2010 Memphis Preview – Defense
Memphis S Marcus Ball
Memphis S Marcus Ball
Posted Jul 24, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Memphis Tiger Defense

Memphis Tigers

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: It's been years since Memphis was even respectable on defense. The job of slowly turning things around belongs to Jay Hopson, the newest in the revolving door of coordinators. The initial goals are basic, namely becoming better at the four Ts—tackling, turnovers, technique, and toughness. Naturally, it's not an overnight process, as the Tigers attempt to revamp the pass rush and the secondary. They will, however, be athletic, aggressive, and tough in the middle. Sophomore DT Dontari Poe is a 6-5, 350-pound budding force and LB Jamon Hughes is about to become a household name in Conference USA circles. There's a decent amount of raw talent to begin the healing, but this season will be just the first step in a lengthy rebuilding process.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jamon Hughes, 87
Sacks: Dontari Poe, 2
Interceptions: Marcus Ball, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jamon Hughes
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Frank Trotter
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Dontari Poe
Best pro prospect: Poe
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hughes, 2) Poe, 3) Senior FS Marcus Ball
Strength of the defense: The middle of the D, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, the pass rush, poor tackling, third down defense, red zone D, lack of turnovers

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The defensive line lost a lot of bodies to graduation, which is going to test its depth in 2010. It does, however, house a rising star in 6-5, 350-pound sophomore Dontari Poe. An immovable object at defensive tackle, he had an instant impact in his first year out of school, starting six games and making 27 tackles, a team-high seven tackles for loss, two sacks, and three forced fumbles. More than just a big body, he's coachable and fundamentally sound, which bodes very well for his future.

Teaming up with Poe on the inside will be 6-8, 320-pound senior Charlie Bryant , a three-time letterwinner at Memphis. A little-used backup and special teamer prior to last season, he started six games and contributed eight tackles and to tackles for loss. Mostly a space-eater, who can obstruct passing lanes, he's looking to make a few more plays in his final year at nose tackle.

In order to bolster a thin situation at defensive end, the new staff has relocated former linebacker Winston Bowens. A 6-1, 255-pound senior, he's played a ton of football for the Tigers and has the necessary bulk and power to move up one level on the D. Playing with good pad level and a very strong base, he finished third on the team with 58 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

There are high hopes at the other outside position for 6-2, 280-pound junior Frank Trotter . He shows flashes last season, carrying it over into a dominant spring session. Big enough to support the run, he also has the burst to disrupt the backfield, making 36 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. The thinking around Memphis is that he's only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.

Projected Top Reserves: While 6-4, 265-pound senior Justin Thompson may never reach all of the hype that followed him coming out of high school and El Camino (Calif.) Junior College, he's a valuable reserve at defensive end. After originally signing at Oregon, he finally made it to Memphis in 2009, making 18 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. With his size and explosiveness, there's still cautious optimism that he can be a productive pass rusher.

The most experienced backup among the tackles is 6-4, 300-pound senior Tim McGee . While not a major threat to Bryant at the nose, he brings two years of experience from his days at East Mississippi Community College and a letter as a Tiger a year ago. He played in all but one game in his first season in Memphis, making 13 stops, two behind the line, and a sack.

Watch Out For … the freshmen tackles. Johnnie Farms and Jimmy Robinson have not been on campus very long, but they've impressed the staff and have quickly risen up the depth chart. Both are going to play this season, representing an important part of the future up front in Memphis.
Strength: Clogging the middle of the line. With Poe at 6-5 and 350 pounds and Bryant at 6-8 and 320 pounds, opposing teams may not bother trying to soften the interior of the Tiger line. If the ends and linebackers do their jobs, it's going to be tougher than normal to run on this team.
Weakness: Pocket pressure. After finishing 89th nationally in sacks, Memphis might be hard pressed to do any better in 2010. The leading returner sacker had just two and the ends, while energetic, will not force other teams to double them or roll out to the opposite side of the field.
Outlook: It's a tale of two stories for the Memphis defensive line. On one hand, the Tigers could be tough at the point of attack, especially on the inside. On the other, they'll have a tough time mounting a consistent rush. No matter what transpires, it'll be worth monitoring the progress of Poe, who's capable of evolving into an SEC-caliber talent at tackle.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: The leader of the linebackers this fall will be 6-0, 245-pound senior Jamon Hughes , who stood out in his first season of eligibility since transferring from Mississippi State. Despite starting just four games, he finished with a team-best 87 tackles and 5.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Strong, physical, and instinctive, he really turned it up in November, collecting 54 stops in just the final four games.

By ballooning up to 6-3 and 225 pounds, sophomore DeRon Furr has outgrown the safety position and is being moved to linebacker. Like Hughes, he's a former SEC recruit who originally signed with Auburn as a blue-chip quarterback. A terrific blend of size and athleticism, he had 15 tackles in his debut, now needing to become more physical, especially when plays are being run directly at him.

Junior Dasmine Cathey is moving as well, but from a different starting point. A 6-6, 215-pound converted defensive end, he collected 20 tackles, including a team-high 11 on special teams. Long and lean, with cat-like quickness, he has the natural pass rushing skills that'll encourage the coaches to use him on blitzes from his outside position.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing three seasons worth of experience to the second unit is 6-2, 210-pound senior Jeremy Longstreet , the backup to Cathey on the outside. He's seen it all during his tenure, making 80 tackles in 2008 before slipping to 18 as a four-game starter a year ago. Though built like a safety, he plays bigger than his size and has the athleticism to contribute in pass defense.

Sophomore Ricky Holloway is on the fast track after just one season of action, eyeing the job in the middle by 2011. He was active on defense and special teams, making 20 tackles and getting down the field in a hurry on punt and kickoff returns. A solid 6-1, 235-pounder, he'll have a bright future if he can soak up all he can from Hughes in this final year.

Watch Out For … Hughes to absolutely explode in his final year of eligibility. He gave a sneak peak of what's to come last November, hitting anything resembling a ballcarrier. Now that he's settled in at Memphis, he's capable of amassing well over 100 tackles and vying for the league title.
Strength: Range. If nothing else, the Tiger linebackers are going to cover a lot of ground this season. Hughes is a prototypical, possible next-level linebacker, but Furr and Cathey are thoroughbreds. Together, this trio will get from sideline to sideline about as fast as any in Conference USA.
Weakness: Proven run-stuffers on the outside. While Cathey and Furr are fleet of foot and extremely agile, that's not necessarily going to help when a 295-pound guard gets out to the second level. Both need to add some strength and muscle in order to be better prepared for the rigors of defending the run.
Outlook: While not quite where it needs to be, the Tiger linebackers are close. Hughes is on the brink of Conference USA stardom, the outside guys have big-play skills, and depth is not an issue. In time, this could wind up being the steadiest unit of the Memphis D.
Unit Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Uh-oh. While the front seven offers some hope for the future, the secondary elicits nothing but groans. What else is new? Memphis' continuing struggles in pass defense just won't seem to go away. Hope for a spark comes from 6-0, 210-pound FS Marcus Ball, who began his career at Florida State and continued it at Pearl River (Miss.) Community College. An intimidating hitter, with excellent ball skills, he started three games and had 42 tackles and two picks. With the NFL beginning to watch, he has a chance to use 2010 as an audition for scouts.

At strong safety, 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman Derek Smith has already risen to the top of the depth chart. He actually played in four games on special teams as a rookie, getting a taste of action, yet salvaging a year of eligibility. He has the size and intensity to eventually become the warden of this group, but will still make plenty of errors in his first year on the job.

The leader of the corners will be 6-1, 200-pound senior Darius Davis, a three-time letterwinner entering his second season in the starting lineup. He'll get physical in bump and run and will quickly fill running lanes, finishing fifth on the team with 54 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and passes defended. However, he must avoid getting caught peaking and tighten up his pass coverage skills.

One of the biggest offseason developments has seen redshirt freshman Mohammed Seisay climb to the top of the depth chart at the other cornerback spot. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he hits like a safety and has the size to match up well with bigger receivers. A baptism under fire awaits, as does a bright future if his confidence doesn't take a beating in this first year.

Projected Top Reserves: Seisay's ascent has pushed 5-11, 200-pound senior D.A. Griffin into a reserve role. Now in his third season removed from junior college, he's been a productive Tiger, lettering twice and making 42 tackles and six passes defended as an eight-game starter in 2009. However, too many lapses in coverage will hinder his ability to earn a full-time role.

Sophomore Tremaine McKenzie is joining his brother, slot receiver Jermaine, in Memphis after transferring from College of the Siskiyous (Calif.). He played in the first two games of 2009, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery. With a nice blend of athleticism and pop in a 6-2, 205-pound frame, he has an opportunity to challenge Smith and, at worst, be the first safety off the bench.

Watch Out For … Seisay's development. For a team desperately seeking improvement in pass defense, Seisay will be on the front line of that quest. While you can see the potential about to bubble to the surface, you can also imagine that he'll be toasted occasionally. The key will be to limit those mistakes.
Strength: Physicality. Knowing that plenty of plays extend beyond the first couple of lines of defense, Tiger defensive backs prepare in the offseason as if they'll be enduring lots of contact. It's time well spent. This is a big and aggressive collection of safeties and corners, who average more than 200 pounds and are not shy about throwing their weight around.
Weakness: Pass coverage. New season, same concern. Memphis continues to be way too soft in coverage, yielding 29 touchdown passes and picking off just four to finish 115th nationally in pass efficiency D a year ago.
Outlook: After getting completely abused last season, in theory, the only way is up for the Tiger secondary. Though it might be true, it's not exactly a comforting statement. Memphis will continue allowing chunks of yards through the air, but at a minimum, hopes to have the right mix of athletes to create more big plays and takeaways than in recent years.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Quietly, the graduation of Matt Reagan is a huge loss for Memphis. Not only is he one of the school's most prolific placekickers, but he also averaged more than 45 yards in his only season as a punter. The new Tiger placekicker is expected to be sophomore Paulo Henriques , a local prospect who handled kickoffs a year ago. He has a strong leg, locking down this spot with a solid effort in the spring.

Coming out of April, the favorite to take over punting duties was junior Josh Booker . A good all-around athlete, he's worked hard in the offseason for this opportunity after failing to get on the field in his first couple of seasons.

After failing miserably in the return game a year ago, Memphis will be holding auditions in the hunt for a much-needed spark. Sophomores Marcus Hightower and Curtis Johnson gained experienced in 2009, but that alone will guarantee little this fall.

Watch Out For … the new staff to employ its best athletes on special teams. This is a crucial area for Larry Porter & Co., who are determined to be dominant in this area of the game going forward.
Strength: Leg strength. If there's a silver lining in this looming storm, it's that Henriques and Booker both have good size and the pop to really drive the ball. If they can smooth out the wrinkles in a hurry, there's room for optimism in the kicking game.
Weakness: The return game. This is an issue that just doesn't seem to go away for the Tigers. The program has been impotent for years in the return game, ranking 119th in punt returns and 91st on kickoffs last season.
Outlook: Few silver linings exist for a special teams unit that could cost Memphis at least one game this year. Not only are the punter and placekicker new, but the return game and coverage teams have been flat-lining for years. While Larry Porter will initiate change within the group, it won't happen this quickly.
Unit Rating: 4

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