2010 MTSU Preview – Defense
MTSU S Jeremy Kellem
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After spending the last four seasons at Wisconsin, Randall McCray will take over the Middle Tennessee defense that was among the best in the nation at getting into the backfield. Several key parts of last year's excellent defense are gone, but the pressure will continue from all sides led by end Jamari Lattimore. FS Jeremy Kellem leads a loaded secondary that should be among the best in the Sun Belt, but stopping the run will be an issue early on after losing all-star linebackers Cam Robinson and Danny Carmichael and with little bulk at tackle. This will be a disruptive defense that should be a wall at times as the season goes on.
Star of the defense: Senior FS Jeremy Kellem
Tackles: Rod Issac, 72
Sacks: Jamari Lattimore, 5.5
Interceptions: Jeremy Kellem, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman LB Stephen Roberts
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman CB Marquise Dixon
Best pro prospect: Kellem
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Kellem, 2) DE Jamari Lattimore, 3) DT Dwight Smith
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Interceptions
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Tackle Size
Projected Starters: With star pass rusher Chris McCoy gone, the workload to keep up the production on the defensive front will fall on senior Jamari Lattimore, a former JUCO transfer who blew into the backfield for 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 47 tackles as a second-team All-Sun Belt performer. At 6-3 and 231 pounds, he's not all that big and is a bit rangy, and that's as large as he's going to get after filling out from his first year with the program. He game to Middle Tennessee built like a big safety and he has that kind of quickness with a tremendous first step.
Trying to replace McCoy will be 6-1, 226-pound senior Emmanuel Perez after making 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve. A pure speed rusher, he doesn't have the size to hold up against the power running teams, but he can fly to the ball and he'll be turned loose with all the attention paid to Lattimore on the other side. Now he has to produce more considering his experience and wheels.
Dwight Smith was supposed to be a star on the inside last year, and while he was fine, he wasn't special. At 6-2 and 272 pounds he's one of the team's biggest tackles, but he's more about his quickness than his run stopping skills. He made 22 tackles and two tackles for loss, but with his skills he needs to make more plays in the backfield.
Bringing more size to the inside will be 6-1, 284-pound junior SaCoby Carter after spending last year as a key part of the rotation. He made 13 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, and he'll be needed even more this year adding his bulk to the mix.
Projected Top Reserves Sooner or later, 6-4, 232-pound sophomore Omar McClendon will be special. The 6-4, 232-pound sophomore was a major recruiting coup for the coaching staff a few years ago with excellent speed and quickness on the outside. He bulked up a little bit and he has the athleticism and upside to become a terror of a pass rushing star.
Former JUCO transfer Jarrett Crittenton wasn't able to fully show what he was able to do after suffering a torn ACL late in spring ball, but he was still able to see time in eight games and made ten tackles with three quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss. A superstar JUCO recruit with 6-6, 275-pound size and defensive end quickness, he has the potential to shine after he gets healthy.
The interior needs size, and 6-2, 272-pound sophomore Kendall Dangerfield has it. He didn't get all that much work, but he saw time in every game and made nine tackles. While he has enough interior quickness to be a pass rusher, he'll be used more to stop the run.
Stepping into a starting role will be senior Gary Tucker, a 6-2, 248-pound veteran who's woefully undersized, but extremely active. He's a tough player who holds up surprisingly well, but he has shoulder problems and will struggle to stay in the mix for a full season. He made 15 tackles last season with two tackles for loss.
Watch Out For … Perez and McClendon. The line needs a speed rusher to complement Lattimore, and these two should combine to make up for the loss of Chris McCoy.
Strength: Pass rush. Middle Tennessee cranked out 38 sacks and a whopping 112 tackles for loss. While the back seven helped the cause, it all starts with the defensive front.
Weakness: Interior size. This is a problem mainly because the 248-pound Tucker is being asked to play such a big role. There isn't a massive space-eater to swallow everything up.
Outlook: The Blue Raiders will sell out and fly into the backfield to make big plays, lots of sacks, and plenty of tackles for loss, but anyone who wants to power the ball should be able to. A steady rotation has to be found early on, but more importantly, a dangerous pass rusher has to take attention away from Lattimore.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: The Blue Raiders have to replace heart-and-soul all-star Danny Carmichael in the middle, but former strongside playmaker Antwan Davis has the talent to shine after making 52 tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss in a breakout season. The senior is only 6-1 and 218 pounds and has been a good tackler who holds up well against the run. More like a safety playing linebacker, he's a great athlete who'll have to use his experience to clean up the mistakes made by the new starters.
The other big loss is at weakside linebacker where leading tackler Cam Robinson, who came up with 113 tackles and five sacks, is gone. Getting the first shot to replace him will be Justin Jones , a 5-11, 216-pound sophomore who came up with an excellent true freshman season making 26 tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss. At only 5-11 and 216 pounds he's not the most physical player, but he's an excellent tackler and can be used as a pass rusher. He can really move.
6-1, 206-pound Darin Davis was a great reserve and got a start making 38 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. While he isn't all that big, he's good on the strongside with the speed and quickness to play any of the three spots. He's an active player who'll almost certainly be starting by next year.
Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Stephen Roberts is a great athlete and has the potential to be a better sideline-to-sideline playmaker. At 6-3 and 229 pounds he's not exactly built for inside, but he's fast and should be a guided missile with the talent to be one of the team's leading tacklers.
Gorby Loreus is a decent 5-11, 222-pound junior who has been a nice part of the rotation making 24 tackles. A good special teamer, he'll be a bigger factor on the outside and could step in and start without a problem.
6-0, 246-pound Antonio Hill is the biggest linebacker option and will be needed against the strongest teams. An option for the middle, the junior didn't see all that much time and was used mostly on special teams making four tackles. He'll be a part of the rotation with Roberts on the inside.
Watch Out For … the pass rushing production to continue. Robinson and Carmichael combined for 11.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss, and while the replacements might not be as productive right away, they'll put up good numbers in the backfield.
Strength: Quickness. Everyone can move and everyone can go sideline-to-sideline and get into the backfield. On the plus side, everyone runs like a safety, but …
Weakness: Size. On the down side, everyone is built like a safety. This hasn't been too much of a problem against most Sun Belt teams, but this is a really, really thin group.
Outlook: You don't get better by losing Cam Robinson and Danny Carmichael, but Davis is a good veteran to build around and the replacements have enough experience and athleticism to be fine. The rotation will have to be strong from the start; the starters aren't big enough to hold up for a full year.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Senior Jeremy Kellem was supposed to be the team's key defensive back going into last season, and he didn't disappoint finishing fourth on the team with 64 tackles with three sacks and three interceptions. The 5-10, 188-pound senior free safety earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors and should be a lock again with good range, big hitting ability, and a knack for coming up with the big plays at the right time.
Joining Kellem at safety will once again be Kevin Brown , a 6-1, 205-pound senior who made 63 tackles and four interceptions at strong safety. While he doesn't get sent into the backfield often, he's a rock against the run and came up big several big plays when the ball was in the air with seven broken up passes and 11 passes defended. His coverage skills were a concern going into last year, and he answered the questions without a problem.
With Alex Suber gone on one side, senior Rod Issac needs to be a shut-down corner on the other. At 5-11 and 186 pounds, the junior has decent size and is a good tackler finishing third on the team with 72 tackles with seven broken up passes and 5.5 tackles for loss. However, he didn't come up with a pick and has to shake the tag of not being hawkish enough against the pass.
Taking over for Suber, a first-team All-Sun Belt star, will be Arness Ikner, a top JUCO transfer from Mt. San Antonio who led his team to a national title with 52 stops and six interceptions. He's a ready-made starter with tremendous athleticism and toughness, but he's only 5-9 and 167 pounds.
Projected Top Reserves The loss of Marcus Udell and his seven interceptions will hurt at corner and in nickel and dime packages, but the Blue Raiders have a promising option in sophomore Malcolm Beyah after having problems with injuries last season. The former wide receiver made 33 catches in 2008, was moved over, and made six tackles. However, he struggled with ankle and thumb problems and spent most of his time on special teams while also seeing work at receiver. He'll be a key player in the corner rotation with 5-11, 191-pound size and excellent speed.
5-11, 190-pound junior Derrick Crumpton has been a key reserve for the last few years and he'll once again work at free safety behind Kellem. After making 20 tackles two years ago, he made 29 stops with an interception and with two recovered fumbles, and now he should play an even bigger role with too hitting ability and enough experience to shine with more time.
At 6-0 and 200 pounds, sophomore Denzell Guerra has good size and some of the best wheels in the secondary. A true 4.4 runner, he was able to show off his speed a little bit after making 13 tackles with a tackle for loss. He'll see time early on at strong safety, but he can play anywhere in the secondary.
Redshirt freshman Marquise Dixon has the potential to shine at corner after sitting out last season. A good recruit with excellent athleticism, the 5-10, 172-pound redshirt freshman will be able to hold his own with a little time and work. He'll get picked on early, and while he might not be a top pick-off artist, he's physical and will come up with stops.
Watch Out For … Dixon. He might be the one new starter in the secondary, but he has the quickness and the upside to make teams pay for targeting him. He has the potential to be a good one.
Strength: Experience and interceptions. Three starters return and the backups have the upside to form a good rotation. The Blue Raiders came up with 19 interceptions, and while seven of them came from Marcus Udell, there are enough thieves to pick up the slack.
Weakness: Good passing teams. It's not like the Blue Raiders faced a who's who of passers last season, but there were problems against FAU's Rusty Smith, allowing 377 yards and two scores, and gave up 271 yards and three touchdowns in the bowl win over Southern Miss. The secondary needs a pass rush to help the cause.
Outlook: This should be the best secondary in the Sun Belt with Kellem, Brown, and Issac almost certain to finish with all-star honors. The reserves should be good, but there's not a ton of experience and everyone fits the type. MTSU has a slew of fast, decent-sized defensive backs and they can all wreak havoc.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: Junior Alex Gendreau is the best kicker in the Sun Belt, earning first-team all-star honors, nailing 18-of-22 kicks, but two of the misses were under 40 yards and he missed three of the last seven tries. He has a good leg, but not a booming one that can crank out 50 yarders.
David DeFatta only averaged 38.7 yards per punt last year, but he put 22 inside the 20 and forced 20 fair catches. Junior Nathaniel Toulson got one punt last season against ULM and nailed a 52 yarder. He has a huge leg and should be able to air it out, but he has to prove he has DeFatta's touch.
The Blue Raiders need more out of the return game, and that's where RB Phillip Tanner comes in. The speedster only got one shot on kickoffs and ran it back 17 yards, but he has the wheels to be a gamebreaker.
Watch Out For … Toulson. The MTSU punting game was 101st in the nation, but that's a bit misleading considering the DeFatta was so good at placing the ball. Toulson, though, will be a bomber.
Strength: Gendreau. He has connected on 28-of-36 field goals over the last two years and will be a key to the season. The Blue Raiders only won one game by three points or fewer, but if he can get over the late-season yips, he'll be an all-star again.
Weakness: The return game. The kickoffs have been a problem for a few years and the team has too much speed to average just 19.63 yards per try. The coverage teams have been mediocre, too, allowing 22.1 yards per kickoffs and ten yards per punt returns.
Outlook: Gendreau is a great kicker, but that's where the sure things end. The punting game will be fine, but the return game is among the worst in the country and needs a ton of work. The coverage teams also need an overhaul.
Unit Rating: 5
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