2010 UCF Preview – Defense
UCF CB Josh Robinson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - UCF Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What you need to know: After going toe-to-toe with East Carolina in 2009, UCF should once again be among Conference USA's stingiest defenses. It could, however, take a different route getting back to that familiar place. Last season, the run defense was the pillar and the pass defense was a liability. Yet, in a possible role reversal, the Knights are spending the offseason trying to bolster the middle of the front seven, while the once-rudderless secondary brings everyone back, including budding superstar CB Josh Robinson. The one constant remains DE Bruce Miller, arguably the best defensive player in school history and the nation's active leader with 27 career sacks. As he goes, so goes the UCF D.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Bruce Miller
Tackles: Derrick Hallman, 85
Sacks: Bruce Miller, 13
Interceptions: Josh Robinson, 6
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Wes Tunuufi Sauvao
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Josh Linam
Best pro prospect: Miller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Miller, 2) Sophomore CB Josh Robinson, 3) Senior LB Lawrence Young
Strength of the defense: Creating pressure, the linebackers, stuffing the run
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the interior of the line
Projected Starters: The good news is that UCF has access to the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year for another season. The bad news is that two potential NFL players, DT Torrell Troup and DE Jarvis Geathers, are gone. Senior Bruce Miller continues to be a one-man wrecking crew, leading all active players with 27 career sacks and coming off another dominant season. Neither the fastest nor the biggest at 6-2 and 255 pounds, he's been unblockable the last two years, using his motor, quickness, and endurance to pile up 61 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 2009.
Partnering with Miller on the outside will again be 6-2, 235-pound senior David Williams . Another high-energy, blue-collar pass rusher who plays to the whistle, he has to do a better job of taking advantage of facing just a single blocker. Despite starting 12 games, he managed just 27 tackles, six tackles for loss, and a single sack. UCF needs more from him in 2010.
Uncertainty is the theme on the interior for the upcoming season. Two new starters will be broken in, headed by 6-3, 300-pound senior Wes Tunuufi Sauvao , who has played a lot of football in three years, but has yet to earn a starring role. After bouncing around between offense and defense throughout his career, he has found a home and is determined to be an asset in run support.
Although redshirt freshman Frankie Davis has yet to play a down at this level, he's already being asked to contribute and possibly start next to Tunuufi Sauvao. A 6-2, 291-pounder, he impressed the staff as a member of the scout team, showing good athleticism and quickness off the snap.
Projected Top Reserves: Keeping Williams very uncomfortable at end will be 6-3, 254-pound junior Darius Nall , the team's most explosive pass rush specialist off the bench. A year after beating cancer, he was beating a number of tackles to the backfield, making 12 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in a reserve role.
Developing inside depth will continue to be a fluid process. Sensing an opportunity to play right away, 6-2, 308-pound freshman E.J. Dunston enrolled in classes in January and has already taken part in his first spring. Pursued by a handful of ACC school, he's already ahead of the curve physically and is a safe bet to be a key part of the rotation.
Watch Out For .... Williams. With opposing teams throwing everything possible at Miller, it's incumbent upon Williams to make them pay from the other side. If he can't produce from the outset, Nall is going to earn substantially more playing time.
Strength: Miller. He's one of those coveted defensive players, who makes everyone around him better. Not only does No. 49 make life miserable for quarterbacks and running games, but he has an infectious attitude that makes the other Knights want to play harder.
Weakness: Tackle. Now that Troup and Travis Timmons are gone, UCF is putting out an APB for quality tackles, who can plug holes in run defense. Tunuufi Sauvao should be serviceable, but after him, the Knights are going to lean on an uneasy cocktail of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen.
Outlook: Miller is a sure-thing, but he's the only one on a D-line going through a transition period. Yeah, he'll get his sacks and pressures, but he'll need a lot more help if UCF is going to once again be among the league's best at creating pressure and stopping the run.
Projected Starters: While leading tackler Cory Hogue will surely be missed, UCF feels good about a group bringing back two starters. On the outside, 6-0, 220-pound senior Lawrence Young should be in line for all-league consideration after making 78 tackles and 11 tackles in his third season as a starter. The type of defender who'll fly all over the field to make plays, he has the range and speed to be used on the blitz or dropped back into pass coverage.
Forming a bookend with Young at outside linebacker will be 6-0, 218-pound senior Derrick Hallman , who's bounced between here and the secondary. With all of the quickness and agility of a safety, he roamed the field last year, finishing second with 85 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and three fumble recoveries. Deceptively strong for his size, he packs a punch on running plays.
The newcomer in the middle is Josh Linam , a 6-3, 235-pound junior carrying the burden of succeeding Hogue. As a backup in 13 games last season, he made 14 stops and got better adjusted to his role and his surroundings. He has the right size, work ethic, and instincts to make a bunch of big plays over the final two years of his career.
Projected Top Reserves: If he can get back on the field after missing all of 2009 with a knee injury, 6-1, 245-pound senior Chance Henderson would be a welcome addition to the second unit. A three-time letterwinner, he's loaded with experience, making 57 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks when he was healthy two years ago.
Versatile 5-11, 224-pound senior Michael Dominguez has transferred from Florida International in the hopes of earning playing time in his only season of eligibility. A versatile all-around athlete, he brings veteran leadership to a second unit that's rife with youth and inexperience.
Watch Out For .... Linam. The coaching staff was raving about him a year ago, but Hogue kept the other middle linebackers from getting many snaps. He's the prototype of a UCF defender, ready to do whatever is necessary to get on the field and make plays. He should be good for at least 75 tackles in his starting debut.
Strength: Speed on the outside. Have fun getting around the corner on Young and Hallman, two of the quickest outside linebackers in the conference. They'll string out plays and prevent them from getting past the second level, one of the underrated aspects of last year's stellar performance in run defense.
Weakness: Size. With speed and athleticism often comes a price. Young and Hallman move like safeties because, well, they're built like safeties. While both are tough at the point of attack, they lack the height to match well with tight ends in pass defense, and can be overwhelmed when linemen get out in space.
Outlook: Even without Hogue, UCF should again be in good shape at linebacker. Young and Hallman are playmakers and borderline all-stars, while Linam has been itching for this opportunity to be more than just a reserve and special teams player. Together, they form one of Conference USA's best sets of linebackers.
Projected Starters: The Knights endured a year of transition in the secondary in 2009, and lived to tell about it. To mixed results, they inserted four new starters into the lineup, beginning a new chapter with plenty of fresh faces. The brightest of the newcomers is 5-10, 186-pound sophomore CB Josh Robinson , a Freshman All-American in his first year on campus. Sure, there were rookie mistakes early on, but his speed and cover skills eventually took over, resulting in 69 tackles, six interceptions, and a team-high 14 passes defended.
Making a return from a season-ending injury to join Robinson at corner is 5-9, 183-pound senior Emery Allen , a veteran of three letters. While not very big and prone to getting beat on lobs, he can be extremely feisty and won't back down to any receiver. At his peak, he made 18 tackles and a pair of sacks as a junior.
After playing some cornerback and even starting five games, 5-11, 207-pound senior Darin Baldwin is making a permanent move to strong safety. It's simply a better fit. A physical, bump-and-run defensive back, who's liable to get exposed when residing along on an island, he finished the year with 32 tackles, seven breakups, and a few too many blown coverages.
One of the more pleasant surprises of this group a year ago was 5-11, 194-pound sophomore FS Kemal Ishmael . A surprise starter by the time October arrived, he finished fourth on the squad with 70 tackles and proved to be aggressive in run defense. He needs help in pass coverage, but the foundation has been set for a promising career.
Projected Top Reserves: While the starting unit is somewhat green, the second team has the luxury of seasoning. At cornerback, 6-2, 194-pound senior Justin Boddie has as much experience as the regulars, earning three letters and starting 11 games a year ago. He had 58 tackles and four tackles for loss, and is interchangeable with Allen.
Senior Reggie Weams is to safety what Boddie is to cornerback, lettering in each of the last three years and starting four games in 2009. The 6-0, 191-pounder posted a career-high 24 tackles, and won't unravel at the prospect of being thrust into the lineup. A little undersized for the position, he relies on his quickness and know-how to avoid being out of place.
Watch Out For .... Robinson to really bloom. He excelled mostly on athleticism alone as a freshman. With a full season of work and another offseason of practice, he's capable of emerging into one of Conference USA's top lockdown corners.
Strength: Depth. Non-existent a year ago, UCF can now boast a secondary that returns six different players with varying levels of starting experience. If Boddie and Weams remain as reserves, the Knights will have two well-traveled seniors on call in the event of an emergency.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Considering the turnover from 2008, it's not as if the cracks in the armor were unexpected, especially in this pass-happy league. Still, the Knights must take a step forward after yielding 20 touchdown passes and a whopping 267 yards a game.
Outlook: UCF should be much improved versus last year, but by how much is the pivotal unknown. Robinson is the type of cornerback to build a secondary around, and there's a nice enough mix of veterans and youth surrounding him to be cautiously optimistic about 2010.
Projected Starters: The Knights are excited to be retaining the services of last season's regular placekicker and punter. Super-sized junior Nick Cattoi performed well in his first year as the regular, hitting 14-of-20 field goal attempts and a long of 50 yards. He'll try to hold off the challenge of sophomore Jamie Boyle , who has less pop but better technique and fundamentals.
At punter, senior Blake Clingan returns for his third year as the starter. He's never going to wow the staff with his leg strength, averaging just 37.3 yards a year ago, but gets outstanding hang time and excels at directional kicks. In fact, of last season's 65 punts, 23 were fair caught and only 14 were returned.
Watch Out For… the return game. In the first season without gamebreaker Joe Burnett, UCF still managed to lead the league in kickoff returns and rank 29th nationally in punt returns. Quincy McDuffie , Darin Baldwin , and Jamar Newsome all had a kickoff return of at least 72 yards in 2009 and are all back in Orlando for another year.
Strength: Coverage teams. The Knights continue to harbor the depth and athleticism to stifle the opposition on special teams. A year ago, they allowed just 2.2 yards a punt return, a credit to Clingan's high pops, and were No. 10 nationally in kickoff coverage.
Weakness: Distance. Sure, Clingan brings value in different ways than just distance, but 37.3 yards was No. 11 in Conference USA and clearly an area for improvement. If he can get a little more drive into his punts without sacrificing hang time, the Knights will benefit in terms of field position.
Outlook: Tim Salem consistently—and quietly—does a fantastic job with this unit. This season will be no different. The coach faces no glaring weaknesses, veterans at punter and kicker, and a couple of explosive options in the return game.
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2010 UCF Defense |
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