Now onto the defense. An overall unit (we need improvement on both sides) which has to shore up the rush defense to make opponents throw against the strength of the D.
|DE - Cedric Louisi SR*||-|
|DT - Tony Popovich SR*||-|
|DT - Keenan Sykes JR or Loni Fa JR||Raciti (grad)|
|DE - Eugene Taylor JR or Isaiah Irving JR||Blake/Guanella/Taylor (grads)|
Here's the thing about the DL; the starters (if they remain healthy) have the potential to be an improvement. Of course, you can't replace Raciti, but a healthy and larger Popovich can hold his own inside, Fa is promising and they liked his play early in spring until his injury took him out. Sykes is a large body with experience. Taylor and Irving have been starters as well, but they remain tweeners (DE/LB) who aren't as large at Louisi. A healthy Louisi is imperative, as he's a 24 year old man, who can get to the QB from time to time and is large enough to hold his own outside against the run. However, again, you can't replace Raciti and this is a unit which remains thin. Having some surprises come fall would be more than needed, but I don't see it. Freshmen aren't usually making any impact on the line. I like true freshman Lukas Hendricks but physically he won't likely step into action in year one. Just as offensively the QB is key, if this unit is even average, it can really positively impact the defense as a whole, providing they don't get mowed over by the rush. EDGE 2014
The 2015 version of Christian Tago (JR*) will be even better, and he will be considered right up there with Smith when his career is over. He must stay healthy of course. He's one of a few defensive playmakers and he'll play outside. Jared Leaf (SR) looks to be somebody who will replace and possibly be an improvement over Buhagiar as he has better feet. He looks healthy and ready to go. William Ossai (SO) played a good amount toward the end of the year, and will man the other side. He has a lot of potential. Others in the mix are true freshman Frank Ginda, Mark Amann (JR), Alex Manigo (JR), and Moses Saucedo (SR) (who was a one time starter).
Wildcard: true freshman Jesse Osuna. He looks like a physical, sure tackling ILB, and looks strong enough, fast enough, to step right in come fall. Ginda showed he will be in the mix as a true freshman. I really think Osuna, who did not play his senior year in HS and did not end up in the Pac 12 because of it, will make a name for himself early in camp and will see the field as an impact true freshman player (sp teams and from scrimmage). This unit may be very good and, I think, even with the loss of Buhagiar (who had a very good career), will be better as it possesses better overall speed. EDGE 2015
Jimmy Pruitt SR* showed that his position is CB. He's a very good cover man and had some picks. Cleveland Wallace JR* may be better and led the MWC in passes defended. Adding depth are Andre Chachere SO and Dominic Barnes JR. The DL must help out and slow the run to put these corners to use. The two starters, I think, are the best tandem in the conference. Don't waste the talent. Even with the loss of Frierson, who was serviceable, this unit will be one year older and better. EDGE 2015
Maurice McKnight (SO) takes over full time for Forrest Hightower and Vincente Miles (SR) or David Williams (RS freshman) take over for King. McKnight is a stud. An absolute beast of a tackler for a smallish 18 year old last year; hopefully he's hit the weights. He's a real playmaker moving to FS. Vincente Miles (SR AZ transfer) and/or Williams (a little more raw with size for a SS) will battle for that spot, but both will play. Even though King was drafted, I think this year we can see improvement from the SS. King was drafted due to excellent scores (ran a 4.3). But, we need better angles and sure tackling from SS and, with good enough cover skills of course, we will be improved here.
Wildcard: Jeremy Kelly (true freshman), although a little slight, could move into a safety spot. He's coming here to play DB and will make noise in the fall. There's definitely some depth at DB, but the best players are going to play and Kelly may be one of them.