Nevada Wolf Pack Defensive Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Can a change in scheme help turn Nevada’s defense around after struggling last season?

This year for the first time in program history Nevada will change its base defense to the Tampa 2 scheme. New defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton has been brought in to install this scheme which he had a year to learn under Monte Kiffin, who is now the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, while he was the linebackers coach at USC.

The Tampa 2 defense has its base in zone coverage with safeties over the top with very little blitzing. The keys to the scheme are to have a productive pass rush with the front four and to have fast linebackers behind them. Last season Nevada had issues with giving up the big play (see USF and Arizona games) and forcing turnovers (only 1.4 per game).

The Tampa 2's strengths are that it is a bend-but-don't-break defense, does not give up big plays, and forces turnovers. If Hazelton can turn around the defensive unit, it will have to be with a rather inexperienced group. Here is a look at the projected depth chart at each position.

Front Four

The defensive front should be the strength of the defense, which fits perfectly into the new scheme. Junior Jordan Hanson and senior Jack Reynoso will hold down the defensive tackle position just as they did last year. This duo will need to create issues in the run game, which they had difficulty doing last year. On the edge the Wolf Pack have one of the best duos in the Mountain West with junior Brock Hekking and sophomore Lenny Jones.

Hekking is one of the main leaders on the defense and also one of the most talented, earning Mountain West second team last year. Lenny Jones should improve on his numbers last year of 37 tackles and five sacks to become one of the better players on the defensive side of the ball. He needs to stay and be healthy, as he was injured during the scrimmage on Aug. 17. To provide depth will be newcomer Ian Seau who is a bit undersized, but can play either defensive tackle or end. The line will need to create havoc in the pass rush to forces turnovers and make the switch to the Tampa 2 a successful one.

Depth Chart

DE: Hekking | Jake Peppard

DT: Hanson | Dupree Roberts-Jordan

DT: Reynoso | Seau | Rykeem Yates

DE: Jones | Tyler Houk

Linebacker

This group is extremely inexperienced but needs to develop quickly for Nevada to improve upon the weak 2012 season. The middle linebacker spot is just about locked up with sophomore Jordan Dobrich, who recorded nine total tackles last year. He will need to be a leader on the defense as the Tampa 2 scheme relies heavily on the middle linebacker. On the outside Matthew Lyons, Jonathan McNeal, and Burton De Koning all should see time on the field and are all currently fighting for the two open starting positions.

Depth Chart

OLB: De Koning | Alex Bertrando

MLB: Dobrich | Reggie Coates

OLB: McNeal | Lyons

Defensive Back

Losing Khalid Wooten to the NFL Draft takes away one of the most talented players from a terribly weak defensive backfield in 2012. The cornerbacks in 2013 will be extremely inexperienced and playing in a new defensive scheme. It should be expected that this group will struggle early, but hopefully the learning curve is short especially because the scheme can cover up weaknesses in the defensive backfield. Senior Markus Smith will be the leader of the cornerback core. The depth could be provided by freshman who coach Brian Polian recently said will not redshirt in Tere' Calloway and Elijah Mitchell.

Depth Chart

CB: Markus Smith | Randy Uzoma | LJ Jackson

CB: Evan Favors | Tere' Calloway | Elijah Mitchell

Safety

The safety position, like the cornerback position, lost a player to the NFL (Duke Williams) and will have to play with guys who are inexperienced at this position. Projected free safety starter is sophomore Bryson Keeton who started out his career as a cornerback. Bryan Lane Jr. switched to safety from outside linebacker during fall camp to add depth, but could end up back at outside linebacker. The other starter will be junior Charles Garrett who started his career at safety, moved to corner, and finally back to safety. Garrett is the most experienced member of the defensive backfield with 35 tackles and one interception last year. These safeties will be counted on to ensure there are no deep plays in 2013, something they struggled with last year.

Depth Chart

FS: Bryson Keeton | Bryan Lane Jr.

SS: Charles Garrett | Nigel Haikins

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