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2010 Toledo Preview - Defense
Posted Aug 6, 2010 2010 Preview - Toledo Rocket Defense

Toledo Rockets

Preview 2010 - Defense

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

What You Need To Know: On paper, the Toledo defense should be a lot better even though there are several concerns with young players needing to play huge roles. The defense couldn’t stop giving up points in a rains-it-pours problem, and it would help if it could do one thing well. The 4-2-5 alignment needs to be more aggressive and needs to do far more to get into the backfield, and the hope will be for ends Douglas Westbrook and Alex Johnson to start to hit the quarterback early and often. Archie Donald leads a strong group of linebackers, but they might be busy. The secondary has a ton of young players with just one senior likely to play a prominent role, but there might be more growing pains after a disastrous 2009.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Archie Donald, 116
Sacks: Alex Johnson, 3
Interceptions: Douglas Westbrook, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Archie Donald
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Johnathan Lamb
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Dan Molls
Best pro prospect: Donald
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Donald, 2) DE Douglas Westbrook, 3) DE Alex Johnson
Strength of the defense: Youth, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Proven Production, Getting Into The Backfield

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: It’s going to be an open competition for the interior, but the ends are set led by the left end, or Leo, Douglas Westbrook . While the line did next to nothing to get into the backfield, Westbrook was one of the only playmakers making 24 tackles, two sacks, and eight tackles for loss with three interceptions. He missed almost all of 2007 with a knee injury, but after working the last few years to get back to form, he has the speed and quickness to be a terror. At 6-3 and 233 pounds, the senior isn’t big, but he’s one of the team’s most athletic linemen.

Alex Johnson could end up being the team’s best defensive lineman, but he needs to get healthy after missing time this offseason. A solid pass rusher, the 6-2, 259-pound senior has bulked up a bit and should be stronger against the run after making 22 tackles with three sacks. He needs to do even more as a pass rusher, but for now, he should be among the best the team has.

It’ll be an open rotation at the two tackle spots, but junior Malcolm Riley should end up being one of the regulars. A starter over the final two games, the 6-3, 281-pounder finished with 13 tackles and three tackles for loss, and now he needs to play up to his potential. A nice recruit out of Indiana, he has the potential to be quick and disruptive.

6-4, 272-pound Johnathan Lamb beefed up over the last year, but he needs to show he can handle more work on the inside. He has seen a little bit of time in 13 games over the last two seasons making five tackles, but to be a part of the rotation he has to use his quickness to get into the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves Working in a rotation on the edge will be Christian Smith , a 6-2, 257-pound redshirt freshman who’s built more like a linebacker but will be used like a pass rusher. He has the burst into the backfield to be a disruptive force behind the line, and the job will be all his for the taking if he can produce.

6-4, 245-pound sophomore Hank Keighley made one tackle in his limited action last season and made 17 stops as a freshman. Very smart and very athletic, he needs to use his 4.66 speed to become a pass rusher in the rotation on the outside, and with the potential to be a star if it all comes together, he’ll get every shot.

At 6-3 and 278 pounds, Johnie Roberts isn’t a massive tackle, but he’s a good talent with the potential to shine after sitting out last year. A great JUCO recruit out of Pearl River Community College, he was a tremendous recruit for the program and now he has to play up to his potential. He could quickly become the best player on the line.

6-3, 266-pound redshirt freshman Ben Pike is undersized for a tackle, but the coaches like him. He bulked up big-time over the last year to be able to handle the work, and now he has the size, at least more of it, to go along with his high-motor and toughness. He’s not the type of tackle who can be an every down performer, but in spurts he could be a phenomenal interior pass rusher.

Watch Out For … a regular rotation at tackle. This isn’t a small group of tackles, but they’re untested and in need of finding the right players to fit. The coaching staff will go with a rotation early on until the top players emerge.
Strength: Options. It’s all about strength in numbers. Toledo has 12 players expected to see action with the coaching staff getting their chance to see who can step up and be counted on.
Weakness: Production. The line wasn’t the team’s biggest problem last year, but it wasn’t a plus. The pass rush should be far, far better with ends like Westbrook and Johnson, but the production has to kick in. Now.
Outlook: The line should be better than it was, or probably will be. There’s a good blend of size, speed, and upside, and it wouldn’t be a stunner if this was the team’s most improved unit. If nothing else, it should be a fresh group with a deep pool of players to work around.
Unit Rating: 4


Projected Starters: There were a lot of things wrong with the defense last year, but Archie Donald wasn’t one of them. The 6-2, 244-pound senior has led the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons making a total of 235 tackles. There are only two linebackers in the Toledo system, but Donald makes up for it by making every tackle that comes his way. While he missed all of 2007 with academic problems, it fired him up as he came back focused and fired up. Now he’s one of the MAC’s best defenders, but he has to be a bit more disruptive and could stand to be stronger against the pass.

Sophomore Dan Molls was a nice surprise in his first season finishing sixth on the team with 43 tackles with an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. He’s not all that big for the middle at 6-1 and a generously listed 222 pounds, but he’s not afraid to hit and he’s great on the move. He’s an active defender who does what he needs to. It’ll be a shock if he’s not one of the team’s top tacklers.

Projected Top Reserves While he’s not going to push Donald out of a job, Robert Bell could end up seeing more time because he’s likely going to turn out to be a better pass defender on the weakside. The 6-0, 227-pound sophomore can move and is physical for his size having spent most of his high school career working in several different spots on the defensive front. He made 12 tackles and a pick last year in a limited role.

6-1, 208-pound junior Terrell Anderson was supposed to be a factor last year at one of the linebacker spots, but he only made two tackles in the middle. A good recruit and a tremendous high school player, he’s a tough player who was passed over for his size, he has decent skills and needs to be a part of the mix.

Watch Out For … Molls. Donald is the best linebacker of the lot in the 4-2-5, but Molls could be more active and could turn out to be a better all-around playmaker with a little more time. He could be a pass rusher the linebacking corps needs and he could be strong in pass coverage with a few more reps.
Strength: Donald. The defense needs as many steady, consistent players as possible, and Donald might be the steadiest and the most consistent. The third-team All-MAC performer is a leader and a player the coaching staff can rely on to clean up a slew of messes.
Weakness: Disruptiveness. There weren’t a lot of plays in the backfield and there isn’t enough done against the pass, but that’s not always the job of the two linebackers. It would be nice if there were more big plays.
Outlook: Donald and Molls are nice players who should be solid. They’re not going to be superstars, and they’re going to need more playmakers around them, but they’re fine against the run. The backups are unproven.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: It’s going to be a wild scramble in the secondary to try to increase the production from a disastrous year, but part of the problem was youth. Sophomore Byron Best was thrown to the wolves early and he came up with a rough year making 20 tackles with just one broken up pass despite starting for most of the season. The 5-9, 187-pounder has good quickness, but he needs to prove he can make something happen when the ball is in the air.

On the other side will eventually be sophomore Daxton Swanson , a 5-10, 180-pound true sophomore who missed time late last year with a shoulder injury and is still recovering. He made 31 tackles and broke up a team-leading seven passes, and now he has to use his experience and his excellent speed to be more of a playmaker.

Sophomore Jermaine Robinson is expected to grow into a star before his time is up. The 6-3, 188-pound free safety finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles with three sacks and six tackles for loss, but he only broke up three passes. One of the team’s best athletes, he needs to be somewhere in the secondary to utilize his great range and leaping ability. A four-star caliber recruit, he's good enough to have gone to a much bigger program.

Junior Isaiah Ballard will have the tough task of replacing Barry Church as the Star, the combination of safety and outside linebacker. At 5-11 and 210 pounds he’s not huge, but he has been tough on special teams being used as the gunner. A guided missile when he gets a path, he made 23 tackles with two broken up passes, and now he should be one of the team’s leading tacklers.

Mark Singer spent last year trying to learn the ropes after replacing star Tyrell Herbert, but he ended up being a spot starter and making 16 tackles with an interception. The 6-1, 194-pound junior will get a look at the starting strong safety job, but he’ll have to hold off several challengers. He'll do whatever is needed and is great at coming up with the big pop, but he'll have to prove he can make more big plays against the pass.

Projected Top Reserves Senior Desmond Marrow will find work somewhere in the secondary after a terrific offseason; the coaches rave about his work ethic. The 6-3, 204-pounder hurt his leg two years ago and never really got into the swing of the rotation seeing action in just one game last year because of his injury. But he’s big, a good tackler, and has nice speed for his size.

Until Daxton Swanson is healthy, 6-0, 194-pound senior Myshan Veasley-Pettis will get a long look at one of the corner spots. He only made two tackles in a limited role, but the walk-on made 41 tackles and three picks in 2007 and has the experience to step in and produce when needed.

5-11, 177-pound JUCO transfer Taikwon Paige will get a shot at corner after an interesting journey. The junior is fast and has a nose for the ball with enough talent to be recruited by several big name schools before signing with Auburn. He didn’t have the classes, so he ended up sticking with Georgia Military College and landed in Toledo.

Watch Out For … the new guys. Led by Page, the Rockets have a ton of new talent and the coaching staff won’t be afraid to go young if needed.
Strength: Numbers. There are plenty of players and plenty of options to look for the right fit. There’s good talent and nice quickness across the board.
Weakness: Production. The Rocket secondary was lit up last year allowing 241 yards per game, and even though it was a young group, it needed to be a lot better. There are still major question marks.
Outlook: After giving up 26 touchdown passes and allowing 220 yards or more in eight games, the secondary needed some work. With seven newcomers expected to be in the mix to challenge the young veterans who were pushed into work before they were ready, the pass defense can’t help but be better.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The punting game was the worst in America last season with junior Bill Claus averaging just 37.4 yards per kick and putting ten inside the 20. That’s a wee bit of a drop-off from 2007 when the Rockets boasted one of the nation’s best punting games and a 46.1-yard average from Brett Kern. Claus doesn’t have a big leg and will be challenged hard

Junior Ryan Casano will push hard for the starting punting job and will also take over the kicking duties from Alex Steigerwald, who hit 12-of-16 field goals. Casano, a JUCO transfer, was hurt for most of last year but he has a good leg and could be the bomber the kicking game has desperately needed.

Receiver Eric Page will handle most of the return duties after averaging a solid ten yards per punt return and 25.4 yards per kickoff try. He’s not a blazer, but he’s great at making the first tackler miss.

Watch Out For … Casano. Steigerwald didn’t have a huge leg and Claus is limited. If Casano is healthy, he’ll be a bomber.
Strength: Page. The team’s top receiver will also be one of the MAC’s premier kick and punt returners. He’s a weapon who’ll get the team out of several jams.
Weakness: Punting. Only three teams in America netted under 30 yards per punt. Miami University, Tulane, and at the bottom was Toledo averaging just 28.68 yards per punt.
Outlook: The special teams were fine last year in every way except the punting game. If Casano can add more pop, if Claus doesn’t improve, and if Page can be the return man he was last year, all should be fine. Casano might not be as accurate from short range as Andrew Steigerwald was, but he’ll have better range.
Unit Rating: 6

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