2010 Western Michigan Preview – Defense

Posted Aug 8, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Western Michigan Bronco Defense

Western Michigan Broncos

Preview 2010 - Defense

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- 2010 Western Michigan Defense | 2010 Western Michigan Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: After some puzzlingly bad seasons when the defense should've been a whole bunch better, defensive coordinator Steve Morrison is gone and Dave Cohen is in. The secondary is loaded with athletes and potential stars, the linebacking corps is deep and gets back two rock-solid tacklers in Mitch Zajac and Deauntay Legrier, and the line, by design, got a lot beefier with a few new huge recruits coming in to clog things up. Now it all has to come together. The Broncos have to get back to getting into the backfield and getting to the quarterback on a regular basis to help out the secondary. Basically, the defense has to find something it can do really well.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mario Armstrong, 62
Sacks: Paul Hazel, 3
Interceptions: Jamal Berry, 5

Star of the defense: Senior SS Jamail Berry
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Paul Hazel
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Damond Smith
Best pro prospect: Junior S Doug Wiggins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Berry, 2) LB Deautay Legrier, 3) LB Mitch Zajac
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Sure-Thing Pass Rusher, Proven Tackles

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line was awful last year so it's not that big a problem that only one starter returns. Sophomore Freddie Bishop took over the starting job early and got the call for the last nine games finishing with 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks. At 6-4 and 247 pounds he's a tall, lanky defender who with good speed and excellent athleticism. While he didn't produce nearly enough big plays in the backfield, he has the talent and the potential to grow into a deadly pass rushing star.

The line needs more beef and more talent in the middle, and that's what JUCO transfer John Rice is for. At 6-1 and 280 pounds he's not quite as large as the coaching staff would like to go, but he's a tough plugger at tackle who doesn't get moved around without a push. He's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but he should be able to help out against the run.

Junior Weston Peiffer was supposed to get a long look as a starting tackle last year, but he ended up serving as a key backup making just six tackles with a sack. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he's built more like a big end, and he has a little bit of spot starting experience, but at best he's a part of a rotation to get his quickness on the field. If he's not an interior pass rusher, he's not doing his job.

Sophomore Paul Hazel came up with 12 tackles and three sacks as a dangerous pass rusher used as an outside linebacker and an end. He's putting weight on his 6-6 frame, but the 205-pounder is still more of a specialist and a key special teamer with the quickness to get into the backfield. Now he has to do it on a more regular basis.

Projected Top Reserves Former JUCO transfer T.J. Lynch will likely end up starting in spots throughout the season, but he didn't exactly set the world on fire last year making seven tackles and half a sack in nine games. At 6-3 and 235 pounds the junior is built like a tall outside linebacker, and he's extremely active with pure pass rushing skills. He was a tackling machine in high school and isn't afraid to hit.

6-0, 271-pound sophomore Ryan Byrne is a bowling ball of a defender who needs to translate his mauling high school wrestling career into becoming a strong, steady interior pass rusher. He's a tough all-around athlete who can do a little of everything well, and he did a decent job in his limited action making 15 tackles and two tackles for loss.

If WMU wants to get bigger up front, it has the guy in new recruit Travonte Boles, a 5-11, 322-pound true freshman from Florida who isn't going to move all that much, but he can be stuck in the middle of the line and let him swallow everything up. He's an anchor who everything will eventually revolve around, but he's not going to be a stat-sheet filler.

Watch Out For … the newcomers. The line has to do something quickly to find more production against the run, and that's why Boles might see time early on to get some beef inside and Rice is an immediate fill-in from the JUCO ranks.
Strength: A rotation. This is a really, really young group, but there are several options to play around with to find the right combination. This might not be a good line on Day One, but it could get a lot better as the season goes on.
Weakness: Production. For a WMU defense that was so devastating at getting into the backfield a few years ago, 19 sacks and 63 tackles for loss doesn't get it done. The Broncos allowed 178 rushing yards per game and 19 scores.
Outlook: The line has to undergo a few changes with three new starters up front, and step one is to get bigger. The coaching staff made a concerted effort this recruiting season of getting bigger and bulkier, and while a few players were brought in to beef things up, but the defense will only work if the ends start to get into the backfield. WMU needs to find a pass rusher it can count on.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Junior Mitch Zajac start three games last year in the middle before starting three of the final four games on the outside finishing with 51 tackles with an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss. He got a little bigger and is up to 232 pounds on his 6-1 frame, and now he'll get to use his range and toughness a bit more on the weakside.

Sophomore Deauntray Legrier took over in the middle and ended up starting eight games finishing with 44 tackles and seven tackles for loss. The 6-1, 241-pounder is a pass rusher when he wants to be, but now he'll get more responsibility with more play funneled inside to him. He has shown he can handle the work, and with his size he should be a key run stopper over the next three years.

6-4, 226-pound sophomore Chris Prom was expected to grow into a major stat-sheet filler after shining on the scout team in 2008, but he only ended up with 15 tackles. A top tight end recruit and a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium, he can become a key pass rusher and should grow into a major statistical producer on the strongside.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Waymon Ross is built more like a safety at 6-1 and 197 pounds, but he's a strong, tough player who should play a much bigger role on the strongside after missing all of last year hurt with a knee injury. If he's right, the Florida native should grow into a disruptive force.

Redshirt freshman Kyle Lark spent last year working on the scout team and hitting the weights bulking up to 230 pounds on his 6-1 frame. He's a very smart, very tough tackler who was a big recruit for the Broncos and should find a role somewhere early on. He'll be a rock against the run.

Looking to make a big splash is sophomore Dex Jones, a 6-0, 249-pound transfer from Wisconsin who has excellent athleticism and big-time upside for the weakside. If he can step up and become a major playmaker early on, then Mitch Zajac can move around a bit.

Watch Out For … Legrier. The linebacking corps needs a tackler to replace the 102 tackles of production from Austin Pritchard, and Legrier should grow into the stat star in the middle. He has the size and the potential to become a special player.
Strength: Underclassmen. Zajac is a junior, and that's it as far as the old guys with five sophomores and a redshirt freshman likely to play the biggest roles. This is a young group, but it's athletic and talented.
Weakness: Proven production. It might take a while for everything to come together. On quickness alone there will be some big plays out of the corps, and even though there are two returning starters (Zajac and Legrier), it's not like they dominated last year.
Outlook: It's going to take a little bit, but the payoff will be huge. The Broncos were in a rebuilding mode last year and they took their lumps, and it could be another year of transition with so many young players. However, there's good size, plenty of options, and good upside for a corps that should be the best in the MAC … in 2011.
Unit Rating: 5


Projected Starters: 6-0, 181-pound sophomore Damond Smith needs to step up in place of David Lewis, the team's top corner who left the team for personal reasons. A huge get for the program after being ranked the No. 1 corner prospect in Michigan, he saw time in his true freshman season making 26 tackles with two interceptions and thee tackles for loss. He has the shut-down ability the secondary desperately needs, and now he has a little bit of experience.

Getting the look on the other side will be Deshon Lawrence, a former wide receiver who has phenomenal speed and 6-0, 189-pound size. The junior got his feet wet last year making 29 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes, and if he's not a regular on the Field side, he'll work in nickel and dime packages.

Senior Jamail Berry was the team's leading playmaker in the secondary last season making five interceptions and finishing fourth on the team with 58 tackles. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he's not all that big for a strong safety, but the former JUCO transfer is a willing tackler who can play a variety of roles. If nothing else, he's dangerous when the ball is in the air and is one of the MAC's better ball-hawkers.

After working mostly as a key nickel defender, junior Doug Wiggins will play more of a role at free safety after making 47 tackles with one broken up pass. Average against the pass, he has to be better in a big hurry now that he'll get more responsibility. The transfer from Miami has the potential to be fantastic with 5-11, 202-pound size and next level speed. He was a big-time recruit for the Hurricanes but he didn't fit in or work out, and now he has to be a star for the Bronco secondary.

Projected Top Reserves: Mario Armstrong will end up starting in some role either as strong safety, where he was the main man for every game but one last season, or as a nickel back. The 6-0, 194-pound senior was third on the team with 62 tackles with four broken up passes, and he has shown flashes of being the next big thing for the Bronco secondary with good hitting ability. It would be nice, though, if he could be more of a playmaker against the pass.

Junior Vernon Stewart got plenty of playing time last season and saw some spot-starting duty as he worked throughout the secondary. The 5-11, 199-pound free safety made 38 tackles with a tackle for loss, and while he was a walk-on, he has shown he belongs. He won't do anything against the pass, but he'll be a willing special teamer and a versatile reserve.

Watch Out For … Smith. WMU has a few players who look the part and should be good corners based on raw skills, but Smith is the one who could end up being the star just because he's a really, really good corner prospect.
Strength: Safety. The Broncos shift into a five defensive back set more often than not, and the safeties are relatively interchangeable. Berry will be working at Rover at times, strong safety at others, while Wiggins might be better suited for a nickel role. However the configuration, this could be the one of the team's biggest strengths.
Weakness: Pass defense. Granted, there was little help from the defensive front with no pass rush to bother quarterbacks, but the secondary didn't exactly stand out allowing 241 yards per game and 20 touchdowns.
Outlook: The secondary has been a puzzling disaster over the last few years. There's a ton of talent, athletes to burn, and plenty of options … and no production. There's no real excuse, outside of a lack of pass rush from the front four, for this group not to be far, far better considering the terrific mix of veterans and rising prospects.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior John Potter has been a nice kicker over the last two years hitting 11-of-16 field goals in 2008 and 10-of-15 last year. He doesn't have much of a big leg and he tops out at around 40 yards before bad things happen, but he's fine. Nothing special, but fine.

Junior Ben Armer only average 39 yards per kick, but he put an impressive 22 inside the 20 and forced 13 fair catches. He doesn't have a huge leg and he's not going to air it out, but he improved his hang time in a big way and forced far more fair catches than he did in 2008.

Brian Fields will get the first look at returning punts after Jordan White averaged 8.5 yards per try. Ansel Ponder averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return on his three tries, and now he'll take over for Brandon West, who averaged 22.9 yards per try.

Watch Out For … the return game to be fine without West. The Broncos have plenty of speed and plenty of options to try out, and there will be no problems on kickoff returns with Ponder getting more work.
Strength: Short-range kicking. Potter and Armer can't bomb away, but they're each great from short-to-midrange. Armer has grown into a nice directional kicker, while Potter is fine from 40 yards and in.
Weakness: Punt coverage. This has been a disaster over the last few years. The coverage team improved a wee bit allowing 12.4 yards per try after giving up 13.3 yards per return in 2008, but this is still an area of ongoing concern.
Outlook: The special teams won't be amazing, and they haven't been a strength over the last few years, but they'll be better. The kicking game will be serviceable, and the return game should be a bit better with more attention paid to it.
Unit Rating: 6

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