2007 with a broken leg and didn’t do anything over the past two years, but he’s among the best athletes on the line and he has the skills to become the playmaker the line needs.

Working on the other side is Washington State transfer Preston Brooks , a talented prospect who has dominated in practices and on the scout team, but he’s just now scratching the surface of what he can do on the field. At 6-3 and 280 pounds, he’s built like a 3-4 defensive end and is solid against the run making 28 tackles last season. However, he’s not much of a pass rusher.

As the lone returning starter and the dominator up front this spring, Isaako Aaitui is back after starting ten times last year making 31 tackles with a half a sack. With a great combination of quickness and 6-4, 315-pound size, he has the tools and the talent to be far more of a force at tackle. The senior is on the NFL radar as a possible 3-4 end, but he has to show he can produce at a higher level on a more consistent basis.

Able to work as a block on the nose or as a tackle, 6-2, 350-pound senior Ramsey Feagai is a big body who saw a little bit of time making ten tackles as a reserve. He’s not going to get into the backfield, but he can sit in the middle of a line and gum up the works. Now he has to use his girth to be more effective against the run. He’s expected to be fine after suffering a torn MCL this offseason.

Projected Top Reserves: Working as a reserve on the end, 6-1, 250-pound junior James Dunlap made nine tackles with a half a tackle for loss. He showed just enough this offseason to earn a No. 2 spot behind Daniel Mareko, but he needs to be disruptive right away to get any playing time with so many other options.

One of last year’s star pickups, B.J. Bell , was a JUCO All-American who was expected to become a major factor right away, but he only saw time in four games and made two tackles. The 6-2, 260-pound end was out this offseason recovering from surgery on his injured shoulder, but when he’s right, he’s expected to be the pass rusher the line desperately needs.

6-3, 245-poiund sophomore Beau Brence has yet to do anything, making just two tackles in his limited work, but he was recruited as a pure pass rusher out of Texas and will see time in the rotation with Preston Brooks. While he’s tough and he has been fantastic in practices, he has to show the same burst on the playing field.

The defense will count on two untested, but promising players to grow into jobs on the inside. True freshman Nate Holloway is a 6-3, 350-pound grayshirt who waited around and now will try to be a part of the rotation behind Ramsey Feagai. If nothing else, he’s big enough to stuff the run from time to time, while redshirt freshman Isaiah Shivers is a smaller, quicker options. While he’s not exactly tiny at 6-1 and 285 pounds, he’s not the massive defender the rest of the top Rebel tackles are.

Watch Out For … Brence. The new coaching staff isn’t going to settle for a line that can’t get into the backfield, and while Brence might not be the team’s best end, he’s a quick prospect who could be a specialist on the outside.
Strength: Size. Beefy bodies haven’t been a problem for the Rebel line over the last few years, and there’s plenty of size on the inside with a few 350-pounders to go along with the 315-pound Aaitui. Brooks is 280 pounds on the end.
Weakness: Playing football. The line did absolutely nothing last season as the Rebels finished last in the Mountain West in sacks, tackles for loss, and run defense. The line has too much experience and too much size to not find one thing it can do well.
Outlook: While only one starter is back, there’s enough experience to hope for a vast improvement under the new coaching staff. Unfortunately, this might be the weakest area of the team talent-wise and it has shown over the last few years. A case could be made that UNLV has had the least productive defensive front in America over the last three years; there’s nowhere to go but up.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Step one is to replace leading tackler Jason Beauchamp on the weakside, and senior Starr Fuimaono will work in a rotation to take over the role, The 6-0, 220-pound veteran blew out his knee two years ago and was iffy going into 2009. Not only was he a regular starter, but he finished third on the team making 67 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. A big hitter who bangs himself up as much as the ball carrier, he has suffered a variety of health issues, but most importantly, he has to be more of a playmaker considering Beauchamp led the team with 6.5 sacks.

Back in the middle is veteran Ronnie Paulo , a 6-2, 235-pound senior who made 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Banged up throughout last year, he missed a few games but appears ready to regain his sophomore form when he made 90 tackles. Extremely physical, he’s great against the run, but he’s not a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.

Working on the strongside is undersized senior Calvin Randleman , a 6-0, 200-pound newcomer to the mix who spent most of his career as a little used safety making just six tackles last season. However, being physical isn’t a problem for the son of Kevin Randleman, an MMA star. He worked his tail off this offseason and appears ready to not only take on the new job, but ready to shine as a leader on the stat sheet and among the linebacking corps.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Nate Carter could end up being the starter on the weakside, but he’ll work in a rotation with Starr Fuimaono. Expected to be one of the team’s brightest new stars after an awesome 2009 offseason, he was decent making 42 tackles with two forced fumbles. While he didn’t produce in games like he did in practices, he was still solid enough to earn a longer look at more playing time this year after serving as a spot starter. He’s the type of athlete who could do big things in place of Jason Beauchamp.

6-2, 230-pound sophomore Travis Trickey has decent athleticism and the size and build to work in the middle. A good recruit for the program, he was a high school track star as well as a top tackler out of Arizona, and now he needs to start playing up to his potential. For now, he’ll be an understudy working behind Ronnie Paulo.

Junior Beau Orth was a nice reserve last season making 21 tackles with a broken up pass, and now he’ll work in a rotation backing up Calvin Randleman on the strongside. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he’s built like a safety and has the speed to get all over the field. Joining Orth in the rotation is Chris Jones , a veteran who came up with 32 tackles as a spot starter at safety throughout last season. At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he’s hardly built like a linebacker, but he has excellent speed and he’s tough for his size.

Watch Out For … the safeties. The new coaching staff has a definite idea of what the strongside linebacker should be like. With Randleman, Orth, and Jones, the goal is to be very quick and extremely athletic on the outside.
Strength: Players. Two starters return, but the linebacking corps is loaded with veterans and options with at least two players for every spot. Not only will there be a good rotation, but there are several choices for the coaches to make for the starting three.
Weakness: Production. Losing Beauchamp takes away the one player who actually produced in the backfield for the Rebel front seven. He made 6.5 of the team’s 15 sacks and 95 tackles (the No. 2 man made 72). The linebackers have to prove they can actually play.
Outlook: As long as Beauchamp can be replaced, the linebacking corps could be one of the team’s bigger strengths. There are so many athletes and so many solid options that finding a good combination shouldn’t be a problem. However, there has to be more production and far more plays in the backfield. The athleticism has to come through.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: There haven’t been many bright spots in the Rebel secondary over the last few years, but senior corner Quinton Porter has done his best to do his part. The 5-10, 185-pound veteran ended up finishing second on the team in tackles with 72, to go along with four broken up passes and two sacks. For good and bad, he hits like a safety from his corner spot and he covers like one from time to time against the better, speedier receivers. He has the wheels to stay with anyone, and he’s a tremendous tackler for his side, but he needs to be a steadying force.

In a slight surprise going into the fall, junior Will Chandler took over the other corner job from veteran Deante Purvis. At 5-11, and 185 pounds, he has decent speed, but he needs to log in more time after making just 12 tackles. Extremely quick, he’s a hustler who doesn’t have many problems staying with the more athletic receivers in practice. With his athleticism, he could become a key kick returner.

Senior Alex De Giacomo took over the starting strong safety job over the second half of last year making 60 tackles with an interception. At 6-1 and185 pounds he’s build more like a corner, but the former JUCO star is a great tackler who has the potential to be one of the team’s top three tacklers now that he’ll get a bigger role. However, he has to be far, far better when the ball is in the air.

Senior Mike Grant was supposed to be a corner after coming in from Sierra College, where he picked off seven passes in 2009, but he’ll get the starting nod at free safety early on. While he’ll have to battle to keep the job, the 5-10, 185-pounder is a good tackler with limitless range making 26 tackles with a sack and three broken up passes in his first year.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 180-pound senior Travis Dixon was the starting quarterback for a stretch earlier in his career, but he was inconsistent and found a home in the defensive secondary. Now he’ll have to work to get more playing time after starting for most of last year at safety. A part of the strong safety rotation after making 36 tackles, he’s a good, reliable veteran who can start at either safety spot.

Junior Deante Purvis started most of last year at corner making 20 tackles with three broken up passes, but he didn’t make nearly enough plays in coverage. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he’s one of the team’s bigger corners, and with 4.31 40 speed he’s one of the team’s fastest players. Eventually, he has to use all his tools to be a better playmaker.

Courtney Bridget will see action sooner than later. The 6-3, 180-pound redshirt freshman is a dangerous free safety prospect with great hitting ability and the athleticism to be all over the field. A great get from Baltimore, he’s a ball-hawk who could be used as a nickel and dime defender if he doesn’t push Mike Grant out of a job.

Watch Out For … Grant. It would’ve been easy to keep a veteran like Dixon in the spot or move over Purvis for his speed, but Grant was good enough this offseason to show he could potentially solve the problems the secondary had making big plays. He’ll be all over the field.
Strength: Options. There are plenty of nice players to find four starters. Pointer is a lock at one corner and De Giacomo is good enough to stay at safety, but there are more than enough choices to work with at all four spots to form a good rotation.
Weakness: Interceptions. The team came up with a mere five with the secondary picking off three. No pass rush meant the corners had to spend years trying to stick with receivers. Problems with the run defense forced the defensive backs to worry more about the opposing ground game than they should’ve.
Outlook: The secondary allowed 236 yards per game and got picked apart time and again in yet another rough season. There weren’t any big picks of note, too many passing games got to do whatever they wanted, and all the true freshmen and all the JUCO transfers didn’t pay off. Now they need to. This is a deep group that has to be better in coverage while needing to be far more physical against the run.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: With veteran Ben Jaekle only hitting 7-of-15 career field goals, getting a kicker this recruiting season was a priority. Coming this fall will be Nolan Kohorst , a local product with a big leg and a big reputation. One of the nation’s top kicking prospects, he’ll get a look at the punting job to go along with his field goal duties. He has 50+ yard range and is being counted on to be the main man right away. If he’s not the guy, it’s uh-oh time.

Wide receiver Michael Johnson is a small, quick punt returner who should be better with more work. He only got three chances last year and averaged 6.3 yards per try, but he has the speed to become dangerous with the ball in his hands.

With 4.3 speed, corner Deante Purvis turned in a nice year as the main kickoff returner averaging 23.3 yards per try including a 94-yard touchdown. Averaging over 23 yards per try over the last two seasons, and he broke the league record for the most return tries with 50 last season.

Watch Out For … Kohorst. The freshman had better be all that. The kicking game needs him to be a seasoned vet right away, but the punting game needs him more.
Strength: Purvis. Electrifying, just put the ball on the 28 on every return. He’s a threat to take it the distance on every kickoff return.
Weakness: The kickoff coverage. There are plenty of other concerns on the special teams, but the kickoff coverage has to be tightened up more than any area after allowing a whopping 24.3 yards per return.
Outlook: After years of great special teams under Mike Sanford, things slipped big-time last year. The kicking game needs Kohorst to be everything right away, or else it’s scrambling time. The return game should be great, but the coverage teams have to be far tighter.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2010 UNLV Preview | 2010 UNLV Offense
- 2010 UNLV Defense | 2010 UNLV Depth Chart
- UNLV Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006