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2010 UAB Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 6, 2010


CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - UAB Blazer Defense


UAB Blazers

Preview 2010 - Defense 


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

What You Need To Know: UAB has more depth, talent, and experience on defense than at any time in Neil Callaway’s tenure. Will it make a difference? The Blazers have been shoved around over the last few seasons, allowing 455 yards and 32 points a game in 2009. However, the returns of nine starters and 29 lettermen lend hope that progress is on the horizon. While UAB will never be confused with Alabama’s other FBS schools, it should be able to generate more pressure on the quarterback and create a few more big plays than last year. Up front, the team is very deep and very feisty, led by the inside-outside tandem of Elliott Henigan and Bryant Turner, respectively. On the last line of defense, the secondary will continue to yield big plays, but thumpers, such as Hiram Atwater, Chase Daniel and Jamie Bender, will make receivers earn every catch they make. If LB Marvin Burdette can patrol the middle and keep plays in front of him, this D has a chance to break the recent cycle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Hiram Atwater, 89
Sacks: Bryant Turner, 6
Interceptions: Chase Daniel, Marquis Coleman, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DE Bryant Turner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB T.J. Ballou
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Marvin Burdette
Best pro prospect: Turner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Turner, 2) Senior FS Hiram Atwater, 3) Junior NT Elliott Henigan
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, the safeties, experience
Weakness of the defense: Sacks, pass defense, third down defense, red zone defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Don’t laugh, but UAB might be as loaded on the defensive line as it’s ever been. There’s experience and talent everywhere, led by 6-2, 265-pound senior DE Bryant Turner. The Blazers’ leading pass rusher the last two seasons, he had 23 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and a half-dozen sacks in 2009. He has an insatiable appetite for the backfield and the motor to fight through blocks. Continuously improving, he’s poised for a spot on the All-Conference USA squad.

Bucking to form a bookend with Turner is 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Daniel White , a converted linebacker making it difficult to keep him off the field. He impressed in his first season out of high school, making 43 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks, quickly getting comfortable with the speed of the game. While undersized for run support, he has the burst and natural lean to be a real nuisance for opposing quarterbacks.

At nose tackle, the staff has been thrilled with the progress made by 6-4, 275-pound junior Elliott Henigan, who has not lost a step despite bulking up to handle the pounding. A starter for most of 2009, he wound up fifth on the team with 47 tackles, adding 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and three forced fumbles. He’s just a playmaker, constantly sticking his nose into the action and beating his man off the snap.

Anchoring the run defense is 6-4, 280-pound senior D.J. Reese , who enters his fourth season as a starter on the inside. Physical at the point of attack and able to occupy more than one blocker, he had 24 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. While not a penetrator, he does a nice job of clogging lanes and freeing up his teammates.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing breathers for Reese at tackle will be 6-0, 275-pound senior David Decordova , a veteran and a luxury to have on the second unit. While not flashy, he’s strong in the upper body and picked up valuable reps in his first full season out of El Camino (Calif.) College, making a dozen stops.

Versatile senior Tim Davis is back for one final season, providing depth at either end or tackle. For now, he’ll be behind Turner, but if an emergency arises, he has the experience and the stout, 6-0 and 265-pound frame to shift inside and make plays. As a part-timer in 2009, he made 18 tackles, 5.5 stops behind the line, and a sack, flashing good quickness to the pocket.

Although he’s still clawing for more playing time behind White, there’s something exciting and intriguing about senior Derek Slaughter , a former transfer from Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College. Maybe it’s the explosiveness and athleticism in a 6-2, 245-pound frame that helped catapult him to 33 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks.

Watch Out For … the Blazers to bring the heat on every down. While it didn’t always show up in the sack totals last year, this collection of athletes is capable of applying constant pressure throughout the season. Best of all, the tackles are cat quick, so it won’t be predictable or have to come from the ends.
Strength: Agility. Sure, UAB is a little undersized up front, but that’s expected when the regions wide-bodies sign with Auburn, Alabama, or some other SEC school. The Blazers will compensate with quicker linemen, who can get around the edge and slice through the gaps between blockers.
Weakness: Finishing. Considering how often the Blazers make penetration, you’d think they’d boast more sacks and tackles for loss. Instead, they were just 89th nationally and ninth in Conference USA at getting to the quarterback, a perennial problem in these parts that has to change in 2010.
Outlook: No more building. No more waiting for next year. This should be the season that UAB sets the tempo up front against comparable opponents. There’s talent, depth, and speed at both end and tackle, so the rotation will be well-stocked and the trickle-down results should reach the linebackers and defensive backs.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Linebacker

Projected Starters: The linebackers have done quite a bit of shuffling around since the end of last season. The one constant has been 6-2, 220-pound junior Lamanski Ware, who’s back for another season as the starter at strongside. Second on the team in tackles, he had 71 stops and 3.5 behind the line. Big enough to support the run and quick enough to fly off the edge, he brings plenty of versatility to the corps.

Over at weakside will be 6-3, 220-pound senior Darrion Wilson, propelling himself to the top of the depth chart with a solid offseason. He had 14 tackles and two tackles for loss in his first season out of Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, but has the range and instincts to blow past those numbers after the first couple of games.

The youngest member of the unit and a possible anchor for the future is 5-11, 240-pound sophomore Marvin Burdette. The man in the middle for the Blazers, he performed very well in his first year on campus, making 43 stops and got more comfortable with each passing week. His height may have scared off the SEC programs, but he has the speed, strength, and instincts to make a ton of plays before he’s through in Birmingham.

Projected Top Reserves: The battle for reps at strongside behind Ware is sure to include 5-11, 230-pound senior Keon Harris. No longer safety-sized, he’s added considerable size and strength while maintaining his lateral quickness. A letterwinner in each of the last three seasons, he had 33 tackles a year ago and brings a ton of valuable experience to the B team.

In his first season of action, 5-11, 215-pound sophomore Greg Irvin picked up valuable reps as a reserve and on special teams. He appeared in 11 games, making 16 tackles and showing progress throughout the year. Even at weakside, he lacks the girth to excel in run defense, but has the closing speed to track down ballcarriers from behind.

Watch Out For … Burdette to quickly become one of the stalwarts of the D. From his demeanor to his work on film, you can just see the sophomore becoming a 100-tackle guy before too long. He plays with great intensity and pad level, putting him in a position to bury opposing players on running plays.
Strength: Range. What they might lack in girth, the Blazer linebackers make up for with outstanding range and lateral speed. Their ability to cover so much ground in pass coverage and on blitzes allows the coaching staff to get creative with this group.
Weakness: Big plays. For all of the good athletes that comprise this group, UAB should be getting more money plays, such as takeaways and stops for minus yards. The linebackers are still a little raw, in general, and have to guard against being out of position.
Outlook: While UAB has good athletes at linebacker and better size than in recent years, the unit still must play with more discipline and consistency in order to keep plays from getting to the secondary. Ware and Wilson have upside on the outside, and Burdette figures to be in on a bunch of plays this fall.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: From a secondary that allowed more yards per game than any school in America, UAB will be looking to regroup and replace top cover corner Brandon Carlisle. First in line to succeed him is 6-0, 200-pound junior T.J. Ballou , who’ll be making his debut out of East Mississippi Community College. A former walk-on at Alabama, he plans to bring more of a physical attitude to the Blazer defensive backfield.

The veteran among the cornerbacks is 5-9, 175-pound junior Terrell Springs , a starter since the middle of his rookie year. While undersized and prone to getting beat over the top, he will not shy away from contact, and has improving skills when the ball is in the air. In his first season as a regular, he was third on the team with 68 tackles, adding a team-high 10 pass breakups.

At free safety, 6-3, 205-pound junior Chase Daniel was holding a narrow lead for the job coming out of spring. Like just about everyone in this group, he has to improve his coverage skills, but he compensates by stepping up in support of the run defense and wrapping up in the open field. One of the hardest hitters of this group, he had 30 tackles and three interceptions in an injury-shortened sophomore year.

The Blazers went the JUCO route to bolster its overall talent at strong safety as well. Junior Jamie Bender is already slated to start, rising to the top of the depth in the spring. After doing an apprenticeship at Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, he’s set to be an instant contributor for a secondary that needs it. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he’s a headhunter, with the quickness and agility of a former running back.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Hiram Atwater is still going to be a major factor in the defensive backfield, but you just wouldn’t have known it by following the spring. After leading the team with 89 tackles and earning second team All-Conference USA honors in his debut out of Garden City (Kans.) Community College, he was suspended in April for violating team rules. A heavy hitter, with a good feel for the flow of a play, he’ll eventually be tough to keep off the field at safety.

The Blazers have a couple of experienced players providing depth at cornerback. Behind Springs is 5-9, 175-pound junior Andre Hicks , who has lettered in each of the last two seasons, making 34 tackles and a pick a year ago. Vulnerable when matched with more physical receivers, he does a nice job of sticking to his man and has the speed to play the position.

If Ballou can’t hold the top spot, it’ll likely mean that 6-1, 185-pound junior Marquis Coleman has beaten him out. He has the size to cover taller receivers and has played in each of the program’s last 24 games, making 26 tackles and a team-high three interceptions a year ago. He has a role in this defense, needing to tighten up his coverage skills in order to elevate up a rung.

Watch Out For … the new guys. It’s already clear that Ballou and Bender were signed to contribute immediately. If both can live up to expectations and play as if they’ve been here longer, they’re capable of upgrading a very shaky group.
Strength: The safeties. Assuming Atwater returns without incident, UAB has three quality safeties, who’ll defend the run and force receivers to short-arm passes. He, Daniels, and Bender are wrap-up tacklers, who’ll bring the payload like a linebacker.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Yes, the Blazers are participating in a difficult conference for defensive backs, but even by that standard, they’ve missed the mark. Unless things change markedly, this team will have a hard time getting beyond 2009, when it yielded a whopping 311 yards a game through the air.
Outlook: Good athletes and big hitters don’t always equal a stingy pass defense. UAB is proof of that. Its size and speed are impressive coming off the bench, but too often, this group gets burned by opposing quarterback. While the JUCO transfers lend some hope for immediate rewards, the climb to respectability is a steep one.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The UAB special teams returns virtually intact, with junior Trey Ragland and sophomore Josh Zahn set to be the punter and placekicker, respectively, once again. Ragland showed good leg strength in his first season, averaging 42.8 yards a punt. For a kid who didn’t play the position in high school, he has a bright future that continued to shine through during the spring.

Ragland was supposed to pull double-duty a year ago, but Zahn beat him out in his first year out of high school and has not looked back. His accuracy needs work, going 14-of-21 on field goals and missing three extra points, but he showed an ability to reach from 50 yards and has laid a foundation to be a four-year starter in Birmingham.

Like last season, when he averaged 21.9 yards a return, senior Frantrell Forrest is expected to be the primary kick returner. Out of junior Nick Adams , Pat Shed , and T.J. Ballou , however, a new punt returner must emerge.

Watch Out For … Zahn to be more consistent than a year ago. A late signee from Arizona, he did well just to win the job last summer. Now that he has a full season of experience in the rear view mirror, he’ll be better positioned to improve his accuracy, which the offense will desperately need.
Strength: Ragland’s distance. The junior averaged nearly 43 yards in his first season, ranking No. 30 in the nation. Now, if he can improve his hang time and directional kicks, the Blazers can move up the charts in net punting as well.
Weakness: The return game. Whether they were returning kicks or defending them, the Blazers were just plain awful a year ago. They ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in returns, allowed two kickoffs to be taken back for a touchdown, and had a couple of punts blocked.
Outlook: UAB has a lot of work to do on special teams if it’s going to be considered an asset to the offense and the defense. The good news, however, is that unlike this time last year, the punter and placekicker will not be first-time starters.
Unit Rating: 4

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