2010 Southern Miss Preview – Defense
Southern Miss KR Tracy Lampley
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagle Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What you need to know: With nine starters back, Southern Miss is set to build a bridge to the days when a nasty defense was its trademark. More than a dozen letterwinners return to a front seven that's going to set the tone for the unit and take some heat off a vulnerable secondary. In NT Anthony Gray, DE Cordarro Law, and linebackers Korey Williams, Martez Smith, and Ronnie Thornton, the Eagles are flush with all-star potential. The defensive backfield, however, is a different story, breaking in two new starters in an area that was beatable versus better passing teams in 2009. CB C.J. Bailey and S Justin Wilson will be fine, but rookie CB Deron Wilson and S Kendric Presley must give opposing passers a reason to avoid their side of the field.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Korey Williams
Tackles: Korey Williams, 121
Sacks: Korey Williams, Cordarro Law, 7.5
Interceptions: Justin Wilson, Martez Smith, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star:Redshirt freshman CB Deron Wilson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Kendrick Presley
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) Junior DE Cordarro Law, 3) Senior NT Anthony Gray
Strength of the defense: The front seven, linebackers, stopping the run, backfield pressure, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: The secondary, third down defense
Projected Starters: Suffering few defections has Southern Miss feeling very confident about the group lining up along the defensive front this season. The catalyst on the inside will be 6-0, 314-pound senior Anthony Gray, a third-year starter at the nose and a member of the Outland Trophy watch list. Forget his squat frame when doing evaluations. He has the sleeve and hand size of a much taller player, allowing him to punch blockers and knock them off balance. A fierce competitor and one of the strongest members of the team, he shook off double-teams to make 40 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Joining Gray on the inside will be 6-3, 285-pound tackle junior Terrance Pope , who started every game in 2009. More of a space-eater than a penetrator, like Gray, he managed 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. A former defensive end, he lacked the burst and closing speed to make plays in pursuit, doing his best work when not forced to roam too far out of his comfort zone.
The new star of the front wall is 6-2, 251-pound junior end Cordarro Law, who's coming off his breakthrough season in Hattiesburg. A bolt of lightning out of his stance, he's basically an outside linebacker, who can get around the tackle in an instant or drop back into coverage to support pass defense. Earning honorable mention All-Conference-USA was not commensurate with his play, which included 59 tackles, a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. There's no chance he'll catch league voters by surprise this fall.
On the opposite side, 6-3, 244-pound junior Deddrick Jones is trying to cling to other end spot. While a veteran, who knows his way around the field, he hasn't shown a tendency for reaching the quarterback, making just 26 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and one sacks as a six-game starter. With his size and quickness, a single sack over the last two seasons is just not acceptable.
Projected Top Reserves: Literally closing fast on Jones at defensive end is 6-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman Octavius Thomas. While more of a situational player because of his size, he brings explosive athleticism and a contagious energy to the edge. At a minimum, he's going to make his way into the huddle on obvious passing situations.
The Eagles are cautiously optimistic about the return of senior DE Roshaad Byrd , who had started six games and made 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack before suffering a season-ending injury. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, the three-time letterwinner is big enough to support the run like a strongside end, yet has the good first step to get penetration and collapse the pocket.
On the interior, 6-1, 290-pound senior John Henderson will provide a challenge and occasional breathers to Pope. A valuable member of the rotation in his debut out of College of the Sequoias (Calif.), he started one game and made 15 tackles. Playing with the strength and pad level needed to clog up running lanes, he's a valuable tackle coming off the bench.
Watch Out For .... Thomas to gradually get more snaps as the season progresses. An unfinished product, by all means, he has that little something special that'll make it tough to relegate him to the sidelines. His burst of energy and speed are weapons the staff would like to see more of coming off the edge.
Strength: Creating pressuring. The Golden Eagles were No. 2 in Conference USA sacks a year ago, largely attributable to the push provided by the front four. With the inside-outside combination of Gray and Law, respectively, doubling one man will put opposing lines in precarious positions.
Weakness: The complements. While Gray and Law are all-conference contenders, the support around them is marginal, at best. Who takes pressure off the two stalwarts, making double-teams a potential pitfall? After them, no returning lineman had more than one sack last year, which ought to concern the staff heading into the season.
Outlook: The presence of Gray, Law, and a host of veterans ensures that Southern Miss will roll out one of the league's best defensive fronts, week after week. Raising the bar this season, however, will require more production from the likes of Pope, Jones, and Byrd, upperclassmen who need to deliver on a more consistent basis.
Projected Starters: It took just one season for the Eagles to regroup from the losses of Gerald McRath and Tokumbo Abanikanda. And regroup they have. Of course, it helps immensely to have a player like 6-2, 233-pound junior Korey Williams to anchor the unit from the middle. It came as no surprise at all that he blossomed into a star, earning a spot on the All-Conference USA first team by making 121 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. The next in a long line of next-level linebackers in Hattiesburg, he has the intelligence, range, and intensity to evolve into a borderline All-American before the season is through.
The consistent veteran at strongside will once again be 6-0, 211-pound senior Martez Smith, who returns for one more season as the starter. In his best season as a Golden Eagle, he finished third on the team with 82 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of interceptions. He plays the game very fast, a product of his speed and maximum effort, and will lay the wood like a much larger player. He'll come hard off the edge in an effort to make stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Last season's huge surprise was delivered by 6-3, 225-pound junior Ronnie Thornton, who went from special teamer to one of the defense's most productive playmakers. A starter in all but one game at weakside, he was second on the team with 114 tackles, adding 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a couple of forced fumbles. Yet another good athlete at the position, he'll fly all over the field and hit whoever has the ball in his hands. He plays the game with reckless abandon, needing to exercise a little more discipline at times.
Projected Top Reserves: The breakout future star of a year ago was 6-3, 210-pound sophomore Jamie Collins, who isn't far behind Thornton at weakside. In his first season on campus, he overcame a lack of experience and ideal size to make 48 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries. If he dedicates himself to getting bigger and becoming more of a student of the game, he has an enormous ceiling from a physical standpoint.
On the inside, 5-10, 224-pound senior Hendrick Leverette looks a lot more comfortable in his second season out of Pearl River (Miss.) Community College. He had 14 stops on defense and special teams, but never quite got his sea legs or fully digested the system. A tackling machine at the previous level, he covers ground like a safety and has good instincts for finding the man with the ball.
Watch Out For .... Williams to take his game outside the confines of Conference USA. He'll be a league all-star once again, but don't be surprised if he broadens his reach and starts turning the heads of the national media. He's that good. Oh, and he'll also have an opportunity to turn pro early if he so chooses next January.
Strength: Range. No collection of linebackers in Conference USA is going to get from Point A to Point B faster than the one in Hattiesburg. Led by Williams and aided by Smith, Thornton, and Collins, Southern Miss harbors a bunch of predators, who'll make a ton of plays from sideline to sideline and behind the line.
Weakness: Beef. Williams aside, the linebackers are prone to getting shoved around by physical opponents, especially when linemen get to the second level. All of their speed and agility come at a cost, namely a group of defenders shaped like super-sized safeties.
Outlook: Williams is the new McRath, which means Southern Miss will be home to one of the nation's premier linebackers. Almost as encouraging is the return of Thornton, Smith, and Collins, who'll combine to help give the Golden Eagles a nasty and ferocious ensemble roaming every corner of the field.
Projected Starters: The Eagles are looking to improve last year's erratic results in the defensive backfield, sans a couple of key starters. Stepping into more of a leadership role will be 5-10, 184-pound senior C.J. Bailey, a fourth-year starter at field corner. He's had some injury issues over the past couple of years, but when healthy, has the know-how and hips to be a very effective pass defender. Starting all but two games a year ago, he chipped in 57 tackles and a team-best 13 pass breakups.
Though just a redshirt freshman, 5-10, 167-pound Deron Wilson held a lead at boundary corner coming out of spring. A key recruit from the 2009 class, he had offers to play in the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten before choosing Southern Miss. While not physically imposing, he's already technically sound and roams the secondary with a chip on his shoulder.
Leading the way at safety is another Wilson, 5-11, 187-pound senior Justin Wilson. One of the fastest members of this group, he has the cover and ball skills of a cornerback, jumping lanes and rerouting passes. Second among the defensive backs with 67 passes, he also had two stops for loss, two picks, two fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups.
After two seasons as a backup, 6-2, 188-pound junior Kendrick Presley is set to get promoted to a starting safety. Set to have his breakout year, he's coming off an outstanding offseason, enhancing his role as an emotional and physical leader. He has the height to defend taller receivers and the physicality to step up and become an asset against the run. He'll soar past last year's 15 tackles by the end of September.
Projected Top Reserves: In nickel packages, 6-0, 198-pound senior Chico Hunter will be the first Eagle off the bench. While not the most reliable cover man on the roster, he's played a ton of football for the program, earning a letter in each of the last three years. An aggressive defender at all times, he had 44 tackles in 2009, showing a propensity for lowering the boom on unsuspecting players.
After earning a letter and making a couple of starts in his first season of action, 6-0, 173-pound sophomore Marcal Robinson is making a push to be the team's third cornerback. A wiry athlete, who'd benefit from a few extra pounds of muscle, he got a lot of attention from the SEC coming out of high school, and has the speed and cover skills to replace Bailey in 2011.
Watch Out For .... Presley to start emerging into a really big deal in the secondary. From his physical ability to his intensity, he has everything ...extensive a ton of reps. That'll come this fall, as will the attention as he starts piling up rather impressive numbers and film clips.
Strength: YAC. Although the numbers weren't sterling a year ago, most of the other team's completions were on short and intermediate routes. The Golden Eagles yielded just over seven yards an attempt and a Conference USA-best 11.3 yards a completion, liming the big stuff.
Weakness: The other cornerback spot. Deron Wilson is going to be a good one, but is he ready to be picked on relentlessly throughout the season? The Eagles will find out right away against teams that'll look to exploit a potential weak spot.
Outlook: While this is not an ideal conference to be breaking in new starters, Southern Miss has enough quality parts to survive. By the time Tulsa and Houston enter the mix in late November, there's hope that the young kids, like Wilson and Robinson, will be playing like seasoned veterans. On athleticism alone, the Eagles will survive just fine against the softer spots in the schedule.
Projected Starters: Southern Miss lacked stability in the kicking game, something junior Daniel Hrapmann, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana, is hoping to address. He took over late last year and went 4-of-7 on field goal attempts, missing four extra points, but showed better consistency than the competition in the spring. However, if he reverts back to his old form, senior Justin Estes is there to take advantage. He went 10-of-13 on three-pointers, but lost his job at the end of October after muffing five extra points.
At punter, there's far more certainty for the Golden Eagles. Sophomore Peter Boehme performed well in his first season on campus, taking hold of the position and averaging 38.5 yards an attempt. More impressive than his distance, however, was his directional kicks, as almost half of his 54 attempts were downed inside the 20.
The undisputed leader of the return game will be sophomore Tracey Lampley, one of the program's most exciting all-around players. On punts, he averaged 14.5 yards to lead Conference USA, and was second in the league on kickoffs at 27.6 yards.
Watch Out For .... the arrival of Corey Acosta, one of the nation's most heralded placekicking prospects. As inconsistent as Hrapmann and Estes were a year ago, it goes to figure that the true freshman will be on equal footing with his elders about three hours after he arrives in Hattiesburg.
Strength: Coverage units. As good as Lampley was a year ago, the Eagle coverage teams might have been just a bit better. On kickoffs, Southern Miss was No. 13 nationally, yielding less than 20 yards a return. And on punts, it was No. 7 nationally, giving up 53 yards all year.
Weakness: Uncertainty at placekicker. Ten missed extra points and six missed field goals are all you need to know why the staff cannot wait to see Acosta in pads. The Eagles have to do a better job in the kicking game in order to make overall progress this fall.
Outlook: Thanks to young players, like Boehme and Lampley, Southern Miss made a quantum leap in special teams last season. Still, taking another step forward will require better play from the placekickers, which will make that competition pivotal in the summer.
- 2010 Southern Miss Preview |
Southern Miss Offense
2010 Southern Miss Defense |
Southern Miss Depth Chart
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