2010 Ohio Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Ohio Bobcat Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The pass rush has been mediocre for the last few years and the defense hasn't always been a brick wall, but defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow's group is terrific at coming up with the big plays leading the nation with 37 takeaways. MLB Noah Keller has the potential to be the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and he'll be one of the nation's top tacklers, but he's one of just five returning starters. On the plus side, the secondary has plenty of veterans ready to step up and shine around pick-off artist Gerald Moore, and the defensive front should be tough against the run with three returning starters helped by 340-pound Marcellis Williamson in the middle to clog things up.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Noah Keller
Tackles: Noah Keller, 155
Sacks: Dak Notestine, 6.5
Interceptions: Gerald Moore, 6
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Ernie Hodge
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Omar Leftwich
Best pro prospect: Keller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Keller, 2) S Gerald Moore, 3) DE Dak Notestine
Strength of the defense: Takeaways, Keller
Weakness of the defense: Consistent Run Defense, Linebacker Size
Projected Starters: The big key to last year's line was finding a run stopper in the middle of the line, and while senior Marcellis Williamson had a few down games, he ended up making 45 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as the massive rock on the run. At 6-1 and 340 pounds he's a girthy tackle who doesn't get moved around and is surprisingly quick for his size.
Back at his starting spot at defensive tackle is Ernie Hodge, a 6-2, 292-pound senior who made 18 tackles in an uneven sophomore year and was stronger last year making 48 stops with 5.5 tackles for loss. While he's not much of an interior pass rusher, he was always in on the big run stops on the inside on his way to All-MAC recognition. He has come into his own after a rocky start to his career getting suspended three years ago for underage drinking and driving under the influence, but now he's a leader.
Getting more of a pass rush from the ends is a must, and that starts with senior Stafford Gatling , a 6-4, 239-pound veteran who didn't so much of anything over the first part of his career but grew into a starting role over the second half of last season making 45 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He's not a refined pass rusher, but he's good at generating pressure and he's active.
6-3, 250-pound senior Dak Notestine came from out of nowhere to be an All-MAC playmaker making 65 stops with a team-leading 6.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss. Built like a linebacker, he has good speed (he played receiver at times in high school) and he came to Ohio as a promising tackle, and he has grown into a whale of a pass rusher with a consistent year highlighted by three sacks against Bowling Green. He was held in check in the MAC title game, coming up with a sack, but he was all over the place against Marshall in the bowl loss making 7.5 tackles.
Projected Top Reserves:
At 6-2 an 257 pounds, junior Curtis Meyers is a thick defensive end but with the potential to be a top tackler if he can stay healthy. Just when he appeared ready to make a big jump, he suffered a torn ACL and missed all of last year. He's not a top pass rusher, but he works his tail off and will try to get back into the mix.
6-4, 311-pound A.J. Oxley has tremendous size for a backup defensive tackle with the bulk to work on the nose in a rotation with Marcellis Williamson … if he's on the team. The senior made 41 tackles as a six-game starter in 2008, but he didn't get on the field last year and he was booted this offseason for driving while intoxicated and running into a building. He has been indefinitely suspended.
6-3, 279-pound Neal Huynh was a good defensive end prospect, bulked up a bit, and became a key part of the rotation as a sophomore making 24 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. While he's not a space-eater on the inside, he's always producing whenever he's in and he's always working. He could play on the nose if needed, but he's a tackle.
Watch Out For … more from the outside. Sacks were hard to come by on a consistent basis, but with good experience returning, now that Notestine knows what he's doing, there should be more hits and more sacks.
Strength: Experience. With all four starters returning from a rock of a line last year, this should challenge for the honor of being the MAC's best defensive front. As long as Williamson and Hodge are producing on the inside, everything will work.
Weakness: Consistent pass rush and reliable depth. The two might go hand in hand depending on the emergence of sophomore Tremayne Scott, who didn't see a lot of time in his first year but he came up with two sacks. It would be nice to have a strong rotation, but the overall experience is lacking behind the ones.
Outlook: Ohio's defensive front hasn't come up with a steady pass rush in years and was a disappointment overall until last year. The starting foursome wasn't always a rock, but it was steady and improved as the season went on, and now the Bobcats have four reliable, tough starters. Doing more to get to the quarterback is a must and more consistency against the run would be nice, but this should be a good group as long as everyone stays healthy.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: Senior Noah Keller has the potential to be the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-1, 227-pound man in the middle lead the league, and was sixth in the nation, in tackles making more than 11 per game and finishing with 155 stops with two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and nine tackles for loss. A machine who doesn't take a play off, he made 17 tackles against Marshall in the bowl and 16 in the MAC Championship loss to Central Michigan meaning he made 11 tackles or more in five of the last six games. While he's not all that big, he's a huge hitter who brings a pop when he gets a bead on a ball-carrier, and he's as tough as they come holding up well against the physical teams, while also showing great range against the spread attacks. With 296 career tackles, it'll be a shock if he doesn't finish with close to 450.
Junior Eric Benjamin has big shoes to fill taking over for first-team All-MAC star Lee Renfro on the weakside. The 5-11, 211-pounder made 30 tackles with a sack after working as a key special teamer the year before. While he didn't come up with any big games, he was consistently solid producing whenever he was in.
As a key spot starter, senior Shannon Ballard made 40 tackles on the strongside starting three times in the middle of the season and in the bowl game against Central Michigan. At 5-11 and 193 pounds he's built like a corner, but he's a consistent tackler who doesn't miss any plays in the open field. The Florida native moves well, and now he should be a statistical star taking over for Errik Ejike.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jay Edwards bulked up 20 pounds to get to 228 pounds on his six-foot frame, and now he's ready to do far more in the middle if he could only get a chance. It's hard to get time behind Noah Keller, but the former high school running back sat out last year after making ten tackles in 2008 and is ready to serve as the understudy in the middle before likely taking over next year.
Sophomore Alphonso Lewis is a decent prospect who did a nice job in his first year making 20 tackles with a recovered fumble, and now he'll work on the strongside in a rotation with Shannon Ballard. At 6-1 and 206 pounds he's lanky, but he's tough for his size and is a sure-thing tackler whenever he gets a chance in the open field. With his range and upside, he'll be a statistical star in the near future.
5-11, 214-pound senior Chad Clemens went from being a promising prospect who spent most of his time on special teams to a key reserve making 20 tackles. While he showed nice range and upside on defense, he was a star for the special teams with two blocked kicks including one in the bowl game. He can play anywhere in the linebacking corps, but he'll likely spend most of his time on the weakside behind Eric Benjamin.
Watch Out For … the rotation on the outside. Keller is the rock in the middle, and now the linebacking corps that was so great last year needs to replace the 110 tackles of Lee Renfro and 37 stops Errik Ejike. Ballard, Lewis, Benjamin and Clemens can all move, and they should combine to be great running mates.
Strength: Keller. He's a peerless playmaker and leader for the defensive front seven who's as reliable as they come. Everything can funnel into him, but he's also great on the move. With two new starters on the outside, he'll make up for others' inexperience.
Weakness: Pass rush. Keller did his part and Renfro was a playmaker last year, but it's not like the group is going to be regulars in the backfield. Benjamin has the potential to come up with a few sacks in place of Renfro, but he and Ballard on the other side will spend their year working against the run.
Outlook: The improved play of the defensive front has made life a bit easier for the linebacking corps, and even though two new replacements need to be found on the outside, the potential is there to be better overall. Keller is a special player the entire defense will work around, while the athleticism on the outside will make up for several mistakes. This isn't going to be a rock of a group against the run, but it'll be active.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: If senior Julian Posey is healthy, he has the potential to be one of the MAC's best corners. The 5-11, 187-pound veteran has had ankle problems and was limited to spot starter duty last season making 29 tackles with two interceptions and four broken up passes. A great tackler with terrific speed, he has the tools to be a lockdown defender who's deadly with the ball in his hands. His 41-yard interception return for a score against Northern Illinois was a big difference maker, and he returned a pick for 59 yards against Kent State.
The big question for JUCO transfer Omar Leftwich is where he's going to play. The 6-1, 190-pound junior has the size and the range to become a fantastic free safety, but he's needed far more at corner where he'll be a physical option making 37 tackles for Fort Scott Community College. He'll move around where needed if other corners emerge.
Senior Steven Jackson started four of the first six games making 24 tackles with an interception, but was knocked out for the year with a knee injury. The talented 6-2, 198-pound free safety has great range and is a good tackler, making 71 stops in 2008, but he has to come up with more big plays and has to do more when the ball is in the air. The key will be staying healthy with groin injuries, along with a knee problem, over the course of his career.
While the rest of the secondary is getting all the focus, sophomore Gerald Moore is the one returning starter and should grow into a star after earning Third Team All-MAC recognition making 68 tackles with a team-leading six picks. At 6-1 and 191 pounds, he has decent size and great range as a free safety, filling in for an injured Steven Jackson, but he'll be starting at strong safety in place of Patrick Tafua to stay on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Stepping in at free safety for starts against Cal Poly and Tennessee was senior Donovan Fletcher, a nice, versatile defender who made 42 tackles and broke up four passes seeing time in every game. Good enough to start, he's simply the third best option with Steven Jackson and Gerald Moore too good to get off the field. But the 6-0, 201-pound veteran should see time in nickel and dime packages and will be a bit part of the rotation.
Looking to push into more of a role is sophomore Travis Carrie, a corner who's seen as one of the team's top nickel and dime options. He was supposed to be a huge factor after making 35 tackles and a pick as a true freshman, but he ended up redshirting. At 6-0 and 203 pounds he has good size, but while he's built like a safety he can handle himself at corner.
5-9, 168-pound junior Kenny Jackson didn't see much action working in just nine games, but he wasn't bad in his limited time making nine tackles and highlighted with a 69-yard interception return for a score in the one point win over North Texas. Very quick, he has the ability to become a punt and kick returner as well as a key reserve behind Julian Posey.
Watch Out For … Posey. The experience and ability are there to do far more, and while he has been expected to shine as a star after a good start, now is when it all needs to come together to be the team's top corner.
Strength: Interceptions. The Bobcats were great at taking the ball away with 20 picks to just 17 touchdown passes allowed. There were six games with multiple picks going 5-1 in those games.
Weakness: Teams that can throw. Yeah, the overall stats looked great, but the Bobcats didn't play too many teams that enjoyed throwing the forward pass. Tennessee, Bowling Green, and Central Michigan were able to throw without too much of a problem. The Bobcats were seventh in the nation in picks.
Outlook: There's a lot to be excited about considering only one starter returns. Moore is an all-star who should only get better. Steven Jackson is back to a familiar role and should be one of the team's leading tacklers, Posey and Leftwich know what they're doing, and there are nice options like Fletcher and Carrie to work into the fold.
Unit Rating: 6
Projected Starters: Sophomore Matt Weller came up with a special year earning first-team All-MAC honors making 21-of-29 field goals including two from beyond 50. He blasted a 52 yarder against Ball State, and while he missed three attempts early on against Cal Poly, he was fantastic over the second half of the season. He has the leg and he has the experience, and now he has to be a bit more consistent inside the 50.
The punting game was a problem finishing 111th in the nation with Matt Schulte averaging 36.5 yards per punt, and now it should be up to promising Paul Hershey, who averaged 36.5 yards on his 15 kicks. The junior has good size and is a great athlete, he came to Ohio as a receiver, but he has to be a consistent kicker. He had a good enough offseason to expect improvement.
Star receiver LaVon Brazill is one of the nation's most dangerous punt returners averaging 13.5 yards per try with three scores, and he'll get a look on kick returns. RB Donte Harden is the most experience kickoff returner, but he only averaged 15.2 yards per try on his five returns.
Watch Out For … Hershey. It won't take much to improve the Ohio punting game, and while Hershey has to show he can put the ball inside the 20 like Schulte did, he should add more pop.
Strength: Brazill. As dangerous as any player in the MAC with the ball in his hands, he all but won the Bowling Green game with a 72-yard punt return for a score, did his bit in the loss to Kent State with a return for a score, and came up with one in a seven point win over NIU.
Weakness: Punt coverage. The kickoff return team was phenomenal allowing just 17.8 yards per try, but the punt returner team allowed a whopping 13.1 yards per try and a score.
Outlook: Weller is terrific and Hershey will be fine, so as long as Brazill is still the main man on punt returns and if someone can emerge as a key kick returner, the special teams will be a major plus. Ohio should win a game just by being better here.
Unit Rating: 7
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