2010 North Texas Preview – Defense
North Texas LB Craig Robertson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - North Texas Eagle Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: North Texas hasn't stopped anyone in years, and this season doesn't appear to be much different. Relative compared to previous seasons, the UNT D was a bit better, and there's enough experience and an infusion of JUCO talent to provide ready-made depth. The front seven has to do far more to get into the backfield after finishing 116th in the nation in sacks and 97th in tackles for loss, and the D has to come up with ways to keep points off the board after allowing 21 or more in ten of the 12 games. The linebacking corps has veterans, the tackles are huge, and the safeties are fine, but the corner situation is a problem and someone has to start forcing turnovers. The front seven has to find something it can do well.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Craig Robertson
Tackles: Craig Robertson, 107
Sacks: Brandon Akpunku, 6
Interceptions: Craig Robertson, Ira Smith, 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE K.C. Obi
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB D'Leon McCord
Best pro prospect: Robertson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robertson, 2) DE Brandon Akpunku, 3) S DaWaylon Cook
Strength of the defense: Tackle Size, Linebacker Experience
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Rush
Projected Starters: The Mean Green pass rush was non-existent finishing with a mere 13 sacks on the year. Don't blame Brandon Akpunku , the lone pass rusher who came up with six of the sacks along with 47 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. The 6-1, 226-pound junior is a former linebacker who's built more like a beefy safety, but he's extremely strong for his size and blasts off the snap. He should be in the hunt for all-star honors.
Taking over on the other end is K.C. Obi , a 6-2, 214-pound sophomore who came up with 26 tackles with four tackles for loss. While he spent most of his true freshman year as a key reserve, he got four starts in the second half of the year and struggled. Erased way too easily by bigger, stronger blockers, he needs to use his speed and quickness to do far more in the backfield.
Former JUCO transfer Shavod Atkinson took over a spot on the inside right away and finished with 33 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. A big body on the inside at 6-2 and 307 pounds, he was a key run stopper and showed surprising interior quickness. Now he needs to hold up better and do even more to keep the inside runs to a minimum.
Bringing more beef to the inside is senior Kelvin Jackson, a 6-2, 309-pound veteran who started against Ohio and finished the year with 16 tackles. He missed time with an elbow injury and was limited for most of the second half of the year, but the former JUCO transfer has the size and the strength to do far more. He's a pure run stopper.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 288-pound senior John Weber is a nice-sized prospect for the inside, but he has yet to do anything. The former JUCO transfer is a huge 3-4 end with the talent and the ability to shine in a rotation with Kelvin Jackson. Extremely quick off the ball with sub-4.9 speed, he made 8.5 sacks in his final year at Itawamba CC and now has to get on the field and start showing what he can do.
At 6-4 and 301 pounds, sophomore Tevinn Cantly has tremendous size for an end and can be moved around where needed on the defensive front. He was a nice fill-in last year making 17 tackles, and while he's not going to get into the backfield, he can be a big, tough, stuffer against the run.
Bringing size and JUCO experience on the outside is Michael Miller , a 6-3, 260-pound veteran from Antelope Valley College where he made 38 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. An ultra-disruptive playmaker at the lower level, he can be a mauler against the run and has the quickness to get to the outside.
Watch Out For … Obi. He was getting his feet wet last season and struggled to get free and make things happen in the backfield. With the reputation of Akpunku growing, Obi isn't going to be double teamed and will get to use his quickness more. He HAS to do something to get into the backfield.
Strength: Mega-size on the inside. The Mean Green has three tackles hovering around 310 pounds and a fourth in Weber who checks in at 288. There's more than enough beef to hold up against the run, but …
Weakness: … the production has to come. The run defense got ripped apart allowing close to 200 yards per game, and there was no pass rush whatsoever coming up with just 12 sacks while finishing 97th in the nation in tackles for loss.
Outlook: There's size in the middle and speed on the outside … so why can't anyone make a play? The Mean Green hasn't been anything more than a soft breeze to push through over the last several years, and it's not like the talent has gotten night-and-day better overnight. The line has to find one thing it can do well.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Senior Craig Robertson only earned honorable mention All-Sun Belt honors, but he was one of the few productive players on the UNT defense making a team-leading 107 stops with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 221 pounds, he's not huge but he's tough on the outside and he's one of the team's biggest hitters. A phenomenal athlete, he has the ability to do far more to get into the backfield if he's turned loose.
Sophomore Jeremy Phillips returns after making 37 tackles with an interception. He was a key backup early on before starting the final three games at the left outside spot, and now he should be one of the team's leading tacklers with the potential to be a decent pass rusher. At 6-2 and 198 pounds, he's built like a defensive back and he runs like one.
The idea was to find a spot somewhere for senior A.J. Penson last year, and his position turned out to be in the middle where started the final six games after Toby Nwigwe went down. The 6-1, 225-pound veteran made 51 tackles as a sophomore and equaled the mark last year to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss. Versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker spots, he can do a little of everything.
Projected Top Reserves:
With 4.6 speed and big hitting ability, Brad Graham was a great get for the Mean Green after being named the 2009 NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year. He made 96 tackles for Navarro College after making 79 stops as a freshman, and with the speed and the talent to quickly become a star on the outside, the 6-0, 205-pounder has too much talent to keep off the field. He's a big-hitting disruptive force.
JUCO transfer Forlando Johnson was a star for Butler CC in Kansas making 57 tackles while earning first-team honors. While he's only 6-0 and 212 pounds, he's a top athlete who can play inside or out, and he has the toughness to work in the middle in a rotation with A.J. Penson.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. Yeah, three players with starting experience return, but it's not like the linebacking corps stopped anyone. Graham and Johnson might be too talented to not be starters over established veterans.
Strength: Experience. The JUCO guys know what they're doing after their years of time at the lower level, and with Robertson, Penson, and Phillips having the games logged in to be comfortable, experience isn't a problem.
Weakness: Plays in the backfield. This is an issue for the entire team, but with the amount of speed and quickness at all three spots, there's no reason to not do far, far more to be disruptive.
Outlook: The linebackers put up some decent stats, but the corps took a mega-hit when Tobe Nwigwe went down after making 62 tackles and six tackles for loss in six games. There's athleticism and experience, and there should be a good rotation with the arrival of the JUCO transfers. Now the production has to follow.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: Junior DaWaylon Cook was tremendous against the run, finishing second on the team with 85 tackles and with his 71 solo stops alone being enough to have finished third, but he did next to nothing against the pass. The 6-1, 196-pounder moved over from corner and has been a whale of a free safety showing great range and big pop, but he needs to come up with a few plays when the ball is in the air.
5-11, 183-pound senior Ira Smith has all the skills to be fantastic. The former JUCO transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast JC finished fifth on the team with 53 tackles to go along with a pick, but he didn't come up with nearly enough plays against the pass. With 4.4 speed, he could move to corner if needed and getting around in space at safety isn't an issue.
JUCO transfer D'Leon McCord came in from Butler CC and earned a starting spot right away. The 6-1, 185-pounder has great size and excellent range, and now he'll be asked to be the team's No. 1 cover-corner right away. He made 30 tackles last year, but his worth will be as a playmaker against everyone's top target.
Senior Chris Neal got a little bit of time making four tackles, and now he'll be asked to hold down the fort at corner until one of the newcomers is ready to take over. He has decent speed, but he's a smallish 5-9 and 168 pounds and he'll get picked on by any receiver with any measure of size. He's quicker than fast and will be better on short-range routes.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Ryan Downing comes in from Butler County CC as a ready-made safety. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, he has good size and great tackling ability making 62 stops last year and three interceptions. With his combination of skills and his good speed, he's a prospect at corner as well as safety working behind DaWaylon Cook.
After starting out his career at receiver, sophomore Desmond Brigham moved over to defensive back and he's hoping to be a part of the rotation at one corner spot with Chris Neal. The 6-1, 184-pounder has great speed and good ability to get to the ball, but he has to prove he can tackle.
Potentially a good, sound tackler once he gets his chance. 6-1, 181-pound sophomore Hilbert Jackson could be a whale of a nickel or dime back if he doesn't see time at one of the corner jobs. He cuts well and doesn't miss any stops in practice, but now he has to see time on the field.
Watch Out For … Cook to get more recognition. He had to clean up a lot of messes all over the field and wasn't able to focus well enough to do his job against the pass. However, he's such a great tackler that he'll be on someone's all-star team.
Strength: Safety. With Cook and Smith, along with the addition of Downing, the safety situation is solid. Everyone can run and everyone can tackle, and now they need to make more big plays.
Weakness: Corners. The play of Royce Hill and Adryan Adams was solid throughout last year, and now it'll take a big prayer to hope for a JUCO transfer (McCord), a career reserve (Neal), and two unproven prospects (Jackson and Brigham) to take over and be rocks.
Outlook: Technically and statistically, the pass defense wasn't bad. However, there weren't enough plays made with just seven interceptions and the stats are a bit misleading with so many teams spending their time running the ball on the porous front seven. If there continues to be no pass rush, though, the improvement won't come from the newcomers at corner.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: With the departure of Jeremy Knott, who wasn't spectacular but was solid, the kicking game needs a little luck. True freshman Zach Olen is expected to come in and take over, even though he's more of a punter than a kicker. He has a great let and range from just inside the 50, but he needs to be consistent after hitting just 10-of-15 field goals.
Olen will get a shot at the punting job, too, after the Mean Green finished 117th in the nation in punting. However, sophomore Will Atterberry was terrific at putting the ball inside the 20 pinning teams deep 22 times. He needs to show more blast on the ball after averaging just 39 yards per shot, and he needs help from his coverage team.
Top receiver Jamaal Jackson was fantastic on kickoff returns averaging 27.2 yards per try, and now he'll get even more of the work with Royce Hill gone. Jackson is extremely quick and gets up the field in a big hurry.
The punt return game needs work after Darius Carey averaged just 6.1 yards per shot. Jackson only gained three yards on his one try, and there will be an open casting call to see who can crank out some bigger plays. Carey, however, is the most dangerous option.
Watch Out For … the kicking situation. Olen is the hope, but sophomore Trent Deans and freshman Jose Serrano will be given their chances to take over. Whoever gets the job needs more protection after the line allowed three blocks last year.
Strength: Jackson. A game-breaker who has the potential to come up with big gains, he needs to shine and be an all-star caliber playmaker on kickoff returns while getting more chances on punt returns.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Atterberry didn't provide enough help and didn't hang the ball up enough, but the coverage team didn't give him any help. Atterberry will put the ball inside the 20, but after allowing 11.4 yards per try the rest of the team needs to help him out.
Outlook: The special teams have been a nightmare at times over the last few years for the Mean Green, and now there's a problem with the kicking game needing a true freshman to come through and shine. The coverage teams need to be better and far more is needed from the punt returners.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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