2010 Marshall Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Marshall Thundering Herd Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Ever so quietly, the defense continues to shine. The D has been in the top four among Conference USA programs in run defense, pass defense, and scoring defense. Fundamentally sharp, the Herd flies to the ball and plays with a pack mentality. The undisputed leader of the group will again be LB Mario Harvey, a 250-pound wrecking ball and one of the league's best run defenders. The biggest hurdle to maintaining a high level of play rests with the secondary. While FS Omar Brown and CB Ahmed Shakoor return following table-setting years, the rest of the unit is a question mark because of suspensions and graduations. Making matters worse, the D needs to generate more edge pressure than it did a year ago.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Mario Harvey
Tackles: Mario Harvey, 117
Sacks: Mario Harvey, 7
Interceptions: DeQuan Bembry, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Ahmed Shakoor
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Vinny Curry
Best pro prospect: Harvey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harvey, 2) Curry, 3) Junior FS Omar Brown
Strength of the defense: D-line depth, run defense, linebackers, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, pass defense, takeaways
Projected Starters: Despite a slew of familiar faces here, Marshall still isn't quite sure what to expect from the defensive line. Replacing DE Albert McClellan might wind up being a team effort. On one side will be 6-4, 252-pound junior Vinny Curry , who's coming off a breakthrough first season as a starter. After seeing spot duty as a rookie, he flourished in an expanded role, making 59 tackles to top all linemen, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Even after adding considerable weight and muscle, he still possesses an explosive first step and the closing speed to collapse the pocket.
Contending for the other end spot is 6-2, 236-pound senior DeMetrius Thompson . A little-used player in his first four seasons, he managed just seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss as an eight-game reserve in 2009. A situational rusher at best, he'll have a difficult time maintaining this spot once everyone is healthy and the newcomers arrive on campus.
On the interior, the most productive player will once again be senior DT Michael Janac . Quick enough to play end, he's beefed up to 6-5 and 294 pounds in order to give the Herd more of a presence on the inside. Sturdy in run defense, he's also quick enough to get penetration, contributing 44 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries, and a pair of forced fumbles. He'll command multiple blockers at times this season.
At the nose, 6-5, 301-pound senior Johnny Jones is preparing for his second season of regular action. In 2009, he started in two games and played in a dozen, making nine tackles and blocking a couple of kicks. He has ample size and strength, while showing enough of a burst to make opponents pay for doubling Janac. He really needs to arrive in order to help keep Marshall among the league's better run defenses.
Projected Top Reserves: The immovable object behind Jones at nose tackle is junior Brandon Bullock . At 6-3 and 361 pounds, he's a prototypical space-eater capable of occupying multiple blockers. A letterman and part of the rotation over the last two seasons, he chipped in with eight tackles in 2009, a level of production he's capable of exceeding this fall.
If Thompson is unable to remain with the first team, there's a good chance that 6-4, 247-pound sophomore John Youboty has succeeded him. Though he missed the spring because of injury and didn't appear on the depth chart, he has the speed and edge rushing skills to quickly get back into this competition. As a rookie, he played in all 13 games, making 13 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss.
Like Youboty on the outside, DT Delvin Johnson is trying to rehab an injury and overcome lost reps in March and April. A 6-3, 300-pound junior, with notable quickness for his size, he started three of his five games in 2009, getting in on five tackles before getting hurt. He has the girth and strength the Herd needs to continue holding up versus power running teams.
Watch Out For … the competition to be ferocious in August. Marshall harbors a lot of similarly talented players, all of whom want their piece of the action once the season begins. If Youboty and Johnson join the mix and are healthy, the staff is going to have a good problem trying to name starters for the opener.
Strength: Veteran depth. Assuming everyone is available, the Herd could have as many as eight former letterwinners available for action. The two-deep provides all kinds of options and a rotation that'll keep everyone fresh, especially on those stifling September afternoons.
Weakness: Edge pressure. Not only did a linebacker lead the team in sacks last year, but McClellan, the team's most disruptive end, has run out of eligibility. Marshall needs at least one defensive end, preferably, to become a consistent force who requires regular attention.
Outlook: While there's deep talent along the defensive front, the hope is that everyone can approach a new level of disruption. The one-two punch of Curry on the outside and Janac on the inside is a nice place to start, but a lot more help will be required from the supporting cast.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: For one more season, Marshall has the luxury of building its defense around 6-0, 250-pound senior Mario Harvey , one of the program's best defenders in years. A reigning All-Conference USA first teamer, he racked up a team-high 117 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries. An SEC-caliber player from his weakisde spot, he's an outstanding run stopper, diagnosing the play, shedding blocks, and rapidly getting acquainted with the man with the ball. He's simply a terror for opposing players to try and block.
Somewhat overshadowed, yet still very talented is 6-3, 232-pound junior Kellen Harris , the Herd's man in the middle. In his first season as a starter, he exceeded expectations by making 71 stops, six tackles for loss, and forcing a pair of fumbles. A former wresting champion in high school, he has terrific size, uses his hands well, and will sift through traffic to make a play. With a full season behind him and Harvey attracting so much attention, he'll be even more effective this fall.
The newcomer to the starting unit at strongside will be 6-2, 207-pound sophomore Devin Arrington . One of the fastest players on this side of the ball, he arrived as a defensive back and has the range to be effective on the blitz and in pass defense. However, at his size, he still needs to add more bulk and prove he's capable of stuffing the run while not getting bowled by larger blockers. Largely a special teamer in his first year, he had 10 tackles in a dozen games.
Projected Top Reserves: In the middle, 6-3, 234-pound Tyson Gale will provide valuable reps on special teams and as Harris' backup. A terrific all-around athlete, with good instincts and excellent size, he needs more chances for playing time. A year ago, he made nine tackles in a dozen, but should start seeing a ramp up in production beginning this fall.
The emergency backup to Harvey at weakside is 5-10, 214-pound junior George Carpenter , a first-time letterwinner a year ago. He was disruptive when he got his sporadic shots, making 14 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a couple of quarterback hurries. He plays with a fresh energy and the good pad level needed to withstand the blocks of larger players.
Watch Out For … Harvey to start making some noise outside the Conference USA borders. The senior is a bona fide NFL prospect, who's worthy of far more attention from the national media. Far more than just his numbers, he's an extremely hard worker, who has a lot of football yet to be played in his career.
Strength: Run defense. That the Herd was a respectable No. 4 in Conference USA and No. 48 nationally versus the run had as much to do with the play of the linebackers than anything else. Harvey and Harris, in particular, do a terrific job of getting off the snap, filling lanes, and preventing plays from extending into the secondary.
Weakness: Strongside. Is Arrington ready for this promotion? Even better, is he big enough to handle it? He better be because in his rear view mirror are a pair of freshmen, 6-2, 227-pound Trevor Black and 6-1, 223-pound Phil Walker .
Outlook: Harvey is such a talented player he's going to make those around him better. Harris is a borderline all-star, with that crucial first season as a starter behind him. If the Herd is able to solidify the situation at strongside, it has a chance to boast the league's best corps of linebackers.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: No position in Huntington is sounding the alarms more than the defensive backfield. A combination of graduations and suspensions have hit the Herd hard heading into the new season. One of the few constants is 5-11, 203-pound junior CB Ahmed Shakoor , who's hoping to build on a strong first season in the starting lineup. A feisty corner, who plays with the mindset of a safety, he originally turned down offers from Louisville and Virginia Tech to play in Huntington. Still evolving as a pass defender, he had 36 tackles and a team-best 11 pass breakups.
The only solid bet at safety will once again be 5-11, 194-pound junior Omar Brown . An effective and versatile defender, he enjoyed a breakout season in 2009 after John Saunders was injured, finishing third on the team with 73 tackles, picking off two passes, and ranking just behind Shakoor with 10 passes defended. He's effectively added weight since arriving, yet maintained his range and speed, and will benefit greatly from last year's experience.
It looks as if another Brown will be holding down strong safety, 6-0, 182-pound sophomore Donald Brown . He burned his redshirt season in 2009 as a special teamer in seven games, contributing a half-dozen tackles. There's no doubt he's raw at this early stage, but he has the physical base, including good hips and physicality, to grow into this role and become a three-year starter.
Shakoor's veteran partner at cornerback will be 6-2, 191-pound senior D.J. Wingate , the recipient of three letters with the program. However, he became an afterthought last season, making just two tackles in 10 games, and needs to step up in his final season of eligibility. He has enough size to cover the taller receivers and adequate speed, but it hasn't always translated into results on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Pending the return of suspended players, the veteran among the backup cornerbacks will be 5-9, 178-pound junior Rashad Jackson . A one-time transfer from Joliet (Ill.) Community College, he only appeared in four games last season, needing a crash course in pass defense, particularly in a wide-open league, like Conference USA.
At strong safety, 5-10, 192-pound senior Kevin Perry is working hard to become the first defensive back off the bench. He's gotten plenty of experience on defense and special teams over the last three seasons, peaking with 25 tackles and an interception a year ago. A savvy player and good tackler in the open field, his work ethic and approach to the game set a good example for the younger players.
Watch Out For … the status of 5-10, 182-pound junior CB DeQuan Bembry ...again. For the second straight year, Huntington's version of Adam Jones is in trouble with the law and the program. He's suspended indefinitely for an April altercation, which is too bad since he's an all-star talent and the team's best cover corner.
Strength: Hitting. Whether it's the corners or the safeties, Marshall defensive backs aren't bashful about lowering their shoulder just before lowering the boom. This group has adequate size and the fundamentals needed to wrap up and drive through their target.
Weakness: Takeaways. For the second consecutive year, the Herd picked off just nine passes, including two over the final seven games. With T.J. Drakeford already dismissed and Bembry's situation in doubt, it doesn't seem likely the program will be able to reverse this futile trend.
Outlook: This is going to be a sore spot throughout the season. Collectively, the secondary possesses just average coverage skills and sub par depth, which will get exposed against a schedule dotted with talented passers.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Marshall is in the unenviable position of replacing accurate PK Craig Ratanamorn, who has exhausted his eligibility in Huntington. His successor will be junior Tyler Warner , who competed for the job last year and filled in admirably when injuries struck the position in 2008. A 6-4, 215-pounder, he has excellent leg strength, now needing to simply refine his mechanics and improve his accuracy.
At punter will once again be junior Kase Whitehead , who raised his average to 39.2 yards, yet still has a long way to go to be considered an asset. His hang time considered to the Herd being 102nd nationally in net punting, and has had three punts blocked over the last two seasons.
The Herd's primary return man will be sophomore Andre Booker . He showed flashes of big-play potential in his debut, averaging more than 20 yards on nine punt returns and nearly 20 yards on 11 kick returns. The highlight was a 58-yard punt return for six in the team's bowl victory.
Watch Out For … Warner's development. While raw, the staff is excited about his potential to drive the ball and reach from as far out as 50 yards. After Ratanamorn nailed all but two of his 17 field goal attempts, the program sort of grew accustomed to consistency in the kicking game.
Strength: Booker. Aptly-named, the sophomore can, well, book with the ball in his hands. He has the speed to get to the edge and win a foot race with defenders down the sidelines. He's the kind of player opponents may opt to kick away from this fall.
Weakness: Instability in the kicking game. The new kicker has limited experience and concerns about his accuracy. The punter has yet to average more than 40 yards over the last two seasons. With Ratanamorn gone, Marshall lacks a stabilizing presence in the kicking game.
Outlook: From the coverage teams to the kicking game, the special teams looks as if it'll be anything but special this season. Booker is an exception, but unless Warner and Whitehead exceed prior expectations, this could be a sore spot throughout 2010.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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