Spring Football Preview: Defense
I'm back with a preview of the 2009 Huskie defense as we head into Spring Football. The Huskies are challenged with replacing one of the better defenses they've had in some time. Here are some key defensive stats from the '08 season:
- Yards Allowed (Total): 3,380
- Yards Allowed (Per Game): 298.5
- Rushing Yards Allowed (Total): 1,786
- Rushing Yards Allowed (Per Game): 137.38
- Passing Yards Allowed (Total): 2,094
- Passing Yards Allowed (Per Game): 161.07
- Tackles For Loss: 104 for 289 Yards
- Sacks: 25 for 143 Yards
- Interceptions: 6 for 93 Yards
- Fumbles Recovered: 14 for 107 Yards, with the highlight being Craig Rusch's 60 yard "dash" in the snow at Kent State. It was more of a "rumble" actually.
In addition, the '08 Huskie defense ranked #1 in the MAC in:
- Scoring Defense
- Passing Defense
- Total Defense
- Opponent 1st Downs
and they ranked #2 in the MAC in:
- Rushing Defense
- Sacks (tie)
- Red Zone Defense
- Opponent 3rd Down Conversions
Congratulations to the 2008 Huskie defensive unit on a tremendous season! Unfortunately several key players from that defense are moving on, so let's take a look at the frontrunners for playing time in 2009.
I expect our defensive tackle play to be strong again in '09 with Mike Krause and DJ Pirkle the starters and Adam Coleman getting significant playing time after seeing the field as a true freshman in '08. Beyond those three it's hard to say. Ed Jackson saw significant playing time in '07 but virtually none in '08. Brian Lawson redshirted and I'm not sure whether Ron Newcomb plays tackle or end. There are three incoming freshmen in Zach Anderson, Nabal Jefferson and Jon Phillips, all of who look great on film by the way. There were also occasions last season when Jake Coffman lined up on the inside so we can watch for some of those special formations this year too. Speaking of Nabal Jefferson, check out his senior year high school stats: 167 tackles and 14 sacks. Those are unbelievable numbers for a defensive tackle who was probably double-teamed constantly.
I expect the starters to be Brandon Bice and Jake Coffman with Mike Kritikos getting significant reps as well. Bice upped his sack total from 1.5 in '07 to 6.5 in '08 so hopefully he continues that trend. As with the tackles, the prognostication gets tough after the first three players. JC transfer Kyle Jenkins should see the field. John Hopkins played as a true freshman in '07 and redshirted last year so it will be interesting to see if he's back in the mix. Same for Anthony Antonacci, who reportedly moved back to defensive end after spending the '08 season at fullback. The wild cards are junior Jason Cruikshank, redshirt freshman Maurice Coon and Sean Progar-Jackson, and true freshmen Anthony Wells, Alan Baxter and Stephen O'Neal. There's a tremendous amount of talent in that bunch and we'll see if any are ready to get on the field. Sean Progar-Jackson is my pick as the first breakout player from that group.
This is a very tough one. I expect Cory Hanson and Alex Kube to start on the outside with John Tranchitella also seeing significant time. When healthy, Hanson is the best linebacker on the team in my opinion. Of the returning players Zach Larsen and Pat Schiller also saw the field in '08 and should do so again this year as both are solid players.
The burning question is who plays middle linebacker with the graduation of Tim McCarthy and TJ Griffin? My pick is Zach Larsen as he's the only player on the roster who's played the middle and had success. Larsen did a great job there in the second half of '07 when McCarthy went down. Tranchitella is the only other current player who's spent significant time in the middle and he had a tough go of it. Pat Schiller came to NIU as a middle linebacker so maybe he goes back there after playing on the outside in '08. There's also the enigma of Phil Brown who came to NIU with such promise and had injuries and other misfortunes befall him. Hopefully he can follow the TJ Griffin career plan and come back strong his senior year. A wild card for the middle might be Nebraska transfer Jeff Sayre, who has the size to play the position.
My super-duper wild card for middle backer? Maurie Coon. I know, I know, he's a defensive end and this is completely out of left field. It's just that we usually have undersized linebackers and it's intriguing to think about plugging in a 250 pound guy who runs as well as he does. [Note by Mad.Mike, 03/23/09 12:17 AM CDT ] Maurice Coon is no longer on the team and now attends Central Methodist University.
Other questions at linebacker are whether JC transfers Jordan Delegal and Darnell Bolding see the field along with sophomore Kendal Farlow, redshirt freshman Kevin Sabock and true freshmen Devon Butler and Tyrone Clark. The linebacker position will be one of the most interesting ones to watch in this year's spring and fall camps.
The Huskies are thin at corner after losing three excellent players to graduation in Melvin Rice, Chase Carter and Bradley Pruitt. Probable starters in '09 are Kiaree Daniels and Patrick George and I expect JC transfer Chris Smith to play also. Beyond them there are only questions. Will James Jefferies finally get on the field? Are the redshirt freshmen (Rashaan Melvin and Kordero Hunter) and true freshmen (Dominique Ware and Sean Evans) ready? I'm not sure Hunter is still on the team since he did not appear on the Independence Bowl roster. Will additional corners appear on the roster this fall? Questions, questions. My wild card for corner: David Bryant. What the heck, he plays every other position.
Safety is another interesting position to watch because some players could be moved to corner, some are coming back from injury, and some younger players are rising through the ranks. It seems like there are more experienced and established players at safety than corner, hence the speculation about moving one or more safeties to corner. Last year's primary starters were David Bryant and Mike Sobol and they are probably at the top of the depth chart for now. Bryant, one of the best and most versatile players on the team, is a lock to start here unless he's moved to corner because of said versatility. Tracy Wilson and Spencer Williamson are solid and experienced players who will see significant playing time and possibly start. Now the questions. Can Jeff Fontana and Justin Stewart come back from injury? Do Jody VanLaanen and Boone Thorgesen get on the field? Will there be Tyler Knight and
Ricky Patton sightings? Will another safety appear on the roster this fall?